We all have a little Elsa in us at work, says co-author of ‘Frozen’

At the age of 42, Robert Lopez is the youngest of only 12 people in history to earn entertainment’s grand-slam victory of EGOT: an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award.

Robert’s career spans two decades of some of the best and most iconic songwriting out there.  He is responsible for creating the scores and books of the Tony award winning musicals “Avenue Q” and “The Book of Mormon”, as well as the song Let it Go from Frozen, which netted him and his equally talented wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez their first Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Our question when we see someone so relentlessly successful and talented is: how did he or she get to this point? What secrets did Lopez learn in the making of Frozen that relates to how you can be successful in a project? Robert talked to us about all of this before he was being honored at the City University of New York “Invest in a Future” Gala.

Ladders: You won the Oscar for “Let it Go” from Frozen, and it’s such an iconic and timeless song. What kind of secrets did you learn from the making of that when it comes to how to successfully work in your career?

Robert Lopez: We really had to lean in, writing that score, because the story was very different when we came in [Elsa was the villain] and it wasn’t right to be a musical. It just didn’t feel like it would sing, and if we tried to be good and work within the bounds of what we were supposed to say, what we were supposed to do and who we were supposed to be please, it would’ve been harder for everyone to find the movie where we wanted it to be. 

One of the things that we learned is that it is good to lean in and disagree, and it makes you a motor in the process when you are able to bring a different point of view — and you know when to have that point of view and not always stop everything. I think part of it was my wife Kristen being the braver one of the two of us, leaning into what it should be about and the two sisters and what it’s like to be a woman growing up. She drew from her identity.

Honestly, do you think we are all a little Elsa at our job?

(Laughs). You know, I think there is a little bit of her in all of us. I was always a perfectionist as a kid, and had my share of freakouts and that is how I found my way into her character.  

Outside of Frozen, you have done some amazing theater work including “Avenue Q” and “The Book of Mormon.” Has there been anyone you have worked with that has left a lasting impression?

Well, let’s see. I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of heroes, like Matt Stone and Trey Parker from South Park, who were my idols in college. I got to work with John Lasseter and the people at Pixar and Scott Rudin, these are just greats in the industry.  Jeffrey Seller as well, who produced “Avenue Q” as well as “Hamilton” and “Rent.” I don’t know, I wouldn’t say anybody I wouldn’t want to work with, but I wouldn’t want to work on something just for the money that I didn’t like.

That’s another lesson that you learn: if you take a project for the money, just for the money in a creative setting, it is hard to fly. Because you have to make yourself happy as well as the audience.

You’ve had so much success in many arenas, how do you handle success as it comes?

It is tricky, it is hard and can really come between you and what makes you an artist. It’s a constant process of therapy. It’s nice to win awards — but it is nice to put them in context and not buy your own hype. It is hard to not start thinking of yourself as a thing, you are still yourself.

We all have the naysayers in our life, whether they are coming from a place of love or the other way around. How do you handle these sorts of people?

I tune them out. There were a couple of toxic relationships when I started working and it was hard to let them go because you feel like you needed them. You feel, at least I felt, scared that I would fail without the person. Letting go of those toxic relationships, as scary as it is, it leads to a better life and even though its painful, because we all have them, but if you can and find the courage to do it, it pays off.

And finally, for success in any sort of career that includes a great deal of longevity and prosperity, what is your best advice?

Some of it is just being there. Being in the right place at the right time which you can’t control that, but you can control how you put yourself out there. So, they say “never say no to going out somewhere with people,” or “never say no to going to some industry thing,” and if you are like me, a little bit shy and a bit of an introvert, it is good to find a partner who brings that out in you, which in my case is Kristen.