EXCLUSIVE: Laura Benanti on Balancing Motherhood and a Return to Work
Laura Benanti’s hilarious impressions of Melania Trump on late-night television have taken a back seat these days as she cares for her newborn daughter, Ella Rose Benanti-Brown, with husband Patrick Brown. The Supergirl star gave birth to her first child on Valentine’s Day. It was a joyous moment for the couple who married in November 2015 and suffered a miscarriage the same year.
“[Motherhood]’s definitely challenging,” Benanti says over the phone to ET on her way to her daughter’s doctor appointment in New York City. “It’s funny, my friend Cheyenne Jackson and his husband have twins. We laugh because we used to text each other about jobs and [show] business and now we just text about baby poop. Like, ‘Are they pooping? How much are they pooping? When do they pooping?’ There’s a lot of poop talk.”
The actress, who won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Louise in Gypsy and was last seen on Broadway in She Loves Me, will soon return from maternity leave to perform with her mother, Linda, in a two-show concert called Linda and Laura Benanti: The Story Goes On at 54 Below on May 5-6. This will be Linda’s first time back on the professional stage in 35 years after a successful career giving voice lessons, including to Laura. The mother-daughter duo has been practicing with little Ella watching. “Many times I’ve wished that somebody was videotaping this,” Benanti says of rehearsals.
Ahead of Benanti’s return to the stage, she spoke with ET about adjusting to life as a working mother.
ET: How did you decide to name your baby Ella Rose?
Laura Benanti: Ella Fitzgerald is one of my grandma’s favorite singers, and I just always loved the name. My mom actually had a dream that I told her that the baby’s middle name was Rose. Ella is in honor of my grandma and Rose is in honor of my brother-in-law and my mom’s dream.
How has the transition to motherhood been?
Ella is amazing and I love her so much, but it’s hard. When you follow people on Instagram or social media, all you see are pictures of their adorable babies and animal ear hats. What you don’t see is a lot of the exhaustion and figuring stuff out. It’s a huge adjustment to suddenly be caring for this precious little person. My husband and I are absolutely in love with her and also exhausted. We don’t know what we’re doing. Why did they let us go home with a baby?
Have you been sleeping at all?
Only recently. She’s had a lot of belly problems, so for a while weren’t sleeping at all. We would sleep for maybe two hours in a 24-hour period, but lately she has been doing better.
Does your beautiful soprano voice put her to sleep?
I do sing to her and she does sort of look at me like an adorable little cherub. I sing a lot from She Loves Me, because I was pregnant with her during the show and I feel like maybe she recognizes those songs. I sing lullabies, “Baby Mine” from Dumbo, a lot of songs from Mary Poppins — stuff my mom used to sing to me.
What’s a typical day like with Ella?
A lot of feeding, a lot of changing of diapers, a lot of bouncing her up and down on the yoga ball, a lot of consoling her and a lot of waving a rattle in front of her… I take her for walks, but I don’t ever leave the house for me unless I’m going to a doctor’s appointment. I’m not exercising and lunching with friends [because] it’s been pretty consuming. Right now, I’m taking her to a baby osteopath. It’s essentially like a chiropractor for babies.
Tell me about your new show with your mom, Linda, at 54 Below.
It’s a lot of songs that we sang when I was a little girl. I’m excited because my mom was an amazing actress and singer; then she stopped. She hasn’t performed in 35 years, so this is her first time performing in that length of time. I’m really excited for people to see how talented she is. I’m singing songs from my childhood: one Disney medley, a song called “The Grass is Always Greener,” which is sort of about my life versus what her life has been. I’m going to sing songs from She Loves Me, and we’re singing “Children Will Listen” together. She was really inspired by Julie Andrews, Judy Garland and Joan Sutherland, so she’s doing a medley of all three of those performers. I’m singing a Joni Mitchell song and a Tori Amos song.
Have you been rehearsing at home while you’re watching the baby?
I have been, which has been a challenge, but it’s also kind of amazing to be singing with my mom and holding my daughter [at the same time]. We have choreography for one number and I’m literally holding the baby while we try to do choreography, [which is] hilarious and ridiculous.
Do you think we’ll ever see a show of three generations of Benanti singers on the stage?
We’ll see. Hopefully, [Ella will] be an astronaut or a physicist.
Is there anybody involved with the show or is it just the two of you collaborating together?
Todd Almond is my music director and we consult him on the music and the arrangements. We don’t have a director. We’re just sort of directing ourselves.
Laura Benanti as Melania Trump on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
Is this your first time going back to work after having Ella Rose?
It is. I’m really nervous. I haven’t done anything for myself since my daughter was born. My hair is grey, I haven’t worked out. I’m in full mom mode. The idea of getting dressed up and performing in front of people is exciting because I really miss it, but it also feels a little out-of-body right now. I’m like, No. no I can’t do that, I’m covered in spit-up.
Moving forward, how do you plan to balance work and being a new mom?
We’re going to find out. I think it’s being choosy. In the past I’ve said, “Yeah, that’s great” to stuff that maybe now I wouldn’t. I feel like anything I do is going to have to be worth being away from her. I do have to get back into my life a little bit. Certainly my priority is my daughter and I want to make sure that I’m raising her. I don’t plan on giving up my career any time soon, but I also really want to be there for my child.
What about playing Eliza Doolittle in the recently announced revival of My Fair Lady on Broadway next season at Lincoln Center? You’ve been very vocal about that role in the past.
I would love that, but I have a feeling they’re going to be going a different way. But I would literally give my left pinky to do it.
Since you’ve been taking some time off, have you been practicing your Melania Trump impression at all?
I haven’t been practicing, but I’ve been watching and writing. There’s certainly much to spoof. I’m hoping that [Stephen] Colbert will have me back on [his] show soon. The last time I was there was Election Day, so I would love to go back and redeem myself.
How do you think those two appearances impersonating Melania on The Late Show have impacted your career?
I think people realized I’m funny. I think it’s taken me a while, even though I’ve been working at comedy for some time, having that exposure [with] millions of people watching. I think some people who didn’t know who I was now do. I have a more diverse range than maybe they suspected before.
Would you ever want to meet her in person?