Bold questions: Laura Benanti

Broadway stripper, woman on the verge of a funny face.

You stripped onstage in Gypsy, now again as Candela in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Is this a career path for you?

Yeah, I'm working my way up to Scores. That's really my ultimate goal. I'm just hoping someone from Hooters comes and sees the show.

Is it hard to strip every night on stage?
Oh my God, it's a nightmare. You know, I am the least overtly sexual person you'll ever meet in your life, like, to the point where it's comical. I'm like a nerdy child. So to be playing these sexual women, I think it's funny.

But I don't think it is actually a surprise that I'm cast in those roles because if a super-sexual person was in those roles, I think it would seem dirty. You know? The fact that I have more of a childlike nature... It lends itself to being a little more innocent, I feel.

Candela, when she's taking her clothes off, is not good at it. She's, like, terrible. It's the least sexy moment ever. She's like, "Look at my boobies!' Sherie [Rene Scott] takes my dress off, and then I do that ridiculous, like, "Look at meeeeeeee!" dance.

Were you practicing that in front of a mirror at home?
You know what? I never do anything in front of a mirror. Because if I knew the crazy-ass faces I was making, I would never act again. I actually had a man come up to me one time after a show and go, "For a pretty girl, you make such ugly faces." I was like, "Interesting! For a sociopath, you also don't know how to talk to people." [Laughs]

You had a very emotional, weepy acceptance speech when you won your Tony for Gypsy. So if you end up winning—or when you end up winning—another, are you going to be super chill?
I'm not even going to say anything, I'm just going to grab it and get off the stage. But the thing is, you know, I watched it on YouTube—sometimes I watch it when I'm feeling bad about myself and I'm like, Remember! That happened! That actually happened, and you have that.

You know, I was embarrassed for a little while about my speech. But I went back and watched it, and I was like, It's really heartfelt. I really meant every single thing. I would love to win another Tony Award. Who knows? But, you know, I'll probably cry again. I'm a wuss.

First you did Gypsy with Patti LuPone, now this show. Are you just following her around now?
Yeah, I'm stalking her, I'm pretty much stalking her. We joke that we're our own repertory company. We're like wandering minstrels, together.

By now I assume you're best friends. Do you hang out backstage and talk shit about everyone else?
We very much do. As we like to say, it brings color to our cheeks. She really feels like family to me. I mean, genuinely. I love being around her, she's one of the funniest people ever! I want to work only with her, forever. And so far, so good.

What have you learned from her?
Oh my God. Uhh...everything! You know, I've learned that the most important thing is the play. The most important thing is the material; not serving yourself, but serving the piece. She's egoless about "if something's not working, get rid of it." Even if it's her.

What do you think she's learned from you?
I don't think she's learned anything from me. I think she's learned some new Jersey-isms, maybe! [Laughs] She always makes fun of me because I never realized how much I say, "I know, I know, right?"

So how did you get a Spanish accent for the show, since it's set in Madrid?
We did it individually with Deb Hecht, the coach. I only had one session...I was like "Sweet, okay, I'll just keep pulling this accent out of my ass." Took out the Jerz and added in some Spanish flavor.

This show is based on a Pedro Almodvar movie and is such a farce, very over-the-top. Is there a specific trick to pulling off that kind of comedy?
I think the trick is to have it be rooted in something real, otherwise I think it can become cloying, you know? You want [the character] to be a real person—a funny person, but a real person. Certainly my role in this piece is the comic relief, which I'm happy to do, because I normally am the straight man. So it's a departure for me, and it's really fun.

It seems like Candela is playing dress-up in her mom's heels—the ways she shuffles around in them.
Well, you know, it's ironic. I had neck surgery on May 4, and so basically that walk came about because I literally could not walk in the heels properly. That's perfect for her, because she's in a constant state of kind of emotional turmoil and activity, and I feel like her way of walking reflects that.

And yet, postsurgery, you're being hung from the ceiling of the theater during the first act?
Yeah, I was super worried. But my doctor said that I would be fine. And so far, I have been.

No falling out of the rafters?
Oh, Jesus, no, God. Please knock on wood, immediately. I'm not kidding.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown opens at the Belasco Theatre Thu 4.

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