Nikki Blonsky Talks to Tim Nasson about Hairspray
Nikki Blonsky grew up in Great Neck, New York. She graduated from Great Neck Village School in June, 2006. She has done local theatre at both Levels (youth center) and Great Neck South High School, and beat out thousands of hopefuls for the role in Hairspray The Movie. She learned that she got the role from the producers via the internet at the Cold Stone Creamery, where she also worked during her after school hours. The announcement was made public on the June 8, 2006 edition of Entertainment Tonight; the show’s crew went to her workplace to film the surprise announcement.
When asked about having won the role of Tracy Turnblad, Blonsky responded by saying “I’m hungry. I’m surprised I haven’t eaten in the past fifteen seconds.” She also told the New York Daily News that she hopes to distinguish herself from Ricki Lake and Marissa Jaret Winokur, who previously played the role, both of whom she has respect for: “I’m not going to try to fill anybody’s shoes – I’m too fat.”
Wild About Movies caught up with the big-boned, 18 year old starlett, recently, at The Four Seasons at Beverly Hills. Here’s what Nikki Blonksy, (yes, she goes by the nickname, now), had to say about working with John Travolta and the entire cast of “Hairspray The Movie.”
Wild About Movies: This all started out with an audition that went by video to New Line? Explain in your own words.
Nikki Blonsky: Yes, I’ll tell you exactly what happened. I saw Hair Spray when I as fifteen. I saw the Broadway show and fell in love with it. Tracy just jumped off the stage into my heart and that was it. And then, at sixteen , I auditioned for the Broadway show and they told me that I was too young and I was just devastated. I wanted to do it more than anything. Then all of a sudden the next year I turned seventeen and I checked on the website and I was waiting to see an open call for the Broadway show and it said open call for the movie. And I said, “The Movie!” Okay, hold on a second, this is it and they said scroll down to find the ages and I said, “Please be 17. Don’t be 18.” And it was 17 to 24 so we’re in, we can do it! I made a video tape, we sent it into New Line of me singing some of the songs and scenes from the Broadway show, and New Line forwarded it to the casting directors and they said, “We’re coming into New York. We’d like you to come in during the open call.” And I went in and five months, I kept going on callback after callback, audition after audition, and then finally the final step was a screen test out here in L.A. It was my first time out here and I was like, “Oh my gosh, Hollywood, this is unbelievable!” And then, you know, I did the screen test and went home. They said the earliest you could find out would be two days, the latest would be two weeks. Oh well, four weeks later I’m still sitting there back at the ice cream store because I was working at a Cold Stone Creamery, an ice cream shop in my local town of Great Neck, Long Island, New York and I was just waiting and they called and they said, “We’re doing a behind the scenes with each of the four final girls and for you we want to come to Cold Stone.” And I said, “Okay, c’mon, c’mon down!”
And they came the day actually before my senior prom. They came in and they had the full camera crew and when they said we’re sending a camera crew, I thought one guy with a camera. No, no, no, no, no, no, no! It was like four cameras and three people with the big boom sticks and they’re miking me as I’m scooping ice cream and then they sat me down and said, “Would you mind watching some of the other people’s screen tests?” And I said, “No.” You know I didn’t even think it at that time that it was unusual but at that point if they would have said, “Would you roll over and play fetch with us?” I would have said, “Sure.” So, you know, anything to play Tracy. I saw down and all of a sudden they opened up a lap top and Adam Shankman, the director, popped up on the screen and he said, “Hi Nikki. It’s Adam Shankman, the director of Hairspray, and I just want to thank you for going through this long process, but at this time I think you should go make yourself a big ice cream cone because you’re going to be playing Tracy Turnblad in the big screen movie. And I fell off my chair crying and screaming, just arms flailing everywhere, freaking out.
