Jessie Mueller has played some powerful parts on Broadway. Her spot-on portrayal of Carole King in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical earned her a Tony Award and she also triumphed when she originated the role of Jenna in the Sara Bareilles-penned musical Waitress. Mueller is back on Broadway acing once again, this time playing millworker Julie Jordan in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel.
The show, about the lengths we go to for love, received 11 Tony nominations, including Best Musical Revival and Best Leading Actress for Mueller. Broadway Spin caught up with Mueller to discuss growing up in a show business family, reviving a show whose message might not be an obvious fit for the #timesup era, and how happy she was that she didn’t get fired from her first movie.
Broadway Spin: You came from a family of performers. Was it just in your blood?
Jessie Mueller: When I was little, it made sense to me. I was very lucky to be exposed to the arts. In my early education I didn’t necessarily have it in the schools I attended, but I knew it was there because of my family and their friends. But the older I got, I thought, “Oh, gosh, is this sensible?” I grew up living with actors. I sort of know what it was like. Sometimes you have a job. Sometimes you don’t have a job. Sometimes you don’t know when the next job is coming. It’s a cyclical thing. And it just never stops. But if you keep wanting to come back, you have to honor that.
BS: Carousel offers so much. There is Justin Peck’s glorious choreography and world-famous opera singer Renée Fleming. What is it like for all of you to come together in such a unified way?
JM: In the beginning, it was a little intimidating because I have been a fan of Renee’s work for many years. The delight, I think, for all of us, is that we’re coming from these different disciplines. It was like kids in a candy store. We would ask each other about what we do and what we have specialized in or what we are learning now.
BS: Carousel doesn’t shy away from showing people at their most flawed – and specifically showcases a love story with some controversial moments. How do you think that fits into the current #timesup climate?
JM: Any time we get to go back and reinvestigate a classic, the job as the artist is to investigate with our modern eyes, our modern sensibilities and our modern psychology. Hopefully, today, we don’t pretend that bad things don’t happen anymore. If there’s anything we’ve realized, it’s, “Oh yeah, bad things happen.” We see them every day, and if anything is ever going to change and get better, we have to accept that these things happen. We have to see them with open eyes. The beauty of the piece is the love and redemption that comes through all this terror and pain. That is really what it celebrates. Until you look at the darkness, you can’t really see the light.
BS: What was it like to do your first film, The Post?
JM: I couldn’t believe how much I felt like a fish out of water! Everyone couldn’t have been kinder, but I spent most of the time just hoping I wouldn’t get fired – and (laughs) I didn’t! I still can’t believe that really happened.
BS: What made it so uncomfortable for you?
JM: Because I’ve done more theater, I’m used to the energy that you feel from an audience, but on a film set it’s different because the energies you’re sensing are all the people that are working to make the product. It was definitely a learning curve for me, but it was fascinating. I can’t wait to do it again.
BS: Did you have a chance to see Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in action?
JM: Yes! I watched them a lot. I got permission to watch them from another room where the monitors were set up with chairs behind Mr. Spielberg. That was pretty incredible.