Read on for the Q&A Panel Idina Menzel gave at the NYC screening on Jan. 19, 2017 for more insights on the movie revival.
Q: Thank you so much for joining us tonight.
A: I am happy to be here, this is exciting! [sees backdrop] I don’t like seeing my face too big.
Q: It’s always nice to be out in a crowd of New Yorkers. You obviously have a huge fan base here. Tell us about the very first time you ever watched Beaches.
A: I think Beaches came out in ’89, so I was in a movie theater a little bigger than this in Long Island with my two best girlfriends, Lori and Wendy, and we just cried our eyes out. I don’t think anyone expected it to be so sad. Oh! Spoiler alert, just in case you’ve never seen it. Something sad happens. Well, there’s a younger generation of people that’s never seen the movie, apparently!
Q: Tell me, how many packets of Kleenex did you go through the first time you watched it?
A: Oh I mean, I’m being really honest, I can’t watch myself. So I was just like, “Oh my god, why did you make that face? Why did you do that?” It’s like listening to myself sing, I don’t get goosebumps when I listen to myself sing, I’m immune to myself. But apparently you need a nice pack of tissues.
Q: So tell me how this came about, how did you sign on for the project?
A: Lifetime was thinking about doing it. And honestly I said “No” a few times, because it was like a terrifying thought to do it. I mean, I don’t make it a habit of trying to revive things that my all-time idols have done. I like to originate roles. And there’s a reason for this. It’s not because I’m so smart and cool, it’s because I don’t want to be compared to anybody. And I love the movie, the way it is, but you know, sometimes a girl needs a gig too, and it’s such an amazing role. And how often do you see films or anything that has two female characters right in the center and the heart of it, and it’s about friendship, it’s not really about their romances that much. It’s just really about them, it’s so rare. Well actually, I’m probably the only one that’s been in the only three projects, Beaches, Frozen, and Wicked, they’re all female-centric. But most of the time you can’t find anything else. So yeah it was daunting. I just thought doing the music would give me chance to put my own spin on things because I thought the audience may give more permission for change with it because the music, the production’s from years and years ago. I also felt like there’s a real conversation to be had amongst us women in this day and age, to see sort of how we’ve grown and how we think about the choices that we make. In this version, Nikole [Beckwith], you know our amazing writer, I’ve been talking about her a lot in all the interviews I’ve been doing because I think her role has probably been the hardest because she had this beautiful, iconic film, and we wanted to keep those moments that we all would miss if they weren’t there. But she also had to update it and modernize it, and I think she did a great job with that. And so what she did was, Nia [Long]’s character Hillary, her career is more talked about in the film, and you just see the women sort of not letting each other settle, and being hard on each other the way true friends should.
Q: So do you have a friendship like the one CC and Hillary have?
A: Yeah, I do. I have my sister, first of all. But we’re talking non-blood, I have my college roommate, her name’s Debra but I call her Debbie, and we lived together freshman year of college. The first thing she said to me in the cafeteria at NYU, Weinstein dormitory was “Man, Idina, you have a big rack.” I was like “Shut up, that girl is such a bitch.” And we hit it off from there. No, but she’s always been honest, and always direct, and we’ve always just really felt like we can rely on each other in the hardest of times. I can tell her anything.
Q: Who will you be watching it with on Saturday?
A: Because I like to watch myself so much? My mom is actually in LA watching my son right now so I could be here to do this stuff and she’s gonna stay of course so we can march, first of all [cheers]. But she specifically cancelled the get-together because she’s like “I hate when everyone talks during your singing or your acting.” She wants to just sit there and stare at the television. So I’ll probably peer in and out. No I’m proud of it, I’ve just always been a perfectionist. Even when I record music, it’s hard for me to listen back to it, I always want to change something.
Q: Now I’ve already had the great pleasure of seeing the film, it’s terrific. The music is also like a third character, or another character. Tell us a little bit about proposing or producing the new songs.
A: Yes, that’s why I really want to say thank you to Lifetime and the producers because they welcomed my music suggestions, they welcomed some of my own music to be in the movie. I wrote a song called “Last Time,” it’s on my last album that just came out, and I had just written the song with my songwriting friends and it was about a friend who, someone passed in their life, and they had all these regrets about not saying and doing enough before they moved on, so it was like a really good fit. Because we wanted to keep the iconic songs, you know “Glory of Love” and “Wind Beneath my Wings” but also, you know, change it, and that was helpful for me too, to carve out my own little window here in the Beaches world.
Q: I was just going to ask, because the songs also, they had a lot of different beats, and they come in at a lot of important moments in the film. How important was that for you in finding your own way into CC?
A: I’m very similar to the character in a lot of ways. There’s a performer side of me, the side that loves the stage, the spotlight, sitting in front of an audience and connecting. And also the side that’s terrified and has her insecurities and wants to be loved … it’s not like a musical where we break into song in the middle of the scene. So “Wind Beneath my Wings” I recorded ahead of time obviously, and it plays over the montage, “Last Time” was cool because I sat at the piano and kind of worked it out, some of it’s live. “I’ll Stand By You” was a great choice because Allison Anders, our director, will admit to you that she didn’t see Beaches until recently when she got the gig to direct because she was like a punk girl back when it came out. So it was her idea to do “I’ll Stand By You” by the Pretenders. I loved it because in the original they open with “Under the Boardwalk” so we didn’t have to do exactly that same cover, it was very much like find a new cover tune, so it was great.
