|October 9, 2015 | Friday Interview
The Lenny Interview: Amy Poehler Talks to Sydney Lucas, star of Fun Home
By Laia Garcia
Illustration by Jess Rotter
Amy Poehler is an actress and a comedian. She’s been making us laugh for a while now, especially in the super-weird and amazing Upright Citizens Brigade; on Saturday Night Live; and, of course, as Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation, who is possibly the most vocal feminist character on any show in television history. Amy is also dedicated to inspiring and supporting young women with Smart Girls at the Party, an online community for “teen girls who are ready to move against the crowd” and change the world. Basically, if Amy’s name is attached to something, we know that it’s going to be funny and smart just like her.
Which is why we were so thrilled when Amy wanted to interview Sydney Lucas for Lenny. Sydney is a Tony-nominated 12-year-old actress who just finished a much-heralded run in the Broadway production of Fun Home, a musical based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir of the same name. Sydney played Young Alison (the musical includes Young Alison, College Alison, and Adult Alison). She’s a girl who is figuring out her sexuality and struggling with her strange relationship with her dad, who is masking his own complicated sexuality. Sydney was just nine when she started playing the role, which makes it even more impressive how deftly and maturely she dealt with these thorny issues onstage. Here, Amy and Sydney have a conversation about the secret to being a great actor (and, real talk: human), the importance of scooters and vitamins, and what Old Hollywood stars they believe they were in past lives.
—Laia Garcia, Lenny associate editor
Amy Poehler: I’m talking to Sydney at last! I was so moved by you and your performance in Fun Home, and I started talking to my friend Lena about how good you were and how great the show was, and I realized it might be cool to get a chance to talk to you for this newsletter. So I’m really happy and thrilled that you said yes!
Sydney Lucas: Of course I said yes! You guys are like my favorite people in the world!
AP: That’s really nice! I have to tell you that I’m so obsessed with the grind of a Broadway show. Having worked at SNL, I know what it’s like to have to put on a weekly variety show, but I can’t even imagine what it’s like to put on a nightly show. What are you doing right now to prepare?
SL: Well, if it’s just one show, then I guess sleeping for a while, and I go on the Internet a lot. But when it’s time for me to get ready, I take a shower, I eat breakfast, and I have D vitamins to help with my energy because that’s very, very, very crucial. I also scooter around with the other kids at the theater.
AP: Oh, cool, so you go to school at the theater.
SL: Oh, no, I scooter with them!
AP: Ohhh, “scooter”! I thought you said “tutor.” But scooter is much more fun. So you take vitamins, and you scooter. That’s actually a really good exercise regimen for anyone, of any age. The reason why I’m asking you is because I got a chance to see your beautiful musical, and as I watched it, Sydney, I was just amazed at all the hard work you have to do. You have to sing, you have to dance, you have to dance on the piano, and you also have to have these really beautiful, emotional scenes. How do you make it fresh every single week?
SL: One tip that my great acting teacher gave me was “If it’s the exact same show every day, then you’re not actually listening to the other person.” Because you don’t say a line the exact same every day, and if you do, that means you’re not actually listening to the person [speaking to you]. This show is about Alison, and she’s a real live person, and we have to do our best to convey her life to the world as best we can.
AP: When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
SL: You know how in the show I sing “Ring of Keys”? [Ed. note: “Ring of Keys” is a song from the musical when college-age Alison sees a girl at a diner who she simultaneously wants to be and is in love with; the girl helps her realize that she is a lesbian.] Alison doesn’t know why she connects with this person, but all she sees are sparks when she sees this person. She doesn’t know why, but she just does. That’s what it’s like with acting for me. When I was four, when I was really young, I used to see little girls or little kids on commercials, or even Broadway, and I saw those sparks. I just knew I wanted to do that. That was my “Ring of Keys” moment.
AP: That is so cool. That song is so beautiful that you sing, and you have such a wisdom about you, Sydney. You have a real sense of play, and you feel like a 12-year-old, which is important, but man, you feel like you have this lovely weariness that comes with someone who’s seen a little bit more of the world than others. So this brings me to this question: Do you believe in reincarnation and if so, do you think you have a past life and what was it?
SL: YES! I do believe in reincarnation, and I believe Audrey Hepburn is reincarnated into me. Let me tell you why.
AP: I totally agree, but tell me more.
