Tootsie: Lilli Cooper and Sarah Stiles Transcript

[Intro music]

ELYSA GARDNER: Welcome to Stage Door Sessions by Broadway Direct. In this podcast we have in-depth conversations with Broadway’s brightest, bringing you what’s new, what’s noteworthy, and what’s coming next to a stage near you. I’m your host, Elysa Gardner and I’m here today with Lilli Cooper and Sarah Stiles currently starring in Tootsie on Broadway, now playing at the Marquis Theatre. Based on the Columbia Pictures film starring Dustin Hoffman, Tootsie tells the story of a talented but difficult-to-work-with actor who will do anything to land the role of a lifetime-including adopting a new persona as Dorothy Michaels. Lilli plays Julie, Dorothy’s costar in a show within a show, and Sarah plays Sandy, Michael’s long suffering ex-girlfriend. Thank you so much for being here Lilli and Sarah.

LILLI COOPER: Thanks for having us.

SARAH STILES: Yeah, we’re excited!

ELYSA GARDNER: You may have seen recently Lilli as Sandy Cheeks, the underwater squirrel in the musical SpongeBob SquarePants. Prior to that, she appeared in the original Broadway cast of Spring Awakening and also played Elphaba in Wicked. Her other credits include Women’s Project Theater and Ars Nova’s acclaimed Sundown, Yellow Moon and Tick Tick…BOOM! at the Acorn Theatre. Sarah was last seen on Broadway as Jessica in Hand to God. Her other Broadway roles include Muriel Benson, Muriel Bunson, I’m sorry in On a Clear Day

SARAH STILES: I don’t even know how to say that last name [laughs]

ELYSA GARDNER: …In On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. Several parts in the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut… can I say that? I think I can say that. [laughs]

SARAH STILES: That’s her name!

ELYSA GARDNER: That’s her name, in Avenue Q. Sarah’s various off-Broadway roles include Little Red Riding Hood in a Shakespeare in the Park production of Into the Woods and she’s’ been seen on TV in “Billions” and “Get Shorty.” Once again, thanks for being here. This is such a well loved movie, Tootsie, I watched it again recently and it really really holds up. It’s so charming, and very topical in a lot of ways. I’ve heard actors though, who were working on an adaptations of films like this and other properties, say they sometimes try to ignore the original a bit or at least reference it in a limited way to ensure that the show they are working on is really its own thing. So tell me a bit about what your approaches have been like.

SARAH STILES [to Lilli]: When’s the last time you saw the movie Lilli?

LILLI COOPER: I saw it before I auditioned, so probably about a year ago….


LILLI COOPER: …or so and I haven’t watched it again since. And I don’t necessarily think I’m actively trying to avoid it, but I think that our show is different enough that it that it… it doesn’t necessarily do us justice to sort of to…

SARAH STILES: To try to mimic….

LILLI COOPER: Yeah exactly. And most specifically, because it takes place today, our story, and the world is a very different place than 1982.

SARAH STILES: Yeah. And those roles were… the actors in that movie were… they were so iconic. These characters are just incredible, and no one’s going to do Bill Murray. No one’s gonna to do Teri Garr, you know.


SARAH STILES: So, we can’t… we can’t compare, compare and contrast [laughs]

LILLI COOPER: Right right, exactly.

ELYSA GARDNER: Well, you both play women in this musical who, based on the film version, certainly counter sexism in the form of disrespect. Of being objectified, not only by Ron, the director of the soap opera, but to some extent by Michael who is the hero. This is as you mentioned very very timely stuff right now. In fact, I heard Santino Fontana, who plays Michael, say on a recent panel that he’s been in touch with Rebecca Traister, a well known writer on women’s issues. Have you thought about the relevance of this musical and this particular moment in the wake of the Me Too Movement?

LILLI COOPER: Yeah absolutely. I think that this script is so brilliantly updated by Robert Horn. And I think our characters specifically have shifted, or mine specifically, Julie Nichols, has shifted quite drastically from the movie in the sense that she is an independent woman and she’s not dependent on the men in her life and she’s not actually in a relationship with Ron the director. And she you know developed this relationship with Dorothy Michaels/Michael Dorsey and they learn and grow from each other. And I think that it’s a really important shift that we’ve made from the film to sort of set it in today’s climate.

