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Interview: Daphne Rubin Vega

Two time Tony nominee Daphne Rubin-Vega talks about her new solo CD, "Les Miz", the movie version on "Rent", her early recording deal with Mercury Records and more in this revealing interview.

 

 

 


Daphne Rubin-Vega is currently playing Fantine in the Broadway revival of Les Miz and was recently in The Rocky Horror Picture Show as well as being nominated for the Tony award two times for her role as Mimi in Rent and for her performance in Anna in the Tropics. She recently released a solo CD, and took a few moment out of her busy schedule to talk with Michael Gilboe at the Broadway Bullet podcast.

Daphne will be performing a solo concert at Joe's Pub on Jan. 15th, 2007 at 9:30 PM. Visit www.joespub.com for more information.

You can listen to this interview and many other great features for free on Broadway Bullet vol. 19. Subscribe for free so you don't miss an episode.

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Broadway Bullet Interview with Daphne Rubin-Vega

Michael: When it comes to the stars of our Broadway stage there are very few performers who’ve taken such an irreverent and independent path towards their success and still manage to indeed have the success that Daphne Rubin-Vega has had. Even now she’s making gestures at me through the booth window (laughing)…

DRV: I don’t know what you’re talking about, Michael.

Michael: Well you came onto the scene in what was already a very irreverent play.

DRV: Yeah, at the time it was very irreverent now it seems like it’s part of the Broadway lexicon. Isn’t that funny?

Michael: Not only that, it was kind of noted in the beginning, for not using traditional trained theatre performers.

DRV: That too. I mean yeah. Of many different elements. That was a big selling point, actually that we all came from nowhere, the streets, and we had absolutely no sense of discipline or training.

Michael: Is that myth true? Were you all as little trained as the press would have us all believe?

DRV: Well, no. I mean, I think we had different kinds of training. Idina Menzel, she had been in bands forever and she had gone to school as did Adam Pascal. I mean, a lot of kids went to school to pursue their dreams, some of us had bands. I studied acting independently of going to school. I auditioned for everything, I studied with Bill Esper who put a rocket in my butt and was like if you wanna do this, do this my way. And we fought but he taught me things about acting. I always wanted to sing. I think we had a spectrum of different kinds of education and levels of education, relatively young. I think it was very kind of sexy to say that we came from the streets. We didn’t have traditional musical theatre backgrounds. I think that’s what gave it that kind of credibility.

Michael: Recently, well relatively recently, you were even nominated for a Tony for a non-singing role.

DRV: Yes.

Michael: In Anna in the Tropics.

DRV: Correct.

Michael: So how did that make you feel to also take on the legit world, that way?

DRV: It was very validating for my ego and spirit because I always wanted to act and sing. I always just wanted to keep them separate, you know, it was very like pre-Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup kind of thing. I didn’t realize that they could work and play well together without being what I thought was corny. I was one of many people who didn’t… I came into the back end part in the musical theatre world. I didn’t want to be in Annie. I wasn’t crazy about stuff. Although The Sound of Music changed my life. I thought, oh my god, this is fantastic. So, I was conflicted but I grew up with rock-n-roll so that was sort of the easiest entry for me.

Michael: You got a lot of stuff going on your plate right now. But you took on a new role shortly before that.

DRV: Are you talking about motherhood?

Michael: Yes!

DRV: Yeah, well. I don’t know… it happens to the best of us and the worst of us, I guess. I always thought I wanted a family. I always wanted. It feels like the most legit I have gone is to get married and have a baby and sort of be part of the establishment, be able to be caught by the IRS if they want to catch me. I just wanted to have a baby. Get really down and dirty and say well, you know, you get to a point in your life where it’s like there will always be things that I will want to achieve, I will never stop wanting to work as an actor or a singer, but having a family suddenly became very important to my husband and I. And we were lucky enough to have this little Satan running around that I grew out to love.

Michael: How old is he now?

DRV: He’s 2.

