Q+A With Broadway Star Amanda Jane Cooper of 'Wicked'
The witches of Oz come to St. Louis this holiday season to celebrate a 12-year anniversary. After 5,000 shows, the “Wicked” phenomena is thriving more than ever. Fans will be pouring into the The Fabulous Fox Theatre Dec. 9 through Jan. 3, to watch the untold story of Elphaba (Emily Koch) and Glinda (Amanda Jane Cooper) unfold. I spoke with Pennsylvania native Amanda Jane Cooper earlier this week to discuss her success as Glinda and the incredible staying power behind one of Broadway’s most famous musicals.
Where are you from?
Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. About 30 miles west of Philadelphia.
Does your family have a history of musical performance?
My dad has a great love for music; he was a huge influence on me. We used to listen to the radio and harmonize together. My mother was the drum major in her high school marching band. My siblings and I, we all did it in school. We had an incredible theater program, which I’m really grateful for. Arts and education is so important. I was the only one who went on to do it in college.
Where was college?
I went to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to study in the conservatory program in the school of drama and I majored with B.F.A. in musical theatre and acting. Funny enough, Emily Koch, who is my Elphaba, also went to Carnegie Mellon. We went from Carnegie University to Shiz University—which is our school in “Wicked”.
Did you guys know each other from Carnegie?
We did! I actually called Emily to welcome her and congratulate her on her acceptance when she was freshman because I was a couple years older than her. We both just get so tickled by that. When we found out [that they were both going to star in “Wicked”] we immediately started texting back and forth videos of just joy and excitement. Also, the man who wrote all the music, the composer, his name is Stephen Schwartz, he went to Carnegie Mellon, also!
Wow! That must be a really great school.
The training is really wonderful.
When did you get your start doing Broadway?
Well, it all started when I was just a wee lass [laughs]. My first musical was called “Steamboatin’” and it was a kids’ musical, that was in fifth grade. I immediately fell in love with theater, found it to be so much fun, empowering and healing in a way, so I continued on doing musicals throughout middle school and high school.
When I decided to take it seriously as a possible career, I was about 15. I, with my parents, started researching colleges and was so blessed to get into Carnegie Mellon. Going there, it opened so many doors, and I felt like I had a really strong foundational training for anything in the acting world—stage, film, television. I was very blessed to meet a lot of industry people—agents, directors, fellow actors—and I signed with my agent right out of school, moved to New York and worked on a musical called “Bunked!: A New Musical” and a play called “Letter From Algeria,” all the while going in for the “Wicked” creative team to audition.
When did you find out you got the role as Glinda?
AJC: I found out that I got the role eight months after graduation, and then 10 months after, I headed out on the yellow brick road on the “Emerald City Tour,” which at the time was the first national tour (4 years ago). It was such a dream come true, I mean, that phone call … it was all the tears. I was shopping with my sister, Holly, when I found out. Then, I got to perform for the first lady and her daughters in D.C., which was such a dream come true.
How do you describe taking on the role of Glinda?
The role of Glinda is incredible. It’s one of the best roles a woman can ever have in musical theatre. It’s so fun. Her character and emotional arc is so vast throughout the show that I really get to stretch myself as an actor. She’s so full of joy throughout the journey of the story, but where she comes from and where she ends up are two totally different places. It’s such a beautiful challenge to do every night.
What was your first job in the industry?
My first-ever job in the industry was actually film. I booked it when I was 18 or 19 while attending school. I always knew that I wanted at some point to act on screen again.
What else have you done in film?
After my contract with “Wicked” was up the first time, I decided to move to Los Angeles. I was only gonna stay there for 10 weeks to do a pilot season, but I was working on CSI with Ted Danson, who also went to Carnegie Mellon! I decided to stay in L.A., I really learned the meaning of healthy community and was having so much fun acting on shows like “Glee,” and “Masters of Sex,” where I got to work with some really cool people. I did “Hello Ladies” on HBO, “Jessie” on Disney, which was a highlight—I didn’t realize how much fun I would have on that.
Is there a difference between being on stage versus on film? Is one harder than the other?
You know, they are both so similar and so different at the same time. I think at the end of the day, you are always just trying to find the truth of the moment and the truth of the character. The foundational essence of what you’re doing is the same, but the craft is so different. What I’ve enjoyed is the incredible opportunity to do both. My heart starts to race no matter what I’m doing. I just love the art of creating stories.
Is there anything you do particularly for good-luck before you go on stage?
I always do a little stretching, vocal warm up, and I always take a moment and say a prayer for my cast, my crew and for the audience that’s going to be in theater that night. Everyone’s coming into that theater with a different story.
How do you feel about being part of such a huge, lasting musical like “Wicked”?
“Wicked” is truly a cultural phenomenon. I am just so honored to get to play the role of Glinda. All I can really say is that I am tickled pink and ‘thrillified’—which is a word we use in the show—and so incredibly humbled to get to work on such a magnificent piece. It’s epic and thrilling and touching and hilarious and everything you could want from a story.
Do you bring anything to Glinda’s character that might be a little different than others who have played her before?
I think everyone who has played these roles can attest that every single person brings something different. Everybody brings their self to the role and so inevitably, there is going to be individuality. Foundationally, things stay the same—the lyrics and the book—but we are always doing our best to be in the moment of the story. The book is so good, there’s always something new to be discovering. It’s always fresh.
How do you get yourself into character?
It all starts with the text, with the words that are in the book of the play or the musical. And then I think that putting yourself in those circumstances, imaging the world that this character is in, what is their greatest hope, what is their greatest fear, what do they want right now, and also, connecting empathetically with whatever the character is facing. You have to thread who you think they are together and then just be as honest and in the moment as you can. But I think it’s different for every person. I think inspiration comes from people, people watching, observing life—being a professional experiencer of life and using that to bring life to a character.
What do you hope for you future career in acting?
I think over the past couple of years, something I’ve learned is the joy and the peace that comes from trusting in God and that he has a plan for all of us. I seriously hope that I continue to have the chance to tell powerful stories and to share the common human experiences. I’m really interested in telling stories of hope, which is one of the reasons I love “Wicked” so much. I want to tell stories of redemption, the importance of love, forgiveness, whatever form that takes whether it’s on stage, film, TV, or even my own projects that I am excited about bringing to the world. I hope I get to inspire other young people who want to do this.