Moulin Rouge! star Natalie Mendoza talks making movie magic

Written by By Magdalena Weiss, CNN

For 15 years, Natalie Mendoza took on the roles of the brilliant and troubled Musetta in “La Boheme” and the enchanting Mimi in “Romeo and Juliet.”

She has held the title of most-performed star in the Lyric Theatre in Chicago for a decade, and recently reprised her role as the coquettish Chita Rivera in “Chicago.”

But in “Moulin Rouge!” Mendoza’s athletic and demanding role as the young Elvira DeMille — a woman whose young love for the royal Muse (Eva Green) must lead her to each revelation of her mysterious past — has always been a challenge.

“I was really willing to pay the price and to face the baroque challenge of step and step,” she said. “She has to have a slightly convoluted past and she has to leave an impact on you, on the audience. If you look at the original role, I had to be like a rough, jagged, insanely complex character, dancing like the devil, and there was some film star power as well. “I had to be about five times as intimidating to the other performers as I was to myself.

“If you could walk in a straight line, do the pirouettes, get through the steps and the high jumps, you could do the film star,” she added. “I have never been so frustrated in my life. I’m so good at my job, I was delighted that I could be that good at my job. I just wanted everyone to see it.

“There are only so many fish in the sea — it didn’t matter if you were 5 feet tall, or 6 feet tall, it didn’t matter, the result was the same. I wanted the audience to see it.”

When you have one million people going crazy, we had to keep it interesting. A guy named Stephen [Lovejoy, who created the role of the Muse] writes for us — that’s who we’ve been working with. Our show is like a movie and if they lose interest, we’ve failed. We have to keep the audience engaged through the entire show — you can’t lose momentum, or you lose people.

“But the most thrilling moment for me was when my character first hears her own voice at the beginning of the show, then when her face suddenly transforms, and then the rest of the show is part film, and then part live performances. To be a ballerina, but still have all that power.

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