Idina Menzel Talks ‘Frozen 2’, ‘Uncut Gems’, the West End and Broadway
With Frozen 2 now playing in theaters, I recently sat down with Idina Menzel to talk about making the highly anticipated sequel. During the wide-ranging conversation, Menzel talked about why making the sequel was a team effort, how the film doesn’t have the typical villain to contend with, how the sisters’ protective relationship means so much to so many people, the amazing animation, if she had any songs that were cut out of the sequel, if the story changed during production, and more. In addition, she talked about being part of Uncut Gems with Adam Sandler and the differences between the audiences on the West End and Broadway.
As most of you know, directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck and produced by Peter Del Vecho, Frozen 2 takes Anna (Kristen Bell), Elsa (Idina Menzel), Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), and Olaf (Josh Gad) on an all-new adventure that finds Anna and Elsa investigating the truth behind their parents—and possibly Elsa’s powers. The sequel also features the voices of Evan Rachel Wood, Alfred Molina, Martha Plimpton, Jason Ritter, Ciarán Hinds, Jeremy Sisto, Alan Tudyk, and Rachel Matthews.
Check out what Idina Menzel had to say below.
Collider: First of all, congratulations on the sequel. You guys did the impossible.
IDINA MENZEL: Thanks. It’s not us. It’s them. It’s the creative team.
I agree with you that Bobby [Robert Lopez], Kristen [Anderson-Lopez], Jennifer [Lee], Chris [Buck], all the people involved are all geniuses.
MENZEL: And the animation.
— all of them. But I also think that you guys inhabit these characters.
MENZEL: Yeah, it’s so collaborative. It’s the most collaborative process. I mean, theatre is pretty collaborative, but you just wouldn’t expect it in a film out here in Hollywood. You come in and everyone wants to share with you where are the scripts at. They want to show the storyboards and the illustrations or the visuals that they have going and they want to share with you where the demos are or the music. They want to know what we think and what we feel about stuff and they just keep us informed along the way. It’s just so much fun. Jen was running a studio, and she found the time to come in and kick off her shoes and sit with us with Chris Buck and read and direct us for hours and hours. I will say that I know that she loved it because she liked to escape from the corporate part of things and get back to her creative writer artist self. But I just always admired that about them.
I think my favorite part of this movie is that there’s no villain. I love that aspect of the film. Talk a little about that aspect, that it’s not about someone coming to get your character’s powers or come between the sisters or take over the land.
MENZEL: Yeah, and about contending with a past that we all have to reckon ourselves with. The mistakes we make as people, how that informs us as kids and how we decide where we’re going, what we’re going to believe in, and what our principles are going to be. You know, acceptance, the people that don’t accept us. Fighting to be accepted. You know, there’s challenges, there’s things, but there isn’t your necessary villain. Every Disney is just the quintessential nemesis. That was supposed to be Elsa, especially in the first movie. And then they wrote “Let It Go” and they were trying to think… I think it was sort of a chicken and the egg type of thing. But I remember because I was involved very early on when she actually had blue skin and she was just, like, the mean sister, the ice queen or whatever. Then they start to realize, “Why do we have to do this very one-dimensional thing? Can’t she be this complex character?” And then when they wrote that song, you know, music speaks to us in ways that you can just feel these different dynamics and textures to somebody. And it started to become more obvious that somebody can be a lot of things. There are gray areas, you know? And then it became more about the relationship between these two sisters and their love for each other and no man being the answer to everything, and all that.
But I think it’s the relationship between the two sisters that’s everything in this movie. And it’s the reason, I think, why so many people around the world love these characters. Especially when I saw it last night with these girls sitting near me and they were captivated. They loved this movie.
MENZEL: Yeah. Yeah. And I have a younger sister and I know how it feels, this fierce loyalty to each other, to being protective of each other, wanting the most for each other, wanting each other to sort of find their thing, their authenticity, their passion in life, what they’re meant to be, what’s their purpose. These two women just want that so much for each other.
I’ve been asking this of a few actors recently that have worked on the West End and on Broadway — I asked Jonathan [Groff] this earlier. Have you noticed the difference between the audiences on the West End and on Broadway?
