Off Script: Jessie Mueller Talks 'Waitress,' Self-Worth, Sara Bareilles' Score and Escaping NYC
"New York City is a lot for me — things just move so fast here, and sometimes it's too much for the human spirit," the Tony nominee tells THR. "I like trees and fresh air. Thank god for Zipcar."
Jessie Mueller is wiped by the time she gets off the Waitress stage each night.
“It takes a great deal of energy to do eight shows a week, as in it’s probably more continuous time onstage than I’ve ever had before and it takes a lot out of me,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Although, I haven’t been eating a ton pie. Maybe that’s what I need to do!”
Whatever she’s doing, it’s working. As Jenna, a pregnant diner waitress in the Deep South who makes extraordinary pies but is trapped in an abusive marriage, Mueller — who won a Tony Award two years ago for the title role in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical — received her third Tony nomination for an “even more transcendent” and “supremely natural performance” in the musical adaptation of the 2007 indie film, according to THR’s review. “Ideally matched to Bareilles' lilting melodic flights with their supple key transitions, her voice shifts effortlessly from a breathy whisper to a powerful surge of released feeling, all of it bathed in a signature warmth that makes her one of the most exciting discoveries to emerge on Broadway in recent years.”
Mueller, 33, goes Off Script to talk finally finding a bathroom break, wrestling with Sara Bareilles’ continually challenging score and starring in the first-ever Broadway musical with an all-female creative team.
What do you admire most about your character?
Her journey, and how what appeared to be her faults on the page turned out to be her strengths. Like when she finally faces what she thinks are her weaknesses, that’s when she turns her life around. I admire that greatly, because that’s not an easy thing to do.
What’s the most thrilling part about playing her?
The finale, when one of our 5-year-old twins gets to run into my arms. It’s so joyful in the end, and altogether cathartic as an actor to go through.
What’s your toughest scene?
I could just say the scene with her husband before “She Used to Be Mine,” but then again, sometimes it’s an upbeat song in Act I because my face is plugged up from allergies.
Jessie Mueller and the cast of 'Waitress.' Photo credit: Joan Marcus
What new habits have you adopted for this role?
A 20-minute stretch routine before the show, which is also a time for me to check in with myself and see how I’m feeling that day, and give myself a moment of quiet before it starts.
What have you given up to play this role?
A life. If friends are around after two-show days, I’m honest with myself and say, “That’s too much,” and “I gotta take stock of the rest I need in order to do my job.”
What time do you wake up on a show day?
I like to stay in bed until 10, but sometimes I’ve been known to sleep in until noon with this show, which I’ve never done before. Drink coffee, spend time with my boyfriend, keep things very chill until I head to the theater early.
Any pre-show rituals?
We all get together onstage and check in with each other behind the curtain. Then we’ll put our hands together Saved By the Bell-style, call out the name of some pie someone made up and throw our hands up. It was “Broadway Debut Pie” in honor of an understudy the other day.
How have you managed to switch your vocal sound from Carole King’s to Sara Bareilles’?
In my head, every character sounds different, too. Sara’s score is so challenging because she has such a sick range. And our voices are totally different, as in spots in her voice where she seamlessly comes into her head voice, and where her meatier parts are. There was a ton of tinkering and changing keys. It’s an ongoing process, which keeps it interesting.
Most challenging number?
“What Baking Can Do.” It’s so rangy, and I have to throw around flour and push a table onstage. When we were recording the album, I wondered, “Why is this so much easier to sing right now?!”
What do you do when you’re not onstage during the show?
I found time to pee! We got really excited when my dresser and I realized that when Jenna exits to pee, I myself have enough time to go as well. Then I come back in halfway through Christopher Fitzgerald’s song “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me.”
What do you do on your day off?
I get out of town. New York City is a lot for me — things just move so fast here, and sometimes it’s too much for the human spirit. I like trees and fresh air. Thank god for Zipcar.
Favorite backstage guest?
I got to meet Alan Menken. My little Disney princess, 8-year-old self was in awe. He’s a legend; this man wrote “Part of Your World!” He said, “You’re very talented,” and it meant so much to me.
This is the first-ever Broadway musical with an all-female creative team. What’s been the best stage door reaction so far?
It’s been so wonderful. A couple weeks ago, a girl said to me, “Thank you for what you’re doing and what you’re representing for women." I didn’t know if there was more to it in her personal life specifically, but I was touched by how she said it, and she meant it. I hope that, indeed, if there are people who do need to see this, that they’re able to take something great and helpful away from it. It has a lot of wonderful things to say about self-worth, confronting our demons and making some hard choices, choices that need to be made.