Nominated for best actor in a musical, Top Hat
When I heard I'd been nominated, I'd just come out of a bad audition. I saw the email from my agent and was high as a kite. Most actors dream of winning an Olivier; it was in the back of my mind when I first heard I'd got the part of Jerry Travers. Here was a world premiere show, with me playing the part Fred Astaire immortalised in 1935. It was a huge opportunity, and the producers wanted me to take it all the way. In one of the first sessions I had with a dialect coach, learning a 1930s American east coast accent, a producer came in and said: "We want Tom to be the best he can be in this. We want him to win an Olivier." No small degree of pressure – but when I got into the rehearsal room, all that went from my mind.
Of course I may not win – and no, I haven't been practising a face of fake sincerity to congratulate whoever does. It's not like coming second in a race: just being nominated will go with me to the grave. Does it help with getting work? Perhaps. Just after I'd heard about the nomination, I auditioned for a major BBC drama, and couldn't help telling them about it. I got the job.
2. Simon McBurney
Nominated for best director, The Master and Margarita
Don't get me wrong, it's an honour – but the experience is curious. Having spent so much time trying to make a show in the intimate company of people you trust, with material you are committed to, it's disturbing to find yourself in the middle of someone else's gig, with no idea what costume you should be wearing, or even if you have a speaking part. Toby Sedgwick accepted his 2008 award for choreographing War Horse by neighing into the mic – perhaps the most articulate response to a surreal evening.
Have the awards changed over the years? Yes. I first went in the late 1980s, when we [Complicite theatre company] were nominated for a season we did at the Almeida [in London]. It was a vast thing, with masses of people; then it ended up in a seedy hotel room, with hardly anybody there. Now they're televised to look like the Baftas. The only difference is that the TV audience will never have heard of most of the people; this being theatre, they'll wonder why everyone is shouting and those video clips look so overlit.
Remember, this is only one aspect of theatre: it's London, not the UK, and a great deal of the very best work can't, by definition, be recognised. The boundaries between designers, actors, writers and directors are also never clear. My nomination as director, while flattering, does not reflect the fact that the Master and Margarita was made collaboratively. I would love to see an award for Best Ensemble.
But any opportunity to celebrate should be taken. I hope these awards remind this divisive government that every show they see up there has grown out of subsidy, in one form or another.
3. Hattie Morahan
Nominated for best actress, A Doll's House
It's impossible to know why you've been nominated. Perhaps it has something to do with playing a "headline part": a well-known role, like Nora in A Doll's House. But really, I think that production works because of playwright Simon Stephens's astonishing adaptation: it's so much fun to perform.
In a way, an award like the Olivier is nonsensical: how on earth do you compare? There are all sorts of arcane eligibility criteria. I saw so many great shows last year – Love, Love, Love at the Royal Court; The Shawl at the Young Vic – plays that seared themselves on my mind, but for one reason or another, they haven't had a look-in.
This will be my first time at the ceremony. I haven't written a speech – it feels like jinxing it – but I'll probably sketch out the bare bones: the worst thing would be to get up on stage and forget who you'd like to thank. I think Helen Mirren will win and that will be a relief. At least I could kick back and enjoy myself. At the Evening Standard awards last year [Morahan won best actress] my stomach was in a knot all night. I hope they get my category out of the way early.
4. Luke Treadaway
Nominated for best actor, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
I've known about the Oliviers since drama school, but I can't say the desire to win one has been burning away. I don't think being nominated drastically alters the path of your career – but it certainly can't hurt.
I've never been to the ceremony before, though I have been to other awards. The audience is always grateful to people who keep their speeches short and sweet. That's what I'll do if I win – though I'm certainly not expecting to. I've not even thought about what I'd say if I did.
It's strange to be nominated for a show you're still performing in [the production has now transferred to the West End]. By rights, the play should have ended by the time the awards come round. It's a bit like reading your reviews: I never read them while I'm in something, but they tend to get pasted up around the theatre. You catch sight of something written about you, and it's difficult not to think about it every time you come to that scene. Similarly, for a couple of days after the nominations were announced, I felt like audiences were sitting in the theatre going: "Right, come on then, show me why you're nominated." But I soon got over that. I just think audiences want to see a good show.
5. Heather Headley
Nominated for best actress in a musical, The Bodyguard
An award is always a big deal. I've won a Tony and a Grammy, but for an outsider like me – an American – to be nominated, in such elite company, is a particular honour. It's as if the country is telling me: "Hey, you've done OK."
I never prepare a speech – though I think all performers have a selection of speeches in their minds they've been working on in front of the bathroom mirror since they were three. My acceptance speech went OK at the Tonys, though I did find myself promising Disney, for some reason, I would work with them for ever. If I do end up making a speech on Sunday, I'd better watch out: I might end up promising to stay in England for the rest of my life.
Choosing the right dress is a challenge. You want to be able to move about easily, possibly even eat; you don't want to be worrying about how you have to hold your arms, or whether your belly's showing. It's my first time at the Oliviers, so I don't want to outstep my balance; I'm not going to wear magenta or neon and have you guys talking about me the next day.
Taking your partner to an event like this can be stressful – sometimes they get insecure. I remember taking a guy I liked to an opening night and knowing right away it wasn't going to work out. Luckily, my husband [former American football player Brian Musso] isn't like that at all – he has a great time. My aim, really, is for him to look over at me and say: "That's the prettiest girl in the world." As long as he does that, it's all good.
Nominated for best set design, Top Hat
When you've been working in the industry as long as I have, you end up going to the Oliviers a good few times. It's great fun: I go with my husband [actor Bill Paterson], and we catch up with people, and enjoy all the excitement of the red carpet. When a show has had nominations in lots of categories, like Top Hat, you usually get to sit with the rest of the team. You have the most wonderful sense that all your hard work has paid off. I particularly feel that with Top Hat, because my work is usually on the darker side of opera and theatre. I'm not used to designing musicals, which I think is exactly why they asked me to do it.
There's nothing more terrifying than the walk from your seat to the stage. Actors have a head start – they're used to getting up there – but for a designer like me, it's completely alien. When I won my first Olivier for After the Dance [in 2011], I remember standing up there, hearing a voice, and barely registering that it was mine. I've no idea what I said. But I don't believe in preparing a speech, either. You see people standing up there sometimes, taking pieces of paper out of their pockets; it seems strange that they were so sure.
The Olivier I won for After the Dance is in my husband's study, next to his own awards – an Evening Standard award and a Scottish Bafta. It's a beautiful, solid thing. Will I win another? I don't know. It's just lovely to have the one I've got.
• The Olivier awards are on Sunday at the Royal Opera House, London. They will be broadcast live on Radio 2 from 6pm, with highlights on ITV at 10.15pm.
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image: © Kristian D