PopBytes interviews Idina Menzel!
Good morning! Last week I had the amazing opportunity to get on the horn with Tony Award winning actress Idina Menzel. I was at her showcase here in hollywood a few weeks ago in support of her new album i stand – which is simply gorgeous and out in stores today! (purchase it at amazon or itunes!) we covered tons of topics including her amazing critically acclaimed stint as ‘elphaba’ in wicked along with her tony nominated broadway debut playing ‘maureen’ in rent – as well as her new album and what’s next on the horizon for ms. menzel…she was so very gracious & sweet!
i must admit to being quite nervous at first but once we got to talking – i was completely relaxed and idina was very thoughtful with her answers – i think it’s one of the best interviews i’ve done here on popbytes – i’m very proud of it! as a special treat – i’ve got five copies of her new album i stand to toss out – i’ll leave the contest open for a whole week – just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the reason why you deserve a copy of idina’s new album – i’ll randomly pick five people who answer that question! many thanks to popbytes’ pals carmen & martha for making this all happen – you guys totally rock my world! popbytes over & out for now…xxoo!
MK: Hi Idina – thanks so much for taking time to speak with me! Starting off – I have a couple of friends that are huge fans of Wicked and I have a couple of questions from them. One question was how did the London production differ from the New York one? Was there a big difference that you happened to notice?
Idina: There was a big difference in me. I had more confidence having been through the experience and being well received so I could go to London and really rediscover the role with a freedom that it was going to be okay. Something about that just made all the difference and enabled me to enjoy myself more.
MK: I actually just saw the show a few weeks here in Los Angeles – finally – and I loved it! I haven’t seen much theater since I moved here from New York almost seven years ago, I miss Broadway so much – that’s the one thing I miss most about living in New York.
Idina: Yeah, me too – I’ve been in Los Angeles a lot lately.
MK: I’m actually from Long Island, too.
Idina: Oh where?
MK: Stony Brook.
Idina: Oh, wow – that’s funny! I’m going out there to do an in-store signing at Borders – I think its Borders – in Syosset near my high school.
MK: Oh really? My Dad was a police sergeant in the 2nd precinct in Syosset plus I had family there too – small world! Anyways moving on I wanted to ask you have you heard anything about a film version of Wicked coming down the pike, has there any been talk of that?
Idina: None to me. I think that they’re doing really well with Wicked, the theatrical endeavor; I think they probably want to wait a little bit longer before doing a film. I would love to be a part of it, but I don’t know if by that time I’ll be old enough to be Elphaba’s grandmother!
MK: And then finally about Broadway, what do you think about Rent closing? What are your thoughts on that after the show has played for 12 years?
Idina: I’m very sad – just great sadness and real loss because it represents so many things for me. I met my husband (actor Taye Diggs) in rehearsals for Rent 12 years ago – that experience changed my life.
MK: Rent was your Broadway debut, right?
Idina: That was my Broadway debut. The experience was very traumatic with Jonathan Larson passing away right before we went up and in a very odd way, it was sort of a gift that he gave us that I keep with me throughout my career now – I don’t take anything for granted, and I really try to embrace the moment and stay grounded. I’ll never forget how important it was for us, as a cast, to get up on stage every night and to sing his words and put forth his message when he wasn’t there.
I think when we were young like that; it was something that was so invaluable to have. I would trade it in a minute to have him be able to be here to see how he has changed so much – the world and the minds of young people and all that. If anything good had to come of it all, it was that experience of learning responsibility and embracing the moment.
MK: I was just watching the movie over the weekend, too, and I kept thinking, “God, it’s so sad that he passed on and doesn’t know what became of his incredible work.”
MK: Moving on, you’ve got your brand new album I Stand coming out next week. (Jan 29th)
Idina: I do, yes.
MK: So what was it like working with legendary producer Glen Ballard on your album?
