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Hairspray’s Nikki Blonsky On The Movie’s 15th Anniversary, Memories With Jerry Stiller, And Those Infamous Twitter Memes

Nikki Blonsky and John Travolta smiling in Hairspray
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Movie musicals are a tried and true genre in the industry, and one that often gets attention during Awards Season. It’s almost hard to believe it, but it’s been 15 years since the Hairspray movie arrived in theaters back in 2007. The film adaptation starred newcomer Nikki Blonsky, who recently spoke to CinemaBlend about the movie’s anniversary, memories with the late Jerry Stiller, and those infamous Twitter memes about her.

Nikki Blonsky had her big professional break when landing the role of Tracy Turnblad in Adam Shankman’s Hairspray (opens in new tab) movie. This transformed the young actress from ice cream scooper to movie star, leading to more professional opportunities in her future. I had the chance to speak with Blonsky about her experience with Hairspray, where she revealed her immediate connection with the plucky protagonist of that beloved musical. As she put it,

My love affair with Hairspray started way before my involvement with the movie, even auditioning. I saw it when I was 15 for my 15th birthday. And I remember sitting in the theater with my mom, and from the moment I heard the first ‘Uh oh ohs’ in ‘Good Morning Baltimore’ I literally poked my mom and said ‘I can do that.’ From then on out I had this feeling from watching the show, to the minute we left the theater, I was like ‘That is her. I have to play that girl someday.’ I didn’t know how, I didn’t know when. But I knew Tracy had to be a part of my life somehow.

In the end, Nikki Blonsky was right, as she got to play Tracy in the movie musical co-starring legends like John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer. Director Adam Shankman put together a killer cast to bring Baltimore to life, after the Hairspray stage musical had a long, Tony-winning run on Broadway. I asked Blonsky about what memories stick out the most from her time on that set, where she reminisced about the late Jerry Stiller, as well as her collaboration with Travolta. She shared:

I think for me, my favorite part about it was Tracy is really and truly the only character who has a scene with everybody. Every other character. And in the past year or so that we lost Jerry Stiller, I’ve been such a huge fan of him and I will forever be grateful to have that scene in Mr. Pinky’s Hefty Hideaway with him. Because he was so beyond lovely and nice. Those are the things that I cherish. I cherish John and I in the recording studio, and the dance studio. Trying new moves, trying new things with our voices. Those are the things that I love the most.

The great Jerry Stiller passed away in May of 2020, leaving behind a truly legendary career and legacy. Stiller starred in John Waters’ original Hairspray movie back in 1988, and fans were delighted to see him back in the 2007 movie musical. What’s more, he got to be part of one one of the iconic songs “Welcome to the 60’s.” And from Nikki Blonsky’s memories, he sounded like a true delight on the set.

Jerry Stiller in Hairspray

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

In addition to asking Nikki Blonsky which memories from Hairspray were her favorite, I also inquired about any challenges that might have happened. After all, she was leading a major motion picture that was chock full of singing and dancing. But it turns out that difficulty occurred after production wrapped, saying:

For me the hardest part was saying goodbye and ending it. You go through however many months, in my case eight. And you’re living in another country with all your closest friends, you become a family. And then all of a sudden it’s time to go home.

Being an actor is a unique job for a number of reasons. This type of bonding is an experience not unique to Nikki Blonsky, along with the letdown once the project is wrapped and the cast/crew go their separate ways. And for Blonsky getting her first big break in this way, smart money says that emotional rollercoaster was strong.

After Hairspray, Nikki Blonsky would go onto a number of other acting projects including roles in TV shows like Huge and Smash. Although aside from her time as Tracy Turnblad, she’s also known for being the subject of a number of memes, specifically related to her Tweeting at various celebrities around a decade ago. I asked Blonsky what it was like being turned into a meme via the powers of the internet, and she spoke honestly, saying:

The Twitter thing, this comment really made me laugh: somebody was like ‘Nikki Blonsky only uses Twitter to promote herself.’ And I said, ‘Isn’t that the whole point of social media? We all have our own pages, we can promote our jobs, we can promote a bar of soap if we want to. It’s our page.’ I never tell people what they can post on their pages, or who they DM, or who they contact. They have no right to tell me who I can contact or send messages to. Sorry!

The internet can be a wild place, and going viral can sometimes be an unpleasant experience. But Nikki Blonsky seems to have a good perspective about all the memes, and remains active on social media. She also came out as queer a few years ago, and has shared her personal experience on places like Instagram.

Memes aside, Nikki Blonsky’s performance as Tracy Turnblad has forever been immortalized, and the movie is still regularly played on syndication. Hairspray is currently streaming on HBO Max, allowing even more moviegoers to see the movie’s message of diversity and acceptance. Blonsky spoke to me about the legacy of the Hairspray movie, sharing:

It almost gets me emotional when people come up to me and tell me what Tracy means to them, and my portrayal of Tracy means to them. And that I was the Tracy they grew up with. Ricki Lake was the Tracy I grew up with and I idolized her. And I never thought anybody could look up to me that way. And when I started reading what fans felt about the movie, felt about my character and how they identified with her so much. To me that’s what makes this whole journey, this whole career that I’m doing, it makes it all just right and exactly what I need to be doing.

Nikki Blonsky has a few notable upcoming projects coming up, in addition to the recent press related to Hairspray’s anniversary. She’s got a role in an upcoming podcast series titled A Voice in Violet, as well as a movie titled Bosco starring Vivica A. Fox. In the meantime, check out the 2022 movie release dates to plan your next movie experience.

Corey Chichizola
Corey Chichizola

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Double majored in theater and literature during undergrad. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his famous actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid.