Lauren Blumenfeld interview
Lauren Blumenfeld stars in POP’s satire of late night TV shows, Nightcap. We spoke with the actress about that show and more. Below, an edited version of that conversation.
You appeared in the 1995 box office adaptation of the classic story A Little Princess. How exciting was that for you as a young actress to be part of that cast?
Like many seven year olds I enjoyed pretend play and dress-up so getting to play one of the schoolgirls in the film was a real dream. My character had a name (Rosemary) and a few lines (one in particular about crackers).
Getting the job was quite random. I followed a friend to an acting class on a play date and because it was LA, a casting director dropped by and asked me to audition. My parents (who are great and love the arts but are not in the entertainment industry) feared I’d turn into a child actor tragedy, but ultimately let me audition and then appear in the film because they saw how happy it made me.
I wish I could say that my performance as Rosemary jumpstarted my career and I haven’t looked back since, but my career has been a true slow burn. I had no idea what a magical film ‘A Little Princess’ would be or how lucky I was to get to work with the brilliant director, Alfonso Cuarón at the start of his career. All I cared about at the time was getting to wear beautiful green costumes while pretending to live in “olden times” with other little girls.
Can you talk about what first drew you to acting?
When I was four I announced to my parents that I wanted to be a set decorator. They seemed cool with that, so long as I didn’t cause permanent damage to the house and never used water indoors to create ocean habitats. When a wonderful storyteller named Kathleen Zundell (and her puppet, Herbert) visited my elementary school, my career plans shifted. Kathleen’s stories sparked my imagination. I quickly realized that I wanted to tell stories in the worlds that I created, which in turn led to acting.
Did you have a teacher or mentor who helped you along the way?
The late Norman Cohen. I attended the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA), where the salty Mr. Cohen was the beloved acting teacher, director and co-head of the film department. Mr. Cohen introduced me to comedy and was one of the first people to tell me that I was funny. I’ll never forget getting up in his standup comedy class, scared shitless, then hearing him laugh at one of my jokes. Mr. Cohen touched many LACHSA students who have gone on to have great careers, like Finn Wittrock and Josh Groban. He had a profound effect on all of his students.
Once I graduated from college and started auditioning I realized how lonely and difficult trying to get a job as an actor could be. I often found myself alone, memorizing lines and making character choices in a vacuum. But that changed when I met my acting coach, Ted Sluberski, at The Williamstown Theatre Festival. Since I was 19, Ted has helped me prepare for countless auditions. I crave collaboration and Ted provides that along with great ideas and insight. I did not attend graduate school for acting, but have always said that I unofficially earned a masters degree by working with Ted.
You have done a lot of theatre work in the past. Did you have a special process to learn your lines?
Though it seems obvious, I’ve learned that I can’t memorize until I really understand what I’m saying and why I’m saying it. Once I figure that out, my memorization process is a bit bizarre. Because acting is so much about listening, I record everyone else’s lines in the play with pauses for my own lines. I then listen to the recording over and over again and say my lines (or just think them if I’m listening in public). I like this method (despite sometimes looking like a crazy person) because it forces me to listen to the play and discover new things constantly. I remember starting this technique in high school on an old school tape recorder. Iphones have made my process a lot less awkward.
What was it like appearing in the Broadway play “The Assembled Parties?”
It was a dream. On the most basic level, it was the first time I was able to act without working an additional day job to support myself. Beyond that, it was so creatively satisfying. I played Judith Light’s slightly slow daughter, Shelley, in Richard Greenberg’s beautiful play about a Jewish family celebrating Christmas (first in 1980 and then in the year 2000). It was surreal to be on stage with some of my all-time favorite New York actors like Judith and Jessica Hecht. I learned about the generosity, openness and levity needed to make a play soar and to lift the energy in a rehearsal room by watching them work.
There was also the fact that it was on BROADWAY. Though I’ve performed great (and also terrible) plays in all kinds of places (storefronts, tiny theatres, even in alleyways) there is something so grand about Broadway. The history in a Broadway house is intoxicating. And it was particularly meaningful to get to share this with my family, who traveled from California to see the show.
Can you share what it was like when you learned you were cast in the new series Nightcap? What kind of research did you do for the role?
I was both thrilled and terrified. I was originally told that the creative team was looking for skilled improvisers and comedians for the show. I love comedy and have taken a few improv classes, but I come from a theatre background. True improvisers are magicians who can create stories out of thin air. I worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up.
The audition process had been crazy. I was told a little bit about my character Penny (she’s a hypochondriac, devoted to her boss and a bit naïve) and then given a scenario to improvise with the amazing creator/writer/star of the show, Ali Wentworth. It was beyond intimidating but also so fun!
