Actress Julia Knitel takes on the Tony Award-winning role of Carole King in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at Bass Concert Hall.
Age has never been a barrier for Julia Knitel. She performed her first show while still in her mother’s womb, was cast in her first Broadway show at 16 and now, at 24, is taking on the role of Carole King in the Tony Award-winning production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, running in Austin March 21 through 26.
Austin Woman: Where are you from and how did you get your start in theater?
Julia Knitel: I am from Fair Lawn, N.J., about 20 minutes outside the city. Both of my parents were performers and when they had me, they settled down and opened up a theater company that I sort of grew up in. I got started [in the industry] really just by being born. I did my first show in the womb. When I was 16, I found out about an open call for Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway. I asked my dad to take me and I fully expected him to say no, but he agreed. We got up at 5 in the morning and drove into the city, where we stood in a line wrapped three times around the block. I ended up getting it.
AW: Did you study theater in college?
JK: I’m kind of a perpetual dropout, actually. I dropped out of high school for my first Broadway show and then college for my second. It was a shame because I always really enjoyed school. I went to Marymount Manhattan on the Upper East Side and I was in their BFA acting program. It was really lovely until I booked a show that took me out, but my career came first.
AW: What inspired you to join Beautiful: The Carole King Musical?
JK: I was actually out of town doing a play and got an appointment for the Beautiful tour. I remember looking at it and thinking, ‘Aww, man, there’s no way I can do this. I’m too young. It’s such a beast of a role. It’s a Tony Award-winning role.’ It got down to me and Abby Mueller, who ended up taking the show on the road after her sister, [Jessie Mueller, who won a Tony Award for originating the title role.] They surprised me and offered me the friend role of Betty on Broadway. I spent a year and a half there, getting to know the role and the show and falling in love with Carole, her music and her story.
AW: You now have the title role, performing as Carole in the Broadway show. Do you feel any personal connection with Carole?
JK: Yes, in so many ways. We both started in this very fierce, competitive industry that was way beyond our years. And we were both 16 years old, which I always found kind of funny. The more time I have to grow into this role, I’m looking at the world and thinking, ‘Wow, what is it going to be like to be a career woman and a mother?’ To get to share this story with people who need to hear it or are maybe going through similar things right now, it’s so wonderful to get to connect with women.
AW: What would you like audience members to take away from your performance?
JK: I think it’s a really uplifting story and a trip down memory lane. I have not had a single person come up to me after the show who hasn’t had a smile on their face and a song in their heart. You will be moved and you will cry and you will laugh and we will all be on this journey together. You will be on your feet at the end of it, singing and dancing and clapping along. It’s a singular experience.
AW: What do you usually do to prepare for a big performance?
JK: There’s a daily preparation that takes about an hour. I come to the theater and put on some James Taylor and some Joni Mitchell, and I try to get into that era. I take some time to put on my makeup and relax, drink some water or some tea, meditate and center myself and get ready to take on the beast that is two and a half hours of playing Carole King. I did as much research as I could and really just let her essence kind of sink in.
AW: What advice would you give to other women looking to break into theater?
JK: Just get in there and do it. You will not be disappointed. You will make friends that will last a lifetime. It’s such a fulfilling thing to get to create something from the ground up and then have people enjoy it. On a professional level, I think it is really hard. You have to be very grounded and do a lot of self-care and reflection. My biggest piece of advice: You have to be easy to work with. It’s easy to watch actors being portrayed as divas, but that is not the case. Divas don’t last very long.
AW: Why do you think theater is such an important storytelling medium?
JK: I think that theater is such an important and lasting medium because it’s the longest surviving form of performance in the history of the universe. It’s because it’s the most raw expression of the human existence. Every single night is different and you will never see the same show twice. It’s just such a singular thing that happens in one room in one moment with one collective group of people, whether it’s five people or 500 people or 5,000 people. It’s intimate and it’s beautiful and I think there’s nothing like it.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical runs at Bass Concert Hall March 21 through 26. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit.