Sutton Foster is a Broadway legend, but after years of gracing the stage with her powerhouse voice and infectious smile, Foster turned to television.
After starring in the first season of ABC Family’s "Bunheads," she stayed in the cable world for Darren Star’s "Younger." Foster plays Liza, a woman who, upon returning to the work force after raising her daughter, finds herself having to account for her 18 years away from the office. Instead of trying to navigate the rough waters of such a disheartening task, Liza opts for another route: she pretends that she’s 26. Fortunately, Foster’s wide smile and youthful eyes actually give the show a believable edge.
Foster chatted with Indiewire about the interesting contradictions of playing such a role, her time on Broadway and the looming approach of her 40th birthday. (No, for the love of god, turning 40 is not the end of the world.)
So "Younger" is really up my alley, because, coming from a theater background, I’ve been a fan of yours for years, and now I’m in this weird transitional career place, where I feel like I’m the oldest person everywhere. So it really stuck with me.
I know! I went from being the youngest, and now I’m The Veteran. I’m like, "Wait a minute? When did this happen?" [laughs] "Veteran Sutton Foster." I’m like, "Wait, wait, wait! I’m not — yeah."
How has this foray into television has been going for you, first with "Bunheads" and now with "Younger?"
I’m never really actively looking to do TV. "Bunheads" was an amazing experience — to work with Amy Sherman Palladino, it was like a perfect sort of bridge into doing TV. Dance was involved, and singing, and it was just such a great experience, and I learned so much. And the same with "Younger," it was just a great character and a premise that I thought would be fun. I think for me, where I was getting into my career, I was just looking for new challenges, new characters and fun people to work with, and both of those fit the bill.
So, you’re playing a woman who’s 40, but she’s pretending to be 26. Is there any kind of show business commentary behind that? I mean, it seems like there’s so much pressure on women in show business to look younger — to look as young as possible.
I know. I’m turning 40 next week, so I’m like —
Oh, happy birthday!
Thank you! I know, I was like, "Oh my God, it’s here." But it’s interesting to be doing this show, and also facing my own 40th birthday, and like the idea of, "Oh, wow." There’s a whole new generation of young people who do what I do. I’m like, "Oh man! How did this happen?" But, yeah, it’s a delicate thing to even navigate talking about, because obviously, I’m in a show that is about a woman — she’s like, "Okay, if this is the only way I can get a job doing what I love, then I’m going to do this." She dons a disguise to get what she wants and needs, especially in the workforce. But there is, there’s a crazy quest for youth, or a quest to look a certain way… especially for actresses as we’re getting older. I’m now faced with that — I look at myself in the mirror every day, and I go, "Oh my God, my whole job security is based on how I look!" But I also hope that — I, Sutton Foster — hope to able to navigate my own aging process, and getting older, and be able to go with the flow as I get older. And I want to stay healthy, and I want to stay looking the best that I can, and take care of myself.
Obviously they thought you could pass for 26.
Yeah, I was like, "Does it work?" [laughs] But sometimes, when I watch the show, I go, "Oh!" Sometimes I actually do look really young. I do look like I’m in my 20s, and then other times, I’m like, "Oh, no, I completely look like I’m 40. I look my age," So I think there’s this kind of chameleon thing that’s sort of being able to go between all of it. But it’s the convention of the show, so you pray that it works. And… yeah, I don’t know. I hope to navigate getting older as gracefully as I can.
I think everyone does!
Let’s talk about some of your cast mates. Miriam Shor is a theater legend herself. Was it comforting to have someone else from the theater world on this adventure with you?
Yeah, she’s awesome. She went to college with my brother, so my brother and her, they know each other really well. When we shot the pilot, we were all like, "How is this possible?" because we all really liked each other, and got along, and you know, it’s one of those things when you think, "Oh, please let it be picked up, because wouldn’t this be fun? Wouldn’t we have a good time?" And it’s been really great. Miriam is hilarious, and I love our character dynamic, and we have some really fun scenes together. And Debi [Mazar] is such a badass, and so strong. And Hilary [Duff] has navigated her career from working so young. Being in the limelight so long, she’s navigated it so beautifully, and is a real inspiration. And they’re all moms; it’s just a great group of people.
When you’re hanging out with the younger folks on set, or doing those scenes with the younger cast members, do you ever have moments when you feel like your character? Maybe out of the loop with some of the lingo, or pop culture?