SARAH STILES: Yeah, we gotta play to this audience. I mean that’s what, they wouldn’t receive it the same way.

LILLI COOPER: Yeah. There are so many moments in this show where we get not only uproarious laughter, but applause at the really powerful sort of statements I think that this show makes.

SARAH STILES: Yeah, without being too on the nose.


SARAH STILES: I feel like he’s done, Robert Horn is is so brilliant, he’s done such a great job of you know, preaching this message without being preachy.

ELYSA GARDNER: And the songs and the lyrics, by David Yazbek, who has done such great work, I imagine they work with the libretto as well.



LILLI COOPER: David and Robert have just worked so well hand in hand

SARAH STILES: Yeah, thing one and thing two [laughs]

LILLI COOPER: Truly [laughs]

SARAH STILES: I don’t know, they switch which one’s the one and the two [laughs]

LILLI COOPER: [laughs] Exactly, yeah

SARAH STILES: Depending on the day

ELYSA GARDNER: Do they call themselves that?

SARAH STILES: No, we call them that! [laughs] They’re hilarious guys. They’re really… and they’re always together and just yeah, riffing. [laughs]

ELYSA GARDNER: How about your character Sarah? She was played by Teri Garr in the film and I read synopsis of the film describing her as using words like neurotic or a doormat…


ELYSA GARDNER: Has she evolved or do you make a journey in the show?

SARAH STILES: Ummm, you know I never… I don’t usually think about my character in those sort of you know more negative like adjectives. So I feel like yeah, she’s neurotic, she’s lovable, she’s stressed, she easily goes to the drama, but it’s because she wants to be an actor and she wears her emotions on her sleeve and on her face and on her feet and on her toes and [laughs] out in the world. So, yeah, but I don’t… I think we’ve made some changes in her trajectory and her arc and there’s some surprises that I don’t want to reveal, but she gets… she… you’ll see her get more of a happy ending which is pretty cool.


SARAH STILES: …than in the movie, yeah.

ELYSA GARDNER: Lilli, you’re playing a role in this show that was originated by Jessica Lange…


ELYSA GARDNER: … a great great actress who happens to be blonde. And you are the daughter of a great actor and singer who I think has done a lot to really promote multiracial casting on the musical stage and to help open people’s minds about that with all the great work that he’s done. Have you discussed that with him generally or in developing this role?

LILLI COOPER: Umm, yeah I think I’ve discussed it with both of my parents. I grew up in New York and I was surrounded by you know different cultures and different colors and sizes and shapes. And umm… my mom is white and my dad is black and my racial identity has been something that I’ve been, you know, discovering and still figuring out to this day. Playing roles that were originally played by people who look very different than I do is something that my dad has also done and we have, we’ve navigated that world together. And I think what I’m really proud of in my career is that I haven’t actually tended to play roles that are specifically described by their race. And what I think is so so powerful to cast somebody who looks different than the woman who originally played it 30 years ago, is that it is so special as a person of color in the audience to be able to see that on stage. And I knew that growing up. You know, I looked up to women like Audra McDonald and the list goes on, but it’s so…. it’s so powerful to be able to see that onstage and that I think is what feels so important. And I definitely witness that watching my dad perform in shows since I was a kid.

ELYSA GARDNER: Has he seen the show?

LILLI COOPER: He did see it in Chicago, he hasn’t seen it on Broadway yet.

ELYSA GARDNER: Right right. What did you learn in Chicago? What was that experience like, the out of town experience?

SARAH STILES: Oh my God, we were so lucky. We were so lucky to have an out of town.

LILLI COOPER: Yeah, we really were.

SARAH STILES: Chicago is a great city and it’s a very smart city


SARAH STILES: So there’s like… the theater crowd gave us a lot of information while we were there. But man, do you remember just like, before we got the audience we were like…

LILLI COOPER: We were so scared.

SARAH STILES: …is this, is this funny?

LILLI COOPER: Is this good?

