Nikki Blonsky will not apologize about her happiness. She’s got a new show on ABC Family (Huge), she knows who the positive role models around her are, and she has a chance to inspire millions of people. It’d be a heavy burden to some, but Blonsky appears race-ready. She’s as sweet as the sweetest pie you can think of, but we pity anyone who tries to talk down to her, face-to-face. Confidence and kindness are two major components to gain and use in life (which aren’t exactly easy to obtain!), and Blonsky’s a self-assured owner of both.
I had a chance to partake in an exclusive Q&A with her last week. Blonsky radiates not just a beautiful confidence, she also has positive energy for miles. This is a young woman who has worked hard, and understands exactly how hard she’s had to work. Rather than going down a sour road, she is devoted to inspiring other people. She talked to us about the agent who said if she didn’t lose 100 lbs she’d never get a single role (look who’s laughing now), how she’s less naive than when she filmed Hairspray (For for those hardcore Hairspray fans, she did mention Zac Efron), The “F” word, and her thoughts on summer fitness camps. I was also very pleased to know she’s a fellow My So-Called Life fan.
While talking to her, I realized that she isn’t deaf to the cruel comments people throw out – she just doesn’t let them navigate her life. She’s a big advocate of embracing the life you have, not letting it waste away. If it wasn’t cliche, I’d suspect she’d tattoo “Carpe Diem” on herself, because I can’t think of a better phrase to define how it is she lives and talks. Far too many people shy away from life because they aren’t happy with what their life is. Nikki isn’t someone who is going to shy away from life, even the hard parts. She confronts people who challenge her, and in the end, is actually now getting an entire public to begin redefining “what is okay” to be shown on TV (a cast with all plus-size actors), and “who is okay” to take up the lead (actresses over a size 4). Blonsky says that, “I think, at the end of the day talent will always prevail. I think most people will be remembered for what roles they played and how they played them and what personalities they had and what they were like, not what they looked like.”
This is one woman’s parade you can’t rain on. She won’t allow it. And – why would you even want to? These are the types of messages and role models we need out there in the world.
Nikki Blonsky as Will in HUGE
A star is a star / It doesn’t have to try to shine / Water will fall/ A bird just knows how to fly
You don’t have to tell a flower how to bloom/ Or light how to fill up a room/ You already are what you are/ And what you are is beautiful
And strong enough/ And good enough/ And bright enough
– Jewel, What You Are
The new ABC Family show Huge premieres tonight, Monday June 28.
How did you find out about this part?
Well, I found out about the part of Will through my agent and once I read the character description and I read about who she was and everything about her, I said, “I have to play this girl. I just have to play her.” It was very similar to me wanting and having the need to play Tracy [Turnblad in Hairspray]. I have to play this girl because she has so many things going on that I just adore her.
Well you’re a role model for the heavier set community. I have to say it was amazing for you to be photographed in a bathing suit for the advertising of this campaign. How did you feel when they were shooting you?
Oh, thank you so much. I have to say it was the most freeing experience of my life to be out there with just a bathing suit, you don’t get barer than that unless you’re doing Playboy and that’s not happening anytime soon – not ever. So, I think it was the most freeing experience of my life. Growing up you always have those little things like, “I’m in a bathing suit and I really want to go to the pool, or I want to go to the beach, but I don’t want people to see me.” A lot of kids and adults still deal with that. I dealt with that for a very long time until I got the part of Will and it said, day one, first shot of the day, she’s taking off her clothes, stripping down to her bathing suit, she’s doing a strip tease.
When I saw the posters I was like, “Whoa,” I didn’t know that it was going to be just me in the bathing suit.” So, I’m actually headed back to New York soon and I’m really shocked because there’s a full one in Times Square, so from a New Yorker it’s really, really sweet.
How much of yourself do you bring to the character?
Ironically, I bring a lot of myself to Will because when I was in a Hairspray I was 17, I was young and bubbly and the world was new to me and everything was just so fresh. I wanted to make the world a better place and I still do. I still hold that quality of Tracy in me. But, like Will, I’m not as naive as Tracy and I’ve been around a few years now and I’m a little smarter and I get the game now. That’s where I connect with Will – I get what’s going on in the world. I see through people and I can see through the fakeness as Will does.
