Emotionally capturing both the poise and vulnerability of a seemingly privileged, majestic princess whose every desire is within her reach can be a difficult challenge for an actor. But Idina Menzel, who began publicly singing as a teenager in part to prove to herself that she could rise above those who targeted her for her talents, brought a strength and openness to her role as a Disney princess in the new animated comedy, Frozen.
Frozen follows sisters Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel), two princesses of Arendelle who are very close to one another. Elsa’s inability to handle her secret power of being able to create snow and ice delights her younger sister. But when the magic gets out of control one day and injures Anna, Elsa’s fear that she’ll do more harm to her younger sister forces her to hide her secret and distance herself from their relationship.
As the two sisters grow older, Elsa gets ready to take her position as Queen. Still trying to hide her magical power, she accidentally plunges the Kingdom into an eternal winter during her coronation. Trying to protect Arendelle from any further damage, Elsa runs away. Determined to find her sister, Anna sets out on an epic journey with a few companions and battles the elements to bring back her sister and save the kingdom.
Idina Menzel recently took the time to sit down with us in New York City during a roundtable interview to talk about lending her voice to Frozen. Among other things, the singer-actress discussed how she loved the process of working on the film, how a lot of her classmates gave her a hard time when she was younger, how she got involved in the film and more.
Check out the full interview below and enjoy!
Did you have to audition for the role of Elsa? How did you become involved in the film?
Idina Menzel: I had auditioned and met the creative people for Tangled, so they kept me in mind for this. I had a meeting with Kristen too. But I think the reading was sort of an audition. Then they came back around, and gave me the gig.
Were you able to develop the character at all? Since she’s so complex, what did you get to contribute to that?
Idina Menzel: I think it’s a nice, organic relationship between the creators and actors. I love working on a Disney film like this; when you show up to the studio, and they show you storyboards and each picture drawn out. You’re always at different stages, but they want the actors to really understand where they are, so they’re not guessing about their characters. I just love the process of working on animated films.
I find that, maybe because I’m also a singer, I hear music in characters all the time, even if they don’t sing. I hear what affects me in my heart. So with Elsa, I explored with keys, and where we placed her in my voice. I love being at the recording studio, and playing with my voice. (laughs) I also loved exploring what Elsa was like when she was angry and when she was bold. So I really enjoy the process.
I’m also in awe of the animators and what they do, and the talent that’s in that studio. I’ve actually asked for backstage time, when the directors took me around. My husband (Taye Diggs) and I just hung out with the animators and went to their offices, and saw how they worked on the computers and programs. I really took on the whole experience.
In the film, everyone thinks it’s true love’s kiss that’s going to save Anna. But the story also focuses on the sisters’ relationship and their empowerment of each other. What do you think Elsa brings to female empowerment?
Idina Menzel: I do agree that it’s not just about the man swooping in. But it’s more than just female empowerment; it’s about family and sisters. It shows that true love doesn’t have to be romantic love between a man and a woman. It’s a bond and family, whatever that means. That’s what I love; I think it’s larger than any story that Disney’s told in the past.
With the female empowerment, what I take from the character for myself, and where Elsa and I meet, is wrestling with being a strong, powerful, extraordinary woman. Also, we worry about having to hide that, in fear of hurting other people. I understand and relate to that. I think as women, the smarter and more powerful we are, the more it can be threatening and alienating to other people, more than with men. That’s something we need to support each other with.
I thought about it a lot when I was younger, more than I do now. Now I celebrate who I am, and what I’m doing. When I was younger, I never wanted my friends to think I was showing off. That’s why I think it’s great for kids to see this movie. Everything’s always about being homogenized, and following in a group. The people who stand out always have the most problems. So the more we have those messages out here about the people who are struggling with something, or are different or gifted, as well as the opportunity to give them a platform to celebrate that, is the stronger way to go.