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Donna Does Disney!

Tony Award winner Donna Murphy discusses taking on her first animated role in Disney's new 3-D film Tangled. logo
Donna Murphy
(© Tristan Fuge)
Two-time Tony Award winner Donna Murphy has had a widely varied career, but even she has some things on her still-to-do-list. One thing she can check off, however, is doing her first animated role. She stars as the attractive, amusing, but ultimately evil Mother Gothel in Tangled, Disney's updated 3D version of Rapunzel now in theaters, which also features the voices of Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi, and a score by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater.

. "It was a blast," she enthuses. "You come in and it's a totally new learning curve you know. I have been watching a lot animation with my five-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Darmia, for the last couple of years, so it's been on my radar and in my world in a very immediate way."

Actually, Disney has long been part of Murphy's personal life. "As a kid, I watched a lot of Disney, like the Sunday night show on TV, and I went to the movies a lot because there were no DVDs and video tapes to rent and watch hundreds of times," she says. "I'm the oldest of seven children, so going to see a family film was a big deal, and many of them would be Disney films."

Her connection with Disney films continued on, as well, into adulthood. "The youngest of my two stepdaughters was just the right age when that Disney renaissance happened with Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin and she was really into those films," says Murphy. "And now Darmia has also seen so many of them -- plus, she really loves some of the older classic ones too like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White.

Tangled, while definitely a 2010 product, is also in its own way a throwback to those earlier works. "It seemed that Walt had always wanted to do the original fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, but it felt like a one act, if you will, with no extended story," she explains. "So the team that ultimately came together to create and produce what became Tangled has made some really smart choices about ways to open up the story. And they've also given the heroine a presence and a story line that allows her to be more pro-active; she's not just up in that tower waiting to be rescued."

A scene from Tangled
(© Walt Disney Pictures)
Why rescued? "Mother G is threatened by Rapunzel being on the cusp of wanting to get out, as any teenager would," she says. "But it's a huge threat to Mother G because that would take away her life, since it's only Rapunzel's hair that keeps her young and alive. So she has to convince Rapunzel that it's a dark and horrible place out there and to try and keep her locked away. She's a lot like Snow White's stepmother. She's vain and self centered as well as evil."

But Mother G is more than that, which is part of what drew Murphy to the role. " When I first got the script, the character description said that Mother G was as funny and entertaining as she was frightening. And I thought, 'Oh gosh, how delicious.' This woman thinks she has a sense of humor -- in fact she thinks she's a riot; she's always cracking herself up and insulting Rapunzel and then telling her to lighten up and not to take things so seriously!"

Although she never actually sat for a portrait, Murphy's own features and mannerisms will be quite evident to her legions of fans when they see Tangled. "Before we started filming, they gave me a book with famous stars' faces and how they might age -- everyone from blondes like Grace Kelly to some brunettes like Hedy Lamaar, so we could check the subtleties of when Mother G would need another fix of Rapunzel's hair," says Murphy. "What I didn't know is that they recorded me every time, and every time I'd come back to record again, she'd resemble me more."

Fans who want to see Murphy in the flesh, as it were, have their chance. She recently filmed Dark Horse, directed by Todd Solondz and co-starring fellow Broadway veterans Christopher Walken, Justin Bartha, and Jordan Gelber, and can be seen on the recently-released DVD of Sondheim: The Birthday Concert.

More importantly, she returns to Broadway this spring in the Roundabout's new musical The People in the Picture, in which she plays Raisel, a Polish actress and holocaust survivor -- both in flashbacks to her late 30s and also at age 70. "It's a joyful story about three generations of women and not a Holocaust musical, as some have said," says Murphy.


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