InDepth InterView Exclusive : Nikki Blonsky Talks New SMASH Role, HAIRSPRAY, Upcoming Projects & More

By: Mar. 05, 2013
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Today we are talking to a tremendously talented triple-threat who headlined the 2007 feature film adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Best Musical HAIRSPRAY as Tracy Turnblad and who will be appearing in a recurring role on SMASH Season Two starting tonight - the spunky and adorable Nikki Blonsky. In this all-encompassing conversation, Blonsky and I dissect the HAIRSPRAY phenomenon and she reveals her affection for collaborators such as director Adam Shankman, co-stars John Travolta and Christopher Walken, as well as two more pairs of instrumental creative team members: songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman as well as producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, all four of whom serve the same roles now on SMASH. Of course, Blonsky dishes details about her new SMASH character and what we can expect from her multi-episode arc, as well as her experiences sharing the small screen with fellow InDepth InterView participant Anjelica Huston, as well as Christian Borle, Debra Messing and more. Additionally, Blonsky opens up about her exciting upcoming film projects, namely: THE ENGLISH TEACHER, co-starring Julianne Moore and Nathan Lane, as well as GEOGRAPHY CLUB, co-starring GLEE's Alex Newell. Plus, all about her collaboration in the recording studio with Duncan Sheik, her friendship with the recently deceased Michael Clarke Duncan, her thoughts on potentially participating in HAIRSPRAY 2 and much, much more!

SMASH airs Tuesdays at 10 PM on NBC. More information is available at the official site here.

She Can't Wait

PC: HAIRSPRAY is one of the finest movie musicals ever made. Do you feel privileged to have been a part of such a perfect adaptation of one of the best musicals of the new millennium?

NB: Oh, my God! Yes! Absolutely. I couldn't have asked for a better first experience doing a movie - let alone it being a musical where I got to do everything I love, all in one package.

PC: It had it all - and you did it all.

NB: It did. And, I was such a fan of HAIRSPRAY before I got [the film] - just to be a part of the genius of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman was such an honor for me.

PC: Your commentary with Adam Shankman on the DVD is a lot of fun for fans of the show, as well.

NB: Oh, thank you. Adam was so great to work with on HAIRSPRAY. He gave me a lot of trust and he was so much fun. I mean, to trust me with the role of Tracy? I am just so grateful that he did.

PC: Aren't we all. You were superb.

NB: I mean, I was just a 17-year-old girl who had never done a movie before and he believed in me and really trusted in me and I can never thank him enough for that.

PC: It's a flawless big screen star debut as only movie musicals can do. Do you think time will look favorably on the film?

NB: I do. You know, I think when there is a movie with such a positive message - and it's so much fun, like HAIRSPRAY is... with a message that comments on history, but, at the same time, telling the whole story through song and dance - it makes it timeless. I think that it is a way to teach people about history, but, also, to get through to kids in a way that isn't like a textbook - they may actually get more understanding out of it by watching the movie than reading a textbook and feeling like it's history homework, whereas I feel like if they watch the movie it's pleasure and it's entertaining, but, at the same time, they are learning, too.

PC: A very illustrative point. It's a history lesson to say the least - it is very period-appropriate.

NB: It is. It really is.

PC: What can you tell me about the new but unfortunately cut musical number, "I Can't Wait"? Are you a Patsy Cline fan? It definitely has that twangy vibe.

NB: Oh, yes - absolutely. Patsy Cline is my favorite singer in the entire world - she is my idol. I adore her. So, when Marc and Scott wrote that song I just fell in love with it. And, then, you know, when they had to cut it from the movie, I was a little sad, but, basically, the great part about it is that I get to perform it whenever I do a one-woman show and whenever else I can get the chance to perform it. It's like: it's such a beautiful song, why not share it with people?

PC: Given the SMASH connection, has it been considered for inclusion there at some point in the future, perhaps?

NB: [Laughs.] Well, maybe next season - if I get to come back!

PC: Hopefully you do!

NB: Hopefully! I would be happy with any chance they gave me to sing on SMASH - I'd sing anything.

PC: So, you won't be singing on any of your upcoming episodes, I take it?

NB: No. I will not be singing on SMASH - at least not for right now.

PC: You are playing an assistant on the show, anyway, not a performer, correct?

NB: Yes. I am playing the assistant of Jerry [Michael Cristofer].

PC: How would you describe your character?

