Nikki Blonsky is an actress, singer and activist most known for her role as Tracy Turnblad in the 2007 film Hairspray.
Aside from Hairspray, Blonsky starred in the Lifetime film Queen Sized and ABC Family’s Huge.
Most recently, Blonsky started a show on her Instagram page called Nikki Nights. The show features Blonsky going live with other people in the entertainment industry, be it interviews, sing-alongs or just hanging out. It’s her way of bringing about some positivity during such an uncertain time.
The Post sat down with Blonsky to talk about Hairspray, body positivity, her new Instagram show and more:
The Post: How did you get into acting, specifically musical theater?
Blonsky: I saw Hairspray when I was 15 on Broadway, and I was instantly in love. I remember looking to my mother … and I said to my mother (during “Good Morning Baltimore”), “That’s me. I have to do that.” So I auditioned when I was 16 for the Broadway show, but unfortunately I was too young, so they called me back three times and I auditioned, and then it said on the website on my 17th birthday they were casting the movie, and I was like, “Oh, well this is it. This has to be it.” So I sent in a tape. We were told not to send in tapes, but I sent in a tape, and then I also did six months of callbacks, so it was a long journey but also worth it.
I grew up doing shows. My first show was The Wizard of Oz, and I played the Wicked Witch, and I loved it. But I had an acting teacher at this time … and he said to me when I was much younger, “I’m not going to give you the role of Dorothy because you can’t memorize lines.” And that devastated me. He had the girl who played the Wicked Witch of the West on the other night on stage ready to go if anything were to happen to me, and I never proved to him that I couldn’t memorize lines, but he just didn’t believe in me. And I’m one of those people that when people tell me “no,” I’m going to tell you, “OK, that’s fine. You’re entitled to your opinion, but now I’m going to do it on a much bigger scale.” I think it’s incredibly important for teachers to realize, and people, that what we say matters, and it can affect people’s lives.
P: What was it like to play your dream role in Hairspray, especially after the film became such a success? How did that make you feel?
Blonsky: Oh my, it was the greatest experience of my life so far to date, absolutely. It was my dream come true, and to be a part of just a brilliant cast of wonderful human beings, I think that’s what made it just so much more special. Anybody can do movies. We can all do them, but when you’re a part of a beautiful group of wonderful human beings and you genuinely all adore each other, that’s when the magic happens. And that’s what you guys saw in Hairspray; we all really love each other.
P: What is your favorite memory from filming Hairspray?
Blonsky: Oh, there’s so many. From the moment I found out I got the role to meeting John (Travolta) and Chris (Walken) for the first time … I think one of my favorite memories was our big read-through because we had to read through with every single person in the cast and crew, everybody attached to the movie. It was such an amazing experience to sit there and look at all these people, and everybody was just so genuinely excited to be there. It was such a beautiful experience. The Golden Globe nominations as well, of course — that was insane and wonderful. I want to say the most pivotal point for me when I realized this was going to be a really big movie was definitely during “You Can’t Stop The Beat.”
P: Do you have a favorite song from Hairspray?
Blonsky: Yes and no because they’re all magical, and they all have different meanings to me, you know? I can’t help but think about the time when I filmed it — that’s what popped into my head — so for me the most magical scene for me to film was on top of the garbage truck (during “Good Morning Baltimore”). That or coming down in the rocket (during “You Can’t Stop The Beat”). But “I Can Hear The Bells” is so iconic, too. One of my favorite dances, though, definitely “Ladies’ Choice” but also “Welcome to the 60’s” with John, because that was just so fun to be out there at 3 o’clock in the morning and just performing with an idol of mine.
P: You went into the cast with all of these people who had previously been in film or television before. What was that like for you to kind of be the new kid on the block there?
Blonsky: I've been very blessed because I have a music mentor, Dr. Pamela Levy, who was my teacher in high school: my chorus teacher, and I actually interned for her. And she used to tell me in high school, “Nikki, just go do it.” And there was no other option. And when I went on the set of Hairspray and we had that big read-through, I remember I said to myself, “You could be really intimidated by all these incredible people, or you could just do what Dr. Levy has always told you to do, and that’s ‘Just do it.’” And that’s what I did. And I realized that they’re all just regular people, just incredibly talented. I think that's one of my favorite parts about making Hairspray was getting to work with these actors that I looked up to my entire life, but then to know them as brilliant human beings and their kind hearts, that’s when the game changed for me, and that's when I realized that these were people that I was going to be friends with for my entire life. They're not just some of the biggest stars in the world. They're some of the best people I've ever met.
P: Do you keep in touch with any of the cast?
Blonsky: Yes, I just spoke to Elijah Kelley last night, actually. We love to talk, and also Elijah and I really want to work together again. But the one that I speak to and that I’ve kept in touch with the most without a doubt has been John (Travolta). He’s so wonderful, and every Christmas we get a beautiful Christmas card and birthdays. He doesn’t let a holiday or day go by. We text all the time. He’s one of the busiest men in the world, so if John Travolta has time to text me back, I don’t want to hear any other excuses from my other friends.
P: A lot of women, especially young women, look to you to be a body positive role model for them. How do you feel about having that impact on women? Do you, in turn, feel empowered?
