Idina Menzel Interview, Enchanted

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

Movies Online sat down with Idina Menzel at the Los Angeles press day for “Enchanted,” directed by Kevin Lima (“Tarzan,” “Eloise At Christmastime”) from a screenplay written by Bill Kelly (“Blast From the Past”) and featuring original songs from the reunited team of acclaimed composer Alan Menken and lyricist Stephen Schwartz (“Pocahontas,” “Hunchback of Notre Dame”).

A classic Disney animated fairy tale meets with the modern, live-action romantic comedy in Walt Disney Pictures' “Enchanted.” Featuring an all-star cast, the film follows the beautiful princess Giselle (Amy Adams) as she is banished by an evil queen (Susan Sarandon) from her magical, musical animated land and finds herself in the gritty reality of the streets of modern-day Manhattan. Shocked by this strange new environment that doesn't operate on a "happily ever after" basis, Giselle is now adrift in a chaotic world badly in need of enchantment. But when Giselle begins to fall in love with a charmingly flawed divorce lawyer (Patrick Dempsey) who has come to her aid -- even though she is already promised to a perfect fairy tale prince (James Marsden) back home - she has to wonder: can a storybook view of romance survive in the real world?

Tony Award winner Idina Menzel, who plays the role of Nancy Tremaine in “Enchanted,” has a diverse career that spans the stage, films and music. Idina is a powerhouse of talent who constantly amazes audiences with her strong, emotional performances.

A skillful songwriter, Menzel writes and performs her own music. She has just completed work on her solo album produced by Glen Ballard for her record label, Warner Bros. Records, and is gearing up for its release in January 2008. In addition, Menzel recorded the end credit song, written by Glen Ballard, for Robert Zemeckis’s “Beowulf” which just opened starring Angelina Jolie and Anthony Hopkins.

Menzel was most recently seen in Robert Towne’s “Ask the Dust,” opposite Salma Hayek and Colin Farrell. In this film adaptation of John Fante’s Depression-era novel, Menzel played Vera, who harbors an unrequited love for Farrell’s Arturo. Menzel was seen in November 2005 in director Chris Columbus’ film version of the Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning musical “Rent,” in which she reprises Maureen, the role she originated on the Broadway stage.

Menzel completed her Tony Award-winning performance (Lead Actress in a Musical) in “Wicked” in December 2005, and later reprised her role as Elphaba in the London production for which she received the WhatsOnStage.com Theatregoers Choice Award. Helmed by Tony Award-winning director Joe Mantello, “Wicked” played to packed audiences at the Gershwin Theatre. During this run, Menzel was nominated for every prize that the theatre community awards. In addition, the West End production had the distinction of breaking all weekly box office records during her run.

In fall of 2005, the actress starred in Michael John LaChiusa’s Off-Broadway musical “See What I Wanna See,” directed by Ted Sperling at The Public Theater. For her roles as various characters, she received Drama Desk and Drama League nominations. Menzel received a Tony nomination for her Broadway debut performance as Maureen in the original production of the hit “Rent.” She also earned a Drama Desk nomination for her performance as Kate in Manhattan Theater Club’s Off-Broadway original musical “The Wild Party.”

She appeared as Sheila in the Encores! Production of “Hair” and starred as Amneris in Broadway’s “Aida.” Her other Off-Broadway credits include the pre-Broadway, original, buzz-creating production of “Rent” and “The Vagina Monologues.”

Idina Menzel is a fabulous person and we really appreciated her time. Here’s what the Tony-winning Broadway superstar had to tell us about her new movie, her upcoming album, the possibility of a movie version of Wicked, and maybe a sequel to Enchanted:

Q: NONE OF US COULD BELIEVE YOU DID NOT SING. IS EVERYONE DRIVING YOU CRAZY WITH THAT QUESTION: WHY DIDN’T SHE SING?

IDINA MENZEL: It's a compliment really that everybody misses my singing. Nancy was never written with a song, honestly, so I think Kevin was a fan of mine and honestly it was a compliment to be asked to just be hired on my acting talents alone.

Q: DID YOU ENJOY THE LAST SCENE IN THE MOVIE?

IDINA MENZEL: You know, we've got to be careful, because we don't want to be giving away the ending, but I enjoyed it very much. (Laughs) I think Nancy gets a really happy ending that really ties my whole character together.

Q: DO YOU APPROACH THE CHARACTER DIFFERENTLY IN THAT FORMAT?

IDINA MENZEL: No, I didn't. I didn't. I always knew that was going to happen, but — well yeah — honestly, I just — I didn't want to play her as a typical mean girlfriend that everyone's going to hate. I thought it would be more interesting if she had a vulnerability and I knew we were heading there and that she's going to be funny and have a sweet side to her.

Q: WE HEARD THERE WERE SOME DELETED SCENES INVOLVING YOUR CHARACTER’S STORYLINE AND ALSO WITH HER BEST FRIEND?

IDINA MENZEL: Yeah. I was in my fashion design studio and I talk about — there's this monologue about giving up on true love and going to the Hamptons and meeting my Prince Charming — it's ridiculous — and I'm not going to hold my breath type of thing. It was very good and hopefully it will be on the DVD.

