Scott Ellis Interview: ‘Tootsie’ director
“If someone said you could not do what you loved to do, how far would you go?” That’s the central question director Scott Ellis planted in his new Broadway adaptation of “Tootsie.” This musical comedy nabbed Ellis his ninth Tony nomination for Best Director. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
From day one, Scott Ellis was adamant that the the team try something different with the source material. He told his collaborators “we can’t put the film onstage.” In 2019, with gender equality being at the forefront of conversation, there was a need to embrace that evolution in the storytelling. So when it came to the leads Michael (Santino Fontana, taking over Dustin Hoffman’s role from the film) and Julie Nichols (Lilli Cooper), Ellis asked himself “how do we make these two characters equal?”
The process took “three years of constant conversation” according to the director. The final product sees Michael learning from his horrible mistake. Likewise, Julie doesn’t brush Michael’s lies away just because she’s the love interest. “We gave the power back to that character,” says Ellis, as Julie becomes just as much of a protagonist as Michael by the show’s finale. The end result is a much different ride than the classic film. But Ellis was firm in his belief that audiences would go along for this new journey. “If we can get them involved with our characters” he thought, “they’ll go with our story.”
Audiences are certainly responding, especially to the jokes that fly fast and furious from Robert Horn’s book. Ellis admits that comedy is incredibly hard, but pulling off the funny moments successfully revolves around finding high stakes for each character. “You have to find the truth in it,” he explains. Ellis gives his actors high praise for their abilities in this regard. “They’re great craftsman of comedy,” he beams.
Ellis is one of the busiest directors on Broadway, also helming the current revival of ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ for Roundabout Theatre Company, where he serves as associate Artistic Director. His jam-packed Broadway resume has resulted in eight previous Tony nominations (“She Loves Me,” “Steel Pier,” “1776,” “Twelve Angry Men,” “Curtains,” “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” “You Can’t Take It With You,” “She Loves Me” revival). “The first time is always pretty great. I’ll never forget the first time,” he reminisces. He is honored by the continued recognition, but admits he ultimately hopes it just means he gets to work more. “We all in this business, in some sense, think this will be our last job.” So for his ninth nomination, he jokes, “Oh, maybe someone else will hire me now!”