Did this have any impact on… I’ve heard a lot of rumors going around so maybe we can get you to set the matter to rest.

DRV: Yeah, okay!

Michael: Why was everybody else in the original cast in the Rent movie and not you?

DRV: Well, I think because one, they were not pregnant and two, they were wanted by the director. It’s very common to want to put on a new bright star. I think Chris Columbus wanted the best of both worlds. He wanted a pop star, or someone promising and recognizable like Rosario Dawson and he wanted to have the quote legitimacy or street cred or cult cred that was the original cast of Broadway. And I had the greatest excuse in the world, I was big, fat and pregnant. I looked like a pregnant q-tip. Because I had cut my hair off and it was blond and short. It was just not time. Plus, I think a minor detail is that I’m not 19. I think that the fact of the rest of…

Michael: Well neither is Rosario Dawson or the rest of the cast to be more of a …

DRV: I think that was the biggest part of contention because it was like, how come you’re inviting my buds and not me, man. But I have to confess that I haven’t really seen the film. But I’ve heard by accounts that her integrity in the film was fantastic.

Michael: She wasn’t bad, but she wasn’t you. And I think that…

DRV: But do you want to know what I really think? I think that Chris Columbus was not the person I would have chosen to make the film because Rent is about much more than just friendship, love and musical theater. It was about something that shook musical theater. And I wouldn’t have imagined him doing Rent the way I was in Rent. So it made sense to me that he didn’t want that.

Michael: So it sounds like a whole bunch of elements that just didn’t work.

DRV: Yeah, and it was none of my business at the end of the day. You know what I mean? I loved that character, I will always love her. I feel like that show, and Mimi in particular, is something that I co-created like a parent, but just like any life you have to let it go. And that was 10 years ago, for crying out loud. I would have loved to reprise that role and there was a time when I thought I don’t care what you’re doing, how old I am but I’ll get you another f@#king Oscar, mother f@#ker. But you know, it wasn’t meant to be so it’s time for other things.

Michael: But it hasn’t hurt you. You’ve got tons of stuff on your plate right now. Your solo CD just came out which we will talk about in just a minute.

DRV: Okay.

Michael: And you’re also now doing Fantine in the revival of Les Miz.

DRV: Yeah, who knew.

Michael: How does it feel doing that role and also kind of facing, I mean, it was cast with people who were traditionally like the uber legit singers.

DRV: Yeah, uber legit, almost patrician. I’m me doing what I do and I try to be truthful with it and employ all the little tricks that I’ve learned throughout the years about telling the truth in a context that’s not really realistic. And the voice I have is my voice so I think that the blessing and the curse about me as a performer is that some people get it some people don’t. So that’s the way it is. I’m not going to f@%k around with what I do to please people that I don’t even know or care about. The people that get it, love it.

Michael: So, Marty (Cooper… hosts “On the Positive Side” for Broadway Bullet) has already seen this show now 101 times. Seriously, I’m not exaggerating at all.

DRV: He’s a purist.

Michael: He said that you were the first one he felt was as frail, fragile and broken, you know, as the character should be.

DRV: Well, to my advantage and maybe detriment, I never really studied other Fantines. I mean, I know the great Randy Graff, I heard her sing it and she blows my head off. She’s fantastic, I adore her voice but I’m not Randy, I’m not Patti Lupone. So that’s what I do. You know, you like it or don’t like it, the door swings both ways.

Michael: On a totally non-artistically related question, do you sit backstage the whole time during the show?

DRV: Hell no. Hell no. I put on beads. I turn into a boy. I give bullets to people. I run around, beg for money. I chickened out of the actual barricade fight because I actually do have to come back as a ghost… so I don’t actually die twice. I thought initially that I would die twice in the show and it was very exciting to me but I actually chickened out of the big fight so that I could come back as a ghost.

Michael: Is there another play you’re doing this fall as well?

