(Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
We all need a little encouragement these days, and for Tony winner and Hollywood star Idina Menzel, that means looking no further than her own flesh and blood.
“What makes me feel the most encouraged are little things like the sound of my son reading a book out loud,” the Frozen and Uncut Gems star tells Parade.com in a new interview about her 11-year-old, Walker. “When he confides in me and asks my advice… those moments really encourage me as a parent, and I feel like he feels comfortable enough with me and I must be doing something right.”
Hoping that you’re at least doing something right is a familiar feeling for many parents these days, which is just one reason why Menzel is helping motivate other moms and dads through her new collaboration with Rice Krispies Treats. (Fans can enter here through August 26 at 5 p.m. ET for a chance to score a Rice Krispies 365 Days of Love and Support Kit, which includes a pen and daily planner packed with inspirational messages; even better, all entrants receive a free digital planner plus a note of encouragement from Menzel herself!)
Meanwhile, if all it takes to make you feel more motivated is hearing Menzel belt out a big number—as she’s done so iconically with Wicked’s “Defying Gravity” and Frozen‘s “Let It Go“—then you’re in luck! The 50-year-old actress and singer has a string of projects coming out soon, including a sassy new take on Cinderella that arrives Sept. 3 on Amazon Prime and the long-awaited Enchanted sequel (cheekily titled Disenchanted), slated to debut in 2022. Can’t wait for all that? You can also catch her Aug. 29 on the PBS special Wicked in Concert alongside such singing superstars as Rita Moreno, Jennifer Nettles, Amber Riley and her original Wicked co-star, Kristin Chenoweth.
Continue reading for more on Idina Menzel, her pandemic mom squad, her Rice Krispies collab, plus what Enchanted fans can look forward to in the Disney+ sequel, Disenchanted…
What are some of your favorite ways to encourage others?
I never like to be on a pedestal or think that I know better than others what other people are experiencing, especially when I struggle with myself so often and I don’t get it right. So, all I can do is sort of be empathetic and relay my own experience, which has been that the more I trusted myself, and the more I have surrendered to who I am and what I love to do and sort of stay in that place, the more successful [and] the happier I am. The times when I’m trying to keep up with other people, or I’m listening to what other people think about me, are the times where I lose my way.
(Rice Krispie Treats)
After such a challenging year, it seems like kids are going to need a lot of encouragement, especially as they’re now heading back to school. What are some ways you’ve found to encourage your son during this time?
That’s what’s so great about the collaboration I’m doing with Rice Krispies Treats. I always wrote little love notes to my son and put them in his lunchbox. It’s a tradition my mom used to do for me—as embarrassing as it can be as you get older and it’s in high school. It’s so great that they came to me with this partnership because it’s something I truly believe in. I give my son Rice Krispies Treats in his lunch anyway, but now they’ve come up with this great wrapper where you can put your little love notes on there and your words of encouragement… They’re really asking us as parents to reflect on how we can love and support our children even more especially, like you mentioned, during this very complicated, anxiety-provoking time.
Going back to school for all of us—kids, parents—is stressful and we want it to be safe and we want it to be okay. And I think as parents, we’re always trying to fix things and solve it and sometimes we can’t. We have to live, especially in this pandemic time, one day at a time and I know that if we just kind of try to stay in touch with what our kids are feeling right now, that’s the most important thing. What do they need from us, you know, instead of trying to tell them what they should be doing or feeling. What do they need and how can we help them express that.
I know from my own son that I’ve seen a weight lifted when he’s been able to go and be at a summer camp this past summer because they got a COVID-safe situation happening. I don’t think I realized the weight that he was feeling all year, because then there’s just this joy about him and lightness when he knew he was gonna go swim in a lake and play basketball with his friends.
Aside from taking a toll on children, this year’s also affected parents. What are sources of encouragement in your day-to-day life? Did you have a mom squad that’s helped you through the pandemic?
