Meet the Cast of Hairspray
Tracy's mother, Edna, is against it—but her father, Wilbur, encourages her. The station manager, Velma Von Tussle, hates both Edna and the show's monthly "Negro day," hosted by Motormouth Maybelle, in which African-American teens are allowed on. When "Negro day" is cancelled, Tracy leads a civil rights march.
While it contains a serious message, Hairspray is also a terrifically fun singing and dancing extravaganza. "Go with all your friends. Take your family. It's so entertaining," Oprah says. "It's fantastic!"
The cast performs three songs from the movie—"Good Morning Baltimore," "Ladies Choice" and "Run and Tell That."
John says he is just the guy to play Edna. "I grew up with some fantastic women—my mother, my sisters—and they were all performers. So I saw them on Broadway, I saw them in summer theater, and I have mental image pictures of women in these kinds of performances. I probably have the best library of memories for this kind of thing."
One aspect of Edna that John was particularly excited about was her voice. Hairspray gave him a chance to use the distinctive Baltimore accent he learned while shooting 2004's Ladder 49 in Charm City.
"At first … I think that everyone was frightened of the accent, because maybe it wouldn't be understandable or perhaps it would be too eccentric or something," John says. "And I said, 'But it helps me because it's slightly feminine.'"
John, who's so famous for his dance moves, says he worked hard to figure out how Edna should dance. "The trick with her was to behave as though she was 100 pounds instead of 300 pounds," he says. "And the more I could make you believe that she was light on her feet, I thought was the key."
Michelle says that she was initially hesitant to play a meaner character, but was encouraged to go for it. "And then by the end of it, you had to rein me in!"
She knew she'd made the right choice very early on…the first time the cast was together! "We had the read-through, and it was one of the most magical working experiences I've ever had," she says.
The choreographed scenes, Michelle says, were exhausting. "It's triple the work—not only the acting but the singing, the dancing," she says. "It's challenging, but it's a lot of fun."
John agrees. "It fills your cup. If you have those abilities—you can act, sing and dance—and you're not used to doing all three at once, it's very satisfying."
Queen Latifah worked with producer Neil Meron on Chicago and director Adam Shankman on Bringing Down the House, so she says she thought it would be fun to join them on this new movie. For Neil, there was no other Maybelle. "She was the only choice," Neil says. "The only choice."
Despite all the upbeat energy of Hairspray, Latifah says she kept in mind its underlying theme of racial segregation—especially during a scene in which Maybelle participates in a protest march. "As fun as it was … you look around and you're like, 'Wow, the black people are separated from the white people,'" Latifah says. "And if this was really this time, we would be in a combative situation and we really would be fighting to change things. But the truth is, we really went through that. So underneath, in my mind, it was always there. I wouldn't allow it to be a total comedy in my own head."
Latifah says when she first saw John in his full Edna costume—complete with the curvaceous body suit—she knew he would nail the role. "We walked into a rehearsal at the same time, and they were choreographing him, and his little tush was shaking. It's like, 'That's John Travolta right there,'" she says. "I'm like, 'He is about to work this.' And then when I saw the costume, it had a body. It had curves. It wasn't just—it was a real woman."
As John danced with his prosthetic legs, Latifah says she was even a little jealous! "The legs on the daggone thing—him, her—were gorgeous, and I'm a little tomboy growing up and I tore my knees up," she says. "I'm like, 'Look at those pretty legs on John!'"
The nationwide search for Hairspray's central character, Tracy Turnblad, took months. After the producers had seen hundreds of actresses, Nikki stole the show. "I called the producers and the studio, actually, and I said, 'I think it's going to be this girl, and she works in an ice cream parlor,'" says Adam Shankman, Hairspray's director.
But instead of just telling Nikki she had the part, the producers decided to surprise her! They told Nikki they were following the final four potential Tracys with a camera, and they began filming her at the ice cream shop. Then, they asked her to watch a videotaped message from Adam. "Hey, Nikki. I think that you should probably, you know, make yourself a big ice cream cone because it's you, honey. You got the part!" he said.
Nikki was so excited, she was screaming! "I'm standing here today because I followed my dreams and my dreams came true," Nikki says.
With her newfound success, Nikki says she did one thing to pamper herself. "When I got home, I was so excited. I said, 'I have to do something for myself. I have to buy myself a new bed, because I've had the same bed for 18 years,'" she says.
The first time she walked onto the set, Nikki says she was extremely nervous to meet her famous co-stars—until she saw John Travolta. "I walked into a room and there he stood, and he said, 'Come to Mama!'" she says. "Then I knew it would be amazing."
Elijah says his parents both quit their jobs in LaGrange, Georgia, so he could move to California to follow his dream of acting. "My dad was like, 'You've got to get a job.' And my mom was like, 'No, we're going to support him,'" he says. "They came together collectively, and a few weeks later we were on a plane with nothing but clothes and faith, out to L.A. to pursue my dream."