SARAH STILES: I don’t, we don’t know!

LILLI COOPER: Yeah because…

SARAH STILES: We thought it was funny, you’re funny [laughs]

LILLI COOPER: Like you’re fun… I think you’re great [laughs]

SARAH STILES: Yeah [laughs]

LILLI COOPER: We’re sitting in the, you know we’re in the rehearsal studio for two months and we we’re listening to the same jokes over and over again. And they’re hilarious to us, but we don’t know how the audience is going to react. And we only hope and pray and you know, just wish that they like it half as much as we do.

SARAH STILES: As we do yeah.

LILLI COOPER: And, you know, the first preview came along, our first paying audience, and they just could not get enough of it.

SARAH STILES: Yeah. And then then the work begins

LILLI COOPER: Yeah yeah yeah

SARAH STILES: Because then you really figure out what you….

LILLI COOPER: What works and what doesn’t.

SARAH STILES: Yeah, and what you need to shift, what you need to trim and we’re still, I mean we are so tired right now. We’re still doing all of that. It’s… it’s a lot, but it’s wonderful and we’re in such good hands and every cut and tweak they make feels really right.

ELYSA GARDNER: Did you get any particular feedback that was meaningful for you from audience members, or you know, people who relate to the characters that you were playing?

SARAH STILES: Like in the moment or after?

ELYSA GARDNER: Backstage, or should I say at the stage door, in the moment from the audience.

LILLI COOPER: Circling back to what we were talking about before, I have a lot of young men and women of color coming up to me and saying how how really wonderful it is to see somebody who looks like them on stage. and that just gets to me on such a deep level. It feel very important and very powerful.

SARAH STILES: Yeah. And I have a ton of young girls coming up to me saying that they are Sandy.

[Both LILLI and SARAH laugh]

SARAH STILES: And I say, okay, you have some work to do [all laugh] Just you know, like get the meditation going, find your peace…

LILLI COOPER: …find your people

SARAH STILES: No, but I actually, listen, I’m a Sandy at heart too. So I get that too. So it’s nice they feel very… they also feel bad. They feel like they see themselves and they’re like oh well she can, okay we can do it.

LILLI COOPER: …we can actually do this.

SARAH STILES: We can do it, yeah. It’s cool.


SARAH STILES: Yeah well…. uhh you know I guess I would say high school

LILLI COOPER: Teenagers…

SARAH STILES: Teenagers, yeah. And some preteens too I guess. Yeah we get a lot of… it’s a wide range of people.


SARAH STILES: I think that’s been the most surprising is that there’s uh… the audiences, people love it from 10. I mean there’s some cursing


SARAH STILES:…so I don’t know that we recommend it for much younger.

LILLI COOPER: I think there’s a parental advisory for under 10 is why.

SARAH STILES: Is it under 10



LILLI COOPER: But yeah, our audience runs the gamut


LILLI COOPER: It ranges from preteesn to you know a wide age range of people


LILLI COOPER: And you know I think there are die hard movie fans and then there are just young musical theater fans who come and see it and they all love it which is really great

SARAH STILES: Yeah and everyone wants to laugh and it’s you know, that’s… we give them a lot of opportunity for that

LILLI COOPER: I dare anybody to come to the show and not laugh.

SARAH STILES: Yeah seriously. You heard it first. We dare you!


[both laugh]

ELYSA GARDNER: Well speaking of laughter, Sarah, you’ve been in a couple of musical comedies and a comedic play that transferred to Broadway after finding success off-Broadway as well as the revival of On a Clear Day that I mentioned. Now you’re rehearsing a role in a major new Broadway musical based on a beloved film. How has that experience been so far in comparison or contrast?

SARAH STILES: Um, it’s been a second since I did… Hand to God was the last theater thing that I did yeah. So that was a little while ago. I’ve been working on it on TV which has been cool, but like a very different medium. And I think that like it’s been so… it just reminds me being back on stage, reminds me so much how much this is just… I mean, I hate to say it, but it is my favorite. It is just, it’s so satisfying having the audience there and I realize that you know I know that I’m funny, but I’m so much funnier when there’s an audience there and they tell me what to do. And so that’s been it’s been really fun to… like it feels like coming home doing this show.

