Betsy Wolfe is Absolutely Fine. And Other Concerns.
Written by Victoria Myers
Photography by Jacqueline Harriet
September 12th, 2017
Betsy Wolfe is absolutely fine. Well, she wishes it was easier to do something more to help the people affected by Hurricane Harvey because it should be easier and people should just do the right thing, and how, if you are in any way a person with a public presence, do you use that presence to do the right thing without it crossing over into self-serving solipsism? What if you just want to do the right thing because, for you, it’s just the right thing to do?
Betsy has been working a lot lately. In June, she took over the role of Jenna in the Broadway musical Waitress. Since then, she has been on an almost non-stop schedule of rehearsals, press commitments, and doing eight shows a week. And then there are e-mails to be answered, phone calls to be returned, and social media to be kept up with. It is a lot. The other day she got run over by a bicycle and there is currently a large, bloody bruise on her ankle. On a Tuesday at the end of June, a few weeks after starting in Waitress, she was at the Plaza Hotel at 8am to shoot a scene for The Interval’s forthcoming short film project. The night before she’d performed in a concert, and after shooting her scene, she went straight to a rehearsal and then into the evening performance of Waitress followed by a two-show day. She does not have much time for herself or to get sick or to sit around for long stretches of time thinking about her feelings. But, just so you know, this is the life she chose and she loves what she does; in other words, she is someone who understands the costs of things.
Now 35, Betsy made her Broadway debut ten years ago in the ensemble of the 2007 revival of 110 in the Shade. She has worked continuously since then and built a resume populated by what could be termed popular indie musical theatre: Everyday Rapture, The Last 5 Years, Falsettos. She possesses an athletic voice that can handle both legit soprano and belting, and she is equally capable of comedy and drama with a keen understanding of the ways that they can surprisingly mix. At a time when the theatre industry is rapidly changing and paths and rules seem murky and the field of performers is oversaturated, Betsy has slowly built a reputation as a talented performer who is liked by critics and audiences. Unlike many in American musical theatre who have a moment of high visibility on Broadway, Betsy has been one of the few women in recent years to establish herself as someone that is here to stay, and whose career is growing. There are now Tumblr blogs and Twitter accounts dedicated to her. In her dressing room at Waitress, she has two drawers overflowing with fanmail. Her face, as part of the Waitress advertising campaign, is all over billboards and trashcans in Times Square. In other words, she is on the precipice of becoming a true Broadway star. Again, it’s a lot. And to survive in show business, at a certain point, you have to reconcile that many seemingly contradictory things can be true at once.
Next she will play Carrie Pipperidge in the highly anticipated Broadway revival of Carousel. The last time Carousel was on Broadway, in 1994, the role of Carrie earned Audra McDonald her first Tony Award. The musical is considered a masterpiece—Time Magazine called it the best musical of the twentieth century. It is also considered complicated and controversial. This is not information Betsy needs to be told, but this is information she will probably be told a lot. She has long been familiar with the character and the musical, and has already been thinking about how she sees her and what she wants to bring to the part.
Betsy— passionate, hyper-competent, opinionated, funny, ambitious, outgoing, serious, highly intelligent, fiercely private—is interested in characters who are complex. She is interested in characters who have agency and make choices. She is interested in their flaws and their contradictions. She is interested in the way things are not always as they seem; the way we have a choice to make things not be what they seem. It’s what she plans to do in Carousel and what she’s currently doing at Waitress, which is where we are now.
Betsy Wolfe believes in God. And Betsy works pretty damn hard at her job. And again, just so you know, she really loves her job, which I know because she told me many, many times, and because it is fairly obvious.
The following interview was conducted over several days and has been edited and condensed.
Let’s start with your take on the character of Jenna in Waitress. Jenna seems tricky in the sense that she’s slightly passive. How do you keep her active?
