Frances Ruffelle: The Tony Award Winning Yoga Mama You Need In Your Life
You might not think you know her, but you do. With a voice to galvanize angels she's heard on two of the best-selling musical albums of all time. If you were in drama club or have theatre nerd friends like me, I guarantee you've heard Frances Ruffelle sing "On My Own".
At 22, Frances won the Tony Award for playing Éponine in the Broadway production of Les Misérables, a role she originated in London's West End. Since then, she's traveled the world, tapped into the power of yoga and raised three incredible human beings - all while continuing to deliver breathtaking performances on stages around the globe.
Frances shatters misconceived notions about aging. During our interview it became clear she winks at 55, assured she's just warming up. With electrifying projects underway, she's used lock-down as an opportunity to press pause, rejuvenate, and prepare for blast-off in 2021 when theater claws back from the pandemic.
So, how does she look better now than ever? She claims it's a little Yin & Tonic, homemade dinners with loved ones, twenty three minutes of yoga every day... and that's it. But let's be honest, that's just scratching the surface.
the fed: This morning I was reminded of the power of you. At breakfast, my husband asked Alexa to play some of your tunes. All these wonderful songs played. Then of course, THE SONG came on. I could see my four-year-old son getting the dreamy far away look we all get when hearing you sing “On My Own”.
We play the Broadway station in the car, he’s heard other versions before but there’s something magic about the way that song came through you, I’m not sure there’s a proper word for it.
Frances: Oh, we’ve just started and you’re making me cry.
Do you know my PaTala album,"Purify"? It’s a chant album in Sanskrit. Obviously, I didn't write the Sanskrit but I co-wrote the tunes and everything. I think your little one will like it.
It’s my music, so I don’t think I’m allowed to say it’s really beautiful, but it is. I feel like it was one of those projects I did for fun just because I loved it, so it never really got promoted. I wasn't being a very good business woman about it.
the fed: My husband loves that album. Some of the highlights are on his “Yoga & Chill” playlist.
Frances: Oh, lovely. I'm launching a new project with my friend Sadie Frost called, Yin & Tonic. We’re putting that music to yoga and exercise routines. I’m so happy to be putting it back into world. It’s for happy hearts, strength and power.
the fed: I didn’t know you were friends with Sadie Frost. That sounds like a fun pair.
Frances: Sadie and I have been friends since we were eleven years old, we’re like sisters. We've never argued, not once in all these years and we holiday together as well.
I joke that if only I fancied women it would make life easier. We always say, we should just get married, the two of us.
the fed: This is exactly the kind of stuff we love at the fed collective. We’ll make sure to let everyone know about it.
Frances: That’s great. I’m excited about it.
the fed: When did you discover yoga?
Frances: Well, I did it a little bit when I was pregnant with my second child, Nathaniel. But, it seems like something I was always dragged to.
But then in 2000, I was seeing a guy who I realized I shouldn't be seeing. It started to feel a little awkward. One day I bumped into an old friend on the street, Simon Low. He was my A&R guy in New York for music and was very rock-n-roll and I think probably sex and drugs, the whole lot.
He was so calm and I asked what he’d been up to. He told me he’d become a yoga teacher and I almost burst out laughing 'cause it just didn't make sense.
He said, “Why don't you come on one of my yoga trips? I’m going next week to Turkey.”
I was so desperate to not be with my boyfriend and also too scared to tell him, that I just ran away. I ran away to Turkey to do yoga!
Simon is an amazing teacher and we did about five hours of yoga a day on that trip so by the end of the retreat I was totally into it. I actually worked with Simon for a bit, I became his assistant. I eventually trained as a yoga teacher.
the fed: What kind of yoga do you prefer?
Frances: I do all kinds of yoga. I’m an Ashtanga Yoga teacher but Vinyasa Flow is my favorite. I love when the teacher is very good at explaining what you're doing so you can just listen and move your arms and legs into the position. It helps my mind take off into another world.
the fed: It sounds like you practice daily?
Frances: I do, but I don't do a long practice. My yoga session is twenty-three minutes.
the fed: You're kidding.
Frances: No, really. It's all I need.
the fed: Are there any yoga teachers you love?
Frances: There's lots of amazing teachers. Absolutely, yes. But I'm not gonna name them because there's so many, I’ll leave people out that I know really well. But Simon was my original teacher, so that’s why I mentioned him.
Well, actually, there's one person I would like to mention, and that's Liz Connelly, she was my Ashtanga training teacher. She worked me hard and sadly died of cancer a few years ago, so I do wanna mention her 'cause she was a big influence in my life.