I read on the website that there is a campaign encouraging people to live HUGE. So how would you best encourage someone to live huge?
Living huge is just being yourself. You only get one life, so enjoy it and just have fun, you know. Live and let live, that’s my motto.
Who would you love to see work on the show either as a guest star or as a director?
Right now we don’t know who Will’s parents are because Will really hates her parents, because they are fitness gurus. They’re the reason she’s at this camp. They’re very successful fitness gurus who send her to this camp because they don’t approve of what she looks like. So she decides, well you know what, I’m going to go to camp and do it my way. I’m going to gain weight in camp. If we get any guest stars, I hope my parents would be played by someone really fit like John Stamos and maybe Ricky Lake.
In terms of meeting your fans, do you have any crazy or can’t-believe-this-happened stories that you’ve had to deal with so far?
When I was down in Australia, which I loved, I had a male fan down there who tried to rip my blouse off on the red carpet and then he asked me to marry him in front of the entire red carpet, in front of Zac [Efron], in front of everybody. What do you say when a guy asks you to marry him in front of 300 people? And I just said, “Thank you.” It was kind of embarrassing.
What are your thoughts on these summer weight-loss camps that are like the one featured in Huge. Do you think being shipped off is positive for a kid’s self esteem?
I think if the kid comes to the parent and says, “You know, I really want to go and lose weight. I’ve heard about this camp andI really want to go and get fit,” then that’s perfectly okay. I think if a parent is sending a child is not as okay, because if a parent is sending a child, it’s sending a message to that child that the child is not good enough the way they are to their parents. There’s no worse fear, I believe, in my heart than not being good enough for my parents.
If you were meant to be six foot tall, skinny blonde model, than you would have been. But I’m meant to be a 4’10” plus-size actress and I am perfectly okay and happy with that. I think if we all just accept who we are and love who we are I think we’ll all be okay.
Not only that but obesity is becoming a major problem among teenagers in the U.S. today. Do you ever advocate losing weight or is it more about sending out the message of being happy with who you are and things like that?
Yes. I totally advocate of being who you are, loving who you are and living and let live. Just love what God gave you because He gave it to you for a reason. And you were made this way for a reason. If you were meant to be six foot tall, skinny blonde model, than you would have been. But I’m meant to be a 4’10” plus-size actress and I am perfectly okay and happy with that. I think if we all just accept who we are and love who we are I think we’ll all be okay.
Do you think your character will soften up through the season or keep her toughness?
With Will there’s many, many, many layers to Will. You will see, actually in the second episode, she softens up a bit.
Before you got attached to Huge how familiar were you with Winnie Holzman?
I was really familiar with her because Paul Dooley, her husband, was Mr. Spritzer on Hairspray. So this is my second time working with Paul, which is so incredibly amazing. He was on my first big project of my life and now he’s on my second big project. So, I was very, very aware of Winnie and Suzanna and I love them. I love My So-Called Life. I’m obsessed with that show. Wilson Cruz is like the coolest thing in the world to me. I adore him.
I think that much like Angela Chase became a role model, that your character, you yourself, but also Willamena, will become a role model for people. So what role models on TV or movies, when you were younger, influenced you?
I would have to say Camryn Manheim on The Practice. She always influenced me because she was a plus-size woman and always just did her thing, didn’t really care what people thought. I loved her on that show and she was an extreme role model to me.
Ricki Lake was a role model to me, ironically, since I played the same character as her in Hairspray. I watch her talk show every single day and I love Ricki and now that we’re friends it’s just so funny because I look at her and I’m like, I spent so much of my childhood watching you on Hairspray and your talk show. And also, Whoopi Goldberg was a huge, huge, huge idol for me in my career, as was Rosie O’Donnell because they are strong willed women who just are who they are.
In the scene from the first episode, Will asked why she should have to change. Can you talk about that thought process on how you approached the character?
Well, I think, Will doesn’t want to change. Will is fine with who she is. She just wants to be left alone and listen to her music and drown herself in her rock-n-roll and her food and just be let be. It’s true when she says, “Everyone wants us to hate our bodies.” It’s true because the media makes it seem as though you have to be a size two if you want to be an actress or that that’s the normal size.
