In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Laura Benanti has been acting professionally from almost the moment she graduated high school. After starting out in the Broadway revival of The Sound Of Music, she’s spent the majority of her career on stage, winning a Tony for her performance as Louise in Gypsy. But Benanti has also alternated theater roles with television work, having starred in short-lived series like Go On and doing guest arcs on various shows, including Nurse Jackie and Law & Order: SVU. (She also makes some funny videos, which we’ve featured in the past.) Last year, she joined the cast of Nashville as country singer Sadie Stone. Currently, she has recurring roles on CBS’ Supergirl as both Kara’s mother, Alura, and her villainous aunt Astra. Benanti also just released “I Love Musicals,” a digital single whose proceeds go to Save The Music Foundation. When The A.V. Club spoke to her, she was in the middle of rehearsals for She Loves Me, which just began previews last week in New York.
Laura Benanti: Gosh, I can think of a thousand things I wish they wouldn’t ask me. I wish they would ask me… I don’t know. I wish that they would ask me if I wanted to be best friends with Beyoncé and then they actually made it happen. That’s what I wish.
The A.V. Club: So you wish that not only did they have interviewing powers, they had reality-altering powers.
LR: Yeah. Like friendship skills. I mean I honestly can’t think of a question that I’m like, oh, if only they would ask me… what my favorite color was. I feel like people are thorough.
AVC: Well, and the favorite color discussion would probably end after you said, “Blue!” or whatever.
LR: Exactly. Sometimes it’s nice to talk about projects and that stuff, and that’s obviously why we do things like this, but questions about life philosophy… things like that. Those are nice questions to be asked. But I feel like a lot of people do that. Anyway, I’ve taken way too much time with this. Next one!
AVC: Wait, what’s the question you wish did not get asked?
LB: You know what’s the worst, is when people clearly haven’t researched you. One time an interviewer asked me if I do a lot of plays. I’m like, yeah. Have you Googled me? There’s this thing called Google, and you can ask Google that question. Then you could come to me with informed questions that didn’t make me feel like I am brand new to the world.
LB: Unicorn, obviously. Who answers not unicorn, is what I want to know!
AVC: There have been non-unicorn answers. I think some people assume you can’t break with reality.
LB: It couldn’t be mythical? Yeah. I’m going with mythical. Unicorn.
AVC: Were you a unicorn kid growing up?
LB: No. I wasn’t girly. I didn’t love stickers and unicorns and stuff, but just if I were to ride on the back of a beast to work, I want it to be a frickin’ unicorn.
LB: The Muppet Christmas Carol. Because I watch it every year with my sister. It’s a tradition.
AVC: When did you start that tradition?
LB: I honestly can’t even remember. We were just very tiny. Tiny people.
AVC: Does that mean you’re a Muppets superfan in general?
LB: I really do love the Muppets. My sister used to call them the Muffets. She’d be like, “Can we watch the Muffets?” So anything that reminds me of how adorable my sister was, I’m a big fan of. She’s still adorable, and she’s going to be 30.
LB: Oh, man. I thought that the lyrics to Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” were, “It’s not fair / to remind me / of the cross-eyed bear / that you gave to me.” Not “cross I bear” but “cross-eyed bear.”
AVC: That’s some “’scuse me while I kiss this guy”-level misinterpretation.
LB: Totally. I literally did not learn it until the last year. I’m not kidding.
AVC: Do you remember who called you out on it?
LB: No. I saw a lyric on Twitter. And I was like, “Wait. What? ‘The cross I bear’?! Oh… That makes more sense.” Up until then I just pictured Dave Coulier, like, handing her a bear with cross eyes.
LB: That one of my ex-boyfriends walked in on me sleeping with someone else. That is not true.
AVC: Was that a gossip column thing?
LB: It wasn’t in a gossip column. It was just talked about amongst folks. Until one day I heard it and I was like, “No, that’s not true. That didn’t happen.”
AVC: That would double as most interesting and most appalling, I would think.
LB: Yeah, it was pretty appalling. Like, just no.
LB: I’m not a big weird eater-of-things. I mean honestly I would say like for me, like escargot or sweetbreads is the weirdest thing I’ve eaten. But I haven’t eaten like bugs or… not that I know of.
AVC: Sweetbreads are gross.
LB: It’s pretty disgusting. Also, how dare you call it sweetbreads? How dare you take two delicious things, combine them, and then feed me that. Not cool.
AVC: Yeah. It’s totally a bait-and-switch with names. I guess nobody would eat them otherwise.
LB: Yeah, obviously, but don’t call them that. Call them, like, “This is pretty gross.” Call them “Eww.” Call them that.
