Idina Menzel has always been a powerhouse thanks to her chill-inducing vocals and theatrical prowess. In her latest role as Vivian, Cinderella’s stepmother in Amazon Prime Video’s colorful, modern take on the classic fairy tale, she is no different.
The Tony Award winner credits Cinderella director and writer Kay Cannon with approaching Vivian through a more complex lens than how the typical evil stepmother role is portrayed. “She’s more grounded, less of the quintessential archetype, nemesis character,” Menzel tells Glamour. “Don’t get me wrong. She does some pretty awful things, but hopefully, the audience understands there’s been turmoil and hurt and pain in her life, which has informed why she acts the way she does.”
While Menzel is nothing like her alter-ego, she appreciates how this version of Cinderella embraces vulnerable and complicated women. It’s something Menzel is leaning more into herself, having turned 50 earlier this year and being less than enthusiastic about the preconceived notions of what that age means.
“I am ashamed to say it, but I was having a hard time with it,” she says of hitting the milestone. “I think it was subconsciously bothering me more than I led on, in regards to my relevance as a performer and actress. I’m feeling like the old lady sometimes, and that’s not who I am. I feel very young at heart.”
As much as women are told to own their power as they get older, it’s not always that easy to do in practice. Seven and a half years ago, Menzel—who was 42 at the time—said during an appearance on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live that she was told she was too old to reprise her role in a possible film version of Wicked. A lot has changed in Hollywood since that time…but then again, a lot hasn’t.
“I’m very vibrant, and the music I sing is for lots of young people,” Menzel says. “So it’s silly for me to play into that. But I will be honest and say I have to combat a lot of my own neuroses.” She credits her 12-year-old son (with ex-husband Taye Diggs) with helping her change her mindset. “He says, ‘Mom, don’t look in the mirror and worry about how you look. You’re beautiful.’”
While Menzel is not afraid to admit to her son that sometimes she is self-conscious, she’s also aware how impressionable kids are. “My mom’s gorgeous,” she says. “When my sister and I were younger, kids used to say Farrah Fawcett was coming to school when she would pick us up because she looked so beautiful, with a great body and great skin. But privately, she’d always look in the mirror and say something negative about her body or face.”
She continues, “Even though she always told my sister and I that we were beautiful, thinking that was building our confidence, what we really were seeing was a beautiful woman diminishing her worth in some way. I’m learning as a parent that you really have to walk the walk and talk the talk because that’s what kids really see. They’re so insightful.”
It goes back to what we learned about fairy tales as kids—stories about love that we accepted as the norm, but are now realizing are a lot more complicated. Aging is no different. Menzel wants to look youthful, but not at the expense of erasing the lines she’s earned. “Being unique is what sets you apart in this world,” she says. “Be proud of who you are and what you look like.”