Idina Menzel: I should have played Lea Michele’s sister, not her mom, on Glee

Idina Menzel took InStyle’s Bad Ass Questionnaire, which I’m just hearing about now. I like this kind of Q&A for fluffy interviews. The celebrity is relaxed enough to give entertaining answers but you still learn something about them. Plus, there are no leading questions or interviewer interjecting themselves into the question. I love listening to Idina’s interviews because she’s so New York blunt in her responses. She’s also sarcastic with a dry wit, which was evidenced when she reflected on her days on Glee. Idina played Lea Michele’s mom on the show, which was brilliant casting given their vocal range and physical resemblance. When Idina was asked about Glee, she claimed she was miscast. Idina was 40 when she was cast as 25-year-old Lea’s mom. Idina thinks she should have been her older sister instead.

Two things that Idina Menzel asks of you: pronounce her name correctly (ahem, John Travolta) and realize that she was much too young to play Lea Michelle’s mom on Glee. The Broadway veteran spilled some tea during her InStyle Badass Questionnaire, where she opened up about her successful career, red carpet fashion, and her time on the hit show.

“The scene that was the most memorable [on Glee] was probably singing ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ with Lea Michelle,” Menzel recalled. But the 50-year-old actress and singer revealed that she was a little salty about the fact that she was cast as Michelle’s mother. “She was 26, and I probably should’ve been her older sister. But I don’t have a chip on my shoulder about that,” she added sarcastically.

[From InStyle]

Idina’s right, of course. I didn’t watch the show but unless the story was that she’d been a teenage mom, she was pretty young to be Lea’s mom. However, she was also a bit too old to be her older sister. Lea was playing a high school student at 25, so a mother only 15 years older than her isn’t a stretch in a casting agent’s mind.

Because it’s InStyle asking the questions, many of them were about fashion and fashion events. So Idina got to talk about the Oscars and how she was invited back to introduce John Travolta after he called her Adele Dezeem. That chapter doesn’t seem to bother her anymore, she talks about it in stride. But later, she was asked if her birth name was Idina Kim Menzel and Idina admitted her actual last name is ‘Mentzel.’ She’d changed it professionally because everyone mispronounced with the ‘t’ in it. But she pointed out it didn’t help because people still, rather famously, mess it up. Darned if you do, darned if you don’t.

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50 Responses to “Idina Menzel: I should have played Lea Michele’s sister, not her mom, on Glee”

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  1. Genevieve says:

    I have a brother who is 23 years younger than me (yes, from the same mom). She was 19 when she had me. Big age differences between siblings do happen.

    • goofpuff says:

      I agree, big age differences in siblings happen. I am 16 years older than my youngest sister. My mom had her when she was 40,

      I think the point Idina was making was that at 40, she thought she was too old to be the mom of someone who was clearly looking 25. Glee pretending a bunch of 25 year olds were teenagers (when they were clearly NOT) is another problem altogether. Dressing them in tweeny clothes doesn’t make a 25 year old face look like a 15 year olds.

  2. Abby says:

    I know some 40 year olds with high schooler children. It’s not that common – they were young when they had them – but it wasn’t a teen mom situation.

    She was perfectly cast as Rachel Berry’s mom. Sorry Idina!! Love you!

    • Bettyrose says:

      My mom was 39 at my high school graduation.

      • TaraBest says:

        My mom was 38 when I graduated, not a teen mom and she and my dad had been married for years before I was born. Her casting was not out of the realm of possibility in the least.

    • Jan90067 says:

      My mom married at 19, had my brother at 21, and me at 23. She had my sister (planned) almost 9 yrs. later.

      It’s not the “stretch” Idina is saying, she just didn’t want anyone “seeing” her as old enough to have a 25 yr old kid. Uhm… isn’t that why it’s called “ACTING”?? Granted, I gave up on Glee rather early, so was there any mention of the mom being a teen mom?

      Yes, it can be a stretch for someone in their 20s being taken for a high schooler (looking at you, Ben Platt!!), but not as big a stretch as a 40 yr old being taken for a 20 something.

      • ItReallyIsYouNotMe says:

        The plot was that Idina’s character was a paid surrogate by Lea Michele’s dads when she was very young and trying to make it in NYC. So the timing works with their ages in the show: LM was supposed to be 16 and Idina between 36-40. The issue is of course that LM was 25 in real life and looked it.

      • Bettyrose says:

        I never watched but it sounds like her character was meant to be about 20 years older than Lea Michelle’s character so I’m not really seeing the issue, especially with that story line. It’s really gross when actresses are playing mom to adult characters like 12 years younger than them (eg once you’re over 50
        you might as well be 70) but this is not that. (And they do look a lot alike.)