I think one of the things that can be such a trip-up in this role is that she seems like she’s very reactionary, and, like you said, passive. I wasn’t interested in playing someone who just has so much bad luck, bad decisions happen to her, and then she has the baby, and then, all of a sudden, she sees the light. I think what I found really interesting was what it’s like to be someone who finds herself—whether it’s just one bad decision a day, or one passive move a day, or one misstep—waking up and thinking, “How on earth did I get here?” To me, it was about finding those moments in each of the scenes, and finding where she allowed herself to forget herself in the show. In a way, she was choosing this adventure, and then she chooses to not let it be her adventure anymore. So it’s a more active choice than to allow things to just happen to her. She did decide to marry Earl, and he’s changed, and that’s an active choice that she makes continually to not leave him. So, you can’t look at it as someone who’s just letting life happen to her. She’s actively made these decisions that have somehow put her in this position. She’s pursued a relationship with Dr. Pomatter; it didn’t just happen. She didn’t just get pregnant, you know? That, to me, is way more interesting. What happens to you the day you wake up and realize that you’ve actively actually chosen this life that’s in front of you? Maybe you were blindsided by certain things, or you didn’t see the big picture coming when you took each step, or you didn’t know where the road was going to lead you when you were putting one foot in front of the other.
And we can’t just assume that because someone’s broken, it has to look a certain way. I think that there’s this misconception that if you’re broken, you’re insecure, and that plays out on the outer layer. To me, that is a very superficial decision. I loved the thought of, what does that look like when you actually try and cover it up and let it be something that only very few people see, or that you decide when to let people in on what actually is going on inside you. To me, that’s a more interesting choice.
Sometimes we view how somebody looks on the outside and just assume things, or behavior can be read differently depending on how the person looks, and we just assume someone is doing okay.
So many people I respect and admire are gregarious and appealing. And they’re great cover-ers. They mask things really, really well. I find that really interesting. Like, who do they actually open up to? Who gets to see the real side of them?
[In Waitress] I can clock that moment when Jenna’s in the pantry with the girls, and she finally feels this sense of openness and like, “I’m actually accepted here.” That’s why in the song “Soft Place to Land,” she’s finally sharing this dream with her girlfriends. Abusive relationships, people who were abused, people in emotionally abusive relationships, they all look really, really different. I think that it would be irresponsible to assume or to characterize it in one way and say, “This is what this looks like. So this is how you should play it.” I like to think that by bringing something to this role that maybe hasn’t been seen before, that it includes more people in the scope of, “Oh, I see myself in this show.” I’ve said it before, but different people who play this role at different times will bring different elements to it. I think that that’s important because I think this show has a really beautiful message, and so if you can just keep relating to different types of people, that’s really kind of a win for everyone.
How do you go about subverting that? In the sense that I’m sure you have an awareness of the stereotypical way this looks, this is how this behavior looks on me, this is how certain behavior might be interpreted on me. How do you go about knowing what you want to do with the role, but also having the knowledge of how the audience is going to read certain behavior?
I think it’s a fine line. I think it’s a little bit of a give and a take. I think that you have to help them out, in a way, and really kind of hand feed them certain things that make certain people identify with something. But then, at the same time, I would be boring if I didn’t challenge it in another way. We don’t all act the same way. We’re imperfect. We’re constantly evolving and changing. So why should a character be the same way from the start of the show to the end of the show? At some times I’m sure you mask it better than others, and mask it differently at times than others. To me, it’s just remaining truthful. And there’s still moments in the show that I find change from night to night, depending on how it resonates with me at the moment.
When you first get a script, what’s your way into a character?
This one was so different. Because the biggest challenge and the biggest difference about the process for this wasn’t how I approach a character, but it was how was I going to fit into the world that was already created with my approach to a character. I approached this character the same way that I approach any other character, which is reading the script millions of times, trying to fill in the blanks of who this person is. Reading it from different characters’ perspectives. I read the script and sometimes I go, what is Earl’s perspective? I read it from the lens of, what if I was playing Dr. Pomatter? What would I need then? I find that that helps me understand why other people are doing what they’re doing. I think with a role this big, and with a multi-dimensional role that’s so multi-faceted, you can’t say that this is going to be cookie-cutter and fit into this machine. I think there are other shows that you can do that with, but Waitress is not one of them. Jenna’s certainly not a role that you can do that with.
In general, do you try to look for ways the character is similar to you? Or do you go to the differences first?
I think you have to feel like you can identify with someone. I don’t think I’ve ever played a character that I haven’t found some commonalities with somewhere, because otherwise, where do you start? To me, that’s like putting on an outfit and saying, “I don’t like this at all. I don’t understand why I’d even wear this. But I’m just going to do it to be different.” I’m not out to do something just to be different. I have to find some kinds of choices that I identify with, and then let it grow from there.
