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Emily Skinner: Billy For Her!

The Tony-nominated actress talks about starring in the hit musical Billy Elliot and her dream role.

Emily Skinner
Emily Skinner

Emily Skinner joined Broadway’s Billy Elliot as dance teacher Mrs. Wilkinson in October after great acclaim for her take on the role in the show’s Chicago production. However, the Virginia native is no stranger to Broadway, having previously starred in Side Show, The Full Monty, and Dinner at Eight. She recently spoke with TheaterMania about her role, her love of music, and her dream job.

THEATERMANIA: Which of your own teachers most inspired you to nurture your talents?
EMILY SKINNER: It’s interesting, I was very hyper as a little kid. I got into kindergarten and I was so hyper that they didn’t know what to do with me. They almost didn’t move me on to first grade because I couldn’t sit down and be with the class. One day, this very insightful kindergarten teacher, whom I still think is brilliant, said to me, “Okay Emily. You’re going to get ten minutes every day to entertain the class, and you can do whatever you want in those ten minutes. You can tell stories, put on shows, play dress up, whatever, but then after the ten minutes is up, you have to sit down and be with the rest of the class.” That sort of opened Pandora’s box for me. Whenever I hear about parents who have kids who have been diagnosed with ADD, I tell them this story. The teacher actually called my mother up a couple of weeks into this exercise and said, “Listen, I’m sorry to tell you this, I think you have an actor in your child.”

TM: In which ways do you see yourself in Mrs. Wilkinson?
ES: I see myself laugh in Mrs. Wilkinson. I think she uses humor as a survival technique, I do that a lot. She’s feisty, and I see that in myself as well. She’s also someone who’s not necessarily comfortable expressing emotion. The moments in the show that I find most interesting are the moments when she’s sort of smacked in the face with emotion and has to deal with it.

TM: Are you saying that you think you don’t handle emotion well?
ES: I think I get uncomfortable with emotion. I don’t know that I’m to the degree that she is, but I think that wearing your heart on your sleeve is a hard thing to do. I definitely sort of shield myself from that.

TM: Speaking of wearing your heart on your sleeve, Mrs. Wilkinson has very interesting fashion sense, don’t you think?
ES: Yes, she does! God bless her, she’s trying to bring a little glamour and pizzazz to her town. She’s trying really hard. If I could take her shopping, I don’t know where I would start! She’d probably go crazy at Century 21. She’d probably have a field day there.

TM: You have said that you would eat music because you love it so much. What would we find on your iPod?
ES: What not on my iPod? If you scrolled down you would see I have showtunes, emo rock, world music, classical stuff, every possible genre. It always makes me feel more bright and alive, and more connected to the world.

TM: If you could take on any role for the stage, what would it be?
ES: I’d love to tackle Kitty in Mrs. Warren’s Profession. I just saw Cherry Jones in that and it’s just such a fantastic role.

TM: When you’re not performing, what do you do in your spare time?

ES: I like to slack around my apartment. I’m a big baker and a big reader. And I’m a Facebook whore. I love seeing what people post. You get your own sort of voyeuristic fantasies fulfilled with Facebook.

TM: Are you a TV watcher at all?
ES: I watch the Real Housewives of every state. That is my dirty, secret pleasure. Those women are awful, and I can feel my brain cells dying even as I watch them. I do love them though. I think it’s like schadenfreude TV, because I watch them and I think, “I am such a better person than these awful women. These women are awful, and here I am watching them, so what’s my problem?”

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