Catching Up With Nikki Blonsky
By Jason Lamphier
Best known for her starring role as Tracy Turnblad in the 2007 remake of the John Waters's classic, Hairspray, Nikki Blonsky is now storming the small screen with her new ABC Family series Huge. Blonksy plays Willamena Rader, a plus-size teen who gets shipped off to weight loss camp for the summer and who begins to wonder about her sexuality when others question her penchant for wearing men's clothing.
We caught up with the 21-year-old actress to chat about what Hugehas taught her about her own body and confidence, why gay cruises are the only cruises she'll take, and why Glee's Lea Michele had better watch her back.
Out: Tell me a little bit aboutHuge.
Nikki Blonsky: My new show,Huge, is, well, it's huge -- no pun intended. But it's a lot of fun. It's so many things. It's about kids going to a weight loss camp for the summer. There are several main characters, but everybody goes there for a different reason. My character's name is Will, Willamena Rader, but she prefers to go by Will. She does everything completely against the grain. She was shipped off to weight loss camp by her parents who are fitness gurus, and she absolutely hates them for sending her there, and she just wants out of this place. She thinks it's the most ridiculous place on earth. So she brings with her the only thing she knows, and that's junk food, because she decides she's going to make camp her own, if she has to go, she's going to do it her way -- Will's way.
So she's kind of a renegade. She's definitely going against the grain. Why is she so resentful?
She's totally against the grain, not just in her attitude. Obviously, once you watch the show, you're going to be like, "Oh my gosh." Some of the stuff she says and her comebacks -- she's so witty; she's so smart. But, she has blue streaks in her hair, and she wears all men's clothing. She does not wear a drop of female clothing. My entire wardrobe was all men's clothes; I've never been so comfortable in my life. I'm like, "Oh, this is comfy; I've been missing out." But I think she's filled with so many emotions from her parents not accepting her. She's fine with who she is. She's completely OK with who she is. But the fact that her parents aren't, that drives her crazy. So she just wants to go to weight loss camp and gain weight to get back at her parents. She wants to show them, "Oh, look, you two idiots, look where you sent me and spent all this money for me to go, and look, I gained weight." She just wants to do it because she has so much hurt and so much pain inside of her.
You show some skin on the show -- within the first few minutes of the premiere, even. Did you have any reservations about showing that much skin?
Well, yeah, this is the first time I've showed that much skin in a project, and it was a lot of fun, I have to say. I had no reservations whatsoever. I was completely comfortable. It was about 7 in the morning, and there were like hundreds of people around -- cast and crew -- and they just yelled, "Action." It was completely impromptu; I made it up myself. Because I said to the director, "Do you want to choreograph, do you want to..." She said, "I want you to come up with the melody. I want you to come up with the dance. I want you to come up with everything." And I said, "OK, well, I've never given a striptease before, so let's see how this goes." I know I've personally been the one who's not wanted to take off their cover up over their swimsuit at the beach. I've always wanted to keep it on. But after doing that striptease, I'm totally comfortable. I go to the pool and the beach, and I don't care -- after kids see me do that striptease and just stand there in that bathing suit, I hope that they can just be able to go to the pool now. Because I know there's so much hesitation; I had it for so many years. And I still carry it sometimes. But after the striptease, it was a very freeing experience. I mean, I'm not promoting kids go out there and just start stripping everywhere, but...
You mentioned that your character wears only men's clothes, which leads me to my next question. Willamena questions her sexuality based on other people's comments. Tell me a little bit about her questioning her sexuality and how that factors into the show.
Well, Will is really funny with the way she sees herself and the way people perceive her. People will tell her things about herself, and she'll go, "What?" She never even thought, really, the possibility of probably being gay. She probably just assumed, "I'm just comfortable in boys clothes. Why would that make me a lesbian?" But the kids at the camp think it's so un-normal because all of the other girls are so girly-girly, and they wear the jewelry and the makeup, and Will's just so the opposite of that that they call her gay. And then she has this whole thing where she's like, "Wait," she says to her friend. "Do I look like a lesbian to you?" And her friend's like, "What? I don't know what a lesbian our age looks like." And it's just kind of like, the whole episode she's trying to figure it out. Like, "Am I a lesbian? What's going on? But I like that guy, so would that make me..." So she goes through this whole conflict throughout the whole episode, and it was interesting for me to play because I've never played a gay character before. So it was interesting for me to have those feelings, to bring out those feelings of, "Oh my gosh," kind of that neurotic frenzy of what a teenager might go through.
Is there a bona fide gay character on the show?
One of the guys?