    • jules says:

      I think the biggest stretch was hiring Lea to play a high school student.

    • Miss America says:

      My mom was 40 when I was 15, in high school. And I had two older siblings, who’d have been 19 & 17. My mom was married young, but even at that age she was in her 20s when she started having children. It’s totally possible and I’d still say Idina was probably cast correctly as her mom, not sister.

  3. Katherine says:

    If an actress in her mid-20s is playing a teenager, it’s not the 40-year-old actress cast as her mom who was miscast.

    • Esmom says:

      Exactly this, lol. Not too many in the cast looked like real high schoolers.

    • Mac says:

      Most shows about teens (Glee, Derry Girls, Never Have I Ever, etc) cast young adults to play teens because of the many rules around how much kids can work. Since its fiction TV, I have no problem suspending disbelief about the age of the actors.

      • Bettyrose says:

        Those of us who grew up watching the original 90210 are well practiced in suspending disbelief about actor’s ages.

      • Anne Call says:

        I mean has there ever been a tv show about high schoolers that had actual teens in it?

      • Christine says:

        Glee was difficult, especially this episode. Watching Lea Michele and Idina Menzel harmonize while singing about “bluffin’ with their muffin” remains one of the most cringe-worthy experiences in television, IMO.

    • remarks says:

      Some of the “love” scenes on these shows probably require twenty-somethings. I think it would be weird to watch actual 15 year olds doing love scenes.

      Everyone on Gossip Girl looked more sophisticated than the average teenager, but the love scenes were racy. Whenever the one actual 15 year old on the show had to do something provocative, it looked a little weird.

    • tealily says:

      Yeah, this. But I can understand being upset about it.

      I always thing about Gilmore Girls, where the actor playing Lane Kim was actually closer to Lorelai’s age than Rory’s.

  4. RoSco says:

    I did watch Glee at that point – Lea’s character was adopted and Idina was her biological mom (as we found out over time). I think she used the money to go off to college so even though it’s a few years off, it could have been plausible as a young teen pregnancy (which is something we also saw with Quinn’s character).

    • smcollins says:

      Exactly. I mean I understand her point, but at the same time Lea’s character Rachel was only 16/17 and Idina’s character had been a young surrogate for Rachel’s fathers, using the money to try for a career in NY or something. It made sense for the show but not in regards to their actual ages.

      • Jan90067 says:

        On “Frasier”, John Mahoney (who played Martin), was in reality only 15 yrs older than Kelsey Grammar. I’m sure there are MANY more examples of this (only on my 2nd cup of coffee, so this is the only one I can think of now lol).

        But let’s face it: the ONLY time you see a gap no one questions is when it’s a 20/30 yr old woman with a 60/70 yr old man (THE stahhhh, dahhhhling!) as love interests.

  5. SarahCS says:

    I never watched Glee but I like how she comes across in this interview and I LOVE her outfit in the header pic.

    • BothSidesNow says:

      @ SarahCS, I never watched it either but she makes a valid, and accurate, detail in regards to the casting of women in Hollywood. I don’t remember who described the egregious casting of women in Hollywood, but it’s a two-step option for women, as opposed to men. You are either cast as a mid to young adult or a Driving Miss Daisy typecast. Idina is pointing out the obvious with regards to Hollywood, and it’s specifically professionally limiting for female actors, but never males.
      I did enjoy her recent duet with Kristin Chenoweth though. I am enjoying her wit as well and humor!! She is extremely talented!!

  6. Lucy2 says:

    From what I remember, her character WAS A teen mom that gave the baby (Lea’s character) up for adoption. If Leah was supposed to be a teenager, they actually could’ve hired someone in their early 30s and it would’ve worked as well.
    I am totally on board for calling out age discrimination against women in the industry, but this is not an instance of that.

    • Leanne says:

      That’s what I remember too- she was supposed to be a teenage mom, which was why she chose to give Rachel up for adoption.

    • Keats says:

      Yeah i don’t think we need to take pitchforks over this one, but I can understand Idina as a 40 year old actress being a little salty about it. No bad guys here imo!

      • Jan90067 says:

        If it mattered that much to her, she didn’t have to sign the contract. I mean, she DID know how/why she was being cast.

      • paranormalgirl says:

        I actually don’t think it mattered much to her. She just made an offhand comment in a fluffy interview that she was a little salty about it.

    • LBB says:

      I agree with this take.

