Nikki Blonsky talks about winning the role of a lifetime
Hairspray is based on the 1988 John Waters comedy about star-struck teenagers who take part in a local Baltimore dance show. The new version of the film is also partially based on the hit Broadway adaptation of Hairspray, which debuted in 2002, and went on to win eight Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book and Best Director. John Travolta stars as Edna Turnblad and Nikki Blonsky is playing his on-screen daughter Tracy Turnblad, taking over a role originated by Ricky Lake.
We recently sat down with Nikki Blonsky to discuss her sudden jump into celebrity with Hairspray. Here is what she had to say about the experience:
You are just absolutely wonderful in this movie.
Nikki Blonsky: Thank you. Thank you so much.
How has this whole experience been for you?
Nikki Blonsky: It's been awesome. My publicist kept telling me it was going to be a lot, so I am ready for anything with Hairspray. They told me I had to be ready for anything.
John Travolta said that this was a dream of yours, to be Tracy Turnblad, for awhile?
Nikki Blonsky: It was. I saw the play when I was fifteen. That was my fifteenth birthday present. I fell love in love with it. At sixteen, I auditioned for it, but they said I was too young. A year later, I went back on the website, and I saw that they were casting for the movie. I said, "Oh, my god!" And the ages were seventeen to twenty-four. I knew that this was it. I had to do it. I made a tape and sent it to New Line. New Line sent it to the casting directors. I went to New York and auditioned. Then after that I went to call back, after call back, after call back until finally, it worked.
There was footage of you on Access Hollywood finding out. Was that all true?
Nikki Blonsky: Oh, one hundred percent. Everybody thought that must have been staged, but no. I could never act that way. That was an outer body experience. It was almost like an exorcism. What happen was they called and told me the earliest I could find out, because I actually did a screen test here in Los Angeles, was two weeks. Well, four weeks later I'm still waiting there in Cold Stone, scooping ice cream. And they came and said they'd like to do a behind the scenes with the four final girls. For whoever gets the movie, they wanted to do some footage of us in our natural environment and put it on the DVD. For me, they'd like to come to Cold Stone. I said, "Please, you are more than welcome." Then they came to my job, and they had this little camera crew. Unbeknownst to me at the time, they didn't go to any of the other girl's hometowns. I was working at Cold Stone Ice Creamery.
What were your co-workers at that time thinking before the film crew showed up? Did they think you were full of it?
Nikki Blonsky: No. They believed me. They knew I was part of my theater group in high school. And they knew I was really into this sort of thing. I didn't tell them really that it was for the film. I wanted to keep it as quiet as possible, because if I didn't get it, I wouldn't want to explain to a million people why. I wouldn't know why. Of course, once it did happen, I didn't know how to tell everybody. My old co-workers are great people, and my new co-workers are great people too.
How do you relate to Tracy?
Nikki Blonsky: Tracy is this unbelievable character. She is a seventeen-year-old girl with big dreams. Here I am, seventeen-year-old girl with big dreams. That's what it was all about. We were just paralleled. We were on the same path. My dream was to be Tracy. And play Tracy. We had a lot of the same visions and the same beliefs. A lot of the things that Tracy would stand for I would stand for today. Several issues that we dealt with back then are the same issues that we have to deal with today. As Tracy stood up, I would stand up for the same things.
What do you think the message of the film is?
Nikki Blonsky: The message of the film is acceptance. Acceptance of every size, shape, nationality, religion. Everything. Just pure acceptance, because we take so much time out of our daily lives to judge other people. And I think it's a waist of time. If we just accepted everybody, we would live in a much more peaceful world and get along.
Tell me about the first time you saw John in his getup.
Nikki Blonsky: When I saw John in his getup, it wasn't John anymore. It was Edna. That was clear. He came out and I said, "Oh, my God, there's my mom." He was just genius. He was brilliant. And it really worked for him. It felt really natural. I was excited. I did scream a little bit, but not in fear. In just sheer excitement because this was my mom. We were going to be working g together. We were going to be dancing together. When I saw how much we looked alike, that was my big excitement. When I looked at John, and he looked at me, we said together, "We look alike." And being told you look like John Travolta is not a bad thing.