NB: Well, Margo is very funny and very quirky and really wants to do her job to the best degree possible - she wants to do everything perfect, just for the sake of doing a great job. She's very dedicated. She's very motivated. And, I definitely would say that I identify with all of that myself. She's very, very fun - very high-energy. She's really upbeat and a really just plain fun character for me to play. She's definitely somebody that has more energy in her and more spunk than I think we have seen so far in a lot of the characters.

PC: She will be surge of energy then, for sure!

NB: She will. She's a lot of fun.

PC: So, you get to work with Michael Cristofer quite a bit, then, it's safe to say?

NB: Yes, I do. You know, he plays this kind of stiff businessman whereas my character is basically there to do whatever he needs - whatever it is, she is right there. Margo is his right hand girl - and she's always on.

PC: Will you share some scenes with Anjelica Huston, as well?

NB: Yes! I am so blessed and honored to be able to say that some of my best scenes are with Anjelica Huston - and Debra Messing and Christian Borle, too. But, since you asked, I will say that I have one amazing scene coming up where it's just me and Anjelica Huston at night... that's all I can say about it, though! [Laughs.] It's amazing.

PC: What a talented and generous performer and woman she is.

NB: Oh, my God! I have to say that I had one of the best acting experiences - and best personal experiences - working with her on SMASH. She is just so brilliant onscreen and off. I am so thankful that I got to work with her. She is such a wonderful, lovely woman and I am so thankful that I got to work with such a real, down-to-earth person who is also just such an amazing legend in this industry.

PC: An icon.

NB: Totally! Totally. She is just brilliant in anything she does.

PC: Is it through your connection to Craig Zadan and Neil Meron that you got involved with SMASH in the first place, would you say?

NB: I would have to say that, yes, my connection to SMASH is because of Craig and Neil. I mean, I was such a fan of the first season, so when I got a call from Neil for this role I just felt so thankful. I mean, I felt like heaven's gates had been opened for me!

PC: "You can hear the bells," after all!

NB: [Laughs.] I can! I mean, to work with Craig and Neil is truly a gift, and, if an actor gets to work with them anytime in their lifetime it is such a gift of an experience to be given because they are the real deal - they are the best producers to work with. And, they are wonderful human beings, too. I am just floored by every project they do - they are so incredibly talented and I love them with all my heart.

PC: The Oscars was a true coup for them, as well. What are your thoughts on this year's show, particularly as a modern movie musical leading lady such as yourself?

NB: Oh, the Oscars were incredible! I thought it was fantastic! And, I just loved that there was the ode to musicals. You know, I always get choked up when they do the In Memoriam, but this year in particular was sad for me personally because of Michael Clarke Duncan - I was a friend of his, so I was sad to see his name up there and everything. [Pause.] But, yeah - I thought the Oscars were really, really beautiful and really well-done.

PC: How did you and Michael Clarke Duncan know each other?

NB: Michael Clarke Duncan and I met at a music festival that was honoring films and we happened to be seated next to each other at the dinner and we just hit it off and kept in touch ever since. He was just the gentle giant in real life like you would have expected him to be. You know, I'm 4'10' and he was so, so tall! [Laughs.]

PC: You were a bit of an unlikely pair!

NB: [Big Laugh.] I know! I know. I loved Michael Clarke Duncan so, so much, though - he was one the most lovely friends I have met in this industry and I will miss him a lot.

PC: He leaves a remarkable resume in his passing. His films will live on forever.

NB: Absolutely. Always.

PC: How do you view the movie musical renaissance of the 21st century - particularly with HAIRSPRAY being such a big part of it and you yourself thereby having a hand in it?

NB: Oh, I feel great about it! And, you know, I think that, for our future generations, it will be important for Broadway, too - these movies. I mean, I remember seeing HAIRSPRAY when I was 15 and it is such a luxury to be able to see a Broadway show and it is so hard to do if you don't live in New York - plus, it can be expensive to go to the theatre all the time, too.

PC: You can say that again.

NB: Yeah, so I think that musical movies and musical TV shows give kids around the world an opportunity to be a part of Broadway and see what it's like there and see what it's all about - even if you live in Arizona or even if you live in Rome, you can still always watch the movies and the TV shows because they are always around on the internet now. That way, kids can get a feeling for what Broadway and New York theatre is really like even if they can't get there to see it themselves. I think it's really great.

