What do you see as your biggest challenge in being Hedwig?
NPH: I'm most concerned about not seeming comfortable in Hedwig's physicality, which is about more than walking well in heels; it's about fully embodying how damaged she is, having lived the life she's lived, and still being fabulous. I'm intrigued to see what life lessons I learn through playing this role. Hedwig goes on a grueling, cathartic journey, and I have to do that every night in a physical body I'm not at all used to.
You rocked out as Mark Cohen in Rent in Los Angeles and on tour, but the Hedwig numbers can get pretty hardcore. Did you worry about whether you could vocally handle it?
NPH: It is nastier and grittier than Rent, but I saw it as a fun challenge to do flat tones instead of vibrato and to learn about a genre that I really didn't know about. One of my favorite things about being an actor is getting history lessons about periods I never really learned about. I didn't go to college, so this is my higher learning. I didn't know a lot about Lee Harvey Oswald in Assassins, but playing him justified my buying all the books and learning all about him. Similarly, I wasn't hugely familiar with Bowie, Iggy Pop, and the Ramones, but now I'm reading a lot and learning all about that era.
You must have some punk rock in your karaoke repertoire.
NPH: No, my go-to karaoke songs have always been Billy Joel and Elton John. But there's something about singing this style that's kind of hypnotic. It is harder to sing beautifully and tell a story when the music's so loud, but it almost feels like performance art. Even though it's very angry, you can get lost in the poetry of it all.
Has it been a challenge to perfect your German accent?
NPH: It's been a challenge for those listening to me in rehearsal. [Laughs] It's fine. I don't want it to be so German that it takes you out of the comedy. She's lived in America for a long time at this point, and the songs won't have much of an accent at all because she's listened to American music all her life. I don't want audiences to hear me going from hardcore German to not-German-at-all, so I'm trying to find a good middle-ground, partial German accent.
NPH: I had worked out before with more kickboxing and weightlifting, but strength training isn't helpful when going from a man to a woman. So I've been doing a lot of cardio and hot yoga, eating less and drinking more juices. When we did last year's Tonys number together, I felt so fat around those beautiful Kinky Boots boys that it made me manorexic. And yes, everything gets shaved.
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