Q: WHAT DID YOU THINK OF YOURSELF AS A CARTOON?

IDINA MENZEL: Oh, it was good. I like seeing the Jewish girl from Long Island in the dark hair and the whole thing, and Jimmy and I always thought it would be really cool — like he broke the glass, stepped on the glass. (Laughter) Wouldn't that have been funny? But I guess it was a little too much for Disney.

Q: ARE YOU SIGNED UP FOR A SEQUEL?

IDINA MENZEL: Not that I know of — I mean I'd love to be in it . . . I hope so. I think it's going to be a really big movie. I think it's got everything, it's got a lot for everybody. It's kind of a fresh, unique movie in that it’s combined all those genres. It's an animated movie and a romantic comedy and a musical. It's got CGI. It’s my first time doing CGI and staring at a sticker on the camera and oooing and aahing and feeling so ridiculous. But yeah, I think it's a really special movie and it's something we haven't seen in a while. It’s kind of new and we really need it for the holidays because everybody's just stuck in a lot of morbidity.

Q: WERE THERE ANY DISNEY PRINCESSES THAT INSPIRED YOU?

IDINA MENZEL: Oh (laughs) yeah. Can Tinker Bell be considered a princess? Because being in musicals, I loved Peter Pan. That was the first Broadway show I saw. My parents brought me into New York. They surprised me and my sister, and brought us in to see that. They told us we were just going to Dad’s office to pick something up and so that was kind of in my memory. That’s the person who comes to mind and she was spunky and kind of keeping it real for Peter Pan. So it’s not your typical one.

Q: DO YOU THINK THAT EXPERIENCE SET YOUR CAREER IN MOTION AND MADE YOU THINK “I WANT TO BE UP THERE ONE DAY”?

IDINA MENZEL: Yeah, that and Annie is another one. (Laughs) Then I got off track a little bit and I started — when I was 15 my parents got divorced, and I got a job as a wedding singer so I could help contribute funds and stuff. Then I kind of got into singing Motown and jazz and the pop music, because you have to learn all different kinds of music, and that made me want to start writing my own music. So then I kind of had both these ideas in my head and I've been vacillating between the two for so long and then Rent happened and that was a fluke. So I said okay, you can go in this direction, and the theatre's always been so wonderful to me, but now I feel like I've grown to the place where I'm going to stop feeling like I have to pick one or the other and just try to be one of the modern-day disciples of Bette Midler or Barbra Streisand, something like that. I mean those are my idols.

Q: IS THERE ANY ROLE YOU'RE YEARNING TO DO?

IDINA MENZEL: You know, I've always wanted to do Funny Girl, but I never would. I've thought about it, it's been talked about, and I think it would probably be a career disaster. (Laughs) Yeah, it's her, and it's never been revived and there's a reason for that. It's so iconic. I mean, the first line of the show is ’Hello, gorgeous.’ I mean, how do you get up there and make that your own, and then they think you're trying to make it too much your own and I’m paying homage to Barbra, but that's something I think of. I think of Evita sometimes. Mostly I feel like I've set a standard for myself in originating roles in really important musicals, and I feel really lucky to have done that, so I'm looking all the time with my manager at finding new original stories or women who have not been portrayed yet on the stage.

Q: ARE YOU WORKING ON YOUR OWN ALBUM?

IDINA MENZEL: Yes, I have an album coming out which is what I'm doing right now. Tomorrow I’ll be at the Beowulf premiere because I sang the credit song on that. So I got to do that and that was great because Glen Ballard wrote the song for that, and he also produced my album. He spent the last year and a half with me writing music and extracting my soul and encouraging me to be a songwriter and helping me to find a way to bridge the gap between theatre and pop and continue that dream of mine — sort of have all of those worlds unite. So I co-wrote almost all the songs on my album, about 9 out of 10 of them. It's called “I Stand.” It’s on Warner Bros. and comes out the end of January, and I'm very excited about it. It's a very personal album and we'll see what happens.

Q: IS THERE A SINGLE?

IDINA MENZEL: Yes, there is. There’s one, “The Light I Found in New York” which I grew up listening to. If you’re not from New York, you may not know it. They’ve been playing my single now called “Brave.” But it’s early and the holidays are going to come and you just leave that alone. Holidays are for the big, already established singers to sell lots of Christmas albums. But you get it going.  A lot of the radio people are excited about this song called “Brave,” so we'll see what happens. I don't know if I digress but the music industry is changing so much because they don't have a leg to stand on these days so they're constantly trying to come up with all these different things. It used to be that they'd pick one song and all your eggs were in that basket, and if radio didn't play it, you were dropped from the label and it was done. But now, because of the internet and having more control over my own career and my audience having more ways to connect with me, they pick different songs. So they’ll pick a song they think I'll perform really great on Letterman, and then a song that's good for radio and then a song that's maybe more theatrical and then you have the Beowulf thing so it's more about marketing in that way.

Q: WHAT ABOUT THE RUMOR OF A POSSIBLE MOVIE VERSION OF WICKED?