ELYSA GARDNER: Yeah, you have a great cast as well

SARAH STILES: Oh my God, are you kidding. And it’s stupid, we really love each other.


SARAH STILES: I mean it really is just like genuinely, there’s a love and a respect back stage and everyone… I always say this but it’s, everyone’s so confident in who they are and what they do and what they bring to the table that it makes it easy, you know?

LILLI COOPER: Yeah. Because I think it’s so perfectly cast.


LILLI COOPER: Everybody does what they are so good at.

SARAH STILES: [laughs] Yeah

LILLI COOPER: In this show specifically and like yeah we do love each other so much. And it’s, I say this a lot in interviews, we have a cast text chain and we text each other like

Both LILLI COOPER and SARAH STILES: All the time!

LILLI COOPER: And we see each other every day

SARAH STILES: …this is everybody too. It’s principles, it’s the entire ensemble…

LILLI COOPER: … we have some like dressers in it, it’s everyone. And we text each other all the time and we literally see each other every day. And everyone’s hilarious on text too.

ELYSA GARDNER: So like in the middle of the night you can start…


SARAH STILES: Sometimes you wake up and there’s 60 messages. Like, what’s happening!

LILLI COOPER: …what’s happening! [all laugh]

ELYSA GARDNER: Well, I I’d love for you both to talk about the risk and rewards caused by comedy both generally and with musical comedy in particular, because you already have even at your young ages, quite a bit of experience with it. We all know that there’s nothing harder than making people laugh, so tell us about the work that goes into you know, having and providing so much fun for audiences.

LILLI COOPER: Well I think something that’s unique to this experience and is so special about this experience is that our creative team is so open and willing to try new things. And Robert Horn, our book writer, will throw new jokes at us practically every day and um, you know, we just have to try them out and see if they work. And sometimes they don’t. And it’s so important to have an audience because that’s when we learn whether or not they work. And, it’s really fun and exciting and scary and terrifying.

SARAH STILES: [laughs]

LILLI COOPER:…to have you know, new pages every day and try new things in front of a live audience every night, but it’s really exciting to be able to to try different things all the time.

SARAH STILES: Yeah. And they’ve been really collaborative too


SARAH STILES: They’re very open. They wanna hear what we think and what we like and Robert Horn texts me all the time with jokes. And he’ll send me like 10 of them and be like, “which ones are your favorite? All right, try that one tonight.”

LILLI COOPER: [laughs] Yeah

SARAH STILES: I mean it’s really… that’s special. That’s very unique. And I think that goes back to they really trust us with the material too. And you don’t always get that.


SARAH STILES: Yeah. And also I feel like Santino, in the out of town, he’s so collaborative and they trust him so much and he had such an understanding. He had been working on it for so long, so many readings, so many workshops that you know, he sort of started that and gave us freedom to also have opinions and and you know, work together.

LILLI COOPER: Yeah, it feels like a very safe room.

SARAH STILES: And yeah, he really cares what you think.

LILLI COOPER: Absolutely

SARAH STILES: Yeah, it’s it’s… he’s such a hard worker and so it’s such a dream to work with him, but also to lead this group. Because he really is our leader.

ELYSA GARDNER: You’re also working with the director, Scott Ellis

SARAH STILES: Oh my God, Scott Ellis!

ELYSA GARDNER:…who’s done so much, even this season

SARAH STILES: At the same time!

LILLI COOPER: Literally at the same time. Like how are you directing two Broadway shows right now?

SARAH STILES: How are you awake? [laughs]

LILLI COOPER: How are you alive? He has two kids, like it’s just… [laughs]

ELYSA GARDNER: Does he drink a lot of coffee in rehearsal?

SARAH STILES: He doesn’t, I’ve never seen him drink coffee!

LILLI COOPER: No, that’s actually crazy, I’ve never seen him. Santino on the other hand…

SARAH STILES: Santino drinks more coffee than…

LILLI COOPER: …anyone I know.

SARAH STILES:…any human in the world.