And to all the other teachers, thank you.
the fed: How has yoga impacted your life?
Frances: I think I needed it ... and still need it. When I don't practice I notice how my body feels. I'm actually a slouch so it helps my posture too. On the whole, it's a time when I actually relax and go off into meditation. I'm not very good at meditating but it's when I create my wonderful ideas for new writing. That’s the honest truth.
When I was doing my teacher training, we used to meditate for an hour every single morning and it wasn’t a problem for me. I don't think I ever completely went into nothingness; I'm still on that journey. Occasionally I'll go off into Fairy Land but usually it just gives me a little bit of space. And that’s important.
the fed: You look amazing. Are there any beauty rituals you can share? What makes you feel so great?
Frances: (sighs) Honestly, I’m not very good at the beauty side. Here's one tip: don't pick your face - which is what I have been doing lately! I just got new contact lenses and suddenly found I was picking at my skin 'cause I can actually see it in the mirror. So that’s a don’t do. Ha!
But really more than anything, I stay out of the sun. No sunbathing. That’s my main secret and it works.
the fed: What do you want your daughter to know about aging?
Frances: That it’s alright. I think I’ve become more content as I've gotten older. But, I'm not sure I need to let her know anything... I think she already knows.
the fed: I thought it would be fun to ask you a series of questions. Not exactly rapid fire but some answers will be shorter than others. Is that okay?
The fed: What did you have for breakfast?
Frances: Well, this may not be very good to admit but I very rarely eat breakfast. I have coffee with barista oat milk - I’m addicted to this oat milk.
And I have to say, I drink Apostle Coffee, because it’s my son’s company. I'm very proud and love supporting the family. I even pay for a subscription. Honestly.
Once I get my act together, I do a bit of exercise and make a smoothie. But I make a massive portion, adding lots of water and ice. So my breakfast lasts through the day and I don’t really eat ’til supper.
This is my new lockdown routine. Now, if someone invites me to eat I’ll enjoy a big breakfast with eggs and avocado plus whatever else there is.
God, did I talk too much about breakfast? That was a long one.
the fed: Not at all.
the fed: On a scale of one to ten, how weird are you?
Frances: Pretty weird, I can imagine. I mean, I don’t think I am weird but other people say I’m a little bit odd or crazy. I don’t like that word, crazy.
To the Brits, I’m probably an eight. To the New Yorkers I’m probably a four. Ha!
the fed: What makes you smile the most?
Frances: I smile a lot, actually. I smile the most just waking up and being alive, I guess.
the fed: That’s good. And listen, in these times, I get it. What's scares you the most?
Frances: Gosh, I don’t like to put it out there 'cause it scares me, so I don’t think I’ll say it. I get scared about a lot of things, I wish I didn't but I’m a worrier.
the fed: I think a lot of us can relate.
This is a fun one. Back in 2015, Patti LuPone famously snatched a cell phone from an audience member who wouldn't stop texting. What did you think of that?
Frances: I think it's brilliant and only she can get away with it! I'm telling you, if I had done that it wouldn’t have been with that kind of force and confidence. So, go Patti!
Frances: She barely mentions me! Since she’s written her book I've reconnected with her so we hung out quite a lot, which is lovely. When I was in New York and very young, she really looked after me.
the fed: What’s the worst thing that's ever happened to you on stage?
Frances: Well, the worst thing is when I was in Les Mis and the guy playing Montparnasse accidentally stabbed me with his blunt knife. I ended up having to go to hospital to get stitches.
I can't think of anything worse than that, really.
the fed: I would hope nothing tops being stabbed. That's up there for sure.
What do you do in your spare time?
Frances: Well, I cook. I don't cook anything exciting but I love to cook for my kids and my friends. I'm very much a homey person. I've got a massive table and I love people to come over to sit around it and talk and eat. My kids are grown up now but whenever they let me, I'll cook for them.
Obviously, I do yoga and exercise every day.
Really, my life in New York was all about going to the theatre. Even though I'm part of the theatre world, I’m also an absolute fan. This whole lockdown thing is heart-breaking. I just don't have my life.
I’m enjoying the quiet life right now in London but I don't really have my real life so...
the fed: What meal would you make for your kids to excite them?
Frances: They always loved to come here when I made a traditional British Sunday roast dinner. But actually, the one they really like and get emotional about is when I toast pita bread, cut it in half, stick in some butter and we add mushed avocados and sometimes I crisp up some bacon and stick it in as well. But they're all vegan now so we don’t have bacon anymore.
the fed: If you could sing a duet with anyone, who would it be?