Wild About Movies: I guess that will all be on the DVD…
NIKKI BLONSKY: Yes, and you can watch it on You Tube too because little did I know that the cameras were not just New Line cameras, they were Entertainment Tonight cameras. Yes! And then they said to me, “Congratulations, Nikki!” and I was hugging my family and they said, “Okay, you have two minutes. Now go wash your face. You gotta do your first interview with ET Live!” And I was like, “Oh my God! ET, Entertainment Tonight? Oh, that’s unbelievable!” It was a total whirlwind. I mean it was so unbelievable, so exciting. And it hasn’t stopped since. I had a week at home. I did my prom and started doing press right away. I did the Today Show. I was like, “Oh my gosh, no!” All of a sudden I was in the middle of Rockefeller Center being interviewed. I’ve only walked through Rockefeller Center so now all of a sudden I’m in the middle. It’s been an unbelievable journey and the train has not stopped and I’m thankful because that’s the way I like it. I like busy and I like going and I love talking about this movie because it packs some really amazing messages.
Wild About Movies: How was it having John Travolta as your mom and Christopher Walken as your dad?
NIKKI BLONSKY: Well it was an amazing experience. They’re both legendary actors, icons in their own right, so talented, but two of the most gentle, kind men I think I’ve ever met in my entire life. So sweet and I adore both of them really. My parents are a very important part of my life. You know I love my parents with all my heart. They’re my best friends. So to have people play the really important, key characters as your parents, you know, this bond has to be created. And from the second I met Chris and the second I met John, that bond was there. The chemistry was there and the family was born. So it was incredible to work with them.
Wild About Movies: What quality do you think you have inside you that doesn’t let you go, “Freeze! It’s my first movie!” Are you just that friendly or what is it?
NIKKI BLONSKY: You know I think it is. I really truly credit it to my upbringing and the way my parents, the home that they created. My parents never made me feel like I was different because I was plus size or because I was short. I mean I knew I was different but they told me I was beautiful no matter what way I came and they told me I could do anything I put my mind to. They supported me 100% so when you have parents like that and they’re feeding that to you every day, I think you have no choice but to be confident in who you are and just be proud of it.
Wild About Movies: There are so many kids going, “I’m different.” What would you say to a teenager who wants to know, “How do I get past this and feel better about myself.”?
NIKKI BLONSKY: Well I think the first step is going to watch “Hairspray.” I think the bottom line is that you have to find it within yourself. You have to be secure within yourself before you can be any good to anybody else, you know. So I think you have to find the passion within you and whatever your dream is – whether it’s to be in this business or whether it’s to be whatever you want to be. It doesn’t matter really what you look like if you have the passion and you have the drive and you have the love for it. Go for it! Because at the end of the day it’s about the talent and it’s about the love and the passion, not about the length of the hair and the size of the hips.
Wild About Movies: You were scooping and eating ice cream and the next day you’re on Broadway.
NIKKI BLONSKY: Honestly, you never know. It’s like the lottery. You never know.
Wild About Movies: Talk a little about your expectations about Hollywood. What have you found out since you’ve been here and have there been some down sides to it? Or are you just in that ether right now where everything is good?
NIKKI BLONSKY: I’ve been in and out of this town for a few months now since the movie wrapped. I’ve seen amazing things in Hollywood. You know I see all these big stars and it’s amazing and then I also see really sad things like Paris Hilton going to jail and Lindsay Lohan in rehab and I’m reading the covers of these magazines and I’m feeling just terrible that it got to this point for both of them. So you read these things and I think what it is that I just really want to do is kind of let kids know out there that if you have it within you, you can be good and you can be the person you want to be, you know. Just follow your dreams really. It’s just about taking what’s within and putting it out and working with it.
Wild About Movies: From that first song when you’re singing and walking and tapping your feet and everything, from first frame to final frame, it’s just so good and so energetic. When you watch yourself and you pop up in bed, what’s your reaction to that?
NIKKI BLONSKY: Well I tell you, the first time I saw the movie I cried hysterically. ‘ Ohhhhh, that’s me. Those are my eyes.’ Because you know that’s pretty much how the movie opens. To have your eyes fill up a huge screen like that and then other scenes have your rear fill up a huge screen like that. It was like, “Whoa! Do we need to zoom in on that shot? Really? Did we now?” But, no, it was incredible to watch the movie. I know what it was just to get the part and be all excited and then to shoot it and then oh my God, it just kept growing, growing, growing and then to watch it, it was just like oh my gosh, look at this thing that we all created and now it’s out there, or soon to be, for the world to see.
Wild About Movies: What was the hardest part about making this movie and doing it all with this big, experienced cast?
