DIVA TALK: Chatting with How to Succeed's Tammy Blanchard

By Andrew Gans
18 Feb 2011

Blanchard in Gypsy.
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: You made your Broadway debut in another pretty high-profile production. What was it like working with Bernadette Peters and Sam Mendes in Gypsy?
Blanchard: I didn't realize it until now, working in this show, how prepared I am because of working in Gypsy. At that time, I was terrified. I don't know that I was quite ready, but I believe that that is why I was hired, because Sam Mendes wanted a real Louise. And at that time, I was [acting] right from my soul, practically. [Laughs.] I was still young and growing as an individual, and to put myself out there in that big kind of way on stage like that — I was terrified. But I had the best of the best on my side, Bernadette Peters and Sam Mendes, and the whole company was just so great on that show. I look back on that experience and I say, "I got through it," [laughs] because it was terrifying. I mean, that's a very hard show to do for everybody. It's very dramatic, also. I mean, there's some comedy in it, but the way that Sam Mendes directed it and put it out there, it was very dramatic, and it's something that we all felt every day, so it was hard. It wasn't easy. This [show] seems to be going a lot easier for me. [Laughs.]

Question: How did How to Succeed come about?
Blanchard: I got an email from the agent [with the subject line] "Audition" and on the bottom of the page, it said, "Producers: Neil Meron and Craig Zadan." I really was going to stop auditioning for theatre because I was going in for a lot of stuff, and I was just bombing. I don't know why. Maybe it was the year of going back on the stage or whatever, or the desire to be in movies or in film, but once I saw Neil and Craig's names on the page, I said, "Okay. I'm going to go in." I didn't even look at the [script] pages because I just figured, "Well, it's just something I'll do and I probably won't be great and I probably won't get, because I'm not nailing anything in theatre these days." But as I was driving there, all of a sudden, this voice started coming out. [Laughs]. I started reading the lines, and this voice — this nasally, Bronx, really rough-edged accent started. It was just like a miracle, and as I read the pages and as she came alive inside of me, I fell in love with her as much as I've loved Judy Garland all my life. It was like love at first sight. I just love her so, so much, like I've always known her.

Tammy Blanchard and Bernadette Peters in 2003
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Question: How would you describe Hedy?
Blanchard: Hedy is a bombshell who doesn't want to get by on her looks anymore. She wants to succeed in business. She wants to take care of herself. She wants to be with someone who can get her to a higher level in life, and she's hysterical. She's got everything. She's so complex, it's unbelievable. I mean, when you see it … you don't have a choice but [to] love her, because she's got everything. It's so hard to explain. It's just something you've got to see. I mean, when you think of Judy Garland and you think of that vulnerability that she just had instinctively inside her, but then all the layers of talent and different qualities that she possessed as a human being through experience and through the way other people treated her — she just ends up this very complex, big character, and that's what Hedy is. She takes over. She definitely takes over a room. [Laughs.]

Question: I know you haven't started previews, but do you have a favorite moment for her yet?
Blanchard: I love her entrance. I just think when she comes on, for that moment, she just changes the whole atmosphere and just brightens everything up because she's so big. [Laughs.]

Question: What is it like working with director-choreographer Rob Ashford?
Blanchard: He is pitch-perfect with everything and everyone. He is very patient and so smart about his direction. His choreography is amazing — just being in rehearsal, watching him put these dances together has been incredible. I really, really believe that he is just one of the best directors I've ever worked with. He trusts everyone to do their jobs, and he doesn't push anything on anyone, and that's brilliant. I mean, half the job is hiring people who have qualities that you like and expect in the character and you don't want to change, and I think that they did that, too. They set us all up to succeed, they really did.

John Larroquette as J.B. Biggley
photo by Chris Callis

Question: Tell me about working with Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette.
Blanchard: Oh, my God. John is — I had a crush on him when he was in "Night Court." [Laughs.] I don't know how old I was, like, eight. Who knows? I love and adored him, and I love his fearless way of approaching characters. I love that he's not afraid to be hated, and then he'll bring on this sweet, sensitive side and just blow you away, and then he really has a talent for creating characters that should be unlovable and making them absolutely adorable. And this is who he is in real life — he is a very strong presence, and yet he's very tender about it. I'm just so lucky to be working with him. And, Daniel Radcliffe — I think he should be taken very seriously, not just as Harry Potter anymore, because this is him kind of coming out and showing that he can do anything. …He can play character roles, and he can really entertain you, and he is such a sweet guy and sweet kid. I couldn't be luckier, and when you listen to him sing, he has such a beautiful voice, and he dances and shakes his hips … They're both so great, and [Rose Hemingway, who plays] Rosemary [and is] making her Broadway debut — she's going to show everybody that she's got it. She can be a leading star, and she is up-and-coming, a rising star, and our dance ensembles — these are the most talented people on Broadway, and they're all sharing the stage with each other, and we're all sharing the stage. It's such a blessing. A true, true blessing.

Question: I read that you recently completed  a film called "The Music Never Stopped." Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Blanchard: That's a movie with J.K. Simmons and Lou Taylor Pucci. It's about a young man who loves music — The Grateful Dead and The Beatles, and because of his love for music, his dad kicks him out. [The dad is an] old-fashioned, "go to college" kind of guy. And, he ends up in an accident with a brain tumor, and music is the only thing that actually brings him back to some normalcy. It's a really great, dramatic movie about relationships between father and son [and] music, how music really touches all of our lives. It's a great story, really.

Question: How has it been combining working with motherhood?
Blanchard: I think I go up and down with that because I'll have moments where I'll get really sad that I'm not in my daughter's life today. That kind of thing, but then, when I go home and I have an hour to read books and sing funny songs and kiss her goodnight and all that. She stays up pretty late — she's a late girl — so I get to spend time with her. I think it's really just doing what you have to do and believing that you're on the right path and knowing that she has Grandma and she has her daddy, and I have a great family that will all take part in raising her, and that's fine with me because if it was just me, she'd end up just like me, and who wants that? [Laughs.]

[How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying will play the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. For tickets, visit Telecharge.]

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.