PC: Would you like to do a role onstage or is Hollywood your first and only love at this point in time?

NB: Well, it's hard, because I love movies and I love doing musicals, too. So... I would love to do another movie musical, I guess, to answer your question! [Laughs.]

PC: You just can't choose between the two!

NB: I can't - I mean, singing and dancing is just what I love to do. To sing and act and dance all at once is just the most fun for me - it's everything I've ever wanted to do. To get to play a character and see it come to fruition onscreen is so amazing - and, to know that it is there, permanently, for the rest of my life, even after I'm gone, is so rewarding. But, also, performing eight times a week and perfecting your character every time is also an incredible experience, as well. So, they are both amazing and totally different creatures, but both beautiful in their own way, I think.

PC: And SMASH brings the best of all possible worlds together for you in a unique way - film, TV and theatre.

NB: Exactly! Exactly.

PC: What are your thoughts on the recent HDTV revolution and the high quality of so many shows these days usurping even Hollywood films, which largely seem less risky and experimental?

NB: You know, I have to say that I agree with that. I think that some TV shows are better than some movies out there - way more educational and way more interesting, sometimes, definitely. For instance, I have to say that I am a huge, huge Downton Abbey fan and I feel like watching that show every week and getting the chance to see Maggie Smith every week is so incredibly rewarding for me - you know, getting to see that and not having to go to a movie theater or a theater to see it. Being able to sit in your living room and witness great acting like that is something very, very exciting - especially as somebody who has done TV.

PC: As you have.

NB: Right. As someone who has done TV as well as movies and theatre, I feel like TV is its own thing and its own entity, but it's a beautiful thing when you can expose yourself to other time periods and stories and things you wouldn't necessarily think of seeing and not have to go to the movies or to the theatre to do it, while still having that same quality of storytelling. So, I think that TV and film - and theatre, too - are growing so much with the generations and just blowing up right now, for lack of a better term. [Laughs.]

PC: Quite literally: the format shift from 4:3 to 16:9 made TV more theatrical and more cinematic simultaneously - in more ways than one.

NB: Yeah, I think you're right. I agree.

PC: Speaking of your TV work, what can you tell me about working with Duncan Sheik on your track for the QUEEN-SIZED soundtrack?

NB: Oh, Duncan Sheik is brilliant - I absolutely love him. Yeah, I got to cover "On A High" for QUEEN-SIZED on Lifetime and the whole experience was so much fun - he is totally brilliant.

PC: And what a nice, thoughtful guy, too!

NB: I know! He is. He really is. I was just so honored to be covering his song and to get to work with him myself - I was such a fan of his original version and I am just such a fan of how he works in general. His mind is so beautiful and he is so incredibly talented. Again, I have been so blessed to work with such an amazing composer and such an amazing artist. You know, I really have to say, at the ripe old age of 24, that I have already gotten to work with some really amazing people and I am so thankful everyday for it - and I am very humbled by it, too.

PC: So, are you looking forward to the SPRING AWAKENING film, then, or do you think the property is perhaps too controversial for mainstream movie audiences?

NB: You know, I think that these days people are really expanding their minds and everything is really kind of opening up - people are opening their minds up and themselves up to totally new things; in the theatre and on TV and in the film world, too, like we were just talking about. So, no, I don't think [SPRING AWAKENING] is too wild or anything and I think people will enjoy it as a movie. I know that I had a lot of fun seeing it opening night.

PC: What did you think of the show?

NB: I thought it was brilliant - totally brilliant. And, I think people will enjoy it as a movie, too.

PC: Would you like to collaborate with him in the future? He has a spate of upcoming projects.

NB: I know he does! Duncan, are you listening?! Pick up the phone and call me! [Laughs.] We need to work together again - and soon, please!

PC: So, you'd be up for AMERICAN PSYCHO: THE MUSICAL, then - even as one of the unlucky prostitutes Patrick Bateman preys upon?

NB: I would be willing to do any role Duncan Sheik asked me to play. I mean, I learn something new everyday, so if Duncan Sheik needs me to be chainsawed live onstage eight times a week, why not?! [Laughs.]

PC: I was curious: did you get to work with Blythe Danner at all when working on WAITING FOR FOREVER?

NB: No, unfortunately I did not get to work with Blythe Danner one-on-one on that movie - because, as you know, sometimes people in the same movie have different shooting days and different schedules. So, no, I did not get to work with her, but I heard she is so lovely from all the rest of the cast who worked with her in the movie and I had a lot of fun working on that movie and it was just a great experience. I mean, just to be in a movie and have our names be near each other is enough of an honor for me, honestly.