I did. My husband [Aaron Lohr] is extremely supportive. He’s very soulful, [a] communicative person… We [also] did a little pod. My best friend is my sister. She’s a fifth-grade teacher and we actually put together a couple of kids and my sister relocated and just taught out of her backyard. We tested constantly; we were fortunate enough to be able to have the means to do that. And we were able to put our kids in a car and drive them to my sister’s house and [laughs] say, ‘You deal with it!’ They didn’t want us hanging all over them anyway and most of them were boys who couldn’t sit at the screens very often and had so much energy—not that that’s just a boy thing—and so they were able to have this experience with my sister who’s a wonderful teacher, so it was a really great solidarity between my sister and these other moms and us making something work. Trying to do something good in this crazy time.
I’m sure it helped to have those interactions outside of the house, being able to see other people and your son being able to do that as well.
Yeah, so important, [and] I just want to go on the record saying, I recognize that not everyone could do that and that some kids had to just be home, and they don’t all have, you know, the computers and the technology to stay in touch with their classes the way my son did and all that kind of stuff. I don’t want to seem tone-deaf to any of that. I just felt really fortunate that my sister could be around and I knew that if he wasn’t going to be with me, he’s with the person I trust most in this world.
Switching gears, I’m so excited to see you in Disenchanted next year. Tell us, how did it feel to revisit these characters over a decade later and what can fans expect from the sequel?
It was an absolute blast, to be honest. It’s a really glorious, fun, joyful, old-fashioned musical movie [and] reuniting with Amy Adams and James Marsden and Patrick [Dempsey], it was great and there’s some really talented young people that joined the cast this year. As an actor, it’s really fun to revisit a character a while later when you’ve had some time away from them and then to see sort of how your life’s experiences have informed the way you would approach a character now. So I find that to be a really fun little challenge, and my character especially is completely different because at the end of the first movie she jumps down a manhole with James Marsden. She goes from being this New York chick to like living in [an] animated fairytale world. So it was fun to figure out how much of her New York self she kept with her, and how much she just kind of bought into being the queen of Andalasia and having this hot prince, who’s off like slaying dragons and stuff. So, it was just really fun.
We were robbed of your voice in the first film! Will we be hearing you sing in this one?
Yeah, you hear me a lot. Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken wrote the most beautiful, romantic, inspiring song lyric[s], and I’m very excited for all of you to hear it. And James and I get to do a song as well and so there’s lots more music in this movie than the first. Even for Amy. Amy’s singing her butt off and Maya Rudolph is singing and there’s so much great music.
You’ve been in so many musicals, the Frozen films, [Disenchanted], Rent. Do you ever have fans come up to you and sing a song from one of your movies?
Yeah, or more than that, I get videos almost once a day of somebody’s kid singing in a blue dress in their living room, singing a song from Frozen or in green makeup singing something from Wicked. It’s one of the true gifts in my life. It’s a beautiful thing to know that what I’ve done, the character, the music resonates generation after generation. It’s also a great reminder of, you know, how lucky I am to sort of, to reinforce the lyrics and the messaging of those films about empowerment and how to really believe in yourself and harness your powers.
So before Disenchanted comes out, there’s Cinderella. I love that you’re attached to these movies that center around empowered princesses. Is that something you look for in a project, or do you love fairytale stories?
I don’t know. I think it’s like chicken or the egg. I don’t know if they find me or something I’m putting out there in the universe attracts them to me. I’m not really sure. I don’t know how much power I have over all of that. I just know that I think it’s important in my work to show power and vulnerability and that we can have both. I don’t know. I’ve thought about that before, just how fortunate I am to get to play those kinds of roles. I’m not quite sure why; it’s a track record that I’m proud of and they’re life lessons for me. They’re characters that, some of them might be young, but even as I’m maturing, growing older and evolving as a woman, they still have a lot to teach me, so every time I get to revisit them or sing the music on stage, or talk to a little girl about something that they’re dreaming on, you know, all those things are little gifts for me. They’re little reminders and life lessons to keep it real and to appreciate what’s important in this world.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity