Kerry Butler Interview
BroadwayWorld.com had a chance to interview Kerry Butler just before opening night of Little Shop of Horrors. Kerry talks about her childhood, Broadway career and about her role as "Audrey."
BWW: Can you tell our readers a little about how you started in the industry?
KB: I got into the business when I was three but my mom took me out at five. I begged her to let me come back and she finally let me when I was nine. My mother wanted me to have a normal childhood, but I loved acting. She would work as a school teacher all day and then pick me up and take me to auditions.
BWW: And did you go to acting schools?
KB: I did a children's acting thing. It was called "Something Different."
BWW: Really? What made you want to act in the first place?
KB: I always loved it. It was something that was in me. When I was 9, I was doing little shows around Brooklyn. I auditioned for Annie (I never got it) and was devastated. And then I auditioned for the movie.. I wanted it so bad.
BWW: What was your childhood like?
KB: Did you ever see the film Welcome to the Dollhouse? That was my childhood.
BWW: So would you say you were The Nicest Kid In Town?
KB: Yes, if you consider boozin', smokin, and cussin' nice. Kidding!
BWW: What are your favorite musicals?
KB: Would have to say Baby, Les Miz, Blood Brothers. Those are just a few.
BWW: What actors do you admire?
KB: My favorite actor is Russell Crowe, because of the way he immerses himself into a character. Actress...Susan Sarandon is my role model. I love the roles she picks, and the way she lives her life. Instead of worrying about what people think of her, she uses her celebrity for what she believes in.
BWW: So, what was your first Broadway show?
KB: That would be Blood Brothers. I was an understudy for one of the leads Linda. And I had a small part in the play too. It was SO much fun because I had seen the show in England and it was one of my all time favorite shows!
BWW: And then came Beauty and the Beast, right?
KB: Right! I played Belle. I did it first in Toronto and then moved to New York and did the role on Broadway. I've always been such a huge Disney fan, so getting THAT role was such a blast.
BWW: So you're a Disney fan? What's your favorite all time Disney movie?
KB: Definitely The Little Mermaid! I have a Little Mermaid pin collection too. I just went to Disney World for a week on vacation where I trade my Little Mermaid pins with people in the park. It is like a treasure hunt trying to find the ones I like. I don't look for them when I'm here though - just at Disney.
BWW: Disney should give them to you!
KB: They should! You know I did a Little Mermaid reading for them. I should have told them they could pay me in pins! (she laughs)
BWW: So do you wear the pins too?
KB: I wear them in the park, I am a total geek!
BWW: So after Beauty, what came next?
KB: I was Eponine in Les Miz.
BWW: Was that an enjoyable experience?
KB: I loved it. I loved being in every show. What's not to like? I loved all my parts...they are all my babies.
BWW: Ok, but if you HAD to pick one? Which has been your favorite?
KB: I guess Penny in Hairspray. It was very magical. It was the first time I got to create a role for Broadway.
BWW: Speaking of Hairspray...do people recognize you now when you walk around the streets of NYC?
KB: No, not really. When I walk down the street I always look different then when I'm on stage.
BWW: It's surprising that you aren't recognized more - especially having been in all the magazines and press for Hairspray.
KB: It's ok. It made me realize I am so not about things like that. All that matters is that I do a good job.
BWW: I think many would agree that you went well past doing a "good" job in Hairspray. In fact, it seemed to be the "talk of the town" when you weren't nominated for a Tony and that you didn't win the Drama Desk
KB: I got more press from not getting it so it was really good. If I had won, it would have been fine but it is not what it is all about. I was just really pleased to be nominated.
BWW: That's a great attitude...always looking at the positive...
KB: It also made me realize that I am happy to be working. I loved performing in Hairspray and had the best time!
BWW: So, what would one of your fantasy roles would be?
KB: Well one of my dreams is to be a character (voice) in a Disney cartoon.
BWW: Any other dreams or aspirations?
KB: I would also like to be in a sitcom in LA. When I was in Hairspray, I went to do a TV pilot and it was so much fun!
BWW: What was the name of the Pilot?
KB: It was called Twins. It wasn't picked up. The day I found out was also the day the TONY nominations came out. But everything worked out because I got Little Shop. Crazy day!
