The Backstory of Laura Benanti's Melania Trump Speech Spoof on 'Late Show' (Q&A)
"The biggest rub is how stupid they think the American people are," says the Broadway star, who traveled for hours to parody the GOP nominee's wife with a perfect pouty lip and spot-on Slovene accent.
Melania Trump's plagiarized speech at the Republican National Convention was like catnip for late-night comedy, with the most pointed yet humorous bit airing on Stephen Colbert's live Late Show on Tuesday night.
The sketch saw Laura Benanti — the seasoned Broadway star of Supergirl and Nashville onscreen — stepping up to the podium with a spot-on impression of Donald Trump's wife, poking fun at the former model's plagiarism of a Michelle Obama speech in 2008. "This is truly the best of times, it is the worst of times," she began, promising that she really wrote this one herself — though quoting Dr. Seuss, Braveheart, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and the Kit Kat jingle.
It turns out the hit bit hails back to a moment in March, and required the Tony winner to travel for hours to make it a reality. Benanti spoke to The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday morning about the components of her comedic impression, the surprising reaction she's received from Trump supporters, and the potential to reprise the parody in the future — that is, as long as the GOP nominee doesn't become president: "As much as I would love the work, no."
How did the bit come together?
Laura Benanti on 'Late Show' in March. Photo credit: CBS
When she gave her infamous speech, there was definitely a part of me, and then certainly when I saw the controversy afterward, that thought, "This could be really, really funny." I was hoping that they would call, and I'm glad they did.
But I was in Delaware — I had driven down with my family for five hours to celebrate my grandma's 92nd birthday. On Tuesday morning, I woke up to an email from Vinnie Favale [vp, CBS late night programming], asking if I would come do it. My mom and sister drove me two-and-a-half hours to Wilmington and I took a train back to New York, where they gave me that brilliant script. It came together very, very quickly. And now I'm in a car, headed back to Delaware to celebrate my grandmother's birthday.
What's the key to crafting an impression of her?
I just kept watching her speech and trying to perfect her dialect and mannerisms. It was about keeping it subtle but also still making it funny — it's an impression, but I didn't want to make it crazy over-the-top. She's very graceful. I tried to concentrate on her steely eyes and her pouty mouth, and the fact that she was a model lends itself to funny posing.
And I tried to accurately depict her accent to the best of my ability — I didn't want it to seem like I'm mocking someone with broken English or an accent. That's not the point of the impression; it's to be as much like her as possible.
Any response from the Trump family or campaign?
No. I doubt they're gonna be reaching out to me. I can't imagine. But I have been astonished that they're aren't that many people threatening me. Most of the Twitter comments have been really effusive; even people who are Trump supporters were like, "That's actually funny." There are only a handful of people telling me what a horrible person I am.
Do anticipate this being a recurring character of yours?
I don't know, that's up to Colbert. But I'm happy to be Melania for the next few months, for sure.
But if Trump becomes president, that impression might be necessary for the next four years.
Oh god, please don't say that. Oh no. As much as I would love the work, no. I love our country too much.
Who do you think is to blame for that speech?
The speechwriter. Obviously, she didn't write that, even though she said she did. And then, when it all came out, they said she didn't; "just kidding, someone else wrote it." But my favorite thing they said is, "We weren't plagiarizing Michelle Obama. It was actually from My Little Pony." That's hilarious!
The biggest rub is how stupid they think the American people are, that no one would pick up on that. Truly, how foolish. And it just makes us look like idiots to the world. That's what makes me sad. I feel like the rest of the world is going, "Really? That many Americans are supporting this person? Why? Alright, America." It definitely feels like we're smarter than they give us credit for — or, I hope we are.