Were you one of the people grabbing his boobs? We heard that people were taking liberties.
Nikki Blonsky: No, that would have been a little strange. People were grabbing him. He told me he didn't realize the type of power that women had. It's interesting that everyone was doing that. I think it was more about the infatuation of it being fake, and everyone wanted to see how real it felt. My favorite thing was just to hug him in the suit, because it felt so real. It felt like I was hugging Edna.
Did he ever break character while he was in the suit? Or did he stay in character the whole time?
Nikki Blonsky: He stayed in character most of the time. The only time he ever broke character was when he was with me. Very funny story, we were outside filming, and it was very cold. I got a chill, and my body shook. He said, "Are you okay?" And I said, "I got a chill." And he busts out in song, "I got chills, and their multiplying." Then he did the whole thing. I just stood their dumbfounded. Like, oh, my God, it's Danny Zuko but its Edna. I don't know what is going on. It was unbelievable.
What was it like meeting Ricky Lake? Did she have any words of encouragement?
Nikki Blonsky: Ricky was unbelievable. I have been a huge fan of Ricky ever since the original movie. I watched her on TV. Nikki's version of the Corny Collins show was her show. I ran home every day to watch her. To work with her was amazing. To get to know her for the great lady she is was really nice, too.
Did you relate to your character's treatment at school?
Nikki Blonsky: Yes. I was made fun of terribly in school because of my different shape, and because I was short. I just didn't fit in. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Ultimately, I think it made me a stronger person. I think I owe that to my parents. My parents never made me feel like I was different. They never made me feel out of place. I always felt right at home. I belonged, according to them. They really gave me the strength to do this and to do what I wanted with my life. It was exciting to spread the word with the World that you don't have to be a certain size or shape to follow your dreams and be what you really want to be. If you have a dream, go after it. I'm living proof.
Was it hard hearing some of the insults in the movie?
Nikki Blonsky: Oh, God! Yeah. When I heard Brittany's character call me a great white whale, I thought that was a little far fetched. You take it all in stride. These are things that weren't far off from what I was called in school. What it did for me, was, it brought me back to that time when I did have that in my life. I think it helped with the character of Tracy. Because I did have some of those things happen to me. I knew what it was like being called names like that.
What about these kids that called you the names. Now they are going to see how great you are doing, and that you are in this huge movie. Is it fun to think about that?
Nikki Blonsky: That happened for a reason, and those kids clearly needed to tease me for their own self-insecurities. I was very secure with myself. So, I think that's why it happened. They were maybe a tad bit jealous that I was so secure. I have met a couple of those kids recently going back home, to New York, and it is very interesting to hear them go, "We are so excited for the movie. Can we take our picture with you?" I was like, "A year ago you would have chucked that camera at my face." You know? The bottom line is, when we are kids we are silly people and we make mistakes. I totally forgave them. We are all adults, so we shall act like adults.
What is going through your head when you watch this movie?
Nikki Blonsky: I cried. I just sat there and cried. I held my mom's hand on the left, and Adam's hand on the right, and just cried.
Nikki Blonsky: Yes. I couldn't believe it was me. It was a totally outer body experience. I was just a teenager with a dream playing a teenager with a dream. I knew what I wanted, and when I got what I wanted, I knew how much I wanted it.
What is your favorite race joke out of the film?
Nikki Blonsky: Well, my favorite thing that I said, and we must have done about forty-five takes of this one line, and I just stood there going, "This is just so Afro-Tastic!" Just all night. It became a joke. They even put it on a button that said, "This is just so Afro-Tastic." I think that is the message of Hairspray. It is very Afro-Tastic.
Hairspray opens on July 20th, 2007.