I prepared for the job the only way I knew how—I fleshed out the character and got very specific about Penny. That way, instead of focusing on being funny or keeping up with the cast on set, I just had to respond the way Penny would, which relieved quite a bit of pressure. Eventually, the show became less improvised and much more scripted. I memorized my lines but could never get too attached to them because Ali could always throw a curve ball and I’d have to ride a new wave. This made shooting so much fun. I couldn’t get attached to anything and really had to be present on set. It was a great lesson.
What can you share about the new series Doubt; specifically any details about your role in the show and if you have had the opportunity to work with either Katherine Heigel or Laverne Cox yet?
I’m so excited about Doubt, which premieres on February 16th at 10 PM on CBS. It follows a brilliant team of defense attorneys working in a boutique law firm, dedicated to representing underdogs. Tony Phelan and Joan Rater have created a really unique show that gives voice to characters and storylines we have not yet seen on network television. And the cast is amazing–Katherine Heigl, Laverne Cox, Dulé Hill, Elliot Gould, Dreama Walker, Steven Pasquale and Kobi Libii. I play Sadie’s (Katherine Heigl’s) assistant, Lucy Alexander. Lucy is definitely not the sharpest knife in the drawer, which provides a bit of comedy.
Fun fact: many cast members are also wonderful dancers (myself not included). Dulé is a Broadway tap dancer and would tap in between takes. And Laverne kept her energy up doing Beyonce choreography on set. She is a generous performer and human being. She even taught me how to use Snapchat, which felt like Van Gogh teaching a commoner how to paint. And Katherine Heigl was absolutely amazing to work with. She somehow found the time to crochet during her few moments off camera. Her work is exceptional and she is hilarious and lovely.
Your bio states that you are working on an “original comedic screenplay.” Can you share any details on the screenplay; and is this, perhaps, a dream project for you?
I am obsessed with my amazing grandmother, Nita. She recently moved to a senior living community called Sun City near Palm Springs. At first, no one in our family understood why she’d want to move from her lovely little house, but when I visited I totally understood. Sun City is so alive and the seniors there are having the time of their lives. There’s also a ton of drama, romance, and intrigue in the community. It feels a bit like college. This world inspired me to write my screenplay, which follows a New York actress who has a breakdown and decides to go into early retirement with her grandmother in Sun City, only to discover that life has not slowed down in the slightest for these seniors. To earn her keep, she has to direct the community in a production of ‘RENT.’
I’m super excited about this project. I’ve been grateful to play some funny supporting roles over the past few years, but I’m hungry to play a role that stands in the center of a story and blends comedy and drama more fluidly. Also, I just think my grandma’s new world is amazing and I love the idea of our worlds colliding. It’s ‘Girls’ meets ‘Golden Girls.”
If you hadn’t gone into acting, what profession do you think you would have?
I think I’d be a marine biologist or archeologist—a profession that involves making discoveries and exploring different worlds.
What is one special skill or talent that you possess that fans might be surprised to learn you have?
I love to craft! Every December I make elaborate New Years cards out of matchbooks, vintage fabrics, old Life Magazines, sprinkles, buttons and lots of other completely random and insane materials. I like ending the calendar year with a grand crafting projecting and sending well wishes for the coming year to the people closest to me.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
I remember freaking out before the first preview of “The Assembled Parties” because I had received a note in the dress rehearsal the night before that thoroughly confused me. My nerves were high and I was questioning every character choice I had made. In between rehearsal and the first preview, I went to a small restaurant by the theatre and sat alone, freaking out. In an instance of divine choreography, a brilliant actor named Richard Masur (who had been at one of the early table reads of “The Assembled Parties” and was working on another show down the street) sat down next to me. He looked at me and said, “I know you. You were in that reading of ‘The Assembled Parties.’ You were great. You’re an original.” I practically burst into tears and told him how I worried that all of my choices were wrong and I wasn’t doing what anyone wanted. He immediately quieted me and said, “You gotta forget the notes and other people’s ideas. This is your part. Trust your gut and put your stamp on it.” That night I took Richard’s advice. It worked. It’s very easy to try to please people and forget the truth we know in our guts and heart. Sometimes you have to just quiet the outside noise and tap into what you know internally to be true—put your stamp on it.
Do you like to watch TV? What are you currently watching?
I love TV and feel lucky to be living and working during what feels like a golden age of television. I just finished watching the new HBO series, ‘High Maintenance’ and really loved it. I was a fan of the web series, which featured some of my favorite New York actors and friends. The show follows a Brooklyn pot dealer as he makes his deliveries and offers incredible, funny and sometimes heartbreaking and strange windows into his clients’ lives. I also just binge-watched ‘Transparent’ on Amazon. That show is remarkable.
What would be your idea of a perfect day if you had a full 24-hours to do whatever you wanted to do?
I think it would definitely involve swimming with dolphins and whales, eating ice cream cake, wearing a vintage gown at some point, playing with Basset Hound puppies, and eating a freshly baked pita and hummus with people I love and who make me laugh.