Frances: Kate Bush.
the fed: That’s a great one. Favorite time of day?
Frances: Morning. Coffee. Exercise. I just love the routine.
the fed: If you could raid any woman’s closet in history, whose would it be?
Frances: That would have to be Audrey Hepburn, though I don’t think I could fit in any of her clothing.
the fed: Do you have a favorite article of clothing?
Frances: I do actually. I have a long black velvet coat, and it's very sort of scruffy and it's got these great pockets. You know, the funny thing is, Éponine is famous for wearing that long coat. I've always been into long coats and I don't know whether it was from Les Mis or before but I've owned many, many of them. The kind that go down to the ground.
I don't have many clothes here in London because I didn't bring many, but I made sure the coat came with me.
the fed: Sounds lovely. Who’s inspiring you right now?
Frances: My daughter. I should say all my children because they do. But right now, my daughter really is. She's living very close to me and she pops over and does yoga with me and we make salad together and things.
She talks to me so wisely, I can't believe it's my daughter. She's really with the earth somehow and very caring about people in the world. She gardens every day, not that she has one of her own but she gardens for the local community. She‘s so passionate about it and to just see that child, well she’s not a child anymore but seeing how she lives her life, her relationships and her work. The way she talks to me is just... I can't believe I produced that.
the fed: Beautiful. What's the best piece of advice you've been given?
Frances: I’ve been given so much advice. Some I've taken, some I haven’t. I think one of the most important things is be truthful. Be kind but truthful.
The other thing which I find very hard to do though I really do try, is to not say things I don't need to say.
the fed: That's hard.
Frances: It is hard! Especially with family.
the fed: What’s one thing you wish you had known at nineteen?
Frances: Not to care what other people think.
the fed: How do you handle rejection?
Frances: I’m not great at it. I'm not great to the extent that I don't like to put myself in a position where I might be rejected. So no, I haven't handled it very well and I'm afraid to say it's not getting better. It's getting worse.
the fed: What movie makes you cry?
Frances: EVERY MOVIE. I cry at everything. I cried at the beginning of this interview.
the fed: That’s sweet. London, Paris or New York?
Frances: Sorry, London but I'm totally New York at the moment.
the fed: I’m originally from New York and love the theatre, so I get it. I do.
If you could originate any other musical role in history, what would it be?
Frances: Adelaide, from “Guys and Dolls”. I love her. She’s SO funny but she’s so vulnerable.
the fed: I’d love to see that. What should a director know who's about to hire you?
Frances: Well, I usually come to the first rehearsal off book. I like to do it that way if I can, as long as it’s written. And I don't do my performance on the first day of rehearsal or the read-through. My performance happens slowly throughout. There's a lot of thinking in my process. I get to performance usually just by the dress rehearsal.
the fed: What’s your definition of a diva?
Frances: I actually don't know the real meaning of the word. In my head a diva is somebody who’s demanding.
I've been called diva and take it personally. I know you should never take anything personally, but I'm like, “Oh my God, I’m not a diva!”
I’m sure I’ve had my moments.
the fed: What creative projects have you been working on or maybe we should say, "were" you working on before theatre shut down?
Frances: I’ve been doing a lot of creating and writing lately.
“Ruby’s Poison” is a piece of theatre I co-wrote with Gweneth Herbert and it was meant to be produced off-Broadway but then the lockdown happened.
I’m also working on a piece with Alan Cumming which stills needs a bit of work. And another play, “At Enormous Expense” which we were going to workshop but it has quite a large cast so obviously that’s not going to happen for awhile.
But things like that. I’m creating constantly.
the fed: It's been an honor spending time with you. I've been a fan of yours since seeing you in the original Broadway production of Les Misérables and I've had you on my "favorites" playlist every since.
Frances: I loved it. Thank you. It was such fun.
the fed: I can't wait to check out Yin & Tonic. I'm always looking for something new to do with yoga.
And also, do you think we could be friends?
Frances: HaHa, absolutely. You're very sweet. I'll be in Los Angeles soon.
the fed: Perfection. We'll give you a tour of our favorite yoga studios.
Frances: I can't wait.
Professional photography courtesy of Debbi Clark, www.debbiclark.com.
Frances Ruffelle is a Tony Award winning actress, singer, cabaret performer, writer & yogi. Learn more about Frances and stay updated on her upcoming projects and performances by visiting her website: www.FrancesRuffelle.com.
Christopher Brune-Horan is a Los Angeles based storyteller, essayist and playwright. christopherbrunehoran.com.