    • Debbie says:

      I don’t understand why Idina Menzel auditioned for, or accepted the job then, if she felt she was too young.

  7. Doodle says:

    I’m 45 and my high school friend the same age as me is a grandmother. The timeline works. Sorry Idina! I thought the casting worked.

  8. MsIam says:

    If you have a kid at 25 by the time you are 40 they are 15 which is what 9th or 10th grade? So I don’t know what she’s going on about, especially if the character had a baby as a “teen” mom. In reality she would be old enough at 40 to have a college graduate if she had a baby as a teen. I guess it was a bit of a blow to her ego to be cast as the mom of a high school student.

  9. FrodoOrOdo says:

    So she’s annoyed that at 40, she was presumed to look old enough to be the mother of a high schooler?

    As the 40 year old mother of a 19 and 18 year old, I’m confused…. (and I look younger, if I do say so myself lol)

  10. Jessica says:

    She *could* have been an older sister… normally I’d agree, that age gap is a little far for siblings… except my BF is 15.5 years older than his younger sister 🤣 his mom had him when she was 19, then his sister when he was in high school (he drove her to the hospital to give birth!). It happens. But I think Idina worked as Rachel’s mom, they look like they could be related.


    Am I alone in thinking they do not look alike? Similar coloring and they both have what Hollywood would call “prominent noses”- but their noses are completely different. One’s nose is angular and the other is bulbous. Just because two people don’t look typical celebrity does not mean they look alike.

  12. Christine says:

    I get there’s an ageist problem in Hollywood, but I also roll my eyes when actresses backtrack about past parts they played. Nobody forced you to collect that paycheck.

    • K says:

      Yep, all she had to do was say no to the part if playing the mother of a teen character made her feel uncomfortable. But she was appropriate for that part. My guess is Idina is sick of being put into the same conversations as Lea Michele (who fell out of favor), and/or she feels a little touchy about her age now.

      I have a 40 year old friend (who looks younger/fitter now than many of our classmates) with a 21-year-old daughter, because she got pregnant our senior year of high school. Some of us have older moms and others younger ones, whatever.

  13. ab says:

    Joining the anecdote parade to say my two oldest brothers are 15 and 12 years older than me, so it could make sense that they were siblings. That said, Lea was playing a teenager and a 40 year old (like me, ugh) is definitely old enough to be the parent of a high schooler, so Idina’s casting isn’t that weird.

  14. Mel says:

    Ehhh, my oldest son is 19yrs older than my youngest. No a stretch at all.

  15. Merricat says:

    I think her comment proves she was perfectly cast as Rachel Berry’s bio mother.

  16. Shannon says:

    The ages of the actors in movies always bothers me and distracts me from the movie. Idina isn’t quite old enough to be Lea’s mom, but Lea is playing younger and Idina is probably playing a bit older, so it kind of works. Other shows, not so much. I was *so* distracted by the Mamma Mia casting: Meryl was supposed to be the mom of a 20 year old girl, impregnated when she was relatively young herself. The second movie clarified that Donna got pregnant shortly after graduating from college, so around 23 or 24. Meryl is queen, but she was nearly 60 when she played this role and she looked it. (Don’t even get me started on Cher playing Meryl’s mom, given their 3 year age gap)

  17. Marigold says:

    Nope. The casting was perfect.

  18. Shari says:

    When people scream about the older celebrities… this is what we are getting. All down in movie history we have women/men playing roles where they were older than the character or younger. And ACTOR acts. They play all roles of all ages. I’m so tired of this period we are in. All of these people do nothing but whine and complain about stuff that doesn’t matter. EGO. She’s talented. We have actors younger being aged older to play roles.

    BRING BACK THE OLD HOLLYWOOD TALENT. These people are irritating.

  19. Songs (Or it didnt happen) says:

    What’s up with these odd hot takes from Idina lately? At 40 you were too young to play a character in her mid-30s? You were too young to play a character younger than you?

    Also, the weird “John Travolta messed up my big break at the Oscars” comment. Like, Bish, you sang Let It Go. People know who you are.

    Maybe she just has a very self-depreciating sense of humor.

  20. Victoria Sanders says:

    1st time poster here..

    idina was offered the part when she was newly delivered with her own newborn child. Here is a clip during a live performance explaining how she felt about the casting and even the song choices she sang as a mother/daughter duet. The entire show performance is definitely worth watching or adding to your music playlist. She did not disappoint.

    Idina Menzel Live: Barefoot At The Symphony is the name of the concert.

  21. Claudia says:

    Whatever, Idina…that was perfect casting. They were totally believable as mother and daugther.