Laura Benanti is busy. You know this because she calls you for an interview only to immediately (and very profusely and politely) apologize that she literally has her hands full at the moment with her first child, 8-month-old Ella Rose. You know this because at some point later that day, she’ll tear herself away from Ella to rehearse, then perform a preview of her hugely anticipated Broadway play Meteor Shower, written by Steve Martin and co-starring Amy Schumer, Keegan-Michael Key, and Jeremy Shamos. (It officially opens on November 29.) And you know this because her duck-lipped Melania Trump impression — the one she unleashed last year on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, instantly catapulting her from theater-geek darling to household name — is only, like, the fifth-most-recent thing she’s done.
A week and a half into Meteor Shower previews, Benanti spoke with Vulture from her Manhattan apartment about leaving Supergirl for The Detour, befriending Schumer, and why television doesn’t suck like it used to.
I would honestly love to just mommy talk with you, but it’s Vulture, so we’re gonna talk career stuff.
Yeah, I understand. I’m at the 8-month mark [with my daughter], so luckily I’m just starting to feel like a human. But then daylight savings time happened and now I want to bang my head against the wall.
Oh no, don’t do that! How have the preview audiences been so far for Meteor Shower?
They’ve been great, laughing their faces off and really supportive. It’s been awesome.
I saw Steve Martin’s play The Underpants several years ago, and I know his plays have a sort of peculiar comedic sensibility to them. Have you found there are some beats where you don’t get the response you were expecting, where the audience interprets things differently than you thought they would?
There were actually some laughs that I didn’t know were there. There were some things, because [Martin] is so absurdist, in rehearsal where I was like, “Hmm, I don’t know.” And audiences were howling. So, you know, he certainly knows what he’s doing.
Was your decision to do Meteor Shower about switching things up after a long string of musicals? Or was it just, “This is a Steve Martin play and I want to be in it?”
It wasn’t a calculated decision. It really was just a fun thing that came up. I constantly am trying to diversify myself, although not necessarily for how I or my career is perceived.
Amy Schumer, who trained in the theater before she became a huge name, is co-starring with you. But as this is her Broadway debut, has she turned to you for any sort of advice?
No. She doesn’t need my advice. She’s so smart and clever and, you know, she has her own theater company that she started. This may be her Broadway debut, but she’s no stranger to being onstage.
Okay, so you know how everyone has their own favorite YouTube videos they watch every now and then just because they’re funny and they kind of lift your spirit at random moments?
Mine is your 2013 Tony Awards sketch where you sang about how “television sucks.”
Oh, my gosh. With Andrew [Rannells] and Megan [Hilty]? So fun.
No offense, but when I hear your name, in my head your full name is “Laura Benanti Canceled Twice,” because that’s what Neil Patrick Harris calls you.
Now it’s four years later and you’re leaving one show, Supergirl, to do The Detour. The television landscape has exploded in a way I don’t think people would’ve expected even such a short time ago. I’m wondering how you found things have changed, in terms of how difficult or easy it is to land good recurring TV work.
Well television, especially network television, is just so fragile. Shows aren’t really given a chance to see how they’re going to do. So, yeah, I had The Playboy Club and then Go On, and they were canceled back-to-back. One of the weird or challenging things about my career trajectory, for what it’s worth, is that I’ve done so many different things and so I’m not easily identifiable with one thing necessarily. That’s been great, but I think sometimes it makes people confused as to what box to put me in. Famous people are so often identified with a character they play over and over again, and I just haven’t really done that. But I also sort of like the wandering, where I’m on this show, then I’m on Supergirl, then I’m on The Good Wife and now The Detour — which has been such an amazing opportunity because it’s allowed me to just truly be funny, which is all I want to do.
Really? Drama isn’t a particular kind of bug or pursuit that you’re itching to do?
No, it’s not. I’ve done it for so many years, and it’s just not always fun. Having to cry over and over again is not my idea of a good time. I’d rather be laughing all day long and knowing I’m making other people laugh.
The other side to your career equation is that you’ve only done like three feature films.
Totally. I haven’t really done any movies.
Which is kind of insane because you are a very famous person now and everyone loves you. The fact that you’ve been able to achieve that level of fame while doing virtually no movies is kind of astounding when you think of how careers were built not even very long ago.
Yeah, it’s funny. I would love to do movies. It’s not like I’m [dramatic diva-esque voice], “No movies for me, it’s only theater and television.” I just don’t really ever audition for movies or have an opportunity to. I don’t know. That’s a really great question. Let’s ask that question to my agent.
Great, in that case, here’s another possible question for your agent: You have a book of essays that was announced last year with the fabulous title I Stole Your Boyfriend, and Other Monster Acts on My Way to Becoming a Human Woman. Does that …
Yeah, that I have not been writing.
That you have not been writing. So I’ll just cross out my next question, which was going to be, how is it going?
It’s not. It is not going. I got pregnant, and then, you know, doing The Detour while I was pregnant, and then having a baby who hates to sleep, I wanted to jump out the window. Then I was doing The Detour again and now I’m doing a play. Hopefully I’ll get back to it, but as of right now, I have not been able to write. I just don’t have a single moment.
I understand. But it is still supposed to happen at some point?
At some point, yeah.
Good, because you seem tailor-made for that mini literary genre of first-person essays from famous, relatable actresses — Amy Schumer being among them.
I think I know what you mean. The thing I love about Amy is that you already feel like she’s your best friend, like you feel like you know her just from watching her stand-up or seeing her films. Then you meet her in real like and you’re like, “Oh, wait, I did know you, you are exactly what you purport to be.” There’s no facade. And that is something that has been important to me. And weirdly, I credit Twitter with that, in terms of my career, more than anything. Having direct access to people and tweeting my thoughts was the thing that made people go, “Oh, wait, you’re weird and funny, not cold and dramatic,” which had maybe been the perception of me prior to that. So Twitter may have ruined our nation in terms of who is our president, but it’s truly helped my career. So thanks, Twitter.
Would you want to have your own show at this point?
I do. I’m actually working on something right now, a comedy idea for myself that we’re in the middle of finding a showrunner for. Then myself and the studio I’m working with will pitch it to networks — and by networks I mean, Amazon and Hulu and Netflix. It’s not for network television.
Tell me why you feel like you know that already.
I mean, I swear.
This interview has been edited and condensed.