‘It’d be great if Elsa got a girl­friend’

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - Cover Story - Bry­ony Gor­don

Does the star of one of the big­gest films of all time still have to fight for roles? She does if she’s 45, says Id­ina Men­zel

Id­ina Men­zel will al­ways re­mem­ber per­form­ing Let it Go at the Os­cars in 2014 – but not for the rea­sons you might ex­pect. The an­them from Frozen, for which Men­zel voiced the lead char­ac­ter Elsa, won the award for best orig­i­nal song that night and went on to im­print it­self on the mem­ory of even the 10 peo­ple left in the world who haven’t yet seen the film.

Men­zel, a vet­eran of Broad­way who will reprise the role of Elsa for the se­quel (of which more later) says that at the height of the hys­te­ria sur­round­ing the Dis­ney an­i­ma­tion, she felt as if she was lead­ing a dou­ble life. “It was such a strange di­chotomy,” she tells me on a hot Fri­day evening in late July. “There was this thing of hav­ing worked so hard my whole life and fi­nally hav­ing this huge song. To be at the Os­cars, and to have all the glam­our of that…” She pauses for a mo­ment. “And then to come home and have to go to me­di­a­tion with my ex, fig­ur­ing out which days he was vis­it­ing our son and where we were go­ing, and the sad­ness, and the re­gret. It was…”

Not a great time, I sug­gest?

She laughs. “I mean, it was rich. It was rich, it was full.”

Just as Frozen was be­com­ing the big­gest an­i­mated movie ever re­leased, Men­zel’s decade-long mar­riage to the ac­tor Taye Diggs, with whom she starred in Rent, was in its death throes. She was also do­ing eight shows a week in the Broad­way pro­duc­tion If/ Then, earn­ing her a third Tony nom­i­na­tion, but mak­ing life some­what hectic.

“My ca­reer is what makes me feel con­fi­dent,” she says. “To feel self-suf­fi­cient and like I don’t need a man to sup­port me and all that kind of stuff makes me feel good about my­self. It’s just, you know…” An­other pause. “Ev­ery­one talks about me be­ing a role model for young girls and that’s not al­ways the truth in my day-to-day per­sonal life. I’m not con­stantly prac­tis­ing what I preach. I’m a lit­tle un­com­fort­able car­ry­ing that ban­ner. I’m not al­ways ‘Oh, I feel so great about my­self to­day. I’m a pow­er­ful, con­fi­dent woman, and I’m not go­ing to care what any­one else thinks of me!’,” Men­zel be­gins to laugh. “I mean it’s all bull­shit re­ally. I can be a mess. The older I get, I get wiser about some things, and yet I get more frag­ile and vul­ner­a­ble about oth­ers.” This is a re­lief to hear, given that the 45-yearold is some­thing of a go-to ac­tress for pro­duc­ers look­ing for a feisty fe­male lead: be it Elsa let­ting it go; El­phaba de­fy­ing grav­ity in Wicked; or Mau­reen protest­ing her way through Rent. It was the orig­i­nal 1996 Broad­way pro­duc­tion of Rent that gave Men­zel – the daugh­ter of a py­jama sales­man and a psy­chother­a­pist – her first pro­fes­sional role, af­ter a Long Is­land child­hood spent singing at wed­dings and bar mitz­vahs. Next, she’s tak­ing on Bette Mi­dler’s part for an Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion re­make of the 1988 weepie Beaches – so no pres­sure there, then.

To­day Men­zel is not pro­mot­ing a role. She is pro­mot­ing her­self, in the form of her new al­bum, Id­ina. It is her fifth record in 20 years but her first prom­i­nent re­lease since Frozen cat­a­pulted her into the strato­sphere. (There was a Christ­mas al­bum in 2014, in­clud­ing some orig­i­nal songs, but one senses it wasn’t quite as much a labour of love as this epony­mous re­lease). I ask if it’s a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to strike out alone af­ter her suc­cesses in en­sem­bles on Broad­way or un­seen in Frozen. “I don’t know if it’s break­ing out,” she says, and some­thing about her tone sug­gests that the sud­den Elsa ef­fect might be both a bless­ing and a curse for

‘The older I get, the more frag­ile and vul­ner­a­ble I feel about things’

Cold com­fort: Men­zel voiced Elsa in a £ 1bil­lion smash hit

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