Some characters, sure, you’ll relate more to than others. But I related to the fighter in Jenna. I don’t see her as someone who views herself as broken. I think that would be a huge disservice to this role, to view yourself as the victim. That’s not interesting. We don’t go through the day making choices thinking, “This is just going to end up the shittiest life that it could be.” You go through trying to hang on. And that to me is what is so interesting: she’s just trying to absolutely hang on and make the best life for herself. And I think that’s what’s interesting to watch.
I had to definitely address some of the differences in choices because I would never make certain choices. I had to find a world in which her choices, that are structurally and fundamentally in the script, why she could make them, so those are very believable choices for me.
Could you give an example of that? Taking on a character who has a value system that’s different than yours is interesting.
She decides to have an affair with her gynecologist. And of course she’s shit up a creek without a paddle in that she’s in a relationship she doesn’t want to be in, and she’s able to find joy in this other thing that she knows is not right, but temporarily makes her feel better. I’d be lying to you if I said that I’ve never been in a situation in my life that I didn’t want to be in where I knew something was wrong, but it felt better in the moment to just set aside the stuff that was wrong, and go run to this other thing. Was it my gynecologist? No. But I know what that is like. That sense of just saying, “I can’t address this now. I just want to escape for a little bit.” Absolutely, I know what that looks like. So, for me, it was just translating it to that, and then the stakes are obviously huge in this show, so you have to be able to find some kind of parallel that allows you to get there.
After Waitress, you’re doing Carousel. Let’s talk about the female relationships in that show.
They’re what the show’s about. And it’s never talked about in that scope.
And it’s one of the few shows I can think of where you have two women who are about the same age…
…Have the same circumstances. Have the same types of situations that are happening in their lives. And they make two very different choices. People have always said it’s about who makes the right choice and who makes the wrong choice. I don’t think either one of them is making the right choice. And that’s what’s so fascinating to me. But I do think that the women are the ones that have all the power in this show, which I find also fascinating, because it was written so long ago. I don’t know if people see it that way, but to me this show’s all about relationships and women finding strength within each other, and how much they push and how much they pull, when they decide to let the other person breathe, and then finding their way through that. I hope that that’s brought out in this revival. When I’ve talked with the director, we have certain thoughts on who Carrie is and I’m very excited because I don’t think it’s ever been explored this way.
One of the things that I always think is interesting with Rodgers and Hammerstein shows is that people always have really strong ideas about them based on how they have been done in the past. But if you actually go back and look at the scripts, usually, for all the main characters there’s maybe five pieces of given information in the script and that’s it. So much is open to the actors’ interpretation.
I think that’s also why they translate so well. Obviously, the scores are beautiful and there’s nothing like a Rodgers and Hammerstein score, but I think why they keep getting done is because if you really do examine what’s actually on paper, they tend to hold up throughout the years more than other shows do.
I’m really looking forward to a 2017 version of what that looks like, and examining who these people are in their relationships and the decisions they make and why they make them—and get out of the, “Well, they made them because in this time that’s what you did,” way of thinking. I think that that’s a dangerous trap to get into—just saying, “Well, that’s just how it was done.” No one wants to see that anymore. We have to go back to the characters.
You know that theory about works by and about women and how people have trouble seeing the metaphor in them? Like they can only see them as being about plot?
I feel like Carousel, in a way, is an example of that. When people are like, “It’s about a guy who beats his wife,” and they can’t see the metaphoric level of the storytelling.
Ugh, yes. Sure, it is about a guy who beats his wife. But what’s the more interesting story? How are these people dealing with this? How are they relating? What were the warning signs? What were the choices you could have made differently? When did you know? How are women supporting each other? I think that would be a huge misstep, to just think that that’s what this show’s about. I think you’re really going to miss the point of this revival, if that’s what you see.
It has been about a year and a half since the last time we did an interview.
Three roles, I think, have gone by since then.
As your life and career are changing and growing, how are you figuring out what you want to do? It seems like you have a lot more coming at you than you did, even a year ago.
