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