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Broadway's 'Tootsie' is a love letter to the '80s comedy, 'not a copycat,' Sarah Stiles says 

The Tony-nominated actress discusses how Broadway brings "Tootsie" into 2019.

Sarah Stiles stars as Sandy in "Tootsie," now

Sarah Stiles stars as Sandy in "Tootsie," now on Broadway. Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

Broadway takes a 10-time Oscar-nominated film from 1982 and transforms it for the current-day New York audience with "Tootsie."

It's yet another film-to-stage musical, like "Pretty Woman," to debut in recent months, but this production takes on a different approach  from appealing to fans of the original. Instead of solely mirroring the flick, the stage adaptation makes plot upgrades to reflect current #MeToo and Time's Up movements.

In the film, Michael Dorsey (Santino Fontana) takes on the female alias Dorothy Michaels to land a soap opera acting gig. In the  stage production, the character finds a role in a Broadway "Romeo and Juliet" musical -- still in drag. It evolves some characters, like Lilli Cooper's Julie and Sarah Stiles' aspiring actress Sandy, to become stronger, more independent fixtures in the musical production.

"It's like a love letter to the movie. It doesn't feel like a copycat. It's definitely its own beast, but it still has all those lovable characters and all the hilarity of it," says Stiles, who earned her first Tony nomination for her role in "Hand to God," and her second on Tuesday for "Tootsie." "It's all in there the way the movie is, but it's written for this time."

Below, she discusses her character and how the production is lifted into 2019.

Bringing a film to Broadway is a balancing act. Are you trying to appeal to fans of the movie, new fans, or a bit of both?

I think what's great about this production is we're able to do both. The characters are so iconic. I mean, the book was so amazing, and then the film. Those roles were so brilliantly played by those actors, but it's hard to mimic them. You want to come up with your own take, but you also want to know why people fell in love with them. I knew I needed to go off on my own and approach it from a different way because I think I would have gotten too intimidated by Teri Garr's performance.

And with the plot being a little different from the start, you already have a reason not to try to mimic going into the role.

It's written for this time, which is a totally different time. They change the major plot lines like it's not a soap opera, it's a Broadway musical now. The role of Julie is very different in that it's just her and how she grows. It's a different animal than Jessica Lange's version of it. If you have never seen the movie, you don't need to in order to love it. If you arrived thinking, "I loved this movie. This is my favorite movie," within 30 seconds you've forgotten the movie and are following on our journey. It's satisfying for both camps.

What do you enjoy most about what your character Sandy brings to the story?

I love that she wears all of her emotions on the sleeve, on the face. It just shoots out of her. She's unable to censor or hold back. And there's something super-liberating about being that messy. She's still so loved by her best friends, Michael and Jack, for all of the mess she is. There is a comfort and a freedom in playing her that I really dig.

Fans can see you onstage in "Tootsie," but they can also see you currently starring on "Billions." What's it like going between the two (film and stage), and do you prefer one medium?

They're so so different. How I approach the work  is no different, but especially with doing comedy, having the immediate feedback of an audience does make me a better comedian. Basically, you have an idea of when things are funny, but you never really know how people will react. When there's a live audience, they teach you timing, breath, how to speak loudly or quietly. They're a teacher the entire night and if you're really able to listen to them, it makes your performance better. If it's a quiet house, it can be frustrating because we feel like they don't get as good of a show because we can't ride their wave.

With television, a lot of the humor comes from the editing and you don't have any control over it. Sometimes I'll go back to some of these "Billions" episodes and I'll find myself laughing and thinking even as I delivered it I had no idea it would look like that or sound like that. "Billions" is airing right now, so it's been super-fun to be doing "Tootsie" and then spending Sundays with "Billions."


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