I absolutely do. And I’ve learned huge lessons this year in terms of when I’m making decisions of what to include in my life, especially work-wise, what goes into that. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that that has shifted as I’ve become more settled and more comfortable in my own skin, and comfortable in my personal life. That very much influences, now, what I decide to bring into my work life. My work has to be in harmony with the personal life I’ve created. That’s true now more than ever.
I always want to be in a room where I’m pushed, I’m inspired, where there are creative minds at work, where there’s tension. I love being mentally exhausted when I’m working. I purposefully have a drama-free personal life, so the drama on the stage and in shows has its devoted space. So for me, it’s finding stories and characters that really push those buttons and push those boundaries. That’s kind of what I’ve let lead my heart in some decisions of what roles I’ve been playing. And that, to me, has superseded [what] would be a great thing to do visually to the outside world or even to me.
Ten years ago I was probably trying to appease or figure out what’s the “commercial” thing to do, or how to eventually get there—which is hilarious considering I’ve truly only devoted myself to projects that, lets be real, were less than commercial—but now I don’t have as much interest in that, and instead it’s about finding something that speaks to me and being in an inspired room. The past couple of years, I’ve found a wealth of amazing characters and opportunities that have come into my life in different ways and multiple roles that have intrigued me. Some have been very “commercial,” and from a distance have looked splashy, and some have been passion projects. So what’s been the hardest is choosing what works for my family, for my personal life, and what is going to inspire me, and the reality is that sometimes shifts and shifts drastically. Sometimes something you’ve thought you’ve dreamed of changes and it no longer becomes the option your heart wants, and that’s okay. Sometimes projects morph into something you’re no longer excited about, whether it’s because of changes to the fundamentals of the project or your heart needing something else. Because it’s not just a role that you choose. You have to take into consideration the tone of the environment, the technical terms of what you’d be doing, who is the heartbeat in the room, the length of time that you’d be committed to something, how it will affect your personal life. There’s a lot more that goes into it than the role.
Does it feel also like pressure to make the right choice?
Yeah. And I’ve made choices before—and recently—where I’ve been gutted that I made that decision. I have always made decisions based from a non-financial place. But I’ve had an interesting year of learning, and [there have been times] after I’ve left something behind, it’s been emotionally and personally devastating. I’ve not been able to get over certain decisions. So, to me, what’s so crazy about what I’m doing now is I can genuinely say my heart has just been truly happy in the past year and a half. And I think that’s because I’m making decisions based in a place that resonates with my gut and my heart, as opposed to business decisions.
Is that hard to do, though? I would imagine there’s a lot of pressure on you.
Yeah, it involves disappointing people. Sometimes paying the bills will be tighter. But ultimately, I’m the one who has to wake up everyday and go do a job. And I have to be able to be truthful to myself, but I feel like I owe that to other people too. If I’m going to perform, I need to be truthful and give them something that is part of me. So I do have a great sense of satisfaction for making the choices that I’ve made for what roles I’ll do because I know that I can bring 150% to it.
It seems like in this industry, people are constantly evaluating how much worth you have based on success or what you’re doing.
And I’d be lying if I said I don’t think about that sometimes. But at the end of the day, like I said, I’m the one that has to wake up and do my job and love what I do. And, you know, be a better steward of the world. So ultimately, that’s all mental clutter. Thank God that over the years I’ve been able to have less and less space for that, and purposefully create less space for it, because I’m making choices where the joy fills up that space.
Is there a moment you can think of where you started to go too much on that path, and then were like, “Nope, wrong direction”?
I know I’ve talked a lot about how I try to make decisions and what guides them, but sometimes even after I’ve made them, my heart will tell me when I’ve started down a path that’s not settling well. I’m so thankful for my intuition. I’m also thankful I was raised not to have too much pride to know when I need to trust my gut. I’m not perfect; I’m going to make “wrong” decisions. But knowing that my heart, mind, gut, and intuition are all present and working, even if I choose the “wrong” path first, I’ll end up on the path I’m supposed to be on. Also, if you were right all the time, how would you even know it? Sometimes being wrong for a period of time is the best thing, because it actually enables you to see your truth.
There’s also the process of learning how you stand up for yourself and advocate for yourself.
First of all, I have to live by the set of rules that I create for myself. There are certain things that are just going to work in my life, and certain things that won’t work. I can have all the thoughts of what decision I would make with a business mindset, but what is so murky and muddy about this business is I’m an artist, too. At some point, there’s this conflict between the businesswoman side of myself and the artist side of myself that wants to be fulfilled artistically, and sometimes that doesn’t line up with the best business move.
