Idina Menzel isn’t well known in the cinematic world, but on Broadway she’s a star. She hit it big in Wicked, playing wicked-witch-to-be Elphaba, and has remained attached to the stage for most of her career. Filmgoers will likely remember her as Patrick Dempsey’s put-upon girlfriend in Disney’s Enchanted, as well as roles in Rent and Kissing Jessica Stein. That may change this fall when she gives voice to Elsa the Snow Queen in Disney’s latest film Frozen. She talked about the role, the trials of motherhood, and her continuing allegiance to the theater in the recent press day for the film.
Question: The director said you and Kristen Bell became like sisters.
Idina Menzel: We're buddies and I'm a huge fan of hers, and we got to work together a lot for your normal animated film. We were in the studio a couple of days and worked off of each other, and we sang together. We did “Wind Beneath My Wings” because there was no music written yet. It was Kristen's idea. We were trying to find a song that was good for both our voices, that can be like a sisterly duet. We had this guy come over to my house who played and helped us arrange it, and then they sat John Lasseter in between the two of us and we just sang.
Q: Was that in keeping with what you though this would be like?
IM: I'm really astounded by the process of making an animated film after doing this. They allowed me to kind of see behind the scenes. I'd come in and go sit in their dailies and a couple of the animators showed me some of the programs they use, how it's done these days. And they had me come in another time to talk to the whole animation department. I sat in the middle of them. I thought it was going to be like three guys and it was like 70 people. They just asked me questions about craft and singing and how I breathe when I sing and how I would move if I was this character on stage. Things like that. Their attention to detail is so committed and specific.
Q: Did you ever feel you had to hold back as Elsa because you have a very powerful voice?
IM: Yes, I do all the time. Even in real life I always struggle with allowing everyone to see how powerful and loud and big I can be, and not wanting to piss anybody off at the same time.
Q: It must be great to collaborate with everyone on this film, which clearly understand Broadway so well.
IM: Oh yes. With Glee, people are really starting to appreciate us Broadway people and what we do and our discipline. And it's nice when other mediums give us jobs. We may not be household names to everyone, but they recognize what we can bring to the table. So that feels good.
Q: Is it because of lack of opportunity that you have done so few films as an actress?
IM: No, it's a little bit of everything. It's a little bit of taking time off to be a mom, and a little bit of wanting to do theater. Theater is a long commitment. Those things take a long time. It's so important to me to be a part of the process early on and originate a role, it's a compromise that I have to make.
Q: People still talk about Wicked. Do you know if there will be a film version?
IM: All I know is that it's in development and that they tell Kristin Chenoweth and myself that we're going to be too old to play the lead roles. It's Wicked's tenth anniversary in a couple of days. I don't know when they'll make the movie. I am proud of the legacy and how many people all over the world it's affected and connected with. I'm proud of what my character represents.
Q: Have you seen the show since you're not on it anymore?
IM: Recently actually. My son got interested in the green mommy pictures. So I started to tell him about the story and then I showed him The Wizard of Oz. Then one day we had nothing to do and we thought “let's take him.” I can get tickets there really easily so we went. He was driving the people in front of him crazy. He was like standing you know? We saw Act I and then left; I had to write a very apologetic letter to the two leads that are friends of mine, telling them how wonderful they were and that I would come back and see them again. You don't want the original actress coming and not taking notice.
Q: Was it nice to be involved with this having a young child?
IM: Well, he’s a boy, so it surprised me. I don't think it's so princessy. They're still playing against that and it's such an action-packed thing. And he loves Tangled and Princess and the Frog and Lion King. We act that that out every day at the park, Pride Rock. I play Mufasa and he plays Scar. And so he's totally into all those movies. Now all I have to say is “mommy's in one of these.”
Q: Does he want to be an actor?
IM: I hope not, but he seems to be quite a storyteller, that's for sure. He's very bossy and very specific about stories. He'll be a director.