DRV: This fall, no but this spring 2007, we’re doing Jack Goes Boating at the Public Theater. It’s a production, a co-production with the Public Theater and the Labyrinth Theater Company, of which I have been in the company for 12 years. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman who just won that nice little statue, called the Oscar. John Ortiz who played my husband in Anna in the Tropics. And Beth Cole who’s a long-time member of the lab. Written by lab member, Bob Glaudini So, I’m thrilled to actually do a show with the lab having been a member and never actually done a lab show. So I’m leaving Les Miz a little early just so those haters and can go covel over other divas.

Michael: So let’s talk about your brand new album.

DRV: It’s called Redemption Songs, inspired by the Bob Marley song, which I cover. They’re not all covers, I have a couple of covers, most of the songs I have written, and/or co-written. That was kind of what I was doing when the baby was inside and just came out. It’s kind of like a snapshot or rather, an album of snapshots that were that time in my life that were very transitional.

Michael: We’re going to listen to a couple of tracks from that CD. Before we talk about the whole making of the album why don’t we let people take a listen to what it’s about. This first one we’re about to play, I understand, is already being a single at radio.

DRV: “Angel Now”?

Michael: Yes.

DRV: Alright. "Angel Now,"I had already originally sung on another compilation album that was in memory of Ray Contreas It was called “In Memory Of” and we did another version of it that was very, very different but there was a lot of loss. I lost both my brothers within a very small span of time and various family members that’s almost too morbid to mention. But my husband, as well, had lost very close family members. Also, at the same time I’m pregnant, so Angel Now was a song that I just wanted to include because it was very dear to me and appropriate to my world at that time.

(Hear the entire song, “Angel Now”, with the interview in Vol. 19 of Broadway Bullet.)

Michael: You seem to live by a philosophy that I’ve always held dear and actually just another show managed to put it into a great quotation so that I use all the time. “I’d rather be 9 people’s favorite thing than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing.”

DRV: I haven’t heard that but I love that. Is that from High Fidelity?

Michael: No, that’s from [title of show].

DRV: Oh okay. That’s fantastic. I don’t get out much.

Michael: You inspire a lot of passion, probably both ways.

DRV: Yes I do. Hey, whatever.

Michael: But, I think what’s important here is your career is so successful because you have those that are passionately in love with artistic choices and the road that you take is maybe a little less conventional.

DRV: I want to take this opportunity to thank those 9 people. Okay, thank you. All of you. All 9 of you. I know who you are.

Michael: What went into the making of this album?

DRV: Pain, Michael. Pain went into the making of this album, Michael. Lots of pain.

Michael: Why did you decide now was the time you needed to do another album?

DRV: No real reason, other than, my husband had some extra money. That’s not true. I think consistent with certain spontaneity and luck to be able to make it. I’ve been crying in the back of my head for awhile just saying I wanna do something new. I’ve got a band and we’ve been playing some new stuff and some people wanna hear it. You know, get up off your ass and do it. I had a record deal with Mercury right around the time of Rent and then Napster happened and corporate merges happened and like hundreds of other people, my CD got summarily dropped and I did the ballsy and stupid move, it wasn’t stupid in retrospect, but people were like ooh, don’t go there of giving it to Napster and saying please steal this record and maybe getting a gage of how people liked it or not. That’s kind of what started the whole thing going. Feeling like oh they want me, they want me to make them an album. And that naivety turns into a little bit of a callous which is like “love you, hate your friends, gotta write with our people, do our thing, cut your arm off.”

I’ve learned how to compromise. I think that it’s part of life and I think that making your prints, you collaborate. This is a collaborative medium. There are ways to do it all yourself, it’s really difficult and I think that collaboration is good. I just suddenly went from basement band– band in the basement, collaborating with friends to going into huge studios working with producers that cost 6 digits for a track. And to write a hit. “We want to write about you, but we really need to write a hit.” And that kind of pressure is like having the best thing that could happen to you and the worst thing. Because, I really wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t prepared because I wasn’t the kind of person at that time who was like “yeah, do me! I’m here, I will sing whatever you want.” And if I had a different kind of mindset, I could have done that. I could have gone and sung what the hell you want me to. I just wasn’t that kind of person at that time.

