- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Idina Menzel is no stranger to the Academy Awards, having performed twice — Frozen‘s Oscar-winning “Let It Go” and Frozen 2‘s Oscar-nominated “Into the Unknown” — at the ceremony. But this year, she may have the chance to showcase her own songwriting during the live broadcast as her song “Dream Girl,” from Amazon’s Cinderella, has landed on the shortlist for best original song.
“Dream Girl,” co-written with Nashville-based two-time Grammy nominee Laura Veltz, is the standout number for Menzel’s Vivian, the stepmother to Camila Cabello’s Cinderella. In writer-director Kay Cannon’s version of the fairy tale, Vivian isn’t just the canonical wicked stepmother — she is a product of her time, a woman who was forced to give up her dreams in order to marry and find security in a patriarchal society. “Dream Girl” is a feminist anthem, born out of anger and rage, that perfectly encapsulates Vivian’s inner life and contempt for Cinderella, who prioritizes her creative pursuits over romance.
Menzel and Veltz spoke with THR about their collaborative process and how Menzel’s acting experiences have empowered her as a songwriter.
Idina, what were your initial thoughts on your character, and how did they make their way into “Dream Girl”?
IDINA MENZEL Kay wrote the role with humanity, humor and complexity. It wasn’t the stereotypical, cliched version of the stepmother that we’ve seen a million times. I would have taken the role whether I was able to write a song or not, but Kay was always supportive of me having the opportunity to be artistically involved. I knew I couldn’t do it on my own — I needed someone like Laura, who helped find this cool edge. We wanted [Vivian] to have a vulnerability deep down, but have a rage and frustration with the world that she was given. People always assume that I’m going to sing this empowering song, but this was going to be empowering in a different way. We weren’t going to be like, “Come on, everybody, rise up!” This was like, “Come on, everybody, let’s get pissed. Let’s take a sledgehammer to the patriarchy. Let’s fucking get real.”
What were your initial conversations like?
LAURA VELTZ Super fast and furious to begin with. This song had an opportunity to illustrate something important — the efficacy and absurdity of systemic oppression. The parent feels oppressed, they pass it down to their child, the child feels oppressed, they pass it down … I mean, it’s extremely effective. [For Vivian,] this is the moment to say, “You must get in your place, you must fall into line. Society says you can’t, so you can’t.” Idina, you said you’re used to singing these empowering songs, but I find this to fall in that same spot. The lyrics are all written from this perspective of the voice in our heads. And if we don’t dig around [to figure out] what’s wrong with the world, then how are we ever going to fix it?
MENZEL The actor in me was also focusing on the pain of this woman. Kay wasn’t afraid to go there. And the day when she said, “You know what, you guys wrote the song. I think we need to add to it,” every female character in the movie got to join in. And it was amazing. Like Laura said, [it’s] been planted in us what we can or cannot do. Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. We don’t always have to blame the patriarchy. When I was shooting the film and thinking about the character, [I thought of] those moments when I let all the shit that people have said to me in the past contribute to me not being my best, greatest, kick-ass self. When all is said and done, [that’s what] I was singing about.
For me, it was the next natural progression in my career. [I’ve been involved in] originating so many roles in musicals, but to actually get to write the lyrics and the melody … Melody is even more important to me sometimes because, as a singer, that’s how I communicate with the world. When the melody doesn’t feel like it’s coming from the right place, emotionally, then as the actor it doesn’t feel like it all comes together. When you have someone that can reach inside you like Laura and help manifest [that], it’s just the greatest feeling in the world. And to have people recognize the song and to be a writer on it … this is one of those milestones for me.
Was it empowering to write this big showstopping number yourself, rather than singing someone else’s lyrics?
MENZEL It’s my job to take anyone’s words and melody and find a way to sing them literally. That’s what I love. I’m an interpreter, but I am a songwriter deep down. I haven’t had the chance to show what I can do — or at least people haven’t seen it as much. My acting experience [enables me] to get at what feels right cosmically, spiritually and musically for a moment. It’s an intangible thing. Having stood at the piano with amazing composers and watching them work, I’ve started to build up my confidence as to what I have to offer. Laura is the craftsman. I hear all these melodies, and then she’s like, “That’s the hook!” She picks up the guitar and finds this amazing groove.
VELTZ When someone understands what they want something to feel like, now we’re cooking with gas. Idina is so freakin’ fantastic at that. She came in with so many ideas, so many delicious emotional details — she thought through who Vivian was. She’s a songwriter at the core. [To Menzel:] And I hope that continues in your career. I’m biased because I’m a songwriter, but it’s such a beautiful thing to write something and know that your thoughts, your words turn to melodies, and now someone is singing along. Idina surely has a future in that if she wants to just do that — she’s so skilled.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the Jan. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day
Behind The Screen