Kids read that and I’ve experienced meeting fans and family members, my cousins who are younger than me, who are like 10 and say, “Oh I have to go on a diet.” I’m like, what? And they say, “Well, everybody in this magazine looks like this.” I try and explain to them that what’s in the magazines is not, sometimes, what’s in real life.
I think this is the first time we’ve ever had a plus-size cast in a TV show. So, I couldn’t be more honored than to be part of this one.
And what kinds of barriers you hope that Huge breaks from a superficial perspective when compared to other teen-geared shows like 90210 or Gossip Girl?
I hope that there are a lot more plus-size characters as love interests, as everything, as all the different roles. I hope it just breaks all the boundaries in Hollywood. I think this is the first time we’ve ever had a plus-size cast in a TV show. So, I couldn’t be more honored than to be part of this one.
Do you see any stand out celebrities now a days, now that you’re an adult, who you think are making a positive impact on kids today growing up?
I really have to say, and I don’t mean this in a funny way or anything, but I think one of my best friends is such a good role model for kids because he stayed true to himself. I’m talking about Zac [Efron]. I think he’s a really good role model and I think there area lot of great role models out there for kids right now, between Zac for guys. James Martin I think is a phenomenal role model; Michael Urie is an amazing role model. There are a lot of really great role models out there.
Are there any positive female actresses in your position that you think are giving girls a positive image in the media?
Yes. I would hope that I am. I would hope I’m doing an okay job. I think Angelina Jolie because she doesn’t care what anybody says and that’s my type of person. I’ve had the honor and the pleasure of meeting her and she is just absolutely the most humble, wonderful woman. She’s so inspiring to me because the roles she plays are varied, and she’s incredible. She’s adopting children, and people are calling her crazy, and I commend her because this is what she really wants in her heart so she does it. That’s my main thing: follow your heart.
I’d like to say that the whole premise seems really fabulous about positive self-esteem.
One of the most powerful things that I saw in the trailer, the promo, was that scene where you talk about that you might not want to change or lose weight or become someone else. So my question for you is that given though that the show’s premise is for the girls to see this weight-loss camp and lose weight; how much of you are you really going to be within your character allowed to rebel against that? And are there going to be stronger messages for girls rather than the weight-loss because we’ve been kind of been hitting on self acceptance, in anyway, are you, in your character, going to be able to share that message?
Yes. My character and I definitely have to do the exercises because we are at this fitness camp. But, I think, you’ll see that that my character really doesn’t conform to what all the other kids do. My character, even after she’s made fun of for days for wearing boys’ clothes, having blue hair and not wearing any makeup, she doesn’t care. She doesn’t change and put on girls clothing or put on lipstick. She says, “Well, you know what, I am who I am and if you don’t like it you can leave it.” And that’s what I love about her.
What is the type of language you use in the show for these sensitive subjects?
We use plus-sizes. We use Fitness Camp, stuff like that. We try to stay away from Fat Camps because nobody wants to be called the f word; it’s just not a nice word. I’ve been called it too much growing up so I’m not going to be called it now in my 20s.
I know Huge is all about being comfortable in your own skin and I was wondering at what age did that happen for you and what was the process of getting to that point like?
Well, I have to tell you, I totally give all of that credit to my parents. They raised me with the knowledge of ever since I was a little girl, growing up, you’re our beautiful little girl. They would call me that every single day. I would have to say growing up with that knowledge, it really helped. I’m going to be 22-years-old, I’m 21 right now and they still tell me every day, “You’re our beautiful little girl.” I never saw my weight as an issue until I got to school and kids started picking on me and I was like, why are kids picking on me? I didn’t understand it because I was told that I was beautiful at home.
My grandmother, God rest her soul, she said to me, and this is something that I’ll take with me forever. She said, “Nikki, kids make fun of you because they’re insecure with themselves.” I decided I came up with the notion, well, if it makes those kids feel better about themselves by making fun of me and I’m totally comfortable with myself than that’s my gift to them.
I think, at the end of the day talent will always prevail. I think most people will be remembered for what roles they played and how they played them and what personalities they had and what they were like, not what they looked like. And so I think that’s the mark you leave on Hollywood.
How did you stay motivated to really make it in Hollywood and be successful when you knew that Hollywood is full of size two actresses?
