NIGHTCAP’S RISING STAR LAUREN BLUMENFELD ON LESSONS LEARNED
Posted On Jun 14, 2017
by Ruchel Louis Coetzee
“I would say, we tend to celebrate people who just put their head down and work really hard and eventually great things will happen and they’ll be rewarded,” says Nightcap star, Lauren Blumenfeld, talking about actors dealing with rejection. She could very well be describing herself. With her infectious enthusiasm and generosity of spirit, Blumenfeld has not been adverse to taking “a lot of strange jobs,’’ while remaining laser-focused on her career. Now that hard work is paying off, she is fast becoming the newest fresh face to watch as the star of Pop TV and Lionsgate’s hit satirical late-night talk show spoof series, Nightcap, returning for season two in June. The show centers around a harried talent booker, Staci, played by star and executive producer, Ali Wentworth, and her dysfunctional staff who try to appease the myriad celebrity guests with their bizarre quirks and diva demands. Blumenfeld sparkles in her role as Staci’s sweet, yet gullible assistant, Penny. Here, she discusses lessons learned on set, her passion for helping underprivileged children in the arts, and the screenplay she is writing.
What have you learned in your first season of Nightcap?
I am a very prepared person. I could prepare all I wanted but when I came on set, I learned I had to just be the best listener. And I had to be so open to what the other amazing actors were doing because we had a lot of freedom to improvise. If I got too attached to an idea that I had before I even started working with people, it tended to be no good, but if it was just spontaneous and occurring on set based on what Ali or the other actors were giving, it tended to be electric. It’s a collaborative industry, so it’s good to have ideas but it’s also good to know when somebody else’s idea is better and work together to make something. I remember when we started out I would get so nervous about whether I could be funny. Really good comedy is like jazz music and you just have to know your part. Not everyone is going to be the loud finish, more that each person is just a different instrument. Playing the truth of the character as opposed to going for the biggest laugh was also a really important lesson.
Where did you draw your inspiration?
Being a struggling actress for many years after I graduated from school, I took a lot of strange jobs to support myself. There was always that feeling of wanting to please people and I think Penny has that issue to a pretty extreme degree. She just wants to please her boss Stacy so much because she has such love and respect for her and she is kind of selfless. Penny is the perfect person to hire because she doesn’t need any of the credit but just wants to make sure that everyone else looks good. So I drew a little bit from my own experiences, working at clothing stores and at a children’s gym once where you know your job is to serve. That was Penny’s big thing. She just wants to serve Stacy and at the same time, she’s incredibly gullible but I never want to make fun of anyone I’m playing because I really love this character. Instead of viewing it as gullible or a weakness, I tried to always think about it as just an open-heartedness. She’s maybe too open-hearted for her own good.
What have you learned from Ali Wentworth?
She’s been an amazing role model and I continue to learn from her. She’s been so helpful and supportive to me in so many ways. She told me a story once when she was starting out, she would get so nervous for auditions and bake the casting director banana bread and the casting director said, ‘Honey you don’t have to do that, your audition is enough.’ But I definitely relate to that kind of eagerness and just excitement of being in the room. She kind of helps me see, ‘Oh, this is a room I belong in.’ How I own my space while still being collaborative. Also being a female in comedy can be an interesting balance in terms of just everyone else in the room. Ali is an expert at asserting herself and being hilarious and gracious and also strong with her ideas. She sets such an amazing tone on set.
What are some of the surprising moments on set?
According to Ali, a lot of the things that happen on the show, she says she’s seen. There’s a very funny episode with Gwyneth Paltrow where she just starts stealing things out of the dressing room and apparently that’s something people do, or some celebrities feel entitled to whatever is there. I think it’s such a testament to the celebrities that we were able to get them on the show because it says a lot about a person if they’re willing to make fun of themselves and take themselves less seriously.
Were you ever starstruck on set?
Oh my goodness, all the time and still am. It’s very funny to be a regular on a show where really the end goal is, you want to be a guest star, you want to be a celebrity guest star. So, yeah, and seeing Gwyneth Paltrow and Whoopi Goldberg was just incredible. This season we have Alec Baldwin, Julianne Moore, who’s one of my favorite all time actresses, and Tim Gunn who was just so delightful. I’m also an animal lover and there was an episode with a sloth – I was very star struck by that sloth.
Did any particular celebrity create an impression?
Yes, definitely! I would say that there was an energy that Tim Gunn brought on set which was so loving and generous and appreciative. He learned everybody’s name on the crew instantly and to call someone who you just met, by their name, when you’re meeting so many people, really means a lot. I saw over and over again how Tim Gunn, Debra Messing, and others who were so kind and generous to the crew and director and to all of us who are just starting out. That kind of energy is infectious and it elevates everyone. I always want to be incredibly appreciative and attentive to the people around me because everyone is working together and the spirit of lifting people up is really important. So that was the biggest lesson.
How does it feel to now be a regular on the show?