Michael: I think the hardest aspect for an artist in the music industry, in looking at things; I think it’s good to be either, as you said, a complete “mold me”.

DRV: Do me!

Michael: Do me, make me a star or to be that complete “I-know-exactly-who-I-am-as-an-artist-and-this-is-exactly-what-I-want-to-do,-take-it-or-leave-it.” But for the artists in the middle…

DRV: Like me. It’s hard to define who you are. I have a very hard time. And I think that it’s not being in the middle like, not knowing who you are. It’s having a hard time describing something that feels like…

Michael: I don’t think it’s wrong to say not knowing who you are, it’s just maybe a lack in the supreme conviction, to be able to back it up with argument and be able to say, this is the kind of artist I am because this, because this. And be willing to stand up to the suits that we’re paying a guy 60,000 for his tracks.

DRV: It’s actually, you’re going to be paying the guy. We’re just fronting the money.

Michael: Yeah of course. It’s hard to be on one side or the other. To be completely willing to give up control and say, okay, I’m going to do whatever you want me to do or whatever you say, I’m going to stand firm… maybe lose the contract.

DRV: I think that I was trying to be the latter, and stand firm or negotiate. Let me do this song with my folks and we will work with Desmond Child and Terry Britain and all those people. At the end of the day, it was flushed down the toilet with so many other things that were my heart’s desire. So I thought it was only appropriate to put it out there. I guess this whole, nice little conversation, is the reason why I made my album because it’s my way.

Michael: It certainly does. Listening to the album, it certainly seems like you made the album you wanted to make.

DRV: Yeah, for better or for worse, I learned and fell in love with the idea of producing. I will produce—hey if anybody out there, if you like my CD and you want me to produce a song, and you think you’re good—find me. I’d love to produce. I love producing. It’s a quandary. It’s very fulfilling and I think that if I had made this album for a record company, they’d be like; “it’s hard to figure out who you are”, still, because there’s so much different kinds of stuff. People call it an eclectic, which is a weird word.

Michael: And what is your relationship like with Sh-k-boom?

DRV: I’ve known Kurt Deutsch for a long long time. I was in the ensemble of Faust when he played Faust. Randy Newman’s Faust. In La Jolla. Well I was there for La Jolla and then they cut my character out. But I’ve known Kurt and Sheri for many years and I’ve known them when they started Sh-k-boom and I was on Mercury, which was part of Polygram which was bought by Universal and all that stuff. And then when all that imploded, he was like, you know, I’m here, and I was still rubbing my ass so I didn’t want to go near any kind of music or recording for quite a while. When it was time I made the CD I wanted to, and then I was like, look, I don’t know the business of selling stuff just help me out. That’s how that relationship happened. Kurt, a great guy, a great businessman, and you know, he loves actors and singers. I mean, he is one of us, he’s just kind of decided to say fuck that, I’d rather go into business. And he’s good at it.

Michael: Well I wish you luck with your many endeavors this year, with the album, Les Miz, your upcoming show with the Public. And I thank you so much for coming down and taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with our listeners and myself about everything going on.

DRV: Thank you Michael, it’s been a pleasure.

Michael: Well, we’re going to close out here with the opening track from your CD, which you wrote. Is there anything you want to tell us about this?

DRV: Well, it started out as a wish laundry list. A love song. But I think it tries to peonage to all the rock-n-roll that I loved and grew up with. And also, the fact that the times they’ve continued to a-change but I still come from a place where just by my race and cultural background, I felt like a citizen of the world.

Michael: Thank so much.

DRV: You’re welcome.

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You can listen to this interview and many other great features for free on Broadway Bullet vol. 19. Subscribe for free so you don't miss an episode.

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