Idina Menzel and Nia Long Talk Beaches, Confidence, and Why Life-Long Friendships Are So Important
Idina Menzel has performed live at the Oscars, starred in the highest-grossing animated film of all time (Disney’s Frozen), and sung for the President of the United States. And yet—even with all that on her resume—starring in Lifetime TV’s remake of Beaches left her absolutely petrified. “I love the [original 1988] movie, and Bette Middler was an idol for me my whole life,” Menzel tells Glamour. “To be completely honest, I was terrified to do [this remake].”
Fortunately costar Nia Long was in the same boat. “Beaches is always included in my top five films,” she says. “It’s about sisterhood, about girl power. Your friendships are the things that keep you grounded, and Beaches is a reminder of that. [Filming this movie] was challenging and fun, and in the scenes that we had to bond as best friends was pretty natural.”
Sitting down with the actresses, it’s clear that their bond isn’t just for show. They finish each other’s sentences and offer support and advice to one another. In fact, what started out as a simple Q&A about the movie quickly turned into a raw, honest conversation about battling insecurity and dealing with the uncertainties of life. If you already loved these women, get ready to appreciate them even more.
Glamour: When was the first time you met each other?
Nia Long: The first time was the Best Man set, around that time, and then I saw her in Wicked, but I didn’t put two and two together. Then years went by and we didn’t see each other, but then we sort of ran into each other on The Talk.
Glamour: What was your first impression of each other?
Idina Menzel: Well, it’s weird in this business because I saw her at work, on Love Jones, and I thought she was so beautiful and sweet and just a big ball of light in that movie. Then I got to know her in person, and I thought [sarcastically], “Oh God, she’s horrible.”
Glamour: Finally, someone speaking the truth!
Idina: No, no, no, we hit it off, honestly. Our first day on set we had to like, go there, and…
Nia: There was no time to prepare. It was like, “OK, you guys go be best friends.” Which instantly makes you say, “I have to trust her.” That’s the only thing that’s going to make these scenes work. We can act it, but…[thankfully] we had grasped the root of the friendship very early on.
Glamour: How did these roles come about for you both?
Nia: She got offered, and then they came to me. The first thing I said was, “Which role?” There’s only two roles in the movie! And then, everyone on my team was laughing [because] they’re like, “The Barbara Hershey role.” I was like, “Oh, yeah! Bring it on! I never died in a movie. I love this movie.” This could be amazing.
Glamour: Considering this film is about friendship from a young age and into adulthood, does it glorify a false ideal that we can have a best friend from childhood that lasts decades?
Idina: I’m envious of their relationship, the women in this movie.
Nia: I don’t think [it’s a false ideal]. I think there are moments when you’re closer than at other moments, and there are periods of time when you may not even speak, but just like you were able to identify who your best friend was or is, even though you haven’t spoken to her, you know what that relationship is, she’s probably irreplaceable. So, that in itself means you can go revisit that or try to heal that.
Idina: I think it depends. It’s a very cherished, rare thing to have a true, true friend. It’s hard because we all grow and evolve and go on our own paths; sometimes you grow closer and sometimes you grow apart. There’s very few that you keep coming back to and finding your way. I think it’s rare.
Glamour: I loved seeing young CC have these dreams about what it means to be an actress and then she’s faced with the reality of how difficult it actually is to succeed.
Idina: I’m glad that comes across.
Glamour: I’m sure people have said to you in your career, “Wow, you’re living the dream! This must be everything!” But is it? Is this career what you thought it would be when you had dreams as a little girl?
Idina: I think I thought when I was that age it was going to solve everything and make me a happy person. And then I realized, you know, that’s not success. Even spending your day doing something you love… I don’t know, maybe it’s just because I need more anti-depressants. [Laughs.] Spending your days doing something you love, your passions, should make you happy. But you keep moving the bar—if something’s not perfect, the more successful you get, the more people there are to tell you…
Nia: …what you should be doing.