Idina: It was a dream for me. He’s been someone I always wanted to work with. Throughout the years I’ve had ups and downs where my career wasn’t happening, and I used to really dream of getting someone even just comparable to Glen Ballard. I never even thought I could get Glen Ballard to get in the studio with me yet I just knew that he would understand me. He would embrace all the diffeRent facets of my personality, experiences and styles and help to find one cohesive way to express my music.
And that’s exactly what happened. You know, he just gave me all this freedom to come in and present all my ideas and he encouraged me to write music with him, and I feel like with all these diffeRent elements – there’s a real unity in the music. Yet I don’t feel like I compromised any part of myself.
MK: Right, I’ve heard the album. It’s really superb – it’s gorgeous. I’m really excited for you.
Idina: Thank you so much.
MK: So I was going to ask you, now the – obviously the music industry is so very tough, I’m sure you probably heard a couple of weeks ago legend Annie Lennox was dropped by her label, Sony BMG.
Idina: You know, I didn’t hear that. Right after mine is when Glen produced hers.
MK: I know, and it’s so incredible – it was one of my top albums from last year. Apparently they weren’t returning her phone calls, plus her contract was up, and they chose not to renew it…
Idina: Are you kidding me? I did not know that.
MK: I know, and you’d think that somebody who has done so much work –
Idina: That album is brilliant. I heard that album, and I was like, “I can’t believe he worked with me.” I mean, she’s my idol. She is the reason why I gave myself permission to make this album because I feel like she’s the kind of singer that has this huge voice, this enormous range, all this soulfulness, yet she still has a theatricality and a drama to her music, which makes me feel okay to sort of come with my own experiences.
There’s a way to finesse being really expressive and emotional in your music, and not necessarily making a theatre album, but having the integrity and credibility of a pop album. So she’s, by far for me, my biggest inspiration.
MK: Oh, wow! Yeah, so it’s just – it’s unfortunate, as you probably know – even Dolly Parton, now has her own label, and she’s releasing her own album soon free from the constraints of a big label.
Idina: I think that actually enables people to have more control over their careers – especially if they already have careers – and audiences built in. Someone like me that’s trying to break into a new genre needs more help from a label. Thankfully they’re very supportive of me. But yeah, it’s almost – it’s probably nice for some of them – like Radiohead, to have sold their latest album the way they wanted to sell it. It’s definitely a freeing thing for a lot of artists.
MK: Definitely. Are you excited about the upcoming Chess concert in London? Are you still doing that?
Idina: Yes! I get excited about it so much. I’m thrilled to be up there with Josh Grobin. I love him and respect him so much; I am so excited that I have an excuse to go back to London because when I did Wicked there I fell in love with it – the people and the city. I had a life-changing experience there – I just really adored the entire five months I was there.
But I just have this album coming out, I haven’t been able to sit and really learn and get inside the music yet. So I’m going to give myself a couple weeks to enjoy this release time, and then I’m going to get busy!
MK: Talking about curRent events, do you have any advice for Britney Spears or maybe even more so Amy Winehouse? You know, for me – I don’t know if you’ve heard her album, Back to Black, but it’s just such an incredible album, then to see her just the other day caught on camera smoking crack – do you have any advice for this type of ‘mess’?
Idina: Well, I mean, I don’t feel like it’s my position to place judgment on anyone or to advise anyone. I mean, I struggle to do the right thing all the time in my own life, and I just hope that those people can (I didn’t mean I struggled like that – I never did drugs.)
Life is difficult and I am happy to have a real group of friends and family that are supportive of me, and I just hope that those people will – even if they’re being pushed away – will force themselves back into those girls’ lives and sit them down and give them a chance to just breathe. You know, that’s the only thing that bothers me is that – where are those people?
You know, even if they say, “I don’t want any help,” there comes a time where you’re a best friend or a sister or a brother and you say, “Too bad. I’m coming in here and we’re going to work this out.” It just seems like these people don’t have that kind of help.
MK: Yeah. I agree, and most of the people around them are either in for money or fame – yeah, it’s sad.
