Frozen‘s Patti Murin missed a show last week. Not unheard of, certainly, but rare enough at the peak of this high-focus (and high-stress) Tony Awards season. And Murin stands a better-than-good chance of getting nominated – as does her co-star Caissie Levy, since both are eligible for lead actress honors. Murin, in a crowd-pleasing and well-reviewed turn as Anna, the iconic and beloved Disney heroine (the one who doesn’t sing “Let It Go”) knows well that she’s the stand-in for all the girls and boys who feel the loneliness of the youngest sibling, the self-doubt of, as Anna puts it, being spare to the heir.
But what was unusual – and remarkable – about the missed April 17 performance was Murin’s candid explanation, shared on social media. “I had a massive anxiety attack in the afternoon,” she posted, adding that “anxiety and depression are real diseases that affect so many of us.” The Anna of Disney Theatrical’s Frozen, at Broadway’s St. James Theatre, ended her post with “Even Disney princesses are terrified sometimes.”
“Liked” by more than 16,000 Instagram followers, the post drew nearly 1,000 comments, an outpouring of support and heartfelt thanks for giving voice to what most suffer in silence.
I spoke with Murin a few days later, and our wide-ranging chat covered the missed performance, her online openness and even the challenges of long-distance romance (she’s married to Chicago Med actor Colin Donnell).
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and concision.
Deadline: So Patti, how are you feeling?
Patti Murin: I’m feeling so much better. You know physically, emotionally, all that but also very positively overwhelmed by all the response that’s been coming my way. You know people go through it but you don’t actually realize how many people do or how much we don’t talk about it – because we’re living it, but we’re living it by ourselves.
But I didn’t put the post up thinking, This is going to really speak to a lot of people. It was, like, this is my reality, this is what happens when I’m on a show sometimes. You feel so alone while you’re having a panic attack, even though my husband was sitting right next to me and doing everything he could. You still feel like you’re by yourself.
Deadline: I think one of the reasons we don’t talk about anxiety attacks is because the experience is so hard to put into words.
Murin: I wish there was some sort of, like, magic simulator that people could go into for 30 seconds and be like, “Oh, okay, that’s what it feels like – that’s awful.” It’s not like, “Ok, just calm down, just think happy thoughts.” It doesn’t work like that.
Deadline: So how will you deal with this as a performer?
Murin: I think that I have a good sense of when it’s about to happen, when it’s sort of been building up for a while. I also know that after I get past really big things, opening night or the recording of our cast album, when I really throw myself into something and don’t really look up from underwater for a while, I can pretty much know that, for my emotional health, that’s going to take a terrific toll. Of course it might happen when I’m not expecting it, but I’m trying to pinpoint, okay, these are the things that could make it happen, the times when my body and brain go into overdrive.
I’m on an antidepressant for depression, but it doesn’t really touch anxiety. One of the problems with anxiety is that I can’t perform on all the pills designed to calm you down. I can’t do anything but lay in bed. I pushed through a (Frozen) performance once in Denver. It felt awful. It was the most awful feeling I’ve ever had during a show, and so this time I was like, I’m just going to take a minute.
Deadline: How did your producers react?
Murin: The great thing about Disney is that they hired me knowing that I am very open about my struggles. You’ll know my opinion about anything. I’m not really the picture perfect Disney princess, you know what I mean? I’m not all sunshine and rainbows. I like to be honest about who I am in the hopes that other people will be able to be honest about who they are.
So Disney hired me knowing that I’ve got a blog where I’ve talked about, like, my divorce [her first marriage], and my depression, and they’ve been nothing but supportive. When I texted my stage manager that I was going to be out on Tuesday and I said I think it’s a panic attack, her immediate response was “Are you okay? Are you alone? Is your husband there? Let me know what I can do.” And that is basically the way everyone has operated these last couple of days.
Deadline: And your cast mates?
Murin: Oh yes. Oh my gosh. That show I did in Denver. Caissie (Levy), she took care of me that day. She drew me a bath. She made me soup. She let me sleep in her bed. I told the other people I was on stage with – Greg Hildreth (Olaf) and John Riddle (Hans) and Jelani Alladin (Kristoff) – this is what’s happening, I had a massive panic attack, you might have to pull a little bit more weight tonight because I might not be able to. I told my dresser Katie the same thing. It definitely took a village that night, because I’m on stage for most of the show, and I don’t really have time to breathe, but everyone was incredible.
I know that it’s not like that for so many people. I do know how fortunate I am to have that in my workplace.
Deadline: At the risk of making you even more anxious, this is Tony time. Is that entering into your thinking at all?
Murin: You know, it’s so funny because it’s the one thing that you try desperately to not talk about and not think about, and before we opened I was like, “That word is banned in my home, banned in my room.” It’s like I just need to do this show, get it opened, concentrate on actually doing it. Because the problem is that if you think about [awards] too much then you’re just not doing your show for the people coming to see Frozen on Broadway – you’re doing it for the few people who might nominate you for a Tony, and who might vote for you.
But of course it’s everywhere, so I’m really trying just so hard to [accept] the idea that nothing has happened yet, there have been no nominations. It’s just completely out of my control. Every so often I catch myself thinking about it, or every so often I’ll talk to my husband about it, or my agent, but I’m really trying to just take it one show at a time. And then you think about when nominations come out, how you kind of reevaluate what you’ll have to do. I may have to do something. But I have no idea. Life may not change one bit.
Deadline: You said you don’t fit the mold of the typical Disney princess. What kind of responsibility do you feel you to children with this iconic character?
Murin: The great thing about Anna is that she is socially awkward but she is also incredibly determined and incredibly optimistic, and so just embodying that character that’s already touched so many lives is incredible. I’ve never done a show from the ground up that’s been this massive before, and I’ve definitely never been at the center of something like this, so I want to say that if people are going to have to see my face all the time – it’s all over the place, on taxi cabs and in the press – if people are going to look up to me as Anna, I really want them to also look up to me as Patti. If they have to be subjected to me, I would like to do something good with that, going back to the whole anti-depressants, mental health situation. And I’m very much into animal rescue.
So yes it means a lot to me when people say I love Anna so much and you do such a great job as Anna, but it also means so much when people say, I love how open you are with your struggles and with your life, showing that princesses and Disney characters and people who are lucky enough to star in a Broadway show are still human. I like being a human. I like being a human to the people that come in and see the show, and interact on social media and Twitter and Instagram. I like people a lot and I want people to be able to love themselves as much as I’ve learned how to love myself over the last, oh my gosh, 37 years.
Deadline: This is your first really big successful show, and you don’t have to worry about closing. How does that security change your life?
Murin: First and foremost is that you can decorate your dressing room as much as you want. That’s kind of the metaphor for everything. You can actually just get comfortable in your life and career for a minute. I have never had two years of my life planned since I graduated from college.
My husband is in Chicago nine months out of the year since he’s on Chicago Med, and so, you know, that’s going to be a tough thing. He’s on hiatus right now, lucky for me, but he’s eventually going to go back and so that’s going to be something that we’ve got to find our routine with.
And performance wise, it takes a little bit of the pressure off when your show is sold out for almost a year before reviews even come out. Obviously people still care about reviews and whatnot, but it doesn’t quite matter as much, it truly doesn’t. Of course you care what they say, you care what everybody says, but this is the first show that I was like, I actually don’t. I usually read every word of reviews, but this one I just kind of skimmed. I have a job I love. I happen to think we’re doing an incredible show, I love everyone I’m working with and so I don’t really need for anyone to come in from the outside and tell me what they think of my situation, and of the show that I’m working on and incredibly glad to be a part of. I don’t think I’ve ever said that before.