“Break a leg” — it’s a traditional way of wishing a stage actor well. But don’t use it on her, says Britain’s latest folk-pop sweetheart Kate Nash, who, only two years ago, believed her Shakespearean future to be guaranteed. That was until a tumble and a broken leg changed everything.
It might sound like the starlet was born to trill, judging by her sassy Cockney-inflected debut “Made of Bricks” (a No. 1 overseas smash that hits U.S. stores today) and its whimsical observations in “Birds,” “Mouthwash” and the fluttery breakthrough-hit “Foundations.”
But once she’d enrolled in a performing-arts academy as a teen, it wasn’t music that caught her fancy.
“I wanted to act,” recalls Nash, 20, who makes her Bay Area bow at Popscene on Saturday.
“I did a theater course there, and I kind of fell in love with it, really. It became everything I wanted to do while I was there.”
She delved into Hamlet, classic monologues, then branched out into more experimental work, like a class-scripted Bowie-based musical.
Then she really got serious about the craft. “I wrote my own play called ‘The Grass on the Other Side,’” she says. Inspired by Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones” book, “it was about a girl who died, and her watching how her family members dealt with her death. … I was really, truly planning to start making movies.”
Until, that is, the events of “the fickle, fateful day.”
Nash assumed she’d be a shoo-in at Bristol’s swank Old Vic Theatre School. She thought wrong. Within one 24-hour period, she received a Vic rejection letter, then stormed out to the cinema to cheer herself up (“Watching ‘Brokeback Mountain’ all by myself”).
Having decided to hit the town at night, she promptly tumbled down her parents’ staircase, snapping her leg in the process.
“I don’t know how I did it, either, because I was wearing practical flats,” she admits. “But I just sat there at the bottom and bawled my eyes out. And it wasn’t even the pain of the broken foot. It was just a way for me to finally cry, because I was so upset.”
But three laid-up weeks in a knee cast put her on a surreal new track. Her folks bought her an amp and electric guitar to pass the time, and she began strumming songs in earnest, recording them on her laptop until she finally got gutsy enough to circulate a demo.
“Then once my foot was healed, I did my first gig,” adds the artist, who was signed to Fiction a few months later. “I took a week off from work at this rubbish job I’d been working to get ready, and I just thought ‘I don’t want to go back to work. It’s really depressing me, and I don’t want to end up there. I’m creative. I’ve worked hard. I deserve more than this.’”
After that crucial concert, Nash phoned in her resignation. She says, “And this is so funny, because it shows my attitude at the time. I rang them and said ‘I’m sorry, but opportunities have arisen that are steps in the right direction towards my career.’ After one gig! My first show had created the idea that this was going be my career, and I never went back.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Popscene, 330 Ritch St., San Francisco
When: 9 p.m. Saturday