Molly Hager has been in the hit musical Waitress (ensemble and Becky understudy) since the show opened on Broadway, as well as having been a swing in the cult off-Broadway dark comedy hit, Heathers the Musical. The 31-year-old actress spoke openly about how, in spite of that success, she has struggled at times with self-doubt. I recently interviewed the delightful and funny Hager, during which we spoke about how she manages that self-doubt and audition anxiety, the resonance of Heathers, the power of Waitress, and how cast albums led her to a unique fourth grade show-and-tell.
How did you first start acting?
I have been around show business my entire life because my parents are both involved. My mom is an actress, Terri Garber, and my father, Chris Hager, was a grip for many years. My step-mom is also a costume designer. Living in L.A. you sort of grow up with that. I realized that I liked acting but also singing and dancing, so theater was the easiest way to combine all of them. I fell in love with it.
Do you get audition anxiety? How do you manage that?
I get insane audition anxiety. I think that one of the great and difficult things of being in a Broadway show is that the auditions have become fewer because I’m already working. So when the auditions come up, it feels like I am a little out of practice. For me the best thing has been to be extremely over-prepared. If I get the material with enough time, I always try to be off book. I think things would go a lot smoother for me if I just took a breath and a moment when I walked into the room.
Does your audition anxiety manifest in any physical symptoms?
Yes. My heart beats really loudly and it seems like I can feel it in my face. I break out into a rash all over my chest and up my neck. And I shake, so it’s a really, really flattering, beautiful combination that I’m sure makes everyone want to work with you. Red, flushed, shaking, pulsating person in front of you begging you to give me the job [laughs].
The singing is actually easier to do when I am shaking and nervous than doing a scene. With a song, you have to keep tempo and slow down to stay with the music. With scenes, even though I feel like I am listening, I end up rushing because I am going to my own inner metronome.
You were in Heathers: The Musical!, which has a strong cult following. Why do you think that show has resonated so strongly with its audience?
I think that most people don’t realize that most people’s high school experience was difficult. It’s nice for the outcasts and misfits to see themselves represented in the characters.
What it was like to get the call that you would be making your Broadway debut in Waitress?
That was one of the best moments of my life! I had initially been told that I wasn’t right for the show so they wouldn’t see me for awhile so when I got the audition, it was actually relatively close to final callbacks. I think I had gone on the audition on a Friday and it was the following Monday that I was waiting for the call. I was on edge all morning. I was waiting for the subway to grab coffee with my friend, Jessica Keenan Wynn [Beautiful and Heathers] when my agent called me and I answered frantically. When she told me I had booked it, I just ran up and down the subway platform.
There have been so many amazing firsts with this show. The first preview I was hysterically sobbing from happiness afterwards. It was such an incredible experience and I had been working so hard for so long in New York. I had experienced moments when I questioned if I was in the right business. You have those self-doubts, I had been in a dark place, and when this audition came around, I just knew that I was right for it.