That week, Benanti was in Delaware with her family, preparing to celebrate her grandmother’s 92nd birthday. But when she got the call, she hopped a train back to New York, where she lives, and headed to “The Late Show.” The actress pouted and twirled behind a podium as she gave a speech peppered with excerpts from well-known works: Charles Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities,” the McDonald’s “I’m Loving It” jingle and the theme song from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” The next day, she was back in Delaware with her grandmother and the parody was on its way to rave reviews and 8.5 million views on YouTube.
“It’s so fun. It’s, like, the most fun I’ve had ever” Benanti said of her recurring “Late Show” role in an interview with The Washington Post. She described the first sketch as a “shot-out-of-a-cannon moment.” This week’s sketch, which aired Tuesday night, has already logged more than 4 million views on YouTube.
Benanti, who will bring her show “Tales from Soprano Isle” to Wolf Trap in Vienna, Va., on Oct. 29, spoke with The Post about her famous impersonation, speaking out against the Republican presidential nominee and the unofficial petition to have her on “Saturday Night Live.”
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Have the parodies been scripted, or do you improvise?
The first time I did it they gave me a script and I just said exactly what they wrote. This time around, I’d actually already been booked to do a different sketch. I had pitched them a sketch, before the Anderson Cooper interview, where Melania was sent to an undisclosed location so she was Skyping in with Stephen, essentially to get him to help her because she’s like a hostage. Because we hadn’t heard from her since the convention!
They really liked it. They wrote a really, really funny script. The night before I was supposed to shoot that script, Melania goes on with Anderson Cooper. So it had to be rewritten, and the rewrite that you saw was a collaboration between myself and [“The Late Show" staff].
How do you approach the impersonation itself?
When I did the first video, I spent the four hours I had before we taped watching her speech over and over again. I certainly watched the Anderson Cooper video a significant amount of time.
It’s important to me that it not seem like I’m mocking a person with an accent. I wanted to actually get the accent somewhat accurate, so that we could then focus on the other stuff. I didn’t want the accent to be the primary focus of the impression.
What do you consider the primary focus?
I think it’s pretty clear that there is no malintent with this impression. It’s not mean. It’s not nasty. It’s certainly playing off the fact that she was a model.
In her interview with Anderson Cooper, although she’s very well poised and, I think, actually does a great deal toward softening Trump’s rhetoric, when you really break down what she says, she sounds a little bit like a Stepford wife — blaming Billy Bush, blaming the victims who have come forward, saying that all men essentially talk in “boy talk.” It’s all very apologist.
The thing that really struck me in the interview, which is why it was important to me that we add this into the sketch, was that she kept looking off to the side. I was like, “You know Kellyanne [Conway] is there, holding up this card [telling her what to say].”
I didn’t want to make Melania the focus. I still wanted Trump to bear the brunt of what we were saying. I wanted to come after him through her.
You’ve been pretty outspoken about the election on social media. Has this election cycle made you more public with your views?
This election has — and not because of the Melania situation. I was political before that happened. I just feel like we’re in dire straits. I feel like [Donald Trump] is actually a dangerous person who is unearthing a dangerous subculture of xenophobia and racism and misogyny. It’s very disturbing to me.
People have unfollowed me and said, “I’m never going to follow your career again.” And I’m, like, “Fine.” No one is telling dentists, “Stick to being a dentist and don’t talk about politics.” Just because I’m an actor doesn’t mean that I don’t live in this world and in this country.
You recently tweeted that you weren’t going to tweet about politics as much . . .
Oh, yeah. I lied (laughs). My husband was like, “I’m worried about our baby. [Benanti and her husband are expecting their first child in February.] You get so angry that I’m scared she’s just in there marinating in frustration,” so he was like “maybe we just take it easy for a while.” And I was like, “You’re totally right.” And then that lasted about 24 hours.
I think my Broadway fans know that I’m funny and I think that they would like to see Broadway represented on “Saturday Night Live.” If you look at Lin-Manuel [Miranda] and what an incredible job he did, how many people turned up to watch it — I was so proud of him.
I also intellectually understand that I’m not famous enough to host that show. I do wish they would have me on as Melania, but I do understand that they already have Cecily [Strong] doing it and she’s so talented.
I think that Kate McKinnon is one of the most talented people on this earth. I love Aidy Bryant. I love that show and I’m happy to watch it and, you know, hope that one day I’ll be on a television show that doesn’t get canceled and then I can host it. [Laughs.]
In addition to your Broadway work, you’ve had particularly memorable roles on “The Good Wife” and “Nashville.” Any chance you could show up on “The Good Wife” spinoff or “Nashville” when it debuts on CMT?
CMT asked me to come back to “Nashville,” but I would start shooting in January and I’m due in February, so that just wasn’t possible. I’m not sure about “The Good Wife” spinoff — I would be thrilled. I adore Christine Baranski and I think she’s so unbelievably talented. That would be amazing, but I don’t know. Anything is possible.
Do you have any plans to do another Melania spoof on “The Late Show”?
We don’t right now. I’m hoping that before the end of the election or maybe right after, we could do a third video. But I think we’re all in agreement that we only want to do it if it’s going to be a home run. If not, we have these two amazing videos that I’m super proud of.