Idina: I don’t get it.
MK: Two more quick questions. What do you think it is – because I’m gay, and I love you, and I know a lot of other gay people love you as well. Do you think it’s just you being fabulous or do you think it’s from being in Rent and then even being in Wicked – I mean, Elphaba’s such a character that the gay community can kind of identify with, you know, sort of being an outcast – what do you make of all that?
Idina: Help me answer that – I need to figure it out because I’m being asked this question a lot. What would be your answer if I asked, “What’s the type of woman or performer that the gay community gravitates to? What makes that kind of performer?” What would you say is the connection between Madonna, Cher and Judy Garland – I know I’m stereotyping, but what would you say since I keep getting asked this question, and I don’t know.
I mean, I will say this before I let you answer, that I think what I love so much about my friends who are gay and the gay community is that I believe that they are the most authentic, honest, courageous, outspoken, compassionate people that I know. I just try to mirror that in my own life and my own work. Maybe there’s some kind of connection there, I’m inspired by that.
MK: I definitely think it’s being like sort of a diva – and I don’t want to use the term “diva” in a bad way.
Idina: I can’t say that about myself. I can’t say, “Oh, I’m a diva.”
MK: No, but I think – you know, for me, I would think of you flying up there in your green Elphaba makeup and ‘Defying Gravity’ – that’s a total diva moment!
Idina: Big voices and –
MK: Definitely. I think between Rent, because that show has gay themes and characters and then coupled with Wicked…
Idina: Right, I think that the two shows I have done definitely are about people that don’t necessarily fit into a mold, and are embracing their own individuality. I would hope that that’s why maybe they’re supporters of me.
MK: Yes, plus we have good taste, I like to think so at least! Finally, my last question –
Idina: You said you have good taste?
MK: We do – gays happen to have impeccable taste!
Idina: Thank you very much.
MK: I had to also ask how is your dog, Sammy Davis Jr.?
Idina: He’s fabulous. He’s on a plane right now probably driving Taye crazy because he’s not a good flyer, and he goes under the seat, but that’s because he’s ten pounds and we try to give him a little doggie sedative, and he fights through it. Then he whimpers and he embarrasses us on the plane, which I guess is a good experience for when we have a child and they just start crying and everyone looks at us to get the baby to be quiet.
But he’s on his way with Sammy – having been away with some friends, and I haven’t seen either of them in ten days so I’m very excited to see them both! We also have two cats – Coltrane and Ella, the jazz cats.
MK: Awww – how cute – I love animals. So for my final question, after Broadway, film and music projects, what would be your next dream project – is there something you’re dying to do?
Idina: Well, I want to go on tour with my band and experience that type of thing. Then I’m dying to get back to the stage and figure out a great original role that I can get into and help develop from the early stages. It’s always been an honor for me to work on something from the start. The years before it comes out and to be able to sit with the composer at the piano and really develop something – have them curtail it to my voice and my personality. It’s something I want to do as soon as I can figure out the right project for me.
MK: And say if you were to do a dream theatre project, what would be your classic role? Which character would you want to play – you’re obviously too young to play Mama Rose from Gypsy – but is there any legendary role that –
Idina: Oh, it would be Fanny in Funny Girl, but I don’t think I’ll ever play it because I have too much respect for Barbara Streisand and I just don’t think anyone can get up on stage and say, “Hello, Gorgeous!” and – just, you know…
MK: Yeah, that would be hard.
Idina: Yes, it would be really hard, but it is something I identify with being a girl from – well, Bronx, Long Island – similar, you know, experience, I just love that show so much – but I think I’m going to let that idea go.
MK: Idina, thank you so much for taking the time out to talk with me. I’m going to put up this interview probably the day that your album comes out to get a little extra spotlight on you.
Idina: I appreciate that. It’s a big deal for me, and I really appreciate the support.
MK: You’re so welcome. Thank you, again, and you have a great afternoon.
Idina: Thank you – you too!