It feels like a pretty big marker in my life because in some ways it validates all the small work that I’ve been doing up to this point. They said, ‘You’re an actor and we want you on this show, and we’re going to make you part of the regular cast.’ So while my work doesn’t change at all from season one into season two and I will always bring my ‘A game,’ it was more just like a personal moment because you know we deal with so much rejection in this career. So it was a nice moment to just celebrate a little bit of a win or a step forward.
What advice would you give other actors dealing with rejection letters?
It’s so hard because to be a good actor you have to be very vulnerable and sensitive. But, that also means that when the rejection comes, you suddenly have to have a tough skin and it’s hard. I urge whoever is dealing with the rejection to really look within and see, “does this make me the absolute happiest?” I have had friends who started out thinking that they wanted to act and were brilliant actors, and have since gone on to be lawyers or in politics or visual artists and I have to say… they are happier. So it’s the flexibility with your dreams that you can still pursue it and pursue it with your full heart but always checking to make sure that you’re not just following the momentum of this dream. That you love it, that it’s worth it, is important.
What charitable organizations are you associated with right now?
Well, I just moved to LA, so I am branching out and looking for opportunities because it’s a very important part of my life. While in college in Massachusetts, I went to the Williamstown Theatre Festival. They had a program called the Greylock project where with kids from a financially struggling part of the Berkshires would write plays that professional actors would perform. It was one of the loveliest things to watch the children watch their plays being taken seriously, by professionals. It just seemed to give them such confidence. Back in New York, I found out that the program was based off of this very successful organization called the 52nd Street Project in Hell’s Kitchen which I think is over 30 years old at this point. I believe in it, with my entire heart. They take kids around Hell’s Kitchen and teach them playwriting and all sorts of programs. Sometimes they are acting, sometimes they’re writing for professionals, and often it will involve taking kids out of the city and out of their normal lives away from their cellphones into beautiful Cape Cod to write a play. I interned there 10 years ago and I’ve been volunteering ever since. We call it “Smart Partnering” but it’s pretty much once a week. When I was in New York, I got to hang out with the most amazing thirteen-year-old named Karen, and we would bake together, see plays, write together – we are still very much in each other’s lives. It’s just an amazing program and it gets you out of your head a little bit if you’re a struggling actor and you’re just thinking about yourself and your job. It’s so nice to do something with and for other people. For me, it’s very meaningful with children.
If you can think of one heartwarming moment during that time, what situation would you call up?
I was recently in a short film by this awesome sixteen-year-old named Genesis who is in a wheelchair, with limited mobility. But she is a beautiful, brilliant, hilarious girl. She wrote the funniest short film over their spring break, and I was in it with another wonderful actress and it was directed by a great filmmaker. And to watch her give notes… I had never wanted to please a person more than I wanted to please Genesis. I wanted her to be so happy with it, and so when she was happy with it, it just meant the world. She also had an amazing cameo in it which was hilarious.
You also studied storytelling in South Africa during one of your college summers, what was your takeaway?
It’s interesting, I remember from my final paper, I was really interested in the truth and reconciliation conference, and how people sharing their stories of pain and struggle and oppression turned out to be a pretty healing and therapeutic process, especially for the victims. The idea that through our words and through the sharing of our stories and acknowledging that we know horrific things have happened and that once we go through it, we can begin to heal. I’ve always just been fascinated with storytelling and then seeing it have such a profound effect when dealing with such a dark path was just so moving. I’ll never forget that trip.
Tell me about the screenplay you are writing at the moment?
I’m writing about my grandmother who is 86 years old and she lives in a retirement community outside of Palm Springs. It’s a story about a failed actress who was never sure if that’s what she should actually be doing. She kind of gives it all up – her life just explodes in New York and she goes into early retirement with her grandmother in this community. But, true to my grandmother’s story, the seniors in that community are having the time of their lives. Everyone’s dating and their social calendars are full, so it’s just kind of Girls meets Golden Girls…
Do you feel that we’re missing out by not turning to the elderly for their sage advice?
Absolutely! I know in Japan there’s a different relationship to how we treat our elders but in many ways we are so “use obsessed” over here in the United States. There’s so much to be learned from people who’ve had so much more life experience and seen so much more, and the perspective that can be gained by talking. Also, I love all of the deeply personal stories that I’ve been hearing from everyone in the community. They’re just hilarious people! I think maybe when you get to a certain age, you stop caring as much about what other people think about you, and you just become who you are and it’s so fun to be around that, and so inspiring.
Talk about relaxing, you like to do crafting, correct?
I love mail, so I started doing it maybe eight years ago. I make these very intricate silly homemade, New Year’s cards for my friends and family. I just love making things for people and kind of telling stories visually, so I like collage. I always joke that I don’t know how to sew and I am not a great knitter. I just like putting things together, I guess. It definitely keeps me calm. Also, I get so much joy from giving gifts to people.
How do you stay healthy?
I’m a vegetarian. For animal purposes, I have been since I was 12 and I practice yoga every day. I find that I can be a very type A anxious person so it’s really nice for me to have a practice where I can turn my brain off and just be physical inside of my body – I love that! Also, now that I’m back in California, I love meeting my friends for hikes and walks and being outside.