LB: Well my parents took me to see Stevie Wonder when I was about 3, but my mom made us leave because everybody around us was smoking pot. Then the next concert I went to was when I was 14 years old, and I went to see Dave Matthews Band.
AVC: Were you a Dave Matthews superfan in high school, then?
LB: Well, yeah. I mean it was 1994, so I was all about that music.
AVC: That’s sort of what the song you just released is about, too, right? The doubling back and forth between that kind of mainstream music mixed with your love for musicals.
LB: Yeah, that’s exactly what that song I wrote is essentially about. I did love all that ’90s stuff, I genuinely did. But what I loved way more was musicals. So I would spend a lot of time hanging with my friends listening to that kind of music, Dave Matthews Band, and then the minute they would leave I would put on Barbara Cook.
AVC: Your song is almost like a ’90s pop song structure in parts, but you go full-on musical theater with it at the same time.
LB: That was my intention, was to have it be from the perspective of my high-school-aged self, and to try and emulate the music that I listened to at that time. So to write essentially like a pop-punk song about musicals. I wanted the dichotomy of the tone of the music with the lyrics and my singing voice.
LB: Through my work? To meet the president of the United States.
AVC: When did that happen?
LB: A few times. I performed at the Kennedy Center Honors twice, and then I also performed at the Ford Gala once, so I’ve had the honor of meeting the president and the first lady three times.
AVC: Is the Kennedy Center Honors a situation where the president is just super chill and takes his time meeting performers, or is it a thing where you’re rushed through a line quickly?
LB: Well, they attend the Honors, and if you’re performing, they sort of get you through the line quickly so that you can get to the theater and get ready, but I do believe that he meets a lot of—obviously not the entire audience in attendance, but he meets a lot of people that day.
LB: Woof. I did a lot of lying. I went through a big lying phase when I was in like third and fourth grade. I told all my friends I was in Les Misérables, and I was not. I also told them I was an Indian princess. Also not an Indian princess.
AVC: That’s impressive that you can still remember the exact lies—is it still the hot shame of remembering what a big liar you were?
LB: Oh, yeah. It haunts me to this day. Occasionally I’ll think about it and I have to say out loud, “No, no, no, no, no.” Like I have to actually verbally tell the memory, “Get out. I don’t want you here.” I’m so humiliated and I feel so bad, still.
LB: No. I never have. I’m such a goody two-shoes, I’ve never stolen a single thing. I would not be able to handle it. I would not be able to live with the guilt of having stolen something.
AVC: So would you freak out as a kid when you were with a friend who would steal something, like candy from like the corner store or whatever?
LB: I didn’t have friends who stole. I was like, oh, I’m sorry, you steal? Get out of my life. I’m such a goody two-shoes, I don’t even taste the fruit at the grocery store. Like oh, are these grapes good? I can’t even do that. I’m that much of a rule-follower.
AVC: That’s a real commitment to Marge Simpson levels of straight-arrow-ness.
LB: I mean, I’m not super proud of it. Do I wish I was more free? Sure. But I’m not.
11. You sort of answered this one already: Who is the most famous person you’ve ever met? So let’s revise it and say, who is the person outside of the president you were the most excited to meet?
LB: I’ve met a lot of famous people that I just thought were so unbelievable. For me, meeting Julie Andrews was probably the highlight of my life. I met her when I just started out in the business. I met her a couple times when I was like 18 and 19, and I was playing Maria in The Sound Of Music.
AVC: Usually when you tell people that you’ve met Julie Andrews, their first question is presumably, “What was she like?” But do you remember what you were like when you met her?
LB: I was ecstatic. I couldn’t talk. I was so excited to meet her, and so nervous, and I just loved her so much, and I think she probably was like, “Okay, let’s just dial it down just a teensy.” But she was incredibly generous to me.
AVC: And you’ve got to figure, she’s probably used to people freaking out over her.
LB: I mean, probably. I would hope so! I would hope that anyone meeting Julie Andrews would realize that they’re meeting, like, basically a goddess. And I’d hope that they’d freak out.
LB: I’ve always wanted to go to Austria.
AVC: Was there something in particular that prompted that?
LB: I remember seeing a picture as a little girl and being like, yes, I’d like go there. Those mountains look beautiful.
AVC: What do you want to ask the next person, not knowing who it is?
LB: The question I would ask, is if you could be in any profession other than the current one you are in, what would it be, and why?
AVC: Do you have an answer that you would say?
LB: I would be a psychotherapist. My stepdad, Sal, is a psychotherapist; my sister is a school psychologist… I find human behavior to be fascinating, which is probably why I’m an actor, and I think that there are a lot of dangerous misconceptions about mental illness in our society, and I would like to be a part of remedying that—particularly the stigma that surrounds so many mental illnesses.