IDINA MENZEL: I know. Could you write a petition and tell them to hurry up? But they're doing so well with the show all over the world now -- it's going to Japan. It's in Germany, today it just started -- that I think they don't need to. They have enough publicity, and they're selling enough tickets that they'll wait until maybe a couple years.

Q: DO YOU THINK YOU’RE THE FRONT RUNNER FOR BEING IN A MOVIE VERSION?

IDINA MENZEL: No, I was lucky with Rent to be able to be in that 10 years after doing that. If that happened twice, I would be thanking my lucky stars. Green make-up would hide a lot of flaws. [Laughter] I keep telling them that. I keep saying it's like Peggy Sue Got Married. I could have played an older one and then come back. So, of course I'd love to do that, and I made sure all the keys were really hard, so that if you were not a real singer, you'd have a hard time. But they always make do with that and they change it and they get in the studio and they'll just find I don’t know who. I'm not going to cast it for myself.

Q: WOULD YOU CONSIDER DOING TV LIKE KRISTIN CHENOWETH?

IDINA MENZEL: Yes, sure I would, but the thing I think that sets me apart is being a songwriter, and there's not that many women in the theatre who do that, so I'm just trying to go that route. It is a dream of mine, to be in a bus with a bunch of dudes, you know, touring the world, so that's something that I can still do—hopefully they'll have me in a couple of years. I just have to see this through one last time, and it's so unique that you don't have to be 18, blonde and in a bustier. I got signed being a mature woman and it's okay and the record label's really behind me and I'm really lucky. I'm going to give it one more shot because I don't know how much more time they'll give me.

Q: HAVE YOU SEEN THE OTHER PRODUCTIONS OF WICKED?

IDINA MENZEL: I went back because one of my girlfriends, Julia Murney, was in the New York production who I did Wild Party with. It’s a show I did at the Manhattan Theatre Club, and I wanted to support her, but I went back to London and did it for five months. So it’s just like I'm burned on it — so I want to support the show because I love what it says and I want it to be around forever, but I just need to take a break.

Q: WAS YOUR LONDON EXPERIENCE VERY DIFFERENT FROM YOUR NEW YORK EXPERIENCE?

IDINA MENZEL: Yeah, because I had more confidence. It's amazing. This show — the character mirrored a lot of things I needed to work out in my own life with just having confidence, feeling like I didn't necessarily fit in, owning my ferocity and my power on stage, like getting up there and just —

Q: IS THAT WHY YOU BECAME AN ACTRESS?

IDINA MENZEL: Yeah, I guess . . . I don't know why. It's just I've always been singing and acting and that's just been a part of me, and it's actually now that I am afraid I have nothing else to offer, and I want to go take sailing lessons and Italian again because that's what I studied in school. It's so funny, it’s like you spend your whole life going after this one dream and you turn around one day and you're like, what else do I do? I want to read more and I wish I'd majored in English lit instead of theatre so I'd be more well-rounded. It was going to London and hanging out — all my friends were so brilliant over there. I mean they're so much smarter than us. They have all these countries that it takes them an hour to get to and so they're surrounded by all these cultures and different people, and they travel all their lives, and they just have an appreciation and knowledge of everything going on in the world. And I was just constantly trying to soak it up, but also going home feeling a little ignorant.

Q: DO YOU THINK THE MESSAGE AT THE END OF THIS MOVIE IS THAT THE MODERN WOMAN CAN'T HAVE IT ALL -- YOU CAN'T BE A HIGH-POWERED EXECUTIVE AND STILL BE ROMANTIC?

IDINA MENZEL: I think she just decides it's her wedding and maybe she’s going to prioritize. She’s gonna go find it. I don't think so. That's not what I got from it. She also realizes for the first time that maybe it wasn't the right moment and there’s a time and place for everything.

Q: TALKING ABOUT LIVE THEATRE, ANTHONY HOPKINS COMPLAINS OF BOREDOM AND THE REPETITION OF DOING PERFORMANCE AFTER PERFORMANCE. DO YOU EVER SEE THAT HAPPENING TO YOU?

IDINA MENZEL: Well, I don't want to go against what Anthony Hopkins says. [Laughs] That’s like going against Laurence Olivier. But for me that’s not really the case. I mean there's always a time when you need to take a vacation because you just start to like — every line blends into the next and you start to forget things that you've done for years. But for me, the audience is a living breathing creature and it’s sort of the last character in the play and so every night it's different. And I always feel this need and responsibility to kind of win them over, and they always laugh at different places — cry and respond or not respond -- so there's something different to be learned all the time. I know that sounds like actor-schmachter kind of stuff, but it's true because I literally — if you have the words "I love you" there's been times where six months down the road I've said it and I'm like, that's what the director wanted me to do the entire time. So when you have those moments, you're like there’s always something to be learned.

Q: WHAT ELSE DO YOU HAVE COMING UP AFTER THE ALBUM?

IDINA MENZEL: You know, I just don't know. It's really an unknown time for me. I have my husband wanting me to pop out some babies. [Laughs] Just one would just put him on hold for a little while.

“Enchanted” opens in theaters on November 21st.

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