With Just a Nod, They’re Singled Out of the Crowd
Posted May 1, 2018 9:08 p.m. EDT
Whether your shelves are already groaning with prizes or you’re up for your first big honor, it feels good to be nominated for a Tony Award. Here are edited excerpts from conversations with nominees on Tuesday.
Tina Fey and Jeff Richmond
The husband-and-wife duo are longtime collaborators (Tina Fey writes, Jeff Richmond composes music) and had previously worked together on projects with musical components. But “Mean Girls” represents their first attempt at a full-length musical — and Fey’s Broadway debut. It was nominated for 12 awards, including for Fey’s book and for the score, by Richmond and his collaborator Nell Benjamin. — REGGIE UGWU
How does it feel to be sharing this moment?
TINA FEY It’s incredibly thrilling. I am just ecstatic that these nominations are coming to every department — they’re so well deserved. And I cannot lie: I cried a little bit in the middle of Equinox this morning, and not because my workout was too hard — I do not push myself at the gym.
JEFF RICHMOND I’m just happy for my wife because she so seldom gets any attention or recognition for things she does, so this is just great [laughter].
Tina, what is it about this nomination that’s affected you in a different way?
FEY Well, one, it takes five years to get a show up. And so you’re really, really invested in it, and it feels very personal. And two, it’s such a childhood dream. You go back to when you were a kid and going to see shows — getting a Playbill, dreaming of being in a Playbill some day.
The show went through some adjustments before you arrived at the version that was nominated. What was the breakthrough?
FEY I think it was the two months between our out-of-town tryout at the National Theater in Washington and rehearsal. All four of us got in a room and just were really bold about cutting and moving things around. We replaced five songs and added all of these book elements and tried to hone the story better.
I think the main thing we learned was that we weren’t feeling for our heroine as much. Even though she’s singing from front to back, we needed to adjust some scene work and lyrics and some songs to really get into her heart more.
Tina, this is your first experience on Broadway. On a scale of 1-10, how interested are you in returning right now?
FEY Oh, 10. I can’t wait to start something now that opens when I’m 57.
When the diva Renée Fleming traded opera for Broadway to appear as Cousin Nettie in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel,” she confessed to some insecurities. In opera, her powerful voice is expected to fill cavernous theaters without amplification, but the runs are short and there are usually days off between performances. On Broadway, she gets to use a microphone — but must sing in eight shows a week, and talk. She needn’t have worried: She was nominated for a Tony for best featured actress in a musical, part of the juggernaut of “Carousel” nominations. — MICHAEL COOPER
Thank you! Gosh, I’m really grateful, and surprised, to be honest — very surprised.
Now that you have some time under your belt as a Broadway trouper after all this time on the opera stage, how is it going?
Well, I was worried about the eight shows a week — because our training is so completely different, we’re so much about power and projecting. But I’ve managed to adjust, I think, pretty well. It helps that I’m surrounded by such extraordinary musical values. It’s made it really fun. And frankly, being home for the first time in my life is pretty special.
You’ve never had such a long run anywhere, I’d imagine.
No, not even close!
Awards are exciting. Would you like to see awards for opera, or a category in the Tonys?
Yes! I don’t know if it would be appropriate within the Tonys, per se, but the Classical Brits [a British awards show for classical music that has been on hiatus] is coming back this year, for instance. And I know Lang Lang is very keen that classical music should have an award ceremony as well — so that we could drum up excitement in young people for the art form itself. That’s the beauty of our show, “Carousel” — to have the classical arts so highly represented between Justin Peck [the choreographer] and ballet and me. It’s very exciting to have it noticed in that way.
Have you spoken to some of the other nominees from the show?
The texts are flying.
Ari’el Stachel received his first Tony nomination for his performance in the heavily nominated musical “The Band’s Visit.” Stachel, a Yemeni Israeli who grew up in the Bay Area, plays an Egyptian trumpeter with a libidinous swagger stranded with his bandmates in a sleepy Israeli town. — REGGIE UGWU
You’ve been nominated for your debut performance on Broadway. What’s going through your head right now?
Oh my goodness. A mixture of exhaustion, elation, happiness. I’m most excited that it’s in a role that celebrates a heritage that I’ve really sort of been ashamed of for many years. The fact that our show is being recognized really shines a positive spotlight on Middle Eastern people, so it’s sort of like a twofold win for me.
How are you processing that shift from the shame you once felt to the pride you feel now?
You know, even three years ago, I wasn’t comfortable telling people that I was Middle Eastern. I was scared it would limit my career prospects. In college, I was told not to prepare monologues of my own race. So it’s a seismic shift for me. It’s really gratifying from an internal place, from a soulful place, in addition to the career part of it, which is extremely exciting.
You auditioned seven times for this role. What did it mean to you?
I saw the casting call and knew that I needed to be a part of the show. It felt like my option, my shot. It was a character that happened to be Middle Eastern but had an entire arc that had nothing to do with his culture, which is sort of the meat and potatoes. That was exciting. To get your shot in this business, particularly your first one, it feels almost impossible. I felt so much pressure before each audition that I almost had panic attacks each time. By the seventh one, I actually said to everyone in the room, “We’re family now, right?” That sort of took the pressure off.
Did you ever think during that process that the result would be you hearing your name this morning?
A hundred million percent no. This is truly beyond my wildest dreams.