PC: You have two enticing films coming out soon. First up, what can you tell me about GEOGRAPHY CLUB?

NB: GEOGRAPHY CLUB is based on a series of books by Brent Hartinger. It's basically a movie about coming of age, I'd say. It's about kids of high school age growing up and finding out who they are in their own sexuality - and learning to accept all that and move on. So, I really got to step outside the box in terms of what I usually play in films and on TV in that I got to play something I've never played before: a lesbian.

PC: What was that new experience like for you?

NB: Well, I have a kissing scene with a girl and my character has a girlfriend in the movie and that was very, very different for me, but, at the same time, it was such a blessing to be able to be a part of a film that I think is going to make a huge impact on today's generation.

PC: Is the film evocative of THE BREAKFAST CLUB in some ways? The poster seems to be.

NB: Well, there are a lot of different little groups in it and I think that the geography club - which my character is a part of - is where we all kind of come together; so, in a way, yes. You see, the geography club in the movie is the place where people kind of come with their friends and can just be themselves. So, I got to learn how to play guitar for the movie because my character is in the geography club room playing her guitar a lot - and, she is allowed to be really open with her girlfriend in there, as well. So, it was a really cool movie that I think fans of THE BREAKFAST CLUB and movies like that will really enjoy and they will grasp it and understand it and hopefully appreciate it. For myself, I had done a movie with Ally Sheedy, so it was very cool to see Ally Sheedy in THE BREAKFAST CLUB and get to work with her and then play an outsider myself in GEOGRAPHY CLUB. My character in it is an outsider, too, but, at the same time, by the end of the movie she is learning to get it all together. So, it is was a fun journey to go on and I hope it will be for the audience, too.

PC: Alex Newell - Unique on Glee - is also in GEORGRAPHY CLUB, yes?

NB: Yes! Alex Newell is in GEOGRAPHY CLUB, too! SMASH and Glee in the same movie - how can you possibly turn that down?! [Laughs.]

PC: And another theatre name and fellow participant in this column, Ana Gasteyer, as well. Did you two get to work together at all onset?

NB: Yes, we did - I actually had one scene with Ana. Obviously, Ana is a lot of fun to work with and I was a huge SNL fan of hers to begin with. I had a blast working on that film in general, as you can probably tell, and I just loved working on that character and just running with it and finding all these different little nuances about her all along. But, like I said, every character that I get to play - like right now with Margo on SMASH - is so much fun for me to explore and get the chance to do. Being onset of SMASH was just a blast - just like it was for GEOGRAPHY CLUB. I am just so honored to make so many friends on these sets, too - I mean, who would think someday I'd be able to call Anjelica Huston one of my dear friends and someone who I can look up to - someone who I idolize so much? I am so lucky.

PC: Hopefully your relationship with Craig and Neil will produce even more wonderful working circumstances like that!

NB: Hopefully! You know, for example, in the episodes I appear in on SMASH, I also got to work with Sean Hayes and Debra Messing - and, back when we were filming HAIRSPRAY, everyday my trailer at lunch break was known as The WILL & GRACE Trailer because I would replay the DVDs of WILL & GRACE over and over and over and the whole cast would pile in my trailer to watch it during lunch. It has been a dream come true to work with Sean and Debra.

PC: Sean plays the lead of LIAISONS! Did you get any glimpses of him in action in that new musical-within-the-series?

NB: Well, I actually only got to work with him during the table-read. We are in two different things on the show- I am with Eileen [Anjelica Huston] and Jerry [Michael Cristofer] and Christian and Debra's characters a lot, so, unfortunately, I don't have anything to do with Sean's character and his storyline. But, just to hear him and see him and be with him and Deb in the table-read, I felt like I was going to have to run to the bathroom because I was going to pee my pants - he was so, so funny! [Laughs.]

PC: A modern-day TV icon. Sean and Debra do not share any scenes either this season, apparently, so don't feel too bad about missing out!

NB: I know! It was a little dream come true for me just to be there with them at the table read, though - actually, a big dream come true!

PC: Would you like to have your own WILL & GRACE type situation comedy someday?

