They say that in Hollywood it’s tough to live out your dreams, but occasionally they come true in more ways than one. Just ask Nikki Blonsky, the delightfully effervescent and incandescent star of the film version of Hairspray, whose central portrayal of perennioal optimist Tracy Turnblad has audiences raving. In this 1960s, Baltimore-set musical, she has John Travolta as her mom and Michelle Pfeiffer as her nemesis. What more can a girl want? Blonsky talked to Paul Fischer.
Question: You seem to be identical to this character in so many ways. You continuously have this smile on your face, happy all the time. Do you see an affinity between you and Tracy?
Blonsky: Absolutely. I think Tracy and I are very similar in the fact that she was just a seventeen year old girl with a big dream and I was just a seventeen year old girl with a big dream and my dream was to play here, you know. So I think it kind of just went. We got along. If there were two of us we probably would have been really good friends.
Question: How exhaustive was the audition process? Were the many, many call-backs and that kind of thing?
Blonsky: Oh yeah. Many, many, many, many call-backs. It was about a five and a half month period in between initially auditioning and then getting the part. So it was a long process. But boy was it worth it.
Question: What was the final audition? Was it the classic table of executives?
Blonsky: No, it was a big screen test. Big screen test and a big sound stage, hair, makeup, costume, put me right in there and said ‘Do it’. And I said ‘OK’. And that was the last step of the process.
Question: So during this time you were working at a Cold Stone Ice Cream parlour.
Blonsky: I’m working at a Cold Stone part time and doing an internship for my high school and getting ready to go to senior prom and all that good stuff. And yeah, there’s just a lot of cool stuff going on but nothing as cool as this. And the funny part was that I told nobody in my life other than my family that I had auditioned for Hairspray. So it was very interesting when I got the part. I was like ‘OK, well how do I break the news to everybody’ and it was like ‘Well I have to do it before prom because I have to explain to everybody why we have to wait to go to prom because we have to watch ET! before we go’, because that’s when they were breaking the news so I was like ‘Guys, we can’t go to pre-prom. We have to stay home and watch ET!’ And I came from a big group of theatre kids so, you know, Hairspray is our god. So being able to be in it, they were just dying that I got this opportunity.
Question: How has your life changed – what kind of doors have opened up for you?
Blonsky: Life has definitely changed. I think it’s changed in the sense that I travel a lot more and that I’m just – I mean I was always a happy person. I’m a firm believer in life is what you make it. So my parents always made life fun for me and amazing and I had a great childhood. But this is what I always wanted to do and now that I’m doing it, I’m just I think the happiest kid in the world.
Question: Is Tracy going to be a hard act to follow?
Blonsky: Like I said, I take it one day at a time and I’m waiting to see what roles come up and I’ve been reading some great stuff. It’s interesting. I want to play more great characters but I know a lot of them probably aren’t going to be like Tracy. I don’t think there are a lot of characters like Tracy, which is why it’s so unique. And that’s why I’m so thankful I got to play her. So who knows what the future will bring or might bring. But I think right now I’m just really content that I got to play Tracy.
Question: What about John Waters? Have you spent any time with him? Did he have a sentence of advice perhaps?
Blonsky: Yes we did have time together before we shot and we had a great time. We were just chatting, laughing and he just gave me the advice and said ‘All the advice I have for you is Listen to Adam’. And I said ‘OK’. And I listened to Adam. And I think that’s why everything kind of worked. It was because Adam really, he oversaw everything. And to see somebody with that much passion for each character, you know, we were all playing our own characters so we didn’t get that much into each other’s characters but Adam knew everybody’s character just as well as they did. So he’s incredible.
Question: How long did it take getting used to – I mean getting into Travolta’s makeup and that kind of stuff?
Blonsky: Well I don’t think there was really, for Nikki, any getting used to it. I think when Edna walked out on set, initial reaction was ‘Tracy’s mom’. There’s my mom. You know, like it just kind of worked and it made sense when I saw him dressed as Edna. So there was really, you know, we were ready to dance in the street in matching dresses.
Question: Did John give you dance lessons?
Blonsky: John shared so much with me. He taught me, of course, well one of my favourite things that he did for me was, being a big Grease fan, one night we were filming and it was very cold and I got a chill and he said ‘Are you OK?’ and I said ‘Oh I’ve got a chill’ and he started singing ‘I got chills’. And I was just like ‘Oh! No way, Danny Zuko!’. I was very excited. He’s amazing and he has had such an incredible career and he’s just an inspiration and to work with him is an honour and he shared a lot of good advice with me.
Question: What are some of the things, the isms that are facing your generation? What are the most important ones do you think, that kids your age need to get rid off – need to break down these walls or whatever?
Blonsky: Well, you know, it’s sad because it’s the same issue that Tracy was dealing with in ’62. And it’s a big issue of everything is physical. Everything is what you look like on the outside. You have to – there’s a stereotype of what is beautiful. That’s the most absurd thing because everybody is different and everybody has their own definition of beauty and what is beautiful. So who are we to sit here and say what is beautiful and what is not and, you know, we all have our own opinions but at the end of the day, who are we to press them on other people and make other people try to conform to our individual way of thinking?
Question: Can we talk about the film’s real issue? Do you like your hair up or down?
Blonsky: Well I miss my high hair because I’m only 4’10” so that was the first time in my life that I was five feet. But I loved my hair. But you know, it took me right back to the time period. I grew up in a house where, you know, my grandmother was with us and there was pictures of her with her big beehive and her pencil skirts so all that stuff was very familiar to me. So to go back to the sixties and play a character with her big do and her amazing fashion sense was pretty cool.
Question: Now what about – for those people who are not familiar with Hairspray, either the play or either version, what do you think are the challenges of getting audiences to see this movie? Because it is an old fashioned Hollywood with a musical which we haven’t seen for many, many years.
Blonsky: What I think is so great about Hairspray: there is somebody for everybody in this movie. Whether it’s John’s character or Latifa’s character or Michelle Pfeiffer. There’s somebody I think that reaches to everybody in the audience. And it’s a family movie. I mean and I think those aren’t made enough almost because it’s not often that you can sit down with your whole family, little kids, teenagers, parents, grandparents, and all sit and all laugh at the same things, and then different things, and just share that experience. It’s a family movie and it’s a musical. Musicals are fun and who doesn’t want to have fun? That’s why people go the movies and go to the theatre, to be entertained and to step out of their everyday life and boy, I just think Hairspray will take you right back to the sixties and give you the time travel of a lifetime.
Question: What’s your next dream?
Blonsky: Next dream. My next dream is to continue living this dream. I want to continue to make more really great movies and play some more really great roles that not just mean something to me and not just impact my life but mean something and impact the lives of the audience and, you know, playing Tracy is something that I think is a blessing, frankly, to be able to spread the word out there to little kids that you can be who you are and follow your dreams and anything can happen. I’m living proof.
Question: What other dreams do you have, apart from acting, I mean creatively, is there anything that you …
Blonsky: Oh well singing of course and theatre and, you know, there’s just so many different avenues that can be taken so I’m just along for the ride. I’m ready for whatever comes.