Do you think this nomination might help create more roles for Middle Eastern actors on Broadway? What do you hope the effect will be?
What I really hope is that kids are going to say, “Oh, this might be a career path that I can pursue that otherwise might not have seemed like a possibility.” I think it’s really important to see yourself in mainstream media, whether that be theater or TV or movies. So to be recognized in a role that celebrates this heritage, hopefully that allows kids, maybe living in the Bronx or Queens or wherever they are, to say: “Oh, this is a viable path. I can do this.”
When Noma Dumezweni was cast as Hermione Granger in the West End production of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” it was another success that she did not see for herself after a childhood spent on the run from South African apartheid.
But she also had to deal with critics from the deepest corner of Potter fandom, much to the frustration of the author J.K. Rowling: How could a person of color be cast as Hermione? Ms. Dumezweni, a veteran actress, commandingly drowned those voices out, proving to be a standout performer on both continents, culminating with a Tony nomination. — SOPAN DEB
Congratulations! Where were you when you found out?
I was on the toilet. I woke up late in the morning, and I just headed up to the bathroom and picked up the phone. “Oh, it’s Tamara calling!” [the actress Tamara Tunie]
“Girl, you’ve just been nominated!” “What?” “For the Tonys!” I was like: “Oh my god! Yes! OK.” It was lovely.
Do you feel some sort of vindication given some of what you had to deal with when your casting was announced?
No. Why I say that is because I never gave that too much power, if that makes sense. My big thing is that I get to work with amazing people. Me as an actor, I do what I do, and I am a black woman and this is just a thing and I get to play Hermione, which is wonderful. But it’s always about the work. But then what I’m more vindicated by is for the creators.
Being in the room, watching people at the top of their game: Gareth Fry, Christine Jones [set design], Steven Hoggett [choreographer], John Tiffany [director], Jamie Harrison on magic, Carole Hancock [hair, wigs and makeup], just an amazing group of people to be working with. As actors, we get the shiny stuff. The vindication is that it still works, and it’s still growing, and it still makes sense. Yes, it still may be the world of Harry Potter, but theatrically, it’s one of the most amazing things I’ve been involved with.
My big saying is a word called “Ubuntu,” a South African word that means “I am because they are,” and that’s what, for me, is the most thrilling thing. It’s all joyous.
You gave an emotional interview recently in which you expressed amazement that someone who looks like you could make it to Broadway. You also said your expectations of life are limited because of your refugee upbringing. Well, you’ve made it, and now you’re up for a Tony. Are you getting used to this attention? Are you seeing new heights for yourself?
I am seeing new heights for myself in terms of possibilities. Because that’s what it is. We have these limitations. Every individual has them in certain parts of our lives. Now the dreams are clearer, if that makes sense because the possibilities are there.
I’m not taking anything for granted. Let’s just be a day at a time, a moment at a time. This is all lovely, shiny stuff. I’m going to enjoy the next few weeks leading up to the awards ceremony.
What characteristics of Hermione Granger do you feel you share?
Oh gosh. I’ve haven’t actually been asked that question on a personal level. I hope compassion, wishing the best out of everybody when we’re collaborating with people. I hope I have that part of her in me.
Andrew Garfield first discovered “Angels in America” when he watched the 2003 HBO miniseries. In a phone interview, Garfield said he was intimidated when he first dove into the grueling role of Prior Walter, for which he was Tony nominated on Tuesday: “I think I’d be a lunatic and arrogant if I wasn’t healthily reverent to the play itself and the history of productions and people playing the character.” — SOPAN DEB
Where were you when you found out you were nominated?
Probably like most people I was in bed. It’s our day off from the show so I was trying and failing to sleep inasmuch as possible. But I was, of course, excited just knowing that the nominations were coming out today. I’m usually very good at turning my phone off and getting myself enough sleep. I was just too excited.
This is your second Tony nomination. How has this experience compared to “Death of a Salesman?”
It’s about five hours longer. That’s the simplest thing.
Oh wow, sorry, I’m driving past a sculpture that looks like it's directly inspired by “Angels in America.” How bizarre. And I know what the sculpture is. Is it always here? It’s by 30 Rock, I think. It’s winged and a book in the middle of it, with a serpent crawling up a plate. Do you know the sculpture?
I think I do. I don’t 100 percent know if it’s inspired by “Angels.”
I actually don’t think it is at all. But it’s just so weird. It’s exactly certain imagery from the play. How bizarre. How wonderful. So what was the question?
I was just asking how this was different from “Death of a Salesman.”
“Salesman” is one of the great American plays since the founding of America. I think the difference is obviously the length. Even though the themes that both plays are dealing with are as deep as it gets in terms of the human experience, and as painful as it gets, I would say that doing “Angels” is somehow harder, somehow more costly and even more rewarding in a way. It’s hard to compare. I would rather not compare because Arthur Miller and his plays are so important to me, as are Tony’s.
Are you exhausted?
That’s the question always. How do you sustain telling the story on a nightly basis? How do you do that without it killing you? Without it burning you out? I’m asking that question of myself every day. I think it has a lot to do with trusting, actually. Letting go, getting of the way, trusting Tony’s work, trusting Tony’s writing, and trusting the brilliance of the other actors on stage and the work that you’ve done in rehearsals and allowing it to be different every night. Allowing it to be alive every night and dangerous every night and not managing or controlling it too much.