NB: Oh, that would be my dream come true! Absolutely. To have my own series? Oh, yeah. You know, when I had my show HUGE, I feel that I got a taste for TV and everything there, so I hope to just let it all carry on and I would love to have my own sitcom someday. That would be another dream come true. I'd love to be able to have people tune in every week and get to know me as a person and as a character - to know me from HAIRSPRAY and then to get see me in a new role every week would be so amazing.

PC: SMASH is a grand start. How many episodes do you appear in this season, as far as you know?

NB: I start this week and I am in two episodes total this season - and, I am hoping to go back next season.

PC: Have you heard any news about a renewal for the series yet or a potential BOMBSHELL TV movie?

NB: No - I have no idea. But, if they would like to be a part of either one, I would be honored! Any chance to work with Neil and Craig and Marc and Scott again on anything I would love to have!

PC: So you are open to appearing again as Tracy onscreen if HAIRSPRAY 2 ever gets beyond the early development stage? John Waters revealed the plot when he did this column recently, actually,

NB: Well, I have heard that it's about the British invasion, but that's basically all I have heard about it. But, working with John Waters on anything is always an honor. So, HAIRSPRAY 2? Why not! If they want to do it, I would absolutely be onboard. I would do anything for them - if they wanted to remake any other John Waters films I would jump right into it and do everything wholeheartedly, too. He is brilliant and he is so, so creative - I mean, he is the man who is responsible for creating the role of my dreams and then part of giving the role of my dreams to me to play! So, I would love, love, love to do anything for him again - HAIRSPRAY 2, especially.


NB: Or that! [Laughs.]

PC: So, what's next for you after SMASH and GEOGRAPHY CLUB?

NB: Well, I have a movie that I am getting ready to do right now but I cannot reveal the title yet. I am very, very, very excited about it - a lot of people would never pinpoint me to be in this type of film, but it is very exciting for me. I am really excited to be in it. But, that's all I can say - I'll let you know when I can say more!

PC: You also have another film coming out soon - what can you tell me about THE ENGLISH TEACHER?

NB: Yes - THE ENGLISH TEACHER. That is with Nathan Lane and Julianne Moore and Greg Kinnear. It's basically mostly about Julianne Moore's character and going back to high school - and, yes, I play a high school character again; I'm 4'10', so... [Laughs.]

PC: You can pull it off with aplomb.

NB: Thank you! So, yeah, it is about this high school teacher and about trusting your teachers, basically - it's about a lot of other things, too, and there are a lot of twists and turns. A lot of things happen in it that you would not expect to happen, I can tell you that. Also, my character, Sheila, speaks in an Irish accent for the entire film, if you can believe it!

PC: What was that like for you?

NB: That was a real challenge. You see, Nathan Lane's character is putting on a play and my character works with him on it, so, even when she is not doing lines in the play, she is a very method actress so she still speaks in an Irish brogue - which she does for the entire film! So... [Laughs.]

PC: Thus making you a bit method, too!

NB: Yes! She is very, very dedicated to the Irish accent and so was I. I was walking around the set always talking in an Irish accent - even talking on the phone! I just wanted to nail it so badly and I am glad that it looks good so far and I hope that it all turned out the way they pictured it. I can't wait to see it.

PC: With your newly-learned brogue you would fit right in on DOWNTON ABBEY, don't you think?

NB: I know! I know. Maybe now that Lady Sybil is gone, maybe Lady Nikki is on her way to become Branson's new wife! [Laughs.]

PC: Indeed! What was your experience of Nathan Lane working on THE ENGLISH TEACHER? Another Broadway legend.

NB: Oh, it was so much fun - he is so hysterical! It was a total, total blast. He had me laughing so much every single day - just the two of us would go off in the corner and just chit-chat and talk during downtime onset. He had me cracking up the entire movie. He is so, so funny. At the same time, though, I learned so much from just watching him work - he is so, so brilliant.

PC: To say the least. Julianne Moore is no slouch, either!

NB: Oh, Julianne Moore... [Pause. Sighs.] There is so much to say, but not enough words in the dictionary to express how I feel about being given the chance to work with Julianne Moore.

PC: High praise, indeed.

NB: Yeah, she is just so incredibly brilliant and I am so privileged to have been able to have the chance to work with her.

PC: You certainly can do it all, too, Nikki - and you do! Thank you so much for this today.

NB: Thank you so much, Pat! This was a lot of fun to do. Bye bye.

Photo Credit: Walter McBride, New Line, etc.