Lilli Cooper, who plays Sandy Cheeks in the SpongeBob SquarePants musical, is no stranger to theatre. Part of a theatrical family (her father is Chuck Cooper, who most recently was in Prince of Broadway), Cooper made her Broadway debut in Spring Awakening at just 16 years old, making her one of the youngest cast members. She also served as the Elphaba standby in Wicked, and has appeared in several off-Broadway productions.
With SpongeBob SquarePants already in previews, Ms. Cooper took time out of her busy schedule to talk about the show and her life.
Broadway Inbound: Where were you born and where do you live now?
Lilli Cooper: I was born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. Our rehearsal space is just a few blocks away from where I was raised. I live in Harlem now, and with the trains, I have no problems getting to work.
BI: What do you like to do around the city?
LC: I love biking through the city, there are a lot of wonderful bike paths. For really amazing views, I love riding along the Hudson River Greenway and the Williamsburg Bridge.
BI: Where are your favorite places to eat around the city?
LC: I always recommend the secret Burger Joint in Le Parker Meridien Hotel. You can enjoy greasy fries behind a red velvet curtain! Also, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Brooklyn. You can order food and drink to your seat, then just kick back and enjoy the movie.
BI: What does your average day look like?
LC: I wake up at around 7 or 8 AM, depending if I want to work out or not. I do Cross Fit, though I try to fit in any sort of workout with dance in it. Rehearsal is from 10 AM – 6 PM with a lunch break. I try to prep my meals on Sunday. At 6 PM, I go home, walk my dog, unwind with my boyfriend, and cook dinner.
BI: And in your free time?
LC: I love going to work out classes and taking my dog on long walks. I’m a busy body, so I also love doing chores. Though I did finally catch up on Game of Thrones, I watched all 7 seasons in two months!
BI: Were you a fan of SpongeBob SquarePants as a kid?
LC: I was a huge fan! I would doodle SpongeBob and all the characters as a kid, and I continued to watch it in to adulthood.
BI: If you could hop into a time machine and tell 10-year-old you that you’d be starring in SpongeBob SquarePants The Broadway Musical, how do you think she would react?
LC: She would freak out! I literally screamed on the phone when I got the job.
BI: Sandy Cheeks is known for being a karate master. How did you prepare for the role?
LC: I was able to take karate lessons before I did the role. It was very physically exhausting. I grew up as a dancer, doing ballet, tap, hip hop, jazz, and musical theatre. I just knew I wanted to be a physical actor on stage.
BI: What’s been the most challenging part about bringing your character from a cartoon squirrel to a woman on stage?
LC: Our director (Tina Landau) is so great at inspiring us to bring the human characteristics of our characters to the stage. I don’t want to just impersonate the character, so I’ve been finding my own voice in Sandy. It’s still a challenge that I work on, but it’s been fun to explore that side of her.
BI: When you were in high school, you had a pretty full schedule between acting and homework. What advice would you give to budding young actors and actresses?
LC: The most important part of my day was getting to sleep; I needed it to stay healthy and keep myself alive. It also prevented me from getting sick. What was crucial was living in the joy of getting to do what I loved most. Gratitude is so important in our profession. I’d say focus on the joy instead of harping on the negatives.
Thanks to Lilli for taking time out of her hectic schedule to talk to us. You can read all about our experience attending the invite-only rehearsal of SpongeBob SquarePants and get a taste of what you can expect from the show by clicking here. If you’re ready to take the dive, visit the show page below to book your tickets to see SpongeBob SquarePants.