Menzel is fierce in ‘Uncut Gems’
Idina Menzel’s public persona is defined by her starring role in a blockbuster children’s franchise (the “Frozen” movies), a Tony Award-winning performance in Broadway’s “Wicked” and a Christmas album or two, so it’s more than a little jarring to see her show up as Dinah, Adam Sandler’s estranged wife, in Josh and Benny Safdie’s high-tension underworld thriller “Uncut Gems.”
In just a handful of scenes with Sandler’s rakish, charmingly duplicitous wheeler-dealer, Menzel generates serious emotional heat, upping the stakes of an already taut street-level drama.
“I just so yearned to be part of something that was different from what people expected for me,” Menzel says. “I really feel like I haven’t had the opportunity to show that kind of range.”
The Safdie brothers saw her in Joshua Harmon’s off-Broadway dark comedy “Skintight” and discovered that she might make sense as a fierce, self-possessed, well-heeled Long Island McMansionite.
She grew up lower middle class in Syosset, on Long Island, and says she recognizes Dinah as an “East Coast Jewish girl” like herself.
“Anyone who knows me knows that it’s just where I live, literally and metaphorically. I know that character, and I know many women like her. And
“It’s a world I know and feel comfortable in.” — Idina Menzel, on the milieu in “Uncut Gems”
I’ve probably been known to act like her once in a while, after maybe a couple of beers late at night.”
Though Dinah is largely absent from the main setting of “Uncut Gems,” which takes place in and around Manhattan’s Diamond District, Menzel said that milieu also felt familiar.
“My father was a pajama salesman, so he was in the Garment District, just a couple blocks from the Diamond District.” She’d go visit him at work as a little girl and go to the diner with him and his friends. “It’s a world I know and feel comfortable in.”
The Safdie brothers’ films are marked by a documentary-style realism that couldn’t be further from the storyboarding and careful scripting behind a mass-market animated film like “Frozen.” Menzel says that she was electrified by the Safdies’ approach, with its fast pace and allowance for improvisation, and refers to “the frenetic, beautiful chaos that they create.”
But she pushes back against the idea that “Uncut Gems” posed a new kind of challenge.
“Look, I’ve been singing professionally since I was 15 years old,” Menzel says. “I guess I have tough skin. I know how to get up in front of an audience where nobody gives a … and do my job. And then being a creature of the theater and knowing that every night is different and to welcome mistakes — I’m comfortable in that environment. I like spontaneity.”