A Melania Trump impression was ripe for the picking after the potential FLOTUS plagiarized her speech from the current First Lady on the first night of the RNC. Actress Laura Benanti killed it on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. New York magazine interviewed her on how it came to be, how she nailed the accent, and whether she’d do it again on SNL…
What were you thinking when you first saw her speech?
My immediate reaction was I hope I get to do something with it!
And then how did you find yourself on the Late Show doing it?
In March, I had been a guest on the show to promote She Loves Me, a musical I was starring in on Broadway, and Stephen pointed out my similarities to Melania. He put a picture up of her and then I did her squinty pout. Then we had joked, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if I came back as Melania!’ But that was that.
Monday morning, I had driven with my family down to Delaware, for my grandma’s 92nd birthday, and then Tuesday morning I got a call from Vinnie Favale who is a producer on the show and one of my biggest supporters asking if I would come do a sketch for Melania, so I traveled hours back.
Had you worked on the voice before then?
Oh, no. Monday night was the first night I really heard her talk. It’s not like she’s done a whole lot of talking. So on the train back to New York, I studied her voice and studied her movements, much to the confusion of the man sitting next to me on the train.
You were just rewatching the video over and over again?
Over and over again and like zooming in on her mouth to see how her mouth moved. It was all very creepy.
What did you notice about her?
The first thing I wanted to do was master the accent. And then obviously she has that sort of squint and a very pouty mouth. Also it sounded to me like she was a person who’s not used to giving speeches. Even though there was a microphone, she was shouting. I thought that was funny in and of itself. I just tried to embody that all in a plausible way and obviously make it comedic.
I got to rehearsal around 6, we ran through the sketch once, they made some trims, and then we did it. There wasn’t a lot of back and forth. It was a live show, so it all moved really, really quickly. At 9 in the morning I was on vacation and at 11:30 at night I was Melania Trump.
I had no notes. It was brilliant to begin with and, as with all comedy sketches, you just pick out the meatiest, funniest bits to make it as tight as possible, and that’s what they did. I didn’t improv anything, but the impression of her was mine — the way that I moved and all of that stuff.
You mentioned the movements, when you did the turn and look back, was that you or was that in the script?
Yeah. I hadn’t even done that in rehearsal. The multiple kisses on the cheeks, too, that kind of just happened. That’s why I love being in front of a live audience, because they light a fire under me at least. They teach you what they want to see, and if you’re attuned to them, they’re like the partner in the scene.
From the minute I walked out, they were like, ‘Yes, please!’ They were such a receptive audience and Stephen was standing just to my right, so I could feel his positive energy and how excited he was. It was genuinely fun.
…would you like to keep on doing her?
I would. I would love to do it on Colbert because I really love those guys. And they certainly started this whole thing. I would love to do it on SNL because that’s an incredible show with incredible actors.
…if he ends up winning, the silver lining will be you’ll have a long back-up comedy career.
Yeah … hopefully not.
Here it is again (I’ve watched it 4 times and I always laugh.)