Becoming Nini: The Story of Robyn Hurder’s Audition for Moulin Rouge

Ricky Rojas as Santiago and Robyn Hurder as Nini. Photos: © Matthew Murphy, 2019.

The Interview: Robyn Hurder

Conducted by Michael Raver


Auditions are stressful. There’s no two ways about it. When an actor walks into an audition room, they’re adjudicated and evaluated for everything: the way they look, sound, and behave, and this is in addition to what they’re asked to perform. Afterward, there may or may not be a callback, where that process continues. If the actor doesn’t get the job, however, often the way they find out is by not hearing anything at all. It’s a kind of rejection not suited for the faint of heart.

Actress Robyn Hurder has traversed these conditions many times before. Even after she made a splash in a series of high profile gigs, including the revival of Grease (2007) and for Nice Work If You Can Get It (2012), her resume has been hard-won.

“Of course they have to see you,” Hurder says of the casting process. “How else could they offer you a role? Our business is just hard and we’re always going to have to walk into that room and sell ourselves.”

She knows what it’s like to stare at a blank calendar while her friends post rehearsal pictures. She’s fought to smile through sweat and tears. Her journey to land the role of sultry Nini in Moulin Rouge! was not only fraught with pitfalls, it was very nearly taken from her altogether after she’d booked it.

Robyn Hurder as Nini. Photos: © Matthew Murphy, 2019.

How did this role come to you?

I was 19 when the movie came out. At the end of it, I was sobbing. I said to my boyfriend at the time, “I need to be the ‘Roxanne’ girl.” Years go by, and I found out they were having auditions for a stage version and I thought “I’d better get an appointment.” And I got one. I read for Nini, which was very different back then. I sang a little tune and I went through a dance call. They started with the opening number to “Lady Marmalade.” Then it was “Roxanne” time and I got to work one-on-one with Sonya Tayeh. I almost always feel like crap about myself in auditions. I usually walk out of a room thinking that I was crap. When I was in the audition working with Sonya, I felt like it was right, that the universe had placed me in that moment with a woman that I’ve looked up to for over a decade and have been dying to work with but never thought I could because I’m not that kind of dancer. that kind of dancer.

And yet, you got a callback.

Yeah. I had some callbacks, and then they offered me a reading of the show. It was just songs and reading at a table and I felt like I did a good job. Then, they didn’t offer me the lab (laughs). They said,  “We want to exhaust all other options,” which is not the best thing to hear. I didn’t know if they wanted to get someone with a name to play the role, since that kind of thing seems to be the trend with Broadway shows now.

So how did you handle that?

I had a breakdown. I was sobbing and sobbing and, after that, I got angry. But then I thought, “No! I’ve worked way too hard.” I went out and got some tattoos of stars on my wrist to remind me to keep my eye on the prize and not to let anyone make me feel less than what I know I’m capable of.

Robyn Hurder and the company of Moulin Rouge! The Musical. Photos: © Matthew Murphy, 2019.

How did you end up moving forward with the project?

A couple weeks later, they came back and they said they were going to offer me a six-week lab, but even that lab sort of felt like an audition. We had three performances and didn’t get the offer until the middle of our very last presentation.

In the middle?

Yes, I got my offer at the intermission. My agent called. Talk about working hard for a job! It was a journey and I worked my ass off to prove to them that I can give something to this role to make it special.

Jacqueline B. Arnold as La Chocolat, Robyn Hurder as Nini, Holly James as Arabia and Jeigh Madjus as Baby Doll. Photos: © Matthew Murphy, 2019

How have you managed the rejection from projects you didn’t book?

I’ve gone crazy. After I finished the national tour of A Chorus Line, I got very confused about my trajectory going back into New York afterward. I got so nervous and so desperate and I didn’t work for about three years. I did little gigs here and there but I did not work in a show. There were moments, walking into an audition room, where I looked down at my legs and I could see my dress trembling. I was so nervous and they can smell that across the table. They know you’re not giving your best performance. It wasn’t until Nice Work If You Can Get It happened in 2012 that I really worked. We always say that we’re never gonna work again and it’s not true.

What was it about Nice Work that changed things for you?

I had done the readings in 2007 or 2008 and it fell through. Years go by and workshops were happening and they were using another girl. In 2011, I put on my Gerwshin Greatest Hits and read and re-read the script from the readings. I went in for it when it was time and I got it. I became motivated. I thought, “You deserve this! You should be doing this!” I’m a big believer in the Law of Attraction. Like attracts like.

Encores!A Chorus Line
Robyn Hurder in Encores! A Chorus Line. Photo by Joan Marcus

Moulin Rouge! is currently in previews at The Al Hirschfeld Theatre. For tickets, visit




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