LILLI COOPER: He’ll bring in four venti iced coffees

SARAH STILES: Honest to God

LILLI COOPER: On a daily basis

SARAH STILES: It’s also, I was  in his dressing room the other day, and Lauren came in, his dresser came in with I think eight bottles of water, like water bottles. And she said “I filled them all up.” And I was like, do you go through those?

LILLI COOPER: That much?

SARAH STILES: Like you’re not even off stage enough

LILLI COOPER: …to be able to drink that much water

SARAH STILES: …to go through those waters. Yeah it’s a lot. He’s well hydrated.


SARAH STILES: I guess he has to be because he drinks so much coffee. He dehydrates and then hydrates.

[all laugh]

ELYSA GARDNER: This show is also about show business…


ELYSA GARDNER: So do you, can you bring your own experiences to it, to the challenges that these characters have to deal with?


SARAH STILES: Oh my God, yeah [laughs]

LILLI COOPER: 100%. I mean we have an audition scene, a rehearsal scene, literally set in the same studio, in the same studio that we rehearsed in. It feels so close to home, a little too close to home sometimes, it’s very meta. and what I think is so great about having a show within a show and it being this love letter to acting and to actors is that we can really poke fun at ourselves. Because we really identify the sort of ridiculous lifestyle that we lead.


LILLI COOPER: And we get to show that to the audience and show our sort of like backstage existences, which they really don’t get to see that often and it’s really fun.

SARAH STILES: It was cool the other night, we had a bunch… on Monday night, there were a lot of different shows that got to come and see our show, so different casts. And it was really cool to hear them respond to the very… there are some very insider jokes

LILLI COOPER: …insider jokes, oh yeah yeah yeah.

SARAH STILES: And they just…


SARAH STILES: Yeah, so that was cool.

ELYSA GARDNER: It’s a busy time right now, this is the April rush

SARAH STILES: Isn’t it such a good season!

ELYSA GARDNER: It’s a great season, it’s a great season. Do you get to see anything, have you gotten to see anything?

LILLI COOPER: We got to see Ain’t Too Proud


LILLI COOPER: …a few weeks ago, which was so phenomenal.

SARAH STILES: Yeah it was so great those…

LILLI COOPER: …those performances were

SARAH STILES: My God, they are working their booties off

LILLI COOPER: They really are.

SARAH STILES: And they’re so good.


SARAH STILES: I don’t understand… which was the one, oh what’s his name, that has no knees….

LILLI COOPER: Oh, Ephraim Sykes.


LILLI COOPER: I said afterwards, I said does Ephraim have knees? Because he’s just…

SARAH STILES: Or just gorgeous, giant bruises in the place of knees. That’s what mine would be.

LILLI COOPER: Yeah, exactly

[SARAH and LILLI laugh]

SARAH STILES: But that’s all we’ve seen so far.

LILLI COOPER: Yeah, it’s been hard because we’ve been in previews and tech rehearsals which are, you know, 12 hour long days. But…

SARAH STILES: I saw Oklahoma! at St. Ann’s and loved it.

LILLI COOPER: Oh yeah, I haven’t seen that yet. I’m excited to see that.

SARAH STILES: Oh, we saw Be More Chill. We saw that, that was so great. Those guys are working so hard too and loving it. Yeah, I don’t, I can’t wait to see everything


SARAH STILES: I’m really excited. And the plays too

LILLI COOPER: Yeah, The Ferryman

SARAH STILES: There’s so much good stuff

LILLI COOPER: … ugh God, that was amazing

SARAH STILES: Oh yeah, Ferryman… Did you see it with Brian?

LILLI COOPER: Yeah, there’s so much great stuff

SARAH STILES: Did you see it with Brian?

LILLI COOPER: I saw it with the original and with Brian

SARAH STILES: Ugh, you did? I gotta go back

LILLI COOPER: Yeah, it was so cool

SARAH STILES: I gotta go back

ELYSA GARDNER: Is there particular pressure or excitement opening at this time, sort of so close to when all of the awards nominations are going to be announced?

SARAH STILES: You know what I don’t love? We open, that all that happens during tax season.


