In celebration of Mother's Day, Playbill.com chatted with five Broadway favorites — Nikki M. James, Elisabeth Moss, Ruthie Ann Miles, Laura Benanti and Keala Settle — about the most important lady in their life, their mother.
Although Playbill.com recently asked five of Broadway's favorite daughters about times that their mothers may have been a little embarrassing, the words above were the ones most often uttered. The other was "Spitfire."
Meet Marie, Linda, Esther, Linda and Susanne, the women who helped make Nikki, Elisabeth, Ruthie Ann, Laura and Keala the women they are. Even when mothers may go a little over-the-top with their pride, it really is all about their love.
Marie Falls Asleep at the Wheel
Nikki M. James, most recently seen on Broadway in Les Misérables (and now in rehearsals for LCT3's Preludes), announced to her parents at age 12 that she would like to be a professional actress. After a little research, Nikki found a $75 headshot photographer in Backstage magazine, did a mailing and got an agent.
Nikki describes her mom, Marie, as a "tiny little spitfire of a woman." "She's about five feet tall. Maybe she's 5'1". I'll give it to her," she concedes. "She really is my hero in so many ways."
Nikki M. James and Marie
Because of Nikki's professional acting career in Manhattan, she and Marie spent a lot of time driving into the city after school for auditions. "Some of my favorite memories are of my mom and I listening to books on tape (the entire Sue Grafton alphabet series over the course of a couple of years) and sitting in traffic in the Lincoln Tunnel and getting to talk about all kinds of things. I think we became really good friends along the way. She's a funny little lady."
"One day I'll never forget — it's really difficult to find parking, especially if you're just running in for a little commercial audition — so my mom would often wait in the car and kind of park semi-legally. I came down, and my mom had gotten a parking ticket because she had fallen asleep while waiting for me to come down. The traffic cop had written her a ticket while she was sitting in the car asleep. She was none too pleased."
When Nikki was Tony-nominated for her role as Nabulungi in The Book of Mormon, she took Marie as her Tony date. Marie turned to her just before her name was called and said, "Smile big. No matter what happens, make sure you smile, and we can cry later if we have to." They didn't have to.
"Finally, when I stand on the podium, and I can see my mom out there, I just thought, 'This is the perfect evening,' and it felt so awesome to have been sitting next to that woman who was falling asleep getting parking tickets. I was able to say thank you. It was such an amazing gift." But then Marie asked if she could keep the trophy. "I earned it!" Marie said.
Nikki keeps the Tony, but lets it visit Marie occasionally.
You'll Like Linda Better Than You Like Elisabeth
"Its true! It's true! People meet my mom, and I'm like, 'I know. She's great. You like her more now.' It's really true," Elisabeth Moss says. "Everyone falls in love with her. She's the nicest woman."
Mother, Linda, and daughter, Tony-nominated Elisabeth, live only a block away from each other on the Upper West Side of New York City, but Elisabeth says that Linda is always very quick to point out that she moved to the neighborhood first and Elisabeth followed.
Elisabeth Moss and Linda
"I think the most important thing your parents can give you is love, and she has definitely done that in spades." Elisabeth's career started at a young age, and Linda says the best thing she ever did was get an amazing manager, whom Elisabeth has worked with since age 10. "It enabled her to not be involved in a business way, not be involved in any other capacity than as my mother. From practically the beginning, she was able to just be my mom.
"When I was doing Top of the Lake in New Zealand, the time difference is insane… I still haven't been able to figure it out; it's like 17 hours or 21 hours. It's something so crazy. Back in time or forward in time, I can't even remember. It was a really difficult and strenuous project from the beginning, especially since I was still trying to figure out what I was doing with the role. I would call her and talk to her about the character and everything that was going on, and she would always answer my call. Four, five, six in the morning. I thanked her for that and her answer was always, 'Of course. What are you talking about? Of course, I'm going to take your call. Of course, I’m going to be there.'"
Moss as a baby
Recently, Elisabeth and Linda attended the Chaplin Gala at Lincoln Center honoring Robert Redford.
"I did a film with him last year, and she got to meet him, and she spoke to him, and he said lovely things about me to her, and it was a really special moment. He walked away and I sort of turned around and said, 'You're welcome. You're welcome, Mom. I think that pretty much makes up for the last 32 years of labor. I think we are now even. I am paid up in full… For the last 32 years of you being a mother and maybe also the next few years as well!'"
Ruthie Ann Miles Has a Sweaty Baby!
Ruthie Ann Miles, before her Tony-nominated role as Lady Thiang in this season's Lincoln Center Theater production of The King and I, was best known for originating the role of Imelda Marcos in Here Lies Love.
Ruthie Ann Miles and Esther
"I had just given birth to our daughter and, at three weeks postpartum, was to start rehearsals for a show." Husband Jonathan and Ruthie Ann scrambled to find the best nanny in NYC, but that wasn't necessary. "Esther Wong saved the day by selling everything and moving across the country to take care of our newborn! (One of Abigail's first words was 'Hal [Halmoni],' which means Grandmother in Korean.)"