MENZEL: I have to think back now, because I did Wicked. I think they’re different for musicals and for straight plays. They seem like they just let it loose and have more fun in musicals. They’re not uptight about it. When we went over there [to the West End], they warned us, “You know, these audiences are more reserved and blah, blah, blah. Don’t expect them to get up and give you a standing ovation.” And they were effusive and yelling, “I love it.” But you have to remember, they had Phantom of the Opera and all these things. But their plays is their Shakespeare and their… you know, you don’t mess around with that. So I feel like they’re more fun in that way, and then New York is a little bit… it’s harder on the musicals. I don’t know. That was just my take. What’d Jonathan say?
Jonathan said that in Broadway, there’s a lot of standing ovations, sometimes when people just come out.
MENZEL: Yeah, that’s true too.
And that in London, if you get a standing ovation, they really mean it.
MENZEL: That’s true. That’s true. So I just contradicted everything I said. (laughs)
No, no. You’ve done different stuff than what Jonathan has done.
You can only report on what you’ve actually experienced.
MENZEL: Yeah. I don’t know. I was the only American in an all British and a little bit Aussie cast, and I had the time of my life when I was in the West End. I actually learned how to do eight shows a week and actually have a beer. They taught me how to party and do it. It’s probably because I had already won the Tony and I didn’t have as much to prove and I wasn’t as uptight about everything, and I just laid back and had a good time and everybody was awesome.
Before I run out of time with you, I thought Uncut Gems was awesome.
MENZEL: Isn’t it good?
It’s so good.
MENZEL: I didn’t see that coming at all. I mean, I knew it would be good, because I’ve always been a fan of Adam Sandler’s and Punch-Drunk Love, and I get so frustrated with people that give comedians a hard time, are always so surprised when they’re really good actors. Because then they’re, like, the most courageous, risk-taking artists of all of our mediums. But I didn’t know it was going to be like this and I didn’t know how much I’d love the Safdie brothers and how fucking crazy and cool and brilliant they are.
I could go off on that, but I only have two more minutes. So let’s jump back into Frozen. Kristen and Bobby told me that there were seven songs or so that they wrote that didn’t make Frozen 2. Was there something that you were sad to see go?
MENZEL: Not mine. Mine are all there. (laughs) Oh, their way they arranged it changed. On Show Yourself, which is actually my favorite song, even though everybody talks about Into the Unknown. I love the last song in the movie that I have when I’m riding on the ocean with the horse. They rearranged that song. It had a different undercurrent to it and they re-orchestrated it and it went into this ballad-y thing when she’s singing in her mind as she’s having her black stallion moment. It gives me chills. I don’t get chills from hearing my voice, but I get chills from the visual of it. It brings me back to my childhood.
The animation in this movie is just so breathtaking, it’s just ridiculous. Disney animation and what they do, it doesn’t make sense.
MENZEL: That’s why I said it’s a teamwork. It’s everybody. There’s a spectacle of it, but there’s also the emotion in their faces. I mean, the stuff that they grab is just crazy. Like when Anna sees her sister, when she’s thinks that she’s gone, you know. I mean, there’s just the humanity in what they do. It’s pretty incredible.
An animated movie always changes during the development process. Was there anything that really changed along the way, or was it very —
MENZEL: For me, the biggest change is not as much the animation as the approach of Elsa was … We were used to making her apologetic all the time for herself. “I am sorry I have these powers. I’m sorry I almost hurt everybody and…” You know, that was more of like the first movie. She was always fearful that she was going to endanger the people that she loved with this power. In this film, she steps into it and she owns it. But at first, we had done a lot of readings and recordings of dialogue where it still came across a little bit apologetic. And then they’d watch the screen and they’re like, “We need to stop thinking the same formula.” It’s Anna that’s actually afraid for her sister all the time, and worried about what’s going to happen, but Elsa has this certainty. She hears this voice, but there’s something all-knowing that she knows that if she just follows this thing inside of her that she’s going to find whatever it is. It feels right. It feels powerful. It feels good. And so we went back in and re-recorded a lot of her lines with more of an optimism and enthusiasm and sort of like… She’s sort of like letting everyone around her know that everything’s going to be okay.