Because, I think, at the end of the day talent will always prevail. I think most people will be remembered for what roles they played and how they played them and what personalities they had and what they were like, not what they looked like. And so I think that’s the mark you leave on Hollywood.
People have told me if you want to get a job you need to lose weight and I said, “Okay, really, than you’re not the person to be around me because I am who I am and I am this way for a reason.” I just say live life. If I wake up tomorrow morning and feel like losing five pounds than maybe I will. If I don’t, I won’t. But I just live life on my standards, on what I believe in and how I feel about my body and I feel great about my body. I’m very secure in it. I have no problem doing anything, going to the beach, going to the pool. It’s my body, it’s mine. It’s the only thing I can call mine at the end of the day.
Do you prefer doing movies or TV shows?
Oh, my gosh. They’re so different. One’s the chicken, one’s the egg, what came first? I have to say they’re so different. It’s like; do you want beef or chicken for dinner? They’re both good. Ironically, I’m comparing this to food. [laughs] I love them both, really I do. TV is a very fast paced and I’ve learned that it moves much quicker than film. I like the slowness of film better, but I really enjoy TV and I’m having a blast.
What’s your advice to girls out there who want to act?
Study the art and dive right into it. Audition, start auditioning and try it out. You never know unless you try it.
What do you think of the show revolving around a weight-loss camp and do you think it could have worked if it had been at just a regular high school or some other type of camp?
I do. I honestly think that the show could have worked anywhere because we have the brilliance of Winnie Holzman and Savannah Dooley behind it and when you have amazing writers like that and you have such complex characters, like we do. I think you could put us on the moon and people would be interested and it could be a successful show. So, I think, you put us anywhere and people would like it. But the fact that it’s touching on such a sensitive topic that people has been so afraid to touch upon for so many years. I’m honored to be a part of this breaking down the barrier and breaking through the wall.
In your opinion, how important is it for you to accept roles for a plus-size actress being cast versus the story line being about plus-size.
I think my main goal is that eventually we get recognition for our acting skills in the show rather than just being called plus-size actors or community of plus-size people, I think we’re actors, you know? When it comes down to it, we’re actors. Just like the people who are size zero’s and size two’s.
Look at Monique; she just won a golden globe. She’s not a size two. She beat out a lot of skinny girls. When I was nominated for my Golden Globe, I’m not a size zero either. But I was still nominated for my Golden Globe because, like I said before, talent will always prevail.
And then as a follow up, do you have any observations about how male actors who happen to be plus-sized, for example, people like Jonah Hill or Seth Rogen, don’t seem to have the availability of roles limited to them? , Do you recognize any kind of difference for females who happens to be plus-size in terms of that?
Yes. I think there’s way more roles for plus-size guys than plus-size females right now in Hollywood which kind of stinks for us girls. But I definitely, I do agree with you and thank you for bringing that up. I do believe that there’s way more roles for plus-size men than plus-size females because they’re looking for the punch line, their looking for the joke and their looking for the funny guys. Whereas the girls, you know, it’s a different story.
Do you think this show will be inspiring for plus-size women and do you think that you could truly send a message of loving your body in a setting where you go to change your body?
Absolutely. I think it’s all about how you portray your characters, how you play the characters, its how you make them fall in love with the characters. I think by the second episode that you’re going to forget that you’re even watching kids at a weight-loss camp. I think you’re going to become so invested in what the characters are doing and what relationships are going on and what’s happening. I think all of that is going to become so interest into the audience that what’s going on with the weight issue is not even going to become a big issue anymore. It’s just going to be another thing on the list because I think the relationships and all of that stuff is going to outweigh the weight itself.
So you think the show is going to inspire the plus-size women to be confident in their skin?
Absolutely, 100% because my character, I know for sure does not conform. She will not conform to losing weight. She will not conform to trying to look pretty like all of the other girls. She is herself, 100% and that’s why I love her and that’s why I feel so blessed to be playing her. There’s no greater role to play than somebody that can be inspiring to somebody else.
So I have to ask because you came into the industry singing on Hairspray. Do you have any interest on being on Glee?
Blonsky Absolutely. That’s something I would love to do.
Do you have other projects that you have your eye on?
Yes. There are definitely other projects I have my eye on, but right now I’m keeping focused on Huge.
It doesn’t matter what size you are. Really just love your body because it’s yours. It’s the only thing that you really have that is yours.