NIKKI BLONSKY: The hardest part about making the movie was finishing the movie and leaving the set. We all became so close. I was just in the hallway and I ran into Allison Janney who I haven’t seen in a few months and I just screamed. It was like ‘Allison Janney. I’m you’re number one fan,’ because I really am. I was just screaming because you become a family. You work together for so long and you’re with each other 18 hours a day on set each day. You’re getting your hair done together, your make-up together, and you’re eating together and everything just becomes together, together, together, and you become this family and especially with us. We were making a family fun comedy movie and we were just having fun. I think the most amazing thing about “Hairspray” is that there’s something for everybody in this movie and there’s a person for everybody to relate to. I think that’s the most exciting part about being in this movie is that we all stand for something different yet there are really some amazing messages behind this movie as well.
Wild About Movies: About those messages, do they seem anachronistic to you as a young woman?
NIKKI BLONSKY: No, actually when I got the part of Tracy, I researched the time period because I said I have to go back. I have to really see what it was all about and I researched Baltimore in 1962. I wanted to know who the mayor was. I wanted to know what civil rights movements were going on at the time. School wasn’t that far away. I had just gone through history class four months prior so I remember learning about it. This was the time for me to really just go back into it and really dig into what was going on and I learned so much about the time period and I think that’s what really helped me in the portrayal of all the race issues and the bigotry that was going on which was just insane and to be able to stand up for those causes in the movie. You know I said to myself if I was Nikki in 1962, I would be holding the same poster that Tracy was. And today, in 2007, we’ve come so far, you know, we’ve come thus far and now we have so much more to go to overcome these issues because sadly we still deal with them. We have far to go but I have faith that we will overcome and I know that I would be in that protest today if it needed to be.
Wild About Movies: Are you just a naturally great dancer or did you take dance lessons before this opportunity came?
NIKKI BLONSKY: Funny thing, I will tell you, I was a singer since the age of 3 and trained since the age of 8, acted in my high school shows. I never danced before “Hairspray.”
Wild About Movies: You got it right.
NIKKI BLONSKY: Thank you. Well I got onto the set. During the dance audition – my dance audition was actually in Baltimore – and I remember going, “Oh my God. Please just let it work. Feet, do your magic. I don’t know how you’re going to do it. I don’t even know what an 8-count is but just figure it out.” The choreographer got in the mirror and said, “Okay. This is the dance.” And he did the entire two-minute dance and said, “Okay. Do it back.” I swear it was the spirit of Baltimore. It just overtook me and I did that dance and I was like, “Oh my God. How am I moving? This is unbelievable!” So that was that, and once I got to the set, I went through 8 hours a day for 2 months of intense dance rehearsals with a choreographer just over and over and over and then now John and I both agreed after both doing the musical, he said, “I could probably do some of the dances from ‘Grease’ still” and I said, “I think I’ll always be able to do the dances from ‘Hairspray’ because we drilled them for so long.”
Wild About Movies: What was your Plan B after high school? Were you thinking about going to college or was there something else?
NIKKI BLONSKY: I had a deposit down on a college. I had a deposit on Long Island University and I said, “Well, if ‘Hairspray’ doesn’t work out, then I’ll just go to college and major in drama.” You know it was like, “I’m not giving this up.” I was going to minor in forensic science-criminal justice. Yeah, no, I think I was just obsessed with “CSI.” I just wanted to be an actor on “CSI.” But no, I really wanted this acting thing. I really, really wanted it. But I was always a person who had the motto of well, why sit in a classroom for four years and learn how to audition when I could just go audition. Let me just go. Thank god I had the parents that I had that were just like, “Go! Go do it!” And I did, thank god.
Wild About Movies: With all these famous people you ended up working with, did you find you had any misconceptions about any of them? Oh my God, they’re not like I thought they’d be at all. Were they better, worse, different?
NIKKI BLONSKY: Oh they were all… I honestly went into this movie with absolutely no expectations of the experience that I thought I would have or the people that I thought I would meet. I knew I was going to meet these huge stars, legends in their own rights. But then when I really just got to sit down with them and talk to them with the cameras off and got to know John Travolta for John and Michelle Pfeiffer for Michelle, these are just incredible human beings. That’s the main key here is that they’re some of the sweetest, most nurturing people and I think that’s why everything worked the way it did was because we all bonded. We all have this passion and we all really wanted to be there so I think that’s why the movie turned out the way it did, just full of life and full of love, because we all were having fun with the parts that we were playing.
