arRose Quartz is a rare character. With next week’s “A Single Pale Rose,” she will have spoken on Steven Universe in only 10 out of 145 episodes, but one could easily argue that she’s the most important character on the show. Without Rose Quartz, there are no Crystal Gems and there is no Steven Universe.
The woman who gives Rose her voice, infused with resonant warmth, strength and love, is Susan Egan. In addition to bringing Rose Quartz to life, Susan voiced Meg in Disney’s Hercules and originated the role of Belle in the Broadway version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. She’ll be reprising her Belle for the first time in 20 years this summer for a limited run of the show at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks, CA.
Susan will be appearing at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music with students from the California School of the Arts, San Gabriel Valley, on May 12th, so I took advantage of her being in the area to talk to her about Steven Universe, stepping back into Belle’s shoes and more.
Leona Laurie: I’m a big Steven Universe fan…
Susan Egan: Yay! Steven Universe. Rebecca Sugar— isn’t she a total genius?
LL: I didn’t even know that it was a show for children for the first 50 episodes.
SE: Well, right. I mean, it is and it isn’t. I mean, it is, definitely, but not just for children for sure. It works on so many levels, and I love that children are getting things that they don’t even really know that they’re getting. It’s like hiding their vegetables in spaghetti. Lessons in identity, kindness, acceptance and all those wonderful things that kids, even before they’re self-aware, might, when they become self-aware, go, “I’m perfect the way I am.” And that’s a good thing.
LL: Yeah, it’s good for adults too. I like that message.
SE: No doubt. No doubt. Yes, agreed.
LL: Did you know how special this show was when you auditioned?
SE: My career, in many ways, seems totally backwards. Hercules was my first voiceover credit at all. Usually you work yourself up to a Disney animated feature, but that was my first one. Ironically, they wouldn’t let me audition because I was playing Belle for them at the time, and Meg and Belle are very different. They saw me as Belle, so I sort of had to say: “No. Let me show you what else I can do.”
I always wanted to do a series. I kept doing these movie one-offs with (Spirited Away) and with Disney, which is great.
Steven Universe was a fluke. Jeff Dunham was doing an animated movie for cable, and they needed a mom character. I ended up doing that, and the people that produced that knew the people doing Steven Universe. They were looking for somebody to come in to play “Whale,” who has one line at the end of season one. But they knew where that potentially was going and that Whale was actually Rose.
Rebecca, I guess, was a fan of Hercules and she said, “Oh my God, Susan Egan. Would she come and do it?” So I never auditioned for Steven Universe.
LL: Well, Rose is such an interesting character in that she’s sort of there and not there. She’s what binds everybody, but she isn’t alive.
SE: She’s central, but she’s not present there.
There’re lovely flashbacks, finally, this season, which show how she and Pearl met, and what that relationship was. This was always in Rebecca’s mind. That so blows me away. She’s known all of this all along.
As voice actors, we don’t know what’s coming next. So whenever I get in there I always just ask a thousand questions, and we all just sit for story time with Rebecca.
LL: I wouldn’t guess that this has the same level of secrecy as Game of Thrones or something like that, but how much do you know in advance?
SE: None. None. None.
LL: You don’t know then whether or not Rose really shattered Pink Diamond, because-
SE: I know all of that–
LL: Oh you do?
SE: I’ve recorded those now. There were no Diamonds when I first started out. That whole part of their history wasn’t in play yet. We were still figuring out how did Steven come to be? How did Rose meet Greg? So we were doing basics then. And who is this character? She’s a warrior, but she’s also all hearty and mushy.
I do know the answer to what you’re asking, and I cannot reveal it. But it’s awesome, and it’s not what you’re thinking. It takes a strong left-turn, and I can’t wait for those episodes to air.
LL: You’ll be seeing your Steven Universe peeps again soon at MegaCon Orlando, right?
SE: I’m heading to Orlando in two weeks, which is very Disney-centric, so that will be fun. The whole Steven Universe panel is going to be there at the same time. I’m sitting with Jodi Benson as a Disney Princess, but I’ll get to do the panels with the whole crew of Steven Universe. Estelle is going to be there, Michaela (Dietz), and Deedee (Magno), and I think Grace (Rolek) is going; I know Zach (Callison) is going to be there. So that will be really fun as well.
LL: I know you find your interactions with fans to be really meaningful—you appreciate the importance to them. I’m guessing that’s because you’ve been a fan, too?
SE: (Yes.) That is why I get it. When I moved to New York and started working on Broadway, I started working with the guru voice teacher Joan Lader. (Kristin) Chenoweth and I started the same year. We’re friends, so I’d see her. Every once in a while, I would go to my lesson with Joan, (and) the lesson before me, I’m sitting in the hallway (thinking): “Oh my God, oh my God that’s Patti LuPone.”