Q: Also tell us a little bit about working with Nia Long. The two of you knew each other a little bit but you sort of got to know each other much better through the course of filming.
A: Yeah I was a huge fan of Nia’s, I saw her in a movie called Love Jones, and I thought she was just beautiful, and sweet, and really talented. Until she started working with my ex-husband [Taye Diggs] on every movie and like doing love scenes with him, and then I hated that bitch. I’m just kidding, she knows I love her. “Hi honey, how was work today?” “Oh Nia’s tits were in my face, it was good.” This is a very like, conservative crowd. And then I guess she knew about me and the stuff that I did, she said she saw Wicked and she loved it. But it’s a tribute, a testament to the piece and the writing of the piece that the minute we got there we were in it. I think one of the first scenes we shot together was when she’s having a baby. We just hit it off, and they allowed us to ad-lib a lot. So we just found our rhythm really quick and we rehearsed a little bit beforehand and talked about everything, she and I just felt really comfortable together. And yeah there’s a lot of like moments where you just have to be really vulnerable with one another.
Q: What was the most challenging scene to shoot?
A: There’s a scene that you’ll see where I get some—I keep worrying that there’s somebody in the audience who hasn’t seen the movie and I don’t want to spoil it for you—where we’re in the hospital and I get news about my friend being sick, and so I am trying to keep a stiff upper lip for her and just sort of keep it together. So we do this scene, and we talk to the doctor and I grill the doctor and everything, and then I have to turn around and walk out, and then completely lose it. And then her daughter walks in and I have to get my shit back together in front of her daughter. So there’s a lot of switches, so that was hard. But it was a fun challenge.
Q: What were one or two of the funniest or most fun moments on set?
A: There’s a lot of fun moments. I’m a theater girl, I love hanging with the crew, and the family, and I just love when stuff goes wrong. I try to make them laugh because they’re in so many takes, you know the guys are getting bored. I try to ad-lib and change it up. The birth scene was really funny actually, as you will see, the wonderful brilliance of comedy. I do bar mitzvahs in the movie, I’m a bar mitzvah singer, which the apple doesn’t really fall far from the tree there. So that was fun, and I’m singing “Hava Nagila,” which I had to go back and learn, because when I used to do it I used to sing it phonetically I didn’t really know what the hell I was singing. I do this really kind of weird, avant-garde, off-Broadway type of show, and that was one of the things in the original that we thought we could play around with, it was great, so we’re kind of silly with that.
Q: So do some of the scenes in your early career in the movie, did it take you back at all to your life when you were first starting out?
A: Yeah, the struggle, but the love for what I was doing, and her belief in herself. I feel like I was like that when I was younger, I’m less like that now. Maybe it’s because with success you feel more pressure to be good, and people are actually paying attention. But I love that about her, that zest for living and performing. And even though there’s rejection and she’s doing dog voiceovers, she’s living it, and you know that’s how I felt.
Q: The power of the movie, obviously as you said, is really about the bond and the friendship between women. What do you think it is friendships between women so special?
A: That’s a really good question, because I’ve been thinking about that a lot these last couple days. I don’t know, I think um, it’s hard. Does anybody have a good answer? What makes it so special, is it our fierce loyalty or strength? I’ve really been trying to come up with a good answer for that question—
[From the audience] EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE?
A: Emotional intelligence… that’s so true. I love that, I wish I used that on the interview before this. Yeah, I agree. We are not afraid to be emotional, we don’t think it’s weak, if anything it’s strength. We’re real, I think we’re really honest with each other. Don’t you notice that guys keep a lot of their friends—I find that guys have a lot longer friendships from when they’re kids for some reason. But I think it’s because they don’t, like, if one guy does something that pisses the other guy off, they forgive them and are just like “Whatever, dude,” and they just stay friends, but women are much harder on each other. So when those certain relationships endure the tough times, they’re just the most beautiful thing.
Q: Absolutely, the back and forth. Like in some of the scenes, you know all of us have had deep conversations with our friends, and sometimes it’s ugly, but in the end, it’s always supportive.
A: Yeah, and you have to trust that you can fall and that person will have your back. You want them to push you. You want to be challenged. I want my friends to challenge me, and push me, and not get away with anything. And what I think I said already is I just love that these two friends, they don’t let each other settle. It’s not good enough to compromise what your dreams were when you were a little girl. You gotta go for it.
Q: Tell us a little bit more as far as your involvement, once you signed on, did you immediately start working on the music, or how did all this come together?
A: We started working on the music, I actually went into the studio with my producer and I said, “Let’s just stand at the piano, well you sit at the piano and play,” ‘cause he’s a beautiful keyboard player, “and let’s just sing this song. I don’t know how to approach it or if I can do it justice, or find my own style with it or interpretation, let’s just take all this stuff away, what it is at the piano.” And then I just worked really hard, I read the script a million times, I have a coach I work with. I ask lots of stupid questions, trying to figure out what I’m doing in every scene, and then I just had a lot of fun, because she’s fun, you know. It felt good, because I’m one of the leads, I know I can’t get fired. [laughs] I actually felt like I could try things. Because when you’re a guest on a TV show or a supporting role you always feel like the clock’s ticking and everybody’s like “She better get this right.” So to lead, you feel like, “OK, I want to try this again. I think I can do it better.” So I had a lot of fun.
Photo Credit: Lifetime.