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

By Andrew Gans
February 18, 2011

News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.



TAMMY BLANCHARD
Emmy Award winner Tammy Blanchard returns to Broadway Feb. 26 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre in the high-profile revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which boasts "Harry Potter" and Equus star Daniel Radcliffe as J. Pierrepont Finch with Emmy Award-winning actor John Larroquette ("Night Court") as World Wide Wicket Company president J.B. Biggley. Blanchard, who made her Broadway debut in the title role of the Bernadette Peters revival of Gypsy, is cast as as office bombshell Hedy La Rue in the upcoming staging of the Frank Loesser classic, which features direction and choreography by Rob Ashford. Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of chatting with the sweet-natured Blanchard, who won her Emmy for her performance in the TV miniseries "Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows." The singing actress, who is also mom to three-year-old Ava, spoke about her Broadway debut and her newest role; that brief interview follows.

Question: Let's go back to the very beginning. Tell me where you were born and raised.
Blanchard: I was born in Jersey City and raised in Bayonne, New Jersey. It's a town that's next to Jersey City, and I'm still there!

Question: When did you start performing?
Blanchard: I was about eight or ten. I've got to find out exactly what age I was, [laughs] but it was in grammar school, and my first solo was "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," in front of a school audience. And ever since then, I've tried to do every play I could get the lead in. [Laughs.]

Question: When you were around that age, were there any singers or actors that you particularly admired?
Blanchard: I was always in love with Judy Garland, and when I was growing up, I fell in love with Leonardo DiCaprio, of course. [Laughs.] And, Shelley Long – I used to love watching her in "Cheers." Those are the major ones that stand out to me [from when I was] a child.

Question: How did your love for Judy Garland happen?
Blanchard: I think it really happened [from] singing that solo from when I was very young, in grammar school, and I always loved "The Wizard of Oz," of course, and Dorothy [and] that movie. Every kid does — I mean, my daughter watches it over and over again already. But when I sang that song and I felt what I believe she was feeling as a child, it just gave me such hope, and I just fell in love with her, with singing that song, really.

Question: When do you think performing changed from being a hobby to when you knew it would be a career?
Blanchard: Wow, that's a good question. Maybe the first commercial I did. It was a Clearasil commercial, and I had auditions for many things and I wouldn't get [them], but then I finally got this Clearasil commercial and I got my paycheck and I realized, "Hey, maybe I could do something here."

Question: How old were you at that point?
Blanchard: I think I was maybe 16, 17.

Blanchard in "Life with Judy Garland."
photo courtesy ABC

Question: How did "Life with Judy Garland" come about?
Blanchard: I had been working with Patti D'arbanville on "Guiding Light" for three years, and she introduced me to her manager... who became my manager, and he walked to my dressing room and he saw "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" painted all over my room. I said, "If you ever find that they're doing a movie on Judy Garland, I want to play her." And, a couple of weeks later he walked in with Variety magazine, and they were doing an open call. I went in … and then the second time I went in, the great Neil Meron and Craig Zadan [who are now her <i>How to Succeed</i> producers] were there. I auditioned for them the second time, very nervously, and Neil — I'll never forget it — he looked at me, and he asked me if I'd studied Judy Garland all my life. And, I just knew from his very look that I got that part!

Question: What was it like for you, having been such a fan, to then get to play her in this high-profile project?
Blanchard: It was like heaven on earth, I guess you could say. It [was] a dream come true, something that you would never expect, but you're being prepared for it all your life and you don't even know it, and then that moment finally comes, and it's just heaven on earth.

Question: Was it at all surreal when you were dressed as Judy Garland, re-creating her?
Blanchard: Yes, it was. They plucked my eyebrows off for two hours. I went  into the hotel room in Toronto, and I looked at myself and I was unrecognizable. I just called my mother, and she drove 16 hours [laughs] to get to me in Toronto. She drove the wrong way, so she had to drive another eight hours to go the right way to get to Toronto for me because I was terrified. I knew that I had looked like her, I knew that I loved her, I knew that I had her down, but then that moment — looking in the mirror and being unrecognizable – I was just so scared. I needed Mommy! [Laughs.]

Question: What was it like winning an Emmy?
Blanchard: I was in Winnipeg shooting "We Were the Mulvaneys," and I had a big huge rack of lamb in front of me for when I lose, and I was just going to eat my sorrows away. But then they said my name, and I just was screaming and jumping on the bed, and the cast from "We Were the Mulvaneys" came running in my room, and it was such a great, magical moment, and I'm glad that I wasn't there because I don't think I was quite ready. I think I would have just gotten on the stage and just bawled. I wouldn't have been able to say anything at that point. [Laughs.]

Question: How old is your daughter?
Blanchard: She's three.

Question:  You probably haven't shown her the Garland miniseries yet, or maybe you have...
Blanchard: No. I'm easing her into what I do. I'm just talking to her, saying, "You know, when I go to work, I act. I'll show you some pictures of how I dress up." And, I've shown her pictures of me as Judy Garland and she'd say, "Dorothy." And I'll say, "No, that's me," and she'll say, "No, that's Dorothy," and we'll go back and forth. But she's easing into realizing that I play characters for a living. [Laughs.]

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.