I’m a 16-year-old girl and so my question for you is if you were able to personally go up to every teenage girl in the country and tell her the most important thing you’ve learned about self confidence, from filming Huge, what would you tell her?
Wow, that’s a really good question. I would hug them first because I’m a big hugger and I would tell them just be you and enjoy your body and enjoy your life. Just enjoy everything because you only get one chance at life so just have a good time with it. It doesn’t matter what size you are. Really just love your body because it’s yours. It’s the only thing that you really have that is yours.
I just wanted to ask you what do you think teen girls could spend their time talking about, if they weren’t always talking about their weight and dieting?
I think they should be talking about positive things, having fun with their friends, what they’re going to do on the weekends, you know. I don’t they should be worried about their weight or their looks. I think teen girls should just be enjoying their teen years because they fly by.
You found out that you got the role of Tracy in Hairspray in a pretty dramatic fashion. What about this time around? How did you find out that you were going to be Will and what was the first thing you did?
Well, it was actually pretty dramatic fashion as well this time around. My Dad just had spine surgery and I was wheeling him out of the hospital when my phone rang. It was my agent and he said, “How’s your Dad?” And I said, “Well, I’m putting him in the car right now.” He said, “How is he feeling?” I said, “Well, he’s in pain but he’ll be okay.” He said, “Well ask him if he’d feel better if he found out that his daughter just landed the lead in the new series.” And I just let out this scream like I did with the Hairspray one and I yelled, “I got the part!” and somebody in the parking lot yelled, “Who got shot?!” They thought somebody got shot and I was like, no, nobody got shot, I’m sorry, I’m an actress. I got a part. I’m sorry and my dad was like, “Congratulations ,Shorty,” because that’s what he calls me. Everybody was just so happy and my family was so elated. My dad was in so much pain but that eased his pain a little bit.
I bet. Will you be doing anything special on Monday for the premiere night?
I’m actually going to be on a plane. I would have loved to been home with my family watching it but I’ve got to come back to work.
I wanted to know you talked a little bit about the cut throat industry of Hollywood. Have you, yourself, ever had any weight discrimination against you or have you heard any stories or anything like that or run into anything like that?
Yes, I had an agent look me in the eye and tell me well if you want to get roles in this town you need to drop at least 100 pounds and I said, oh really? She said, yes, I looked at her and I said well you’re not my agent and I walked away from her because if you don’t get me then you don’t get why I’m the way I am than you can’t be part of my life. It’s like, I am who I am and I’m proud of who I am and that’s just how it is and this was when I was, I didn’t have an agent when I got Hairspray so this is when I was, I don’t want to say auditioning for agents, but seeing different agents.
So what goes on through your mind when you hear comments like the one Howard Stern made earlier this year about Gabourey Sidibe and how she won’t succeed in Hollywood if she stays the weight she is. What goes on through your mind when you hear something like that?
I think it’s so ridiculous and just so hurtful to her. Please, if anybody at all is listening that knows Gabourey, I would love to meet her and just hug her because I feel terrible that he said that. I’m so proud of her for her role in Precious, she is awesome and she is an amazing actress. I think it was a terrible, rude comment that he made. People like that need to curb their tongues a little more and even if they have their opinions sometimes keep them to themselves because sometimes they can be really, really, really hurtful. I don’t think that comment was necessary.
What do you think of the cyber bullying that is becoming more rampant?
The cyber bullying needs to stop. It has to stop. Kids are killing themselves at such young ages over ridiculous things. Other kids are calling them names and torturing them online, and it has to stop because lives are being taken at a way too young of an age. I will be the first one to stand up against it and say it has to stop now.
So far what’s the hardest thing about being a lead for a TV show?
Well, it’s not as much hard as it is fun. I mean it’s definitely a lot of work, a lot of lines that have to be memorized. But, it’s amazing just knowing that you are guiding this great group of people on this beautiful journey and it’s on a screen for hundreds and thousands and millions of people to see each week. That’s the best part about it.
Look in the mirror
Now that’s another story to tell
I give love to others
But I give myself hell
I’d have to tell myself
“In every scene there’s a perfect plan”
Everything I hoped to be
I already am
And dark is dark
So the stars have a place to shine
– Jewel, What You Are