[all laugh]

LILLI COOPER: I just filed for an extension

SARAH STILES: To me, I’m more stressed about that.

LILLI COOPER: Straight up

SARAH STILES: …than anything else [laughs]

LILLI COOPER: Straight up. It’s like not fair.

SARAH STILES: Listen, I think the thing about the Broadway and the theater community, everybody is so supportive of each other


SARAH STILES: They really are. Listen, okay yeah, I guess there’s competition, but we just want, we want Broadway to thrive. We want everybody to be awesome.

LILLI COOPER: We want people to work.

SARAH STILES: We want our friends to work.


SARAH STILES: Yes, so it’s, it’s good. I think it’s great that it’s, that it’s such a heavy great time.

LILLI COOPER: And it’s an exciting anticipation, you know. It’s something that sort of fuels us I think. And you know, awards season will always sort of be in the back of our mind I guess, but what our main goal is to just make a good product…

SARAH STILES: Yeah, and to have people come see it.

LILLI COOPER: …to make a good show and have people come see it.

SARAH STILES: So if that means, if we pick up some awards so that more people come see it…


SARAH STILES: Great, you know.

LILLI COOPER: Great perk.

ELYSA GARDNER: When you’re in the middle of a process like this, putting together a musical, putting on a musical, so all consuming, do you think about what’s next? Are you entirely focused on the project itself?

SARAH STILES: Well we have decorated our dressing rooms to the nines…

[LILLI laughs]

SARAH STILES: …so we’re planning on being here for a while.

LILLI COOPER: …we’re staying there for a minute. [laughs]

SARAH STILES: They can’t kick us out! We’ve made apartments…


SARAH STILES: …on 45th.

LILLI COOPER: We’ve made like midtown apartments basically, we can live in.

SARAH STILES: I don’t know, we’re so in the thick of it, I don’t think anybody is thinking about that yet.

LILLI COOPER: I think it’s sort of inherent as actors to think about what will be my next sort of like journey in my career…


LILLI COOPER: …but it’s not like any of us are like auditioning or anything. We’re really focusing on the job that we have now and making it the best that it can possibly be.

SARAH STILES: I think we’d all be really happy to stay here for a while.

LILLI COOPER: Yeah, we really would.

SARAH STILES: I don’t know that we want to break up this family anytime soon.

LILLI COOPER: Yeah, exactly.

ELYSA GARDNER: Well, it’s been great chatting with you and I’m really looking forward to seeing the show now. Is there anything specific, without giving too much away, that you can share about a favorite moment, a favorite number and one of those inside backstage jokes maybe that we’re missing. [laughs]

SARAH STILES: Well, for me, you can think about… you will lose Sandy for about 45 minutes and I’ll be upstairs playing cards with Andy Grotelueschen and Michael McGrath

LILLI COOPER: I’m jealous of that, I’m very jealous.

SARAH STILES: Eating jelly beans and playing cards, so I hope you don’t think about that because you’ll be entertained by the show, but maybe at intermission you’ll be like, oh yeah, that’s what she was doing. That’s mine, what’s yours Lilli? [laughs]

LILLI COOPER: I don’t know, I mean I… I… I don’t enter the show for quite a few minutes so I sort of have the opposite, at the beginning of the show I get to sort of wander around and like watch the show from the wings and hang out with John Behlmann who also does not start for a few minutes in the show. So we have our own journeys backstage which can be really funny.

SARAH STILES: There’s a lot of backstage….

LILLI COOPER: Camaraderie

SARAH STILES: Yeah, life happening

ELYSA GARDNER: Life, life. Always the art and life. Well again, thank you both. It’s been delightful talking to you and I cannot wait to see this show now.


SARAH STILES: Thank you!

LILLI COOPER: Thanks for having us!


ELYSA GARDNER: For all things Broadway and to find tickets to your next show, visit BroadwayDirect.com. This podcast is produced by Broadway Direct, your source for all things Broadway and the Nederlander Organization with Iris Chan, Glenn Halcomb, Erin Porvaznik-Wagner, and hosted and produced by me, Elysa Gardner. Thank you for listening and we’ll see you soon on Broadway.