I think that that’s always changing. It’s always evolving, and one decision that I make this year might not be the decision that I would make a year from now. There are no rules. As much as you can set up rules for yourself, I think that it’s a revolving door. For me, what I’ve learned over the past couple of years is that both the heart and the mind have to be involved when it comes to making decisions in this business.
Do you feel like you’ve had role models or mentors in the industry in terms of how you navigate things?
Oh, yeah. I’ve always had people that I’ve admired for roles that they’ve taken or roles that they haven’t taken, and the path that they’ve chosen. But that’s on the surface. I’ve certainly worked with people who I’ve learned quite a bit from in terms of what’s important, what’s not important, how to brush things off, the inevitable, and what to spend your energy and time on. There are so many things in this business that can be infuriating, frustrating, as well as exhilarating. There’s nothing like being in a show with a seasoned pro who’s seen the curves that come at them, and you learn from them what is actually worth investing your time in, what’s worth putting on the boxing gloves for.
But at the same time, I do think that everything is changing, and it’s changing at such a rapid rate, that the rules are changing for how we do business—theatre is more of a business than ever. I see now where people who definitely are a little bit more seasoned than I am are constantly trying to shuffle and learn the new rules and trying to figure out, “What does it look like to be doing theatre in 2017?” Because it contractually looks very different than it did in 1995. I think everyone is just, in some sense, flying by the seat of their pants.
Connected to that idea of the rules changing on you, does it ever feel like, “Wait, I did everything right, but…”
Absolutely. I feel like I played by the rules that were established when I was playing the game, but the game rules are constantly changing. What I’ve learned is, because I don’t know what the rules are all the time and there’s constantly different players in the game, for lack of a better metaphor, I can only act by what goes in accordance to the set of rules that I have for myself—the guidelines for the way I choose to behave and interact with people, and for balancing the business side and then the artistic side of me. As long as I’m in harmony with myself, I can then bring that. At the end of the day, what’s most important to me is that I’m doing something that I love and that makes sense to the overall plan of my life. That’s what I’ve learned that I can control, because I can’t control everything else.
The value system in the entertainment industry is usually different than the ones that people were raised with. It takes a certain amount of ambition—it just does—to survive in this industry, which I think people don’t always see modeled growing up in quite the same way. Or even—and this is a completely reductive example—in most fields, if your best friend is getting married, you’re there. In this industry, if you have a show that night, you’re expected to be at your show.
I’ve found that more often than not, transparency and being up front and being honest and open has been rewarding in the sense that it’s honored. But you’re always going to find people that take advantage of that. I’ve always considered myself an ambitious person, and I think that there are people who can access that through a channel that is honest and open, and then I think there’s another channel that you can access that with. I’ve always just said that [the former] is the way I’m going to do it. I can’t control how other people are going to get there and get what they need. I can only control my actions about how to get to what I need and what will make me happy.
Do you have a spiritual life that affects your work at all?
I definitely believe that there’s a higher power. I believe in God. And I know that looks different for everyone. I’ll say this: I absolutely believe that I wouldn’t be in this business still if I didn’t ultimately believe that everything happens for a reason. I have control over my free will, but that there’s a higher purpose for me in the sense that I know where I am is right because that’s where I am. If I’m doing something, it’s because I think the universe has dictated that that’s where I’m supposed to be, and there’s something extremely comforting in that. So I tend to have a more relaxed demeanor when something doesn’t go my way. I have always been able to say, “Well, that’s why this didn’t work out, because I was meant to do this.” That has always been across the board for my personal life as well as my professional life.
Does it ever get lonely? In the sense that success can be isolating.
I don’t know how to answer that. I think that there are times in my career now when I feel more of a sense of pressure and I’m aware of my influence more than I’ve ever been. I wouldn’t say that that feeling is lonely, because there is always someone else that I can look to and ask questions and say, “Hey, this is now happening to me, how did you deal with this?” It’s not lonely so much as I’m now just acutely aware of when I need to ask for help or when I need to reach out to people who may have more knowledge about something than I do. But no, I don’t let where I am professionally dictate my life in that I’m isolating myself from people who actually mean something to me. Those are two very separate things.