BWW: So, even though you are only a few steps away from the Neil Simon, do you miss the gang from Hairspray? Did you make any friendships?
KB: Friendships? Oh yes...I became really close with the whole cast, I really love all of them! The people I hung out with the most were John Hill, Laura Bell, Matt Morrison, Jen Gambatese(the new Penny!!), Corey.. Actually it's so hard to say because I really feel so close to them all. I was about to name the whole cast. Harvey is amazing!! He is so generous, and loving!
BWW: What did you do to prepare for the role of Audrey?
KB: The way I prepared for Audrey is the same way I prepare for all my roles, I wrote an intense biography, about her childhood, wants, dreams, friends, her everyday life...And then went into th e rehearsal process with a few ideas....
BWW: What was the rehearsal and preview process like? And can you tell us a little bit about stepping into a role that many would consider "stamped" so heavily in peoples minds by Ellen Green? How are you making the character your own? And how involved is Jerry Zaks in that process?
KB: working with Jerry is different than any other directors I've worked with, it's sort of like Jerry is an artist painting a picture. Everything I brought had to be thrown out because he needed to start with a clean canvas. His first drawing was just the simplicity, and truth of the character. The first preview Audrey was a woman who knew what she wanted, and hid most of her emotion behind a smile. Then he started adding depth to the picture. There were a few moments where the audience was allowed to see Audrey's pain. Then he started adding color, and some of the things he took away, were added back in. But the color couldn't be too bright because there are other people in the painting, and you can't drown them out.
It was very interesting and scary to explore this way in front of an audience. And he works this way with every character. Hunter had done the show in Florida, and he is now doing a completely different show. That was exciting to watch.
I knew going into the show that it was a no win situation. (In fact my husband didn't want me to take the role for this reason.) No matter what I do, some people will be upset if I play her too much like Ellen Green and others will be upset if I don't make it my own. I decided (as did Jerry) that it would be best to make it my own. (Of course someone out there right now is reading this and saying, "Your own? You're playing it just like Ellen Greene!") You can't please everyone.
BWW: Little Shop of Horrors really has a huge cult following, can you tell us a little bit about the audience during previews and their reactions to the new production?
KB: The audience has been amazing from the first preview! They just love this show and start cheering right from the start. It took me completely by surprise!
BWW: What is it like working with Audrey II. Do you get along backstage?
KB: I hate to say anything bad about a fellow actor, but seriously I have had it up to here with that plant. She is constantly complaining! "Stay out of my spotlight!!" "Stay our of my limo!" Stay out of my compost heap!" What a diva!
BWW: Finally, can you tell us any humorous stories about something that happened either in rehearsals or during previews?
KB: Sure! My dresser, Jeannie, who happens to be the best dresser in the world, is also a bit of a practical joker. Well, one night Jeannie started to tell me that there was a huge mouse problem in the theater. In fact, she said the Virginia theater was infested and it was a big problem during Flower Drum Song. I was totally freaked out. I started scouring my dressing room for mouse droppings. I got rid of anything resembling a food product and did a complete sweep of anything in a 30 foot radius of my dressing room.
That night, during a costume change, with that trusty trickster, Jeannie, at my side, a HUMONGOUS red-eyed, rabid-looking rodent ran by my feet. I nearly jumped out of my skin. Luckily, I squleched a scream, otherwise there would have been a few screeching notes added to Hunter's rendition of "Grow For Me" that night. Well, it turns out of course that the rodent was fake and every one had a good laugh at my expense.
Later that night, as I stood off stage in the same exact spot during "Meek shall Inherit!", two more mice ran by, and of course I'm thinking, "Oh there goes that wacky Jeannie again!" But as the mice came closer, I saw that this time they were real. I jumped on my seat, like a fifties sitcom mom, and looked for someome to save me. Of course everyone was off helping Doug do a quick change, so I stood petrified on my seat until the mice scampered on their merry way.
Since then, Jeannie has redeemed herself. She bought me a toy cat, and he protects me. his name is Shmendrick. Since Shmendrick has come into my life I have had zero mice sightings. Shmendrick is a good kitty!
For more information about Kerry, visit her online at www.kerrybutler.net
For more information about Little Shop of Horrors, visit their official website at: www.littleshopofhorrors.com.