In a pre-“Frozen” world, future Elsa voice Idina Menzel’s most high-profile role was arguably that of mother to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) on “Glee.” But Menzel reportedly told Stellar Magazine that the role “wasn’t great for the ego.”
Menzel became a breakout Broadway musical star first for her role as Maureen in “Rent” in 1996. She went on to even greater success playing Elphaba in 2003’s “Wicked,” taking home a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.
Three months after having her first child in September 2009 with her then-husband, fellow actor Taye Diggs, Menzel was cast as the mother of “Glee’s” Rachel Berry. While Michele was playing a teen, she was actually in her early 20s at the time — the real-life age difference with Menzel was just 15 years.
“You’re worried you’re not going to work again, and then people hire you to be someone’s mother when you probably should be their older sister,” Menzel told Stellar. “But I sucked it up and sucked myself into my clothes, and was excited to work with [creator] Ryan Murphy and be a part of that hit show.”
Menzel said yes to the part, playing mother to the younger actress with a strikingly similar look, because she was worried that acting gigs would be hard to come by after becoming a mom. She also noted that breastfeeding while filming led to her not being able to fit into her “Glee” costumes.
Despite those troubles, both physical and emotional, Menzel has fond memories of getting to sing Broadway hits on the phenomenally popular show. She previously told InStyle that her most memorable performance was duetting on “I Dreamed a Dream” with Michele.
Menzel’s raised the issue of being too close in age to Michele before. As the New York Post noted, “She won’t ‘Let It Go’.”
In a 2021 interview with InStyle, Menzel said that “I don’t have a chip on my shoulder about that.” But, she noted, “I felt fat as all hell, and I was Lea Michele’s mom — like, could I just be her older sister? She wasn’t as young as she was playing [on the show] so it was like, ‘Really, I’m her mom?’” Menzel added, “I have to get over myself a little bit.”
Menzel’s character started out as the coach of rival “Glee” vocal group Vocal Adrenaline, competing with Rachel’s New Directions. Despite the awkward casting, Menzel’s remained positive about her one-time co-star — in 2014, Menzel praised Michele’s cover of Menzel’s “Let It Go” in a later season of “Glee,” after Menzel was no longer recurring on the program.