Remy Zaken was among the youngest original cast members of Spring Awakening, swooning that her hot schoolmate Melchior (played by Jonathan Groff) “is such a radical!” Five years later, Zaken has stepped into the title role of the off-Broadway family musical Freckleface Strawberry as a feisty seven-year-old who hates her red hair and freckles. The bubbly actress may be getting younger onstage, but she spends her off-hours taking classes in organizational psychology and the history of pop culture in music as a junior at Columbia University. How does she juggle eight shows a week (including seven on the weekends!) and a full Ivy League course load? And does she still have Lea Michele on speed dial? Zaken tells Broadway.com all.
So, you’re back onstage—as a redhead, no less.
I was super-excited! Red is the only color I had never dyed my hair, besides jet black. [Voices are heard in the background.] Sorry, I’m in my sorority house, and it’s kind of loud right now. It’s Bid Day, and we’re getting new girls.
How are you playing the lead in an off-Broadway show while going to college at a place like Columbia?
My four classes are all on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and thankfully, we don’t have any shows on those days. It takes a little convincing of the teachers, especially in college, because I had to miss a few weeks for rehearsal. I said, “Trust me: I’ve done this many times. It’s going to be okay.”
Are your freckles real?
No, but I’ve always wanted them, which is pretty funny. I paint them on with red waterproof paint, so I have dots all over my arms and legs. I recently got a massage and the woman was like, “What is going on with your legs?!”
Sanjaya Malakar of American Idol is joining Freckleface Strawberry soon. Pretty wild, huh?
I think he’s going to bring so much personality and boldness to the show. I loved his crazy hairstyles on American Idol. I also loved him on I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! He was such a stable, even-keeled personality in a bunch of crazies like Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt. I wanted him to win.
You were 16 when Spring Awakening began. Looking back, what was the highlight of that experience?
It was definitely the people. I was growing up as I was doing a show about growing up, surrounded by a supportive, extremely talented group of people who helped shape who I am today. We’re talking about Lauren Pritchard, who’s got an unbelievable album coming out; Lea Michele, Jon Groff, John Gallagher—these were my mentors, my older brothers and sisters. My greatest memories are of being with them.
Phoebe Strole told us that the cast still keeps in close touch.
We do. We’re all over the globe now, but I tweet with Lauren, and I see Lea when she comes home for breaks. I’m having dinner with Alexandra Socha tonight. When you go through something like Spring Awakening, no one else [other than the cast] really knows what happened. No matter how much time passes, we’re always going to have that bond.
No jealousy toward people who’ve gotten famous since Spring Awakening?
Absolutely not. Alexandra and I constantly go up for roles together. The day I got the part of Freckleface, I told Lea, and she was so happy for me. There’s so much competition in this business already, you can’t have jealousy for people you consider your family. We are all incredibly supportive of one another.
Your family must be proud that you’re combining work and college.
I always had a deal with my parents that in order to be able to perform, I had to maintain my grades. It taught me about self-discipline and balance. Even before I got into acting, it was my dream to go to an Ivy League school, and Columbia has been a perfect fit. The academics are challenging, and it’s in the middle of this amazing city. My dad said, “You meet your lifelong friends at college.” He also said, “If you don’t go to college, you can’t come home.” [Laughs.]
Do you plan to keep acting after graduation?
That’s the ultimate goal, but I firmly believe in having a backup plan. I’m majoring in psychology, and after graduation, I’ll either stay here or go out to L.A. for the first time and see if I can make it there. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll go to business school and try to be a consultant. I feel like I have a lot of options.