Idina: Or that you’re not good. You know, the more people are paying attention, that incites more negativity. I think when I was a dreamer, I didn’t realize. I also think I believed in myself more as a kid.
Nia: I just had that conversation with myself!
Idina: I thought I was invincible; I thought I was destined. I knew that I had this talent, and it was only going to be a matter of time. And now you can say to me one little thing to me about my performance, and I’ll go home and cry about it. Somehow, with age, your experience changes.
Nia: Knowing yourself is not always…it doesn’t always make it easier. When you’re younger, you’re just this free spirit. I’m talking younger, 13 years old, and I was that same way too. I would just visualize it and manifest it. I was fearless. Now that I have family and people that depend on me, the stakes were higher. It can be fearful. But what I had to remind myself was to keep dreaming, because when you’re dreaming, you’re actually coming from a place of…you’re not affected by all the messages we get from the outside. You’re just in your own space, which can also cause a little loneliness because you can’t share that with everyone. It’s this sacred thing.
Idina: Maybe that’s what so important about friendship, that we have people who keep us on track, and in this movie, remind them, “That wasn’t you. You dreamt of this. Keep going for it. Don’t give up.”
Glamour: That’s true. One of my pet peeves lately is, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Nia: That’s bullsh-t. Sorry.
Glamour: I’m glad you said that! I love what I do, but I haven’t slept this whole week. It is work, no matter how much you do love and appreciate it.
Idina: Sometimes I get sick, and I’m terrified what notes are going to come out. It’s the worst feeling in the world. Then I feel guilty that I’m not loving what I’m doing because how many people would dream to be doing what we’re doing, and all I want to do is get off stage because I’m so scared the cold’s going to set in, and I’m going to embarrass myself, you know?
Nia: [What we do] is work and it’s sacrifice. It is a grind from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to sleep, and that is why I think you have to have those friendships in your life because I don’t have to explain everything to my best friend because that takes too much time. It’s important to have that support in this business. It is not designed for support; it is not designed for people to be honest with you. It’s a show. That’s why it’s called show business, so you have to hold on to those things that are really authentic in your life. If not, you will go flying. You will be the wind beneath somebody’s wings. [Laughs.] You either stay grounded and study, or you’re bouncing off the walls trying to please everyone.
Idina: You have to find that moment every day to pinch yourself and be like, “Remember when my little-girl self wanted to write and be a journalist? Or wanted to sing on stage and act?” And I’m doing it, so I try to find that moment, like when we’re shooting and they say “Action,” I try not to forget those cool things [you can] take for granted.
Glamour: Is there a topic or issue you’re tired of talking about, or one that you hope you get the opportunity to discuss more?
Nia: I definitely think the pay gap is something that we need to keep pushing for. Equal pay for women is essential. We are just as valuable, we are just as powerful, we are just as magical. So that is something we need to continue talking about. What I am sick of talking about is that [new] guy in the White House. And I’m just going to keep my mouth shut…
Idina: It’s not to say I’m sick of it, but I get asked a lot about being a role model to young kids. It’s a thing I don’t take lightly, and I’m very proud of it, but I get tired of being asked whether I wake up every day and feel completely empowered and…
Idina: I’m 45 years old, and I still haven’t figured [life] out. It’d be nice to be asked from that angle once in a while, as opposed to, you know, “What can you say to all of these kids?” That’s when I say, “I’m still trying to figure it out. Try to be yourself as much as you can.”
Nia: I think that’s the key to life, keep figuring it out. Keep pushing forward and finding your own button that reminds you to be great and human and vulnerable and soft. Sometimes I feel like the battle of life is so hard-core that I have to be not as soft as my true self really is. I have to put on this armor and go out the door and be like, “OK, what do I have to fight today? How do I navigate through this without getting myself all upset?” Every day there’s a new thing. Whether it’s a simple thing, like the guy who did my sprinklers did them all wrong, or my son’s teacher said something inappropriate, or this deal wasn’t negotiated properly, it’s all important. I can handle all of it, but how do I stay soft? And keep my heart soft, because that’s when you attract the good stuff.