Does the pressure ever feel scary? Like people looking at you and seeing you as successful, and being at a moment in your career where that can grow, but there’s also the risk of failure.
I don’t know how other people would define my success. To me, success is waking up and getting to do something I love every day, and not really having anyone get in my way. I’m practical and I’m 35 years old, so I have to pay the bills with whatever I do. In that sense, sure, I’m successful. But I cannot live my life by letting awards or other people or outside opinions dictate my success. Otherwise, I think you’d be in real trouble, and it would be a never-ending disappointment. I have now gone from show to show in roles that I absolutely love, and have spent my time creatively fulfilled. That’s what I want to keep doing—and to me, that is success. Whatever happens with each of those peripherally, or the accolades you get or don’t get, cannot define what I choose to spend my time doing, because that just seems like a dark, dark rabbit hole to go down and I don’t think it will ever make you happy. It won’t make me happy, that’s for sure. It’s the same reason why I believe that everything happens for a reason, and there’s a reason why I didn’t get a part or I passed on a part. I believe there’s a bigger story going on, and sometimes you just have to release a little bit of control. My free will part of that is making decisions that are in line with my heart and my head, first and foremost being my heart.
When we were talking about Waitress, we talked about how we look at certain people and that we might think that they’re fine when they’re not, and people who try to keep everything together and seem okay. I remember somebody once saying that when you’re in any way deemed successful, you, to a certain extent, at least publicly, always have to seem okay?
I’m just not trying to hide that aspect of myself anymore. I think I grew up with a real people-pleaser type mentality. I don’t view it necessarily as a negative that that was instilled in me. But I view it as the biggest positive that I’ve learned to be a little bit more authentic throughout the years, and a little bit more like, some days you’re just going to have bad days and some days you’re going to have good days. Now, because I’m in a public position, I make sure that if I’m not ready to be the person that I know I want to be, with people that are either inspired or want to let me know how I’ve affected them, I just make sure that I’m not doing that. I know my limits, too. Because we’re not all going to have great days. There will be some times where I don’t get a role or I pass on something and I’m sad, and I think it would be hard for some people to understand why I’d be sad about passing on something—they’d be like, “Well, you’re the one who did that. Why would you do that then?” When you asked about being lonely, I would say that there are certain people that have had those experiences before me that I tend to go to and ask how they deal with certain things. Because I think that everyone is only operating on the knowledge that they have. Of course, some people would never understand why I would pass on something because to someone that might be their dream, and they have every right to feel that way. I think it’s really, really hard to compare, or to expect that my decision-making would always be in line with someone else’s. But I need to be truthful in my interactions both in my public and in my personal life.
I was thinking about actors who have been fairly active on social media about politics, their political views, and the election, which you have been.
I used to not, though. I used to really try and keep a clear, definitive fine line, but quite frankly I just kind of reached a point where I didn’t necessarily care if my views were different. Your views are always going to be different than someone else’s, so I thought, “I have a voice too, and I’m going to use it.” I feel passionately about what’s happening in our country, and I just didn’t feel like I needed to hide that anymore. I don’t think I go out of my way to try and create drama, but at the same time, I’m certainly not going to ignore events that are happening in the world.
Recently, it’s been interesting to see who’s been vocal and who hasn’t been.
Yeah, and what’s funny is I didn’t used to judge people who weren’t vocal because I personally wasn’t vocal, but I would say now more than ever, I’m like, how can you stay silent? Quite frankly, I would think that would be true for both sides. If you’re passionate on either side, I would think now seems a very strange time to not make your voice heard. It just makes me think, “Who are you trying to please?” Or maybe you just don’t want to become involved. I think I used to understand that, but now it’s a little bit harder for me to understand the silence.
When was the first moment that you felt like a grown-up?
I remember being on a subway after I moved here, and I would ride the subway back and forth by myself many nights to the Bronx, where I first had an apartment. I would be on the train alone for the first time, and alone for most of the ride after a certain point, later in the night after seeing a show or after a rehearsal of some sort. I don’t think it’s just because I was by myself, but I felt this sense of, “Oh wow, I’m really doing this.” I’ve had a lot of moments through the years where I’ve been proud that I’m actually doing it, and although it was at the very beginning of my career, I was true to myself. I knew I was always going to do it, so it was one of those moments where I was like, “Oh wow, you’re doing this.” I never thought that moment would be on a subway somewhere in the Bronx on the 1 train. It really does take a village to get you to this one place, and yet there I was, very solitary, going, “Oh shit, I’m doing this.”