Can you talk a little bit about him?
We have the amazing Harvey Guillen, who plays Alistair on the show, our gay character, and he is fantastic. He just lights up the screen, and he has so many qualities about him that I just adore. He just really makes Alistair this amazing, complex character, even when he doesn't have lines, everything -- his facial expressions -- he just does so well. He really touches on the subject of being gay really gently. And I love the way our amazing writers wrote this beautiful monologue for him, and when he performed it on camera, it was just like music to my ears. He just says, "I just never thought of myself as having a title," and I think that's so right. Because why does everything need to have a title? Why does everything need a label and a sticker and a stamp? Why? I don't get that.
I've only seen the first three episodes, but it seems to me that there are advantages and disadvantages to being in this camp. And I guess, as the story develops, I understand a bit more about what the writers are trying to convey, but in your own opinion, would you say that you support these types of endeavors, or do you think that they're not the best way for youth to tackle obesity?
Obviously with adults, it's a completely different issue -- they're responsible. But with children, I think, if a child comes to their parent and says, "Mom, I heard about a weight loss camp. I really want to go this summer. I really want to shed some pounds. This is what I want to do for me," then I think, absolutely. I think the parent should sign them up; the kid should go because it could be a really good experience for the child. If the parent, on the other hand, is telling the child, "You have to go," then I think that, in a way, that's telling the child, "You're kind of not good enough for us, and you need to lose weight. And we're going to ship you off this summer, send you away from home, from your comfort zone, and we're going to make you go eat healthy food with a bunch of strangers and sleep with a bunch of strangers." That screams, "Not OK," to me. It is a balance, but it's also a different opinion with everybody, and it's a different circumstance with every single child. And that's what you see in the show, as the characters develop, you'll really see why each character comes to this camp.
What surprised you the most about doing this show and working with the other cast members and dealing with this issue?
What surprised me the most, and what I've learned so much, is really [getting] comfortable in my body. I always knew that I was a confident person and I had confident traits, but I never knew that I was this comfortable in my own skin. I always knew I never wanted to be anybody else. You know, everybody said, "If you could be somebody else for a day..." I'm like, "I don't want to be anybody else. I like being me." But I really learned that, through Will and through Will's confidence. She'll just take her shirt off and be standing there in her bra. And, as an actress, when you're doing that in front of a crew of mostly men, like, 100 of them, and it's on-camera for the world to see, you have to be free. And you just have to let every kind of hesitation go and just let it out. And that's what I did. I learned that I was just super-comfortable with my body.
Your mother was talking to me about these gay cruises that you've done together and how she has 1,500 adopted gay sons. Tell me a little bit about these cruises.
After Hairspray, I did two gay cruises. They were incredible. I did one for Atlantis and one for RSVP, and I had the time of my life. I'll never go on a straight cruise again. I mean, I'm straight, but I'll just never go on a straight cruise, because they're just not as fun. I mean, one of the comedians on the cruise ship made a joke, and I'll never forget it, he said, "OK. You want to know what a straight cruise is like? Imagine yourself at your local mall and now you're on a ship with all those people in the middle of the ocean, and you can't get off." And I was like, "Oh, God. I never want to do that." I performed: I did two live shows on the gay cruises. I would get on the ship wherever they would dock, I'd prepare with the band and I would sing everything, from Hairspray stuff -- stuff that they would want to hear -- to Cher songs. I would always close it with "It's Raining Men." It's a fun song. People like to hear it.
You have a film coming up in the fall, as well, and your role may surprise some people.
Yeah, I have a film coming out in the fall; it's called Waiting for Forever. It's a beautiful love story with Rachel Bilson, Blythe Danner, and Richard Jenkins, and I actually play a mother. I have a 3-year-old in it, and I'm married. So it's an absolute, just, total turnaround from everything I've played. And it really, it was incredible to me to bond with that child and have him on my hip for the movie. It was incredible. He looked at me once and went, like in the movie, "Mom." And I was like, "Oh my God" -- that freaked me out for a minute. But it was really an honor to work with that cast, because it's such a beautiful film, and I can't wait till it comes out.
One final question. When will we see you on Broadway, and when will we see you on Glee?
Broadway is something that is, I could say, totally in my future because I'm a New York girl -- it's in my blood. It's just, every time I come back to New York, I'm like, "Argh, I've got do something." I would love to be on Broadway some day. It's something that will definitely happen. I can't imagine me going a lifetime without being on Broadway. And the same goes forGlee. I would love to be on Glee. It would be a lot of fun, and I think I could definitely give Lea Michele a little run for her money. I'm just putting it out there.