Interview with Carousel star Jessie Mueller

Jessie Mueller

Jessie Mueller is a Broadway favorite and a Tony Award winner to boot. She recently received her fourth Tony Award nomination (an incredible feat, especially with a résumé of just six Broadway credits). She is currently nominated for her performance in the leading (and iconic) role of Julie Jordan in the Broadway revival of Carousel at the Imperial Theatre - a role as coveted as it is complex in this day and age.

She made her Broadway debut as Melinda Wells in 2011's On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, before moving onto The Mystery of Edwin Drood in fall 2012 and Nice Work If You Can Get It in spring 2013. She was then propelled into Broadway superstardom, when she secured the title role in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and picked up her first Tony Award in 2014 for her efforts. She is "A Natural Woman" and then some!

Ms. Mueller's next Broadway venture was to originate the leading role of Jenna in the musical Waitress in yet another Tony-nominated performance, solidifying her status as a modern Broadway star! And although she has mostly originated roles in her career so far, every actor desires to take on an all-time classic role and re-interpret it for today's audiences. That opportunity came for Ms. Mueller in the form of Julie Jordan and we recently caught up with her to discuss how she tackled the multi-layered role, about the dominant theme of redemption in Carousel and why Julie really is such "a queer one"...

Jessie Mueller in Interview
(Photo by Austin Yang)

Jessie, you’re nominated for so many awards again this season. Can you believe it? It’s not your first time at the rodeo though. Maybe you can believe it…

(Laughs) Yeah, but I feel like you always work so hard on something and then you go: “Here’s my baby!” and then you hope everyone thinks your baby’s cute. It’s always wonderful to have the kind of reception that we’ve had. The show being received in such a positive light just makes us happy. After all the hard work, you really feel like it was worth it.

As the song goes “You’re a Queer One, Julie Jordan”. In your opinion, why is she such a queer one?

Why is she a queer one? I think she’s perceived as queer because she’s a watcher and a listener and curious and perceptive. I think for a woman, especially in that time period, people didn’t think that was what a woman should be. They thought they were supposed to be more looked at than heard. Julie is outspoken and she says what she thinks. She watches and she learns. Those are some of the things that make her so special.

Did you approach the role any differently from previous roles, perhaps in terms of what you wanted to say with such a complex character?

I think the complexity is always the interest for me. I start with what’s on the page and then what are the complexities beneath that that make it feel alive. I feel like it’s different every time I approach a role. I think it was maybe different this time because the role is so well-known and so loved. For me, it’s always about what makes my version of her tick and trying to figure that out.

Jessie Mueller & Joshua Henry in Carousel
(Photo by Julieta Cervantes)

Believe it or not, this production was the first time I’ve ever seen Carousel, so I have nothing to compare it to. However, I adored the choreography and I believe that was a new addition specifically for this revival?

Yes! That’s all down to [choreographer] Justin Peck! Historically, there’s always a ballet about three quarters of the way through. The original one was done by Agnes de Mille, who had done the ballet part for Rodgers & Hammerstein in Oklahoma! just prior to Carousel. Justin’s work is ground-breaking. He comes from the ballet world, but the way he integrated the vocabulary of the movement with the story with intent is so exciting and fresh. It’s unlike anything Broadway audiences have seen before.

There have been many debates about Carousel in terms of its depiction of domestic violence and Julie’s attitude towards it. Have a lot of people been asking you about the themes of redemption and second chances in the show?

Yes and that was the thing I’ve always loved about it and that has always drawn me to it – the idea of what if we are not alone. What if someone is watching us? What if someone or something is guiding us? A power bigger than ourselves. And the idea that there always is a second chance and that it’s never too late. You can always be redeemed or try to redeem yourself. Always try to do better. Always try to treat people better. That kind of behaviour matters and that’s one of the reasons why I love the piece so much.

(Photo by Austin Yang)

Carousel Tickets are available now for performances through to January 6, 2019.