MoviesOnline: Are you looking at other roles now? Do you have another movie lined up?
NIKKI BLONSKY: I’ve been reading some stuff and I’ve been keeping busy with my agent. John (Travolta) has graciously shared his agent with me so I’m with William Morris and we are working frivolously on finding another great film.
Wild About Movies: Would you like to do another musical, or…?
NIKKI BLONSKY: Well you know John starred in the greatest musical of all time in history: “Grease.” He has said to me and to the press that a great musical is only made once every ten years so if I were to just wait for musicals, I’d be like waiting forever or I’d only be working once every ten years which is not acceptable. Hearing that, I know that I want to take some straight acting roles whether it be straight comedy or straight dramas. I want to really just put all my possibilities up for grabs and just try out all my chops.
Wild About Movies: Talk about the first day you walked on the set, your first day of shooting, what was the first scene you shot?
NIKKI BLONSKY: The first scene we shot was me getting off the garbage truck and running to the opening of the school doors and finishing “Good Morning Baltimore.”
Wild About Movies: That was the end of the number?
NIKKI BLONSKY: Yes, we started off with the end of the number, but nevertheless we started off with my first number of the movie. So first day of filming was pretty much, “Okay, Nikki. Get on your costume and go.” It was just like, “Get on top of the garbage truck and film the movie.” So it was pretty amazing. I wouldn’t have wanted to start off in any other way. The song “Good Morning Baltimore” was a song that I had auditioned with for three years of my life over and over and over and over again. So to stand on a street in Toronto getting off of a garbage truck and hearing your voice being played through speakers at 6 o’clock in the morning I think is unbelievable. I’m just like, “That’s me. That’s my version of ‘Good Morning Baltimore.'” “Well, of course!” They’re like, “It’s in the movie. We can’t have you singing to the Broadway soundtrack.” I was just like, “I know but I really didn’t expect to hear myself” and they’re like… I guess a lot of people were used to dealing with people who are used to seeing themselves on camera and used to hearing their voice and me, I was not used to anything. You know they even laughed at me because I was just like… At one point, it was like 5 o’clock in the morning, we have been working since 5 o’clock the past day and they’re like, “Oh, you know, I’m tired.” And I turned around and I said like, [high pitched excited voice] “Guys! We are making a movie!” And they looked at me like, “Oh, Boy!” But nevertheless they really…everybody in this movie just open arms really welcomed me and I now have an extended family and a bunch of life long friends.
Wild About Movies: What kind of music do you like to listen to at home or in your car? Who’s hot for you right now?
NIKKI BLONSKY: Oh wow, well I love everybody. Right now I’m loving Amy Winehouse because she’s gone back to the 60s to bring back the horns and everything. But I love Fergie and the Black Eyed Peas, Nelly Furtado and Timberland. I love all different types of stuff. I love country. Patsy Cline is my favorite singer of all time and I love Jack Johnson, so all kinds of stuff.
Wild About Movies: Why Patsy Cline?
NIKKI BLONSKY: Well you know my grandmother raised me on her music so I just listened to it all my life and I lost my grandmother two years ago and so that’s my way that I still connect with her. Put on my iPod and I listen to Patsy and it brings me right back to when my Grandma and I were dancing the two-step to some of Patsy’s music.
Wild About Movies: This can be a pretty cruel, abusive business. Have you faced abusive situations in the past and have you already sort of walked through the crucible?
NIKKI BLONSKY: Well you know I grew up going through elementary school and of course I was different. I was called all different kinds of names and whatever. But the thing is that I think life is what you make it and if you let things get to you, then that’s that. I was never a person who really let things get to me, what people said to me, it never… I really just could care less about it. My grandmother said, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” So I would just say, “Well they have nothing nice to say so they should just stop talking.” But now it’s interesting. Everybody has their own opinions and of course this business is the most judgmental business out there. But I think I’m just going to take my own route and I have a lot of great people around me supporting me and loving me. Everyone from my parents to John Travolta and Adam so I think I’ll be okay.