I’m literally trying to hold it together, and I was very cool, and she ended her lesson and I’m like: “Oh, it’s so lovely to meet you. You’re so incredible.” And she left. Then I just had to wig out, because she was Evita.
LL: And now she’s Yellow Diamond.
SE: Yes. I love that Rebecca pulls from all these different entertainment platforms, and that she has the awareness of Broadway as unique, because Hollywood doesn’t always.
Anyway, to meet Bernadette Peters, or when I met Julie Andrews, like these are the voices that I grew up with. While I am not in that echelon whatsoever, to a certain 14-year-old whose school is doing Beauty and the Beast, and she’s listening to the Broadway cast album over and over and over, maybe to her it is important. You know? So I have a respect for that.
I also like the whole atmosphere at the (Cons). It’s very kind. Twenty girls are dressed up like Belle, and none of these girls are saying, “My Belle’s better than your Belle.” Ever. They’re looking at each other going, “Oh I love what you did with your wig,” or, “I really like how you made your dress.” There’s a love, and support and mutual admiration, that is sorely lacking in our country, but it’s very present at these events. I like that.
LL: Well, and you’re getting back into the dress– literally.
SE: Yeah. So that’s really interesting. It’s hard for me to put into words (why I agreed to reprise the role of Belle), but I had this strange dream about Cathy Rigby, and I looked it up, and she was 60 the last time she played Peter Pan.
I am no Cathy Rigby. But when I think about wanting to go see Peter Pan with my kids, do I want to see somebody who is maybe age-appropriate? Or do I want to see Cathy Rigby? I want to see Cathy Rigby. I do. I want to see Cathy Rigby even if she’s 80. I don’t really care.
I will not look the same in those costumes as I did 24 years ago. And that’s okay. That’s humbling. Everybody’s ego could use a humbling moment. So that’s good.
I’m not going to have the Broadway set, and the Broadway costumes and the actors who were my mentors. I am now the older one in the cast, and perhaps it’s my opportunity to mentor somebody else. That’s very humbling, too. But some of the responses have been, “I saw you do this when I was a teenager, and now we’re making a trip to Thousand Oaks so I can bring my daughter to the show.”
In some ways, I’m a lot better now, because I can sing so much better now than I did then. It’s going to be such an interesting experience. My job is to make no apologies for it, for myself, and just let it be what it is. I’m sure there will be moments that are humbling, and there will be some moments that will be heartwarming. I’m excited to meet (the cast).
LL: Beauty and the Beast isn’t the only place you’ll be acting as mentor this year. Can we talk about the fundraiser you’ve got coming up with California School of the Arts?
SE: We’re putting together a program of something that I’ve done quite often. I did this thing called On Stage With Susan, but it’s come out of a project that Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) started, called Performing With the Pros.
LL: And now you’ll be back with Unplugged with Susan Egan, raising money for the school. Will this be your first return since graduating?
SE: In 2002/2003 I went back and became the interim artistic director at OCSA. I took a year off performing, they were going through a few growing pains and had lost their artistic director. When I came in the whole goal was to take the school and the programs to that next step, by bridging the school to the professional world.
The school had been around, at that point, 15 years, but why did New York not know about it yet? Why did Hollywood not know about it? Why did the (Segerstrom Center for the Arts) not know about it, right? So, that was my job.
(Professional artists) love working with students, because students still have that passion, and the light, that we all once had, for this thing that has become a job. It’s important to be reminded of how lucky we are that we got to do what we trained as.
It’s also important for these kids to see we put our pants on one foot at a time, and things go wrong. It’s not enough just to do a Master Class. I think it’s great to take the next step and perform alongside them on a stage, so when things go wrong, we’re there together.
LL: I can’t wait to know what you know about Rose Quartz and Pink Diamond, and to see what else Rebecca Sugar has mapped out for Steven and the Crystal Gems.
SE: I feel really lucky to get to be a small part of it. I do believe that Rebecca is just a voice we need to hear more from.
She’s the future. She is that thinker. I don’t even want to say outside the box, because even that phrase is in a box. She’s expansive in her talent. She’s a multi-hyphenate like I have never seen. I hear a demo recording of the song that I’m going to do as Rose, and the demo is Rebecca singing it. My God. They need to release an album of Rebecca’s demos, because she’s brilliant. She’s incredible.
See more from the brilliant Rebecca Sugar when Susan Egan voices Rose Quartz on May 7 in Steven Universe’s next episode, and if you can’t get to Southern California for Susan’s performances in Pasadena or Thousand Oaks, make sure to check the calendar on her site to see where else she’ll be appearing!