Oh, totally. Totally. I’m like an old fogey. This is when I started going, "How did this happen? How did time go by so fast?" Now that overalls are back and flannel shirts, which is what I used to wear in high school. "God dammit, now the clothes I wore in high school are starting to come back! I should have saved everything!" But yeah, there’s definitely things where I go, "What? What does that mean?" — but I’m not afraid to ask. Because it goes both ways. There are things I’ll be talking about, and they’ll go, "Huh? What movie? What is that from?" And then there’s things that they’ll say, and I’m like "I have no idea what that is." So, it’s a good education — it goes back and forth.
I’m sure some of them probably look up to you as well.
Well, I have so much wisdom! [laughs] So much wisdom to impart.
What are you going to do when you hit 40 next week? You’ve got to embrace the fact that you have wisdom!
I know, I know. And one of my best friends, she’s younger than me, but I think she’s 36 now. But I’m like, "As the eldest," I always say, "I’m the eldest; the eldest has spoken. I’ve lived on this earth longer!" But it’s fun. Hilary and Nico [Tortorella], I don’t think of them as typical 20-year olds, they’re both incredibly mature, they’ve got their shit together, and they’re really awesome, and most of the time, we just hang out, it doesn’t feel like this great divide. Occasionally, something will pop up like, "Right, right, I’m 13 years older than you," but mostly, we just all kind of shoot the shit, and it’s great.
Doing some love scenes with a 20-something doesn’t sound so bad, either.
Yeah, it’s not so bad! [laughs] But you know, I will say, this is to credit Nico too, he’s such a great guy. We have this romance on the show, and he doesn’t make me feel like a 40-year-old, you know? Whatever that means. We’re very compatible, and we have such a great time, and we work really well together. I don’t feel self-conscious or insecure. It’s like everything just feels really nice, and he’s a great, great, great person to work with. So, we have a good time.
It’s so interesting, I feel like if the roles were reversed — if it was a 40-something guy and a 20-something girl — no one would ever question that or think it was revolutionary.
But the fact that it’s a 40-year-old woman with a 20-something man, it’s something to talk about.
It’s interesting! I know.
Yeah, definitely. So my next question revolves around singing on television. There’s a lot of musical television going on lately, with "Glee," "Smash" and "Galavant"… yet you’ve kind of stuck to non-musical TV. Is there a reason behind that, and are you interested in dipping into that as well?
Well, "Bunheads" definitely had some singing and dancing on it, but it wasn’t like a "Glee" or a "Smash." I’d love to be singing, but "Younger" is such a gift, because I’m able to play a character that doesn’t sing or dance, and I’m able to be seen as someone who could do that without those elements. And I would love to, as I navigate my career, be known as someone who can do many things. But I don’t think it was a conscious decision to not go that route, it was just a route that opened up for me.
Now that you’re on TV, what kind of TV do you like to watch?
I just started watching "Black Mirror" and "30 Rock," and we just started watching "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," and…
I just started watching that too, I love that.
Yeah, it’s so cute. And I watch "Girls," and I started binge-watching "Sex and the City," so I’m watching things that I might not have caught the first time around. And then, on my iPad, I’m watching "Jane the Virgin" and "How to Get Away with Murder."
Lots of female-led TV you’re watching!
Yes! I mean, it’s great. It’s exciting that there’s so much out there.
So what are the big differences that you’ve felt in doing television compared to a Broadway show? Are there similar demands, or are they completely different worlds for you?
Doing a Broadway show, doing eight shows a week, is probably the hardest thing I’ve done. Just the sort of physical demands of what that entails. They’re just totally different beasts, they really are. A lot of it’s about the pace of the day, and how, when I’m filming it’s like a 12-hour day, a 15-hour day — just a long-ass day — but also in smaller chunks. There are just different demands. But they’re both incredibly rewarding and fulfilling in different ways as well. Like last year, I had a really great year, For six months I did a Broadway show, and then for three months I shot "Younger," so it was this great mix of both, and it was awesome. It was like, "Whoa, that was a great year." So to be able to go back and forth between the two would be ideal.
So thinking that "Younger" will be the TV you stick with, what kind of role would lure you back to the stage?
Oh God, I don’t know! We’ll see. I have a couple irons in the fire, some projects that we’re trying to fit in, schedule-wise. But again, it would just be a character or someone that felt fun and challenging. Maybe someone outside the box.
"Younger" premieres tonight at 10pm on TV Land.