Tangled ain’t just a tale of a young Princess finding her way. It ain’t just about Rapunzel finding her Prince. It’s also about a topic that is heavy, heated and sometimes heartbreaking…the struggles of the mother daughter relationship.
Tony award winning stage and screen actress Donna Murphy lends her gorgeous voice to Mother Gothel, the villainous of the newest Disney epic Tangled. We had to opportunity to talk to Donna about her role as the Big Bad, about motherhood and why she avoids playing Rapunzel with her own 5 year old. Read it right here!
Your character is prototypical of a lot of mothers. Do you see it that way?
I didn’t consciously draw on particular women. But the writing, directing, producing team told me that the folks at Disney polled a lot of the Disney employees…and asked them what qualities in their mothers they found annoying and cloying or restricting. And what some of the behavior was that accompanied that. I love that they were intent on, as you oomed in on having her recognizable as a mother. It’s a certain kind of mother. And as you said, it’s the darker side of — of an overprotective mother or a manipulative mother.
As opposed to just as this villainess who stole this child for the properties that her hair had to — that would keep her young. Because that is why she stole her but she does end up being her mother, for all intents and purposes. The only mother that Rapunzel consciously has known in these eighteen years. And — and I think she, in some way, can’t help herself from beginning to care about Rapunzel during this time.
And it’s that this is the most sustained, intimate relationship she’s ever had. And certainly the first caretaking one that she’s ever had in her life. And it just brings about something in her. My mom was not like this lady. Are there moments that I felt like, oh, my god, please, you’re driving me crazy. I want to get out of here. Yep. When I was about seventeen years old. Maybe fifteen to seventeen. I think that’s something that will recognized by certain theatergoers.
Do you think this mom got a bad rap in this movie?
Oh, she deserved every, she was driven by something that was completely, self-serving. And she like any good villainess was basically just obsessed with her own need and doing whatever she had to do to get that satisfied. And not concerned with who else might be hurt. What the consequences might be for anybody else.
[She] didn’t care if it was moral or ethical. It just was about, I need this. I need this. It’s here. That it involves taking — ripping a child away from its home. Not really a concern.
What is the best and the worst part of aging?
Whoa. Okay. Well. The best is wisdom and experience and perspective. The worst part is knowing that you’re moving towards, you know, your mortality. The end of this life, anyway. For me, I try not to think too much about that because I don’t mean like it’s around the corner. But, it could be around the corner when you’re twenty-two. You don’t know that. But the older you get, you know that there’s an inevitability to it. And I think that that is — there are people who make peace with that but not Mother Gothel.
Did you go back and watch the old Disney to make sure you didn’t copy anything?
I have a five-and-a-half-year-old so I’m basically working my way through the canon. Before I got the job, that was already in action. So it’s in my consciousness but not as part of my research, went, okay, I’m going to steal this from Cruella. I don’t want to be like, the evil queen or Ursula. You know, and yet, I think there is in my own awareness of those characters.
Do you have a favorite Disney movie?
I feel like it’s constantly shifting because I literally am watching so many of them. When I was a kid, favorite Disney film was Mary Poppins, which had some animation in it but was not a classic animation piece. I adored that film and I’m old enough that there were no videotapes of it so I just went to the theater, like, probably ten times to see the movie. And then watched it on TV. And now I relive it through my daughter. We watch it — we watch it a lot at my house. But I also loved Cinderella and I loved Sleeping Beauty. And then I have two stepdaughters and the younger of whom I helped raise and so there was that generation of Disney film.
Like Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. And I loved the the feistiness and the willfulness of those characters that they were being imbued with some different qualities. Not necessarily waiting for somebody else to change their circumstances. Or thinking they were waiting and then realizing how much they had themselves as individuals. Um. And I loved seeing my — my stepdaughter take that in.
And now my daughter take that in. Powerful. Entertaining and powerful. Yeah.
Is your kid getting annoyed(by her working on the voice of the Mother Gothel)?
My kid wants to play Rapunzel at home. And she says, you be Mother Gothel and I’m Rapunzel. I’m, like, this is, like, a game that could mess you up for the rest of your life. And I’m gonna pay for it on every level. She thinks it’s funny, you know. I’m a little shy about playing that out too far with her.