Harper-Jackson is appearing in the West End opposite Jonathan Bailey (Picture: Matt Crockett)

Joel Harper-Jackson has spilled on the ‘absolutely wild’ and chaos-causing Bridgerton fans who come to see him and series star Jonathan Bailey in the West End production of Mike Bartlett play Cock.

Harper-Jackson, who took over from Taron Egerton in the role of M in April after the Rocketman star left the show for ‘personal reasons’, also praised the popular period drama’s fandom as very supportive – although their enthusiasm has got them all into trouble with the play next door a few times.

‘The Bridgerton fans are extremely generous and supportive and wild at the stage door,’ he told Metro.co.uk. ‘We often get lots of cheers when we come out.

‘But of course, Mousetrap is next door, and their show is still going ahead, so we often have people coming out to tell us to shut up!’

Stage actor Harper-Jackson, who has previously appeared in shows including Jesus Christ Superstar and the 2019 national tour of Kinky Boots, is an equally big fan of his co-star Bailey, known for playing Anthony, Viscount Bridgerton in the hit Netflix series.

‘Johnny is one of the most lovely, genuine, generous actors I’ve ever come across.

Bailey plays John, Harper-Jackson’s character M’s boyfriend (Picture: Matt Crockett)

His work in Bridgerton has brought many fans to the theatre (Picture: Liam Daniel/Netflix)

‘It’s so fun to be on stage with him. He constantly wants to play and discover new things and just have fun, and I think that’s the most important thing with this job: not to take it too seriously, to do the work and stay true to the writing but most importantly, it’s to play and find new things.

‘It’s been a real joy, and I’ve learned a lot from him. It’s been really magnificent to play opposite [him]. I never imagined that this would happen. It’s been great.’

The ‘this’ would be his unexpected takeover of Egerton’s role, with Harper-Jackson originally signed up as a dual understudy for both lead parts of John and M, a gay couple who grapple with John falling in love with a woman.

Harper-Jackson admitted that he was in ‘two minds’ over whether to accept his initial contract as understudy, which came with no performance guarantees.

He’d been offered the dual understudy role from a self-tape for director Marianne Elliot with no recall, a rarity in acting, and decided that ‘it would be stupid’ not to take it considering the ‘high calibre’ of the production’s team.

Joel Egerton was originally in the role of M, before pulling out due to ‘personal reasons’ (Picture: Getty Images)

Acknowledging the keen public interest in the show and the pandemic’s widespread closure of theatres, he laughingly added: ‘After the two years that we had off, I wanted to break myself in gently.

‘So yeah, it wasn’t the slow introduction I wanted back in, but I’m going with it. I’m doing my best.’

The actor made an earlier-than-expected debut in Cock anyway, ahead of Egerton’s permanent departure, after the Golden Globe winner fainted during the first night’s performance and Harper-Jackson ended up going on in his place.

Sharing that he’d ‘never forget that night’, he said: ‘Fortunately, the audience was extraordinarily supportive. I’ve never heard a round of applause when the curtain came up like that. And it was done within a blink of an eye.’

Harper-Jackson had not yet rehearsed on stage and had been giving over most of his time to the other role of John in his limited understudy rehearsals so far. He was encouraged to go on with script in hand but ended up putting it down as he felt it was getting in the way.

Harper-Jackson ended up performing in the role of M for the first time on opening night, after Egerton fainted (Picture: Matt Crockett)

‘I put it down on the side and just thought, “If I need it, I’ll go to it.” But fortunately, I didn’t, and it all came out.

‘You just kind of have to not panic, take a deep breath and remember that this is what I signed up for.’

Indeed, his father had been particularly sceptical over him signing on to understudy ‘because he thinks he knows best about my profession when he’s a builder’.

What did he say to his dad after getting on stage?

‘When I tell you I was smug, jeez. Then I had a smugger conversation once the offer actually came through. I called my dad and I just said to him, “Do you remember that time when you told me not to take this job? Just to let you know that I’ve just been offered the part full time.” And he went, “Oh well, very good, very good. I thought you should.”’

The actor is looking to the future now but keeping his expectations in check (Picture: Alex Wooley)

As Cock reaches the final week of its limited run, Harper-Jackson is riding the rollercoaster of a lot of attention after the ‘absolutely huge’ impact it’s had on his career.

‘It feels like it’s the start of something.

‘It’s been a huge, huge deal for me, considering that I was not going to take it and I was just expecting to be sat in the dressing room for a couple of months.’

The actor is freshly signed with American management and looking ahead to the future.

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However, he’s careful not to hype himself up too much.

‘I just feel like I’m one very lucky lad. I don’t want to expect anything, but I’m happy with my lot and hopefully this will bring other things – but if it doesn’t, then it doesn’t. I’m also content with that because I’ve got so much more than I bargained for or anticipated.’

Cock runs at the West End’s Ambassadors Theatre until June 4.

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