However, a New York winter turned out to be a bit of an adjustment for Esther.
"It was January 2013, and at that point my mom had spent half of her life in very warm Hawaii or Florida; Esther was devastated by the snow. (Asians have this 'thing' about being cold.) Sometimes, they would visit me at the theatre, and this poor little baby would be bundled up in three shirts, a sweater, two pants, a few pairs of socks…delivered to me in a sleeping bag. I'd peel away the layers, but everyone at work thought I had a very sweaty baby! The pictures are priceless, but Abby looks pissed in every one!"
Miles with Esther and Abigail
Baby Abigail is now a toddler, and Esther is still in New York. "They are inseparable, and I am the luckiest."
"We were in a store last year, Club Monaco, and the woman behind the counter goes, 'I feel like I recognize you from somewhere. Do I know you?' And my mom goes, 'Do you watch TV?'"
The daughter is Broadway favorite Laura Benanti. The proud mother is #Linda. If you follow Laura on social media, which, of course, you do, then you know #Linda. "She has no filter," Laura says. "A lot of my tweets are just the ridiculous things that she says."
Benanti and Linda at the Kennedy Center Honors
But when asked for stories about her mom going above-and-beyond, Laura has many. Linda sewed a belly button onto a fake Cabbage Patch Doll so little Laura could claim it was real. She bedazzled socks and t-shirts so that Laura would look like she got her clothes from the cool store in town. She even put on a fireworks show.
"One time I had chicken pox for the Fourth of July, and I was really depressed that I wasn't able to go see the fireworks, so my mom cut up pieces of tin foil and threw them in the air and flashed a flashlight on them and made the 'pew pew' sounds while I sobbed, and I was like, 'This is the most depressing thing that will ever happen to me.' She really tried.
"I was the headlining entertainment on a gay cruise to Alaska, and I brought my whole family — my mom and my dad and my sister. We were the only heterosexuals on this gay cruise to Alaska. We did this bit with the comedian, who ran the entertainment on the ship. We pretended we were lost. That we thought we got on a Princess Cruise to Alaska, but instead we got on the gay cruise. And he says, 'Do you guys notice that you're different from everybody else?' We were like, 'No.' 'You know you’re on a gay cruise,' and then my mom's line was, 'Well, we said we wanted to see some bears.' That was a big hit, and by the end, there were probably 3,000 gay men on this boat, and I swear to you, by the end she was like, 'Bye, Jack. Bye, Fred. Take care of those heels, Jonathan. I hope your leg feels better, Christopher.' She knew everybody's name and was friends with every single person."
On the gay cruise
Mama Rose Susanne
"We used to call her Mama Rose because she literally was that person in every aspect of life who would push us to the limit, push us to the limit, push us to the limit. She would always throw me out there, 'Sing for your aunties! Sing for your uncles!'"
Keala Settle, last seen as Madame Thénardier in Les Misérables and Tony-nominated for her role as Norma Valverde in Hands on a Hardbody, talks about her mother Susanne, an immigrant from New Zealand and child from a big family of 16.
"She's a spitfire. She always has been, and the more and more that I grow up and get older and I see her get older, I realize both fortunately and unfortunately how much I am an exact replica of my mother."
Young Keala Settle
Keala was always a singer because her mom was, she says. "She was trying to put a dress on me to do a live performance at a big event at my home town, and I was running away from her. It was about 9:30, 10 o'clock at night, and she was trying to chase me down because I had my t-shirt and shorts. She had a dress and a pair of heels, and I was totally not going to put any of that on. And there was a tunnel to get to the stage, which was sort of like an open amphitheater. I ran down the tunnel, and she tackled me and put a dress on me. Finally got the dress over my t-shirt and shorts, but then when she tried to get the shoes on, I just kicked away from her and ended up going out there barefoot."
The song was "I Don't Wanna Cry" by Mariah Carey. "She had to be full out. And now that I'm talking about it, I'm embarrassed because that is exactly how I am, and I can't fight it. I can only just be who I am."
Susanne may have been throwing Keala on stage, but not without letting her know how she felt. "When I feel something, I express it to other people. I got it from her.
"I remember this one time she came, while we were on [the national tour of] Hairspray... And she said I want to spend Thanksgiving with you. She flew in, and I picked her up in a limo, and she hung out with our cast for Thanksgiving dinner. They asked if she wanted to say anything for Thanksgiving. That woman stood up and started saying, 'I just want to thank all of you for being here out on the road and on behalf of your mothers and fathers, we are so proud of you and love you with everything in our being.' And these strong stagehands are weeping, bawling into their wine glasses. They couldn't even keep themselves together. Everybody was weeping, and I'm sitting there going, 'Mom, please sit down, please sit down, please sit down. They don't know who you are. Just sit down.' But every time I would do that she would go, 'You, shush, no…They need to be told.'"
Yes, they do, Mama Susanne. Yes, they do.
(Talaura Harms' mother is Recilla, who thinks this is the best article ever written. Follow Talaura on Twitter @MyNameIsTalaura.)