SL: During Tony season, the lovely Anna Wintour got a designer to make a dress for me, and I was trying to explain the dress I wanted. I tried to draw it but couldn’t really do it, because I’m not that good of an artist. But I kept explaining, and then my manager said, “Maybe you should go for an Audrey Hepburn style.” I looked at him and said, “THAT’S MY DRESS! THAT’S THE DRESS I’VE BEEN TRYING TO EXPLAIN TO YOU!” I really feel like Audrey Hepburn is reincarnated into me because everybody keeps saying that I look like her! I don’t know, who knows?
AP: I totally believe that, Sydney. And you know what, it’s not a coincidence that you feel that way because there is a real beautiful elegance about you. I never had a chance to talk to her, and certainly didn’t get to interview her, but she also seemed like she was a lot of fun and she didn’t take herself too seriously, and it doesn’t seem like you do that either.
SL: Who do you think is reincarnated into you?
AP: Just to stay with the theme, I’m going to say Humphrey Bogart.
SL: Oh! Yeah, I agree.
AP: Do you feel it? You know why I have to say Humphrey Bogart? He was kind of a self-possessed man. There is a part of me that always felt like in my previous life I was a man, I don’t know why.
OK, I’m going to ask you something else about the show. Do you have people come up to you after your performances and say things to you?
SL: Well, I love how after the performance they say “Thank you,” instead of, like, “Oh, you did a great job!” I mean, they still say “Oh, you did a great job!” But they say “Thank you” because some people come to the show and they say, “You’re giving me the courage to come out to my family.”
SL: And sometimes we are the first people to know that they’re gay. They tell us, “I’m about to do what you just did.” I’m really, really blessed to be in a show that even helps save a life, you know what I mean? Like Bruce Bechdel [Alison’s dad], since he didn’t come out and he didn’t feel like he was allowed to be who he wanted to be, he unfortunately stepped in front of a truck. But if we’re even able to save one life, then that … I mean, saving a life, that’s good!
AP: That’s kind of everybody’s goal, Sydney, and you’re doing it every night! I hope you feel and know that, and you’re doing really elevated work. You are kind of doing God’s work out there. Well done.
OK, I’m gonna finish our interview with a bunch of silly questions. Are you ready?
SL: I am SO ready.
AP: Who is the best celebrity that came to a show that you were kinda freaking out, like talking to yourself: “Oh my God, I can’t believe he or she is here!”
AP: OK, that’s so nice, but besides me.
AP: [Laughs.] What’s your favorite song right now?
SL: You can’t not dance to “Shake It Off.” But I have been listening to a lot of Broadway in the car. Book of Mormon, Wicked, Les Mis.
AP: What’s your favorite movie?
SL: ELF! Elf is my top favorite, and I’ll tell you why it has been since I was six. It’s not only because it’s, like, the funniest movie in the world and Will Ferrell is my third-favorite person in the world. When I was six, I had heart surgery, and I watched Elf like seven times in the hospital, and I recovered so much faster than I was supposed to.
AP: Do you remember the surgery?
SL: I remember when they gave me the anesth — what is that thing called, that little drink that puts you to sleep? I remember watching SpongeBob thinking, I’m never going to fall asleep! And the next thing I remember is waking up, which was odd, and I remember this one really hot doctor, and I asked for his phone number, and he didn’t give it to me!
SL: I have one question for you.
AP: Yes, honey, of course, anything, anything you want to ask me.
SL: Are you friends with Will Ferrell?
AP: Dude, I am friends with him. I have his email, and I am about to go to L.A. and we are going to work together in a movie this fall!
AP: What do you want me to say to him?
SL: I just love him so much, and I really want to meet him because he saved my life!
AP: Don’t you think it had to do with the heart surgeon?
SL: [Laughs.] Well, yeah, the heart surgeon had a lot to do with it, but he was one of the reasons!
AP: That is so awesome, I am going to tell him! I mean, he typically hates children, but — [laughs] this may change his mind. Oh, he is going to be so thrilled! And can I tell you, Sydney, he is the nicest, funniest guy in real life, just like you expect.
SL: I bet! I so badly want to meet him.
AP: If you ever want to come meet us out in Los Angeles, I will make him squeeze into that Elf outfit, and I will make him take you all over L.A.
SL: Well, OK! That’s awesome!
AP: Well, I don’t want to keep you too long, and I know you have a show tonight, and I just wanted to say —
SL: I could talk to you all day!
AP: I could talk to you all day! And it was really nice to talk to you, and I am so pleased to be able to call you a new friend.
SL: Thank you, I love you!