Broadway fans will be extremely familiar with the name of Sutton Foster who, since winning a Tony a decade ago for her breakthrough performance in Thoroughly Modern Millie, has appeared in one high profile show after another, including The Drowsy Chaperone and, most recently, Anything Goes, for which she won her second Tony. Outside of the Great White Way Foster has guested on Flight of the Conchords and revealed her love for levers on Sesame Street. But, in truth, Foster’s small screen sightings have been few and far between…
…Until now. Sutton is the star of the new ABC Family show Bunheads, which premieres June 11. Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, of Gilmore Girls fame, the dramedy finds the actress playing a Las Vegas showgirl called Michelle who drunkenly marries a superfan (Alan Ruck) and relocates to a small town where she winds up mentoring a band of teenage dance students or “bunheads.” Below, the actress talks about her new TV gig, her love for the Gilmore Girls, and why it’s important not to be an “a–hole.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were you attracted to Bunheads because the subject matter is in your wheelhouse? Or did that make you think twice? Would you rather have been cast in a show about, say, a rough, tough werewolf-cop?
SUTTON FOSTER: I had no idea what it was about [when I agreed to do the show]. I got a phone call saying that Amy Sherman-Palladino wrote a pilot and she wanted me to star in it. And, before reading, it I went, “Okay.” I was like, “Yes, done. Whatever it is, I’ll do it.” I’m a huge Gilmore Girls fan. I saw every single episode, I’ve owned all the DVDs. I’m obsessed with the show. It could have been about a werewolf-cop-pirate guy. It could have been about anything and I would have been like, “Yes.”
Then my agent sent me the script and I was like crying and laughing. It was one of those things were you go, “Okay, yes please.” The universe gave me such a gift. When I first met Amy I was like a super-freako fan on her. I thought, “She’s going to think I’m crazy.” And now that I get to say her words and live in her mind, it’s just awesome. She’s a wonderful genius. She has a voice unlike any other that’s on television, I think. It’s exciting to have her back out there telling a whole new story.
Tell us about your character.
Michelle is a dancer. She grew up sort of studying ballet but then lost her way and ended up in Vegas as a showgirl. When we discover her, she’s lost, she doesn’t really have any roots, she kind of let her career slide, she’s kind of at the end of her dancing career, and impulsively moves to this small town on the coast of California. She’s a bit of a mess. She’s a total mess. But she’s a fun mess. I think she’s trying to find a place where she matters and have meaning in her life. She’s wasted away a lot of potential and she’s trying to find herself in this weird-a– town with some crazy characters.
Michelle gets married while drunk. Have you ever done anything spectacularly unwise under the influence of alcohol?
I haven’t — that I know of — married anybody in Vegas. Yet. I try to limit my alcohol intake just so those things don’t happen. [Laughs]
What’s been the most surprising thing about making a TV show?
The pace. Every day is a new challenge. There’s no time for you to get in your own way. I can’t come in to work and be like, “Ooh, I’m scared! Ooh, I don’t know if I can do it!’ Because there’s 40 people staring at you, waiting for you to do your thing. When you’re working on a theater piece you have 6 weeks of rehearsal, and you can live in the material and there’s something amazing about that. But it’s kind of fun to make a choice and just leap and go and then you’re rolling with this character going on the journey with her and yourself — it’s like a little parallel journey of actor and character.
Is it strange to be performing and not have 2,000 people applaud you?
It is interesting to not have that immediate feedback. There is a little bit of like, “Was that okay?” You don’t know. And you’ll be doing this scene and there’s a dude kneeling beside you with like a light or a board. You’re trying to have this scene with somebody else but there’s this dude right there. It’s so strange!
In the show your character mentors a group of dance students. Have you found yourself giving the actresses advice in real-life?
Well, at first they thought I was really cool. I don’t know what they think of me now. But I’m 37 and I think the girls are 17, 19 years old and it’s important to me to be a good role model so they can look up to me and go, “Oh, look, there’s an adult and I want to be like that.” As opposed to being, like, an a–hole. That’s always my number one bit of advice to any young person: “Just don’t be an a–hole.”
You can check out the trailer for Bunheads below.