Blonsky: Well, absolutely the fact that they feel empowered by me just being myself because that's all I'm doing, it really means a lot. It inspires me because I find them inspiring. Actors and performers, they're wonderful, but I find the people who every day give it their all in every aspect, whether they're a performer or not, those are the people that I respect and look up to. So you could be a doctor, you could wash windows, I don't care. If you have passion, then I respect you.
P: Tell me about some of your other experiences in television and film like Huge and Queen Sized. What led you to those projects, and what was your experience like?
Blonsky: Queen Sized came about right after Hairspray, and my agent emailed me and was like “Want to do a movie for Lifetime?” and I was like “Oh, yes!” I am such a huge Lifetime fanatic; my entire ’20s was just watching Lifetime movies with my mother. So I got to make Queen Sized for them in 2008, and that was based on a true story as well about a girl who was nominated for Homecoming queen as a joke, and she decided to run, and she runs, and she wins. It’s very much so a Tracy Turnblad type of story, but it’s also a Nikki Blonsky type of story, any type of underdog story. I fell in love with the script, and it was incredibly fulfilling to play a real life character. That was totally different for me knowing somebody was actually there, and she’s real, so that takes on a whole other life when you’re portraying somebody who’s actually real who can watch it and say, “Yeah, that’s me” or “No, that’s not me.”
I auditioned for Huge about six times for ABC Family. I kept going back and going back. I think that’s something that I want to tell other actors: you have to keep auditioning, and you have to go in for every audition and every callback. It doesn’t matter if you’re a celebrity or not. You have to go into the room every time, and you have to fight for it. So I went in for Huge about six times. I had an incredible experience and the character Willamena Rader was so incredibly fulfilling to play because she was just so different from myself or Tracy or anybody I’ve ever played. She was the ultimate rebel, went against the grain and didn't really care what anybody thought, and that's why I really liked her. A lot of my characters have been like that, but she was on another level. What an experience. Yeah, it was one of the highlights of my life for sure.
P: Tell me about your Instagram show, Nikki Nights. How did it start, and what is your main goal with it?
Blonsky: Well, honestly, you’re my first interview about the show. I started it maybe a month ago now when all of this (COVID-19) started. I was doing (an Instagram) live with my friend Georgie Leahy, who is a brilliant actress from the U.K. … and I saw Jonathan Lipnicki pop up on my live and he said hello. You know, from Stuart Little and Jerry Maguire, and of course I’m such a huge fan, so I had to shoot my shot, and I said, “Jonathan, would you like to go live with me?” and he said “Yeah, let me put a shirt on.” He came on and we did about an hour interview. We talked everything, Jerry Maguire, all of his movies, his social activism, you know, his fight against bullying that he does. I find him incredibly inspiring and empowering, you know? So he came on, and then after that I said, “Well, what happens if I asked Ricki Lake?” and Ricki Lake led to Carnie Wilson, and I just started DMing people. I think I have almost mastered sliding in the DMs by now.
I don’t know how it happened. I just said it’s time to try and make the world smile. And who better to do that than the person who played Tracy Turnblad because I genuinely want to make people smile and make them happy. I really do. I’ve just been blessed to play a character that does that. So I decided to go full steam ahead with the show. We’ve had some incredible guests so far: we’ve had Shoshana Bean … Constantine Maroulis … and we have incredible guests coming up as well. We have Robert Irvine coming up, we’ve had my director Adam Shankman and the producer Neil Meron from Hairspray, so people are hopping on board. It’s just been wonderful, and I love to ask questions that people are comfortable answering. I am not one of those media outlets. I am just a fellow actor and a girl with a dream who is just trying to do her part and leave the world in a little bit of a better place than she found it.
P: What’s something about you that people may not know?
Blonsky: My favorite thing to do is fish. People are always shocked to find that out. I love nothing more than going out on the water getting lost for six hours, just no phone; it's magical. My father and I used to go as a kid. He started me very young, and it's always been a bonding thing for us, and I love it.
People are also surprised to find out that I was a junior firefighter in my old hometown of Great Neck, New York. Such a great experience as well. I was the only girl there for a very, very long time — for about a year. And that was pretty intense. You know, I want to say, I learned a lot from Hairspray and I've learned a lot from my movies, but that experience, being the only woman in a male-dominated fire department and being in your teens and a plus size woman at that, what an experience. If that didn't give me the strength and character to do this career, I don't know what.
P: If you could give some advice to your fans or people in your life, what would it be?
Blonsky: Keep going. Never stop for anyone or anything. There's always going to be somebody who's going to try and rain on your parade, always somebody who's going to try and make you throw in the towel, toss in the wrench. Always. But you have to find it within yourself every single day to keep going and to persevere and to rise above and take the high road. Don't entertain the nonsense or the B.S. or anybody who's trying to take you down. Always go for everything you want in life. For every door that closes, one will open. That’s what I’ve learned acting as well. I believe you have to shoot your shot every time, every time. You'll never know unless you try. If I didn't believe in the people that believed in me, I wouldn't be where I am today. So my sole mission is just to make people believe in themselves, and believe that anything is possible because one day you could be working in a Cold Stone Creamery, getting ready to go to college in Long Island, just like every other kid. And then the next day, you could be making a movie with John Travolta and Christopher Walken. The world is your oyster; take it, my friend.