What was it like when you first moved here? Do you feel like you were different then and you’ve changed a lot, or not really?
I think I was some version of myself, and I was truthful to myself then. I don’t view it as I was some different, other person. I just had a different set of knowledge and a different skill set at the time, and the world looked different then, and the business looked a little different then. I was just doing what I could to stay in the game and get by. I see myself the same way. I’ve always had probably an annoying level of self-confidence in my ability. That doesn’t mean that I think I’m perfect. It means that I think I’m flawed, but I always knew that I would be able to, hopefully, rise to the challenge, and I always knew what I was capable of if someone just gave me a chance. But I think that the world sees me differently now, and that is something interesting to contend with and think about. But I see myself very similarly. I once read an interview with Steve Carrell where the interviewer was like, “God, you just kind of came out of nowhere and all of a sudden you’re everywhere.” And he said this thing like, “Well, I’ve been here the whole time.” That’s kind of how I’ve felt. And there were things that I had to learn, and there were things that other people had to learn.
It cracks me up. I’ve had “Mister Snow” in my audition book since I graduated, and no one ever wanted to hear it because it was five minutes long, and at auditions, no one wants to hear a five-minute story song. It is funny to think all these years later, people are actually now going to be paying to hear the whole damn thing. You have to hear the whole damn song now, all those same people. It is just this funny moment for me, personally, to think about. I’ve always loved that song. I’ve always wanted to sing that song, and nothing’s changed about that. It’s just the world around me has changed now.
I imagine it is weird to have people change how they see you. Especially because if you do a Google image search of you, you look different.
I look very different. But I think everyone looks slightly different from when they were 21 to 35. At the same time, I definitely think that if you go through some kind of a weight transition, you’re going to look more different. I’ll never forget, in college I played Princess Puffer in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, so when it came to Broadway and they called me in for Rosa Bud, I thought there was a misprint. I still definitely see myself as that quirky, offbeat—what I was told—best friend that is not the ingénue, basically. Anyone but the ingénue. So it’s not like I see myself as some ingénue now. All of that is infused in every role that I do. I never saw myself as stereotyped into something. I guess outwardly, I might look like a different stereotype now, but I’m still the same person on the inside, and that’s still going to come out in every role that I play. Like I said, I can’t really think about how the world views me differently. I can only think about my approach to something, and my approach is still very similar to that girl who looked very different at 21 than she does now.
You still made the choice to change, though.
I have to admit, it wasn’t so much an outward choice as it was just a natural progression, I think, of getting older and I was learning more about being healthy. And I was learning more about how to sing better, which involved more physical activity for me. I mean, at one point in time, I was definitely told, “I think some different opportunities would be opened up for you if you lost weight.” But I resisted that for two years after I heard it because I was mad. I was frustrated that I was being told that, and that was going to be some dictator of how successful I was going to be. But it was just a combination of my personal life finally kind of aligning more in a way that fit me, as well as me just being a healthier person, which I knew would make me a healthier performer. It happened slowly and over time. It happened over probably four years. It wasn’t this one decision that led to this transformation. I felt like finally a lot of my things were aligning in a healthier way.
Yes, things are going well.
It’s strange, I have my name up now on three theatres. Carnegie Hall [for a New York Pops concert], which is coming up, and then the Brooks-Atkinson [for Watiress], and just yesterday I saw my name on the marquee of the Imperial [for Carousel]. I do have to remind myself sometimes—because I live in my life, so I don’t view it from the outside world, which I think is actually really healthy—I sometimes forget how exciting that is, and how I don’t ever want to take for granted what it’s taken to get me here, and the people in my life that have made huge sacrifices to help me get where I am. But it is weird. I definitely did have this moment yesterday when I was walking by, and I was like, “Holy cow, this is crazy.” It’s like everything I ever wanted, in a sense, because I really, truly am doing what I love, and that’s success. I’m like, “Oh yeah. I am successful. I actually am getting to do what I love.”