Tony Award winner Jessie Mueller will star in the American Repertory Theater’s production of Waitress, a musical based on the 2007 film and scored by Sara Bareilles that premieres at the Loeb Drama Center Aug. 2-Sept. 27. Born and raised in Evanston, Illinois, Mueller graduated from Syracuse University and quickly became a force in the Chicago theater scene. She made her Broadway debut opposite Harry Connick Jr. in a revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for her role in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. In 2014, she won the Tony Award for best actress in a musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful. She lives in New York.
Jessie Mueller: Yes, I am. I won a Tony, and now I have a waitressing gig. But it’s probably more realistic than people would like to admit.
Yes, somehow. I think it’s in the temperament. It might be nature versus nurture, but it’s in there somewhere.
When you won your Tony, did you sleep with it? No. It’s very heavy and not very cozy. It has lots of sharp edges. But I did take a picture of it propped up on my pillow.
Were you a big Carole King fan before doing Beautiful? No, I wasn’t really. I liked her music without even really knowing that it was hers, but I was more into James Taylor when I was growing up.
The first thing that comes to mind is “It’s Gonna Take Some Time This Time.” I love that whole album, Music.
Song you wish you wrote? So many. I should start keeping a list. I so envy people who can write songs. There’s a Sara Bareilles song I wish I wrote. She writes so personally and specifically, but it ends up being so universal that I’ve had moments when I’ve thought, “Oh my God! She wrote that about me!” Taking personal experiences or hardships and making them into something beautiful is such a gift. It’s not something everyone can do. Some people are just blessed.
Oooooh, child! That’s another long list, but I’ll go with Norbert Leo Butz. I met him recently, and I would love to perform with him.
I knew that was coming. I’d like to think that one informs the other. Any time I sing, there’s always a part of my actor brain at work.
Total dreamboat. But he’s really funny, too. It’s a great mix.
Fantasy love-scene partner? Pick a Disney prince. Any Disney prince. Because I want to be a Disney princess.
So when is Hollywood going to come knocking? I have no idea, but if they did, I’d certainly open the door.
Role you wanted but didn’t get? Fanny Brice in Funny Girl.
Biggest lie on your acting resume? I’ve lied more on non-acting resumes. Like when I’ve applied for a waitressing job, I lied and said I had experience, or when I applied for a temp agency, I got real creative with the way I described things. If I’d shuffled some papers, I’d say, “I was an administrative assistant.”
Favorite Shakespeare play? I’m not superbly well-versed in the Bard, but I’ll go with As You Like It. It has some beautiful language and a wonderful sense of whimsy to it. It’s a love story, but it’s also funny and dramatic. It has a little bit of everything.
There are musicians I’ve always admired. I always wanted to be a backup singer for James Taylor.
Anyone you’d never work with again? Yes, and I will never say who it is.
Well, when I did The Mystery of Edwin Drood with the Roundabout, there’s a scene where everyone was supposed to sing out their internal monologue, and I opened my mouth and some jibberish just came out. I just couldn’t stop laughing.
Do you get stage fright? Not clinical stage fright. I can get very, very nervous before I go on stage, and it’s usually for things that aren’t in a show. Like if I have to sing at a concert or come on and do one song at a benefit, that stuff freaks me out. I’m a hot mess.
Biggest splurge or self-indulgence now that you’re successful? Probably my biggest self-indulgence is to believe that I’m a successful actor. I could be out of a job tomorrow. But a material thing? I’m guessing a massage.
You’ve never had that feeling of “I’ve arrived”? I’ve had a glimpse of that, but it never lasts. But it is nice to have a feeling that I belong here, that I have a seat at the table, or that I might be invited back. That’s a really great feeling.
Are you uncomfortable watching yourself? Yes, which is why it would be difficult if I did TV or film. Even if I see a cute picture, I get freaked out.
Red carpet secret? I wish I had one. That always feels so awkward to me. I’m like, “What do I do with my hands?” “Do I hold my clutch or give it to someone?” They don’t train you for this stuff. Do I put my shoulders forward or back, and look like an emaciated model? Which looks better? I have no idea. But I think the best thing to do is to get to a point of happiness about being there and hope that comes through.
I loved meeting Eugene Levy, because I’m such a huge fan. I didn’t even know what to say to him. Brian May was another one, the guitarist from Queen. That was big. I think if I ever met Julie Andrews, I’d freak out, because she’s just like a queen.
Three words to describe Diane Paulus? Focused. Calm. And silly.