Lilli Cooper talks ‘Tootsie’

Linda Armstrong | 9/26/2019, 7:31 p.m.
Lilli Cooper is an amazing talent, and is magnificent in Tootsie as Julie Nichols. Her extraordinary performance garnered her a ...
Lilli Cooper Contributed

Lilli Cooper is an amazing talent, and is magnificent in Tootsie as Julie Nichols. Her extraordinary performance garnered her a 2019 Tony nomination. She recently sat down and talked about her role and career. The daughter of Tony Award winner Chuck Cooper, she has made a place for herself on the Broadway stage.

“I’m lucky I get to do what I love. It’s awesome.” Talking about what it’s like to be in a hilarious musical like “Tootsie,” Cooper shared, “You know it’s actually really interesting. The rehearsal process was such a learning experience. It felt like I was in a meeting with comedic geniuses, in like a comedy master class walking into rehearsal every day. My role in the show—I’m not as outwardly hilarious as the other characters, I’m more the grounded, straight man of the show, which is a challenging role to be in, because you need it in order for there to be such hilarity. It’s been a learning experience and it’s been so fun. It’s really one of the first truly hilarious shows I’ve been a part of. We laugh just as much as the audience laughs.”

Now the story of “Tootsie” is, of course, about an actor, Michael Dorsey, who can’t get a job and comes up with a desperate plan to get work. It is based on the film that starred Dustin Hoffman. While the musical is hilarious there are also messages for the audience. “We were really passionate when we were all working on it together, about making this story relevant for today and something that was relatable to audiences. I think that the story we’re telling is about this desperate person who makes a terrible choice for something that he loves and I think that that’s really a very human thing and a lot of people can relate to that and one of most important shifts that we made from the film is that my character Julie is way more prominent in the story’s development and how Michael sort of learns from her. The love story is really updated too. Michael expresses his love for Julie, but Julie is actually open to the idea of falling in love with a woman and that is such a great, real honest thing that I think could happen in real life and so that’s some of the changes we made from the movie that I think are so important and really relevant.”

Cooper comes to this show with a vast background in TV and theater; some past Broadway shows have included “Spongebob Squarepants,” where she played Sandy Cheeks and “Wicked,” where she did Elphaba. She is a graduate of LaGuardia Performing Arts High School and Vassar. Reflecting on when she knew this is what she wanted to do with the rest of her life, Cooper shared, “I think probably pretty early. I started out dancing as a kid and I was pretty shy. I didn’t really start acting until I went to high school and then I got the bug pretty quickly. I was in my first musical and then I auditioned for my first show outside of high school and I booked ‘Spring Awakening’ when I was 15 years old and a junior in high school and so it all snowballed from there. Then, since I was doing this professionally, I knew it was what I wanted to do forever.” Cooper did share though that she took a break from performing to attend Vassar, where she studied film production. “I got a glimpse into the other side of things which is great. I think having a well rounded knowledge of every side of the arts is so important to an artist, so I got my education and then I came back to New York and was just so excited and ready to throw myself back into it… I’ve been lucky enough to support myself as an actor since I was 16, which is so rare to say. So, I am really grateful for it.”