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EXCLUSIVE: Laura Benanti on Melania Trump’s RNC Speech: An Apology 'Should Have Happened Yesterday'

by Stacy Lambe 11:01 AM PDT, July 20, 2016
Photo: CBS

Laura Benanti just may have a future gig at Saturday Night Live, when the show returns for its 42nd season in the fall.

On Tuesday’s The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, the Tony-winning actress wowed audiences with her hilarious impression of Melania Trump, as she lampooned Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s wife’s appearance at the 2016 RNC Convention.

Melania Trump made headlines when she gave her most high-profile speech yet on Monday evening. However, what was meant to be a marquee moment for the first lady hopeful became fodder for headlines when it was revealed that parts of Melania Trump’s speech were strikingly similar to the words Michelle Obama spoke at the 2008 Democratic Convention.

Benanti, who was in Delaware at the time of the speech, tells ET that she got a call on Tuesday morning and, in a matter of hours, was back in New York City to appear on the late-night talk show.

MORE: Melania Trump Plagiarism Accusations Dismissed by Trump Campaign

ET: Your Melania Trump impression on Colbert was hilarious, how did that come together?

Well, I had been on the show in March to promote She Loves Me and Stephen pointed out my physical resemblance to her. So, I put together that steely pout, just a physical impression. Then Monday night, after her RNC speech, I got a call from a producer asking me if I would come and do a sketch. I didn't know what the sketch was going to be. I just said, “Yes, of course,” and I got my a** on a train. I basically listened to her speak and watched her mouth really intently for about two and a half hours next to a man on a train who thought I was an insane person. 

Did Colbert reach out in advance of the convention to be on standby for a sketch?

No, not at all. We jokingly had said, “Oh, wouldn't it be funny to come back on the show as Melania.” But that was it. That was in March. Certainly, when I watched the speech, I thought, “Wouldn't that be fun.”

Obviously, you share a likeness with Melania, but then there’s sounding like her.  When I talked to Maya Rudolph about her Melania impression, she mentioned that she never heard her talk. What was it like to hear her speech?

It was exactly how I wanted her to sound. Her voice is higher than I thought it would be and a little more nasally, but I think that she was quote-unquote making a speech. She definitely had that tone of [imitates Melania Trump's robotic tone] “someone who is talking a speech for the first time.” Slovene is actually a really difficult dialect. Slovenia is a very, very small area, but they have so many different dialects and some people can't even understand each other even though they live in the same area. So, working up her dialect in a way that didn't feel like I was mocking a dialect was the most challenging part of it. 

Fans on Twitter have suggested that you should impersonate her on SNL. Would you be open to that?

Yes, please! Of course. 

Do you think Melania owes Michelle Obama an apology?

I think her speechwriters owe Michelle Obama an apology. I think her speechwriters owe all of us an apology for thinking that we would be idiots and not notice. But I don't think Melania wrote that. I don't blame her. I think she was reading a teleprompter, and she read it really well. She did a really good job. She did her job well, they just didn't do their job well.

With Leslie Jones being bullied off Twitter, do you think there is more to be done to combat abusive behavior on the platform?

I do. I think that, unfortunately, Twitter has become a place where cowardly trolls can hide behind an egg avatar and say racist, homophobic, sexist, and xenophobic things to people. I think Twitter has to figure out a way to police that, as it were. Or I think sane people are just going to get off. 

How do you deal with internet trolls and haters on Twitter?

Sometimes I handle it better than others. Mostly, I just try to block them or report them if it's scary. I tweeted something about Black Lives Matter and some of the responses I got were so heinous that it made me so angry that I commented on them. And I don't think that's the way to go. Don't feed the trolls. 

I also understand that if I'm going to post something political there are going to be supporters and there are going to be detractors. And the detractors tend to have a louder voice. I try not to take it all too personally. 

Given that you’re so vocal about certain issues on Twitter and it’s an election year, do you think it’s important for celebrities to speak out?

I can't decide that for anyone else. I feel like it is for me. But everybody else can decide that for themselves. I would hate for someone not to want to watch me on something because they feel very strongly in an opposite direction from me. That would be a bummer. But at the same time, I feel a sense of responsibility to call things out that I think are wrong. 

Over the course of our conversation, Melania’s speechwriter offered to resign and issued an apology.

[Laughs] Good. That's what should have happened yesterday. I'm glad it didn't, just for our comedy bit. 

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