Lilli Cooper (‘Tootsie’) on making Julie Nichols ‘an independent, self-made, strong woman’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

“She’s an independent, self-made, strong woman,” declares Lilli Cooper of her character in the new musical adaptation of “Tootsie.” Cooper plays Julie Nichols in David Yazbek’s new musical comedy on Broadway. She jumped at the chance to portray a great female role and discussed the process of creating the show with Gold Derby. Watch the exclusive video interview above.

“I’m not a Jessica Lange type,” says Cooper. Lange played Julie in the original film opposite Dustin Hoffman and won an Oscar for her efforts. While it was initially intimidating to step into the role, Cooper ultimately connected with the ways in which Julie, and the story itself, were updated and made relevant for modern audiences. “I didn’t feel like I ever needed to imitate Jessica Lange… I felt a lot of freedom in my ability to create my own version of Julie.”

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That’s probably because this adaptation pulls about the story from the movie, setting it in the present, and placing the action in the world of Broadway instead of soap operas. “We knew we needed to update it in terms of the social climate today,” reveals Cooper. So in the stage version, Julie is transformed into a “passionate and incredibly hard working” actress who strives for her own independent success. This drive is what forges a genuine connection with Dorothy Michaels. “That’s what makes the betrayal in the end really harder for Julie,” says Cooper.

Dorothy (aka Michael Dorsey) is played by past Tony nominee Santino Fontana. Perhaps the most striking way in which the musical differentiates itself from the movie is the relationship between Michael and Julie. After a raucous comedy, the creative team knew that Michael had to learn and feel genuine remorse. Describing the show’s ambiguous ending, Cooper explains, “Michael doesn’t get away with it. He learns from this terrible mistake he’s made. And he learns from Julie, as opposed to the other way around.” There is no pretty bow to tie up the ending, no romantic swoon. Just the possibility of more conversation about respect and empathy.

After playing tough gal Sandy Cheeks in “SpongeBob SquarePants” and this new take on Julie in “Tootsie,” Cooper feels lucky to bring such powerful female characters. These roles are “bubbling up more and more,” she adds, hoping that there is a definite shift towards telling female stories.

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