BWW Interviews: BUNHEADS' Sutton Foster Talks Co-Star Hunter, Ukuleles & Upcoming 'Broadway Audition'
Sutton Foster stars as 'Michelle Simms' on the hit ABC Family series BUNHEADS. The award-winning actor, singer and dancer has appeared on Broadway in Grease!, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Annie, and Les Miserables before her big break and Tony Award-winning performance in Thoroughly Modern Millie. She has also originated roles in the Broadway productions of Little Women, The Drowsy Chaperone, Young Frankenstein, and Shrek the Musical.
In 2011, Sutton starred in the revival of Anything Goes, a role that earned her a Drama Desk and Outer Critics Award as well as the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress. Her TV credits include Law and Order: SVU, Royal Pains and Flight of the Conchords.
Foster spoke exclusively to BWW about working with real-life brother Hunter, what's ahead for her character and why there's "a lot of Broadway love" going on the set of the show!
This season we are starting to get bits and pieces of your character's unhappy childhood, particularly in the episodes featuring your real-life brother Hunter who portrays your fictional brother on the show. How do you think the issues Michelle dealt with in her youth have affected her as an adult?
I think what's great this season is that you are starting to see why Michelle is the way she is, why she in many ways is a bit stunted in her journey, especially in seeing that her mother is still a child and that Michelle had no real mother figure. I think that's why her relationship with Fanny is so interesting because I think in many ways, Michelle sees Fanny as a mother that she never really had. Michelle's life and her journey in her career only took her so far. She really doesn't have a lot of self worth. She's a big talker, she loves to talk, loves to sort of deflect any real emotions or feelings, but she has a lot of walls up. She has a lot of humor and a lot of sarcasm but most of that is deflecting what's really going on.
So it's been interesting to see a window into her past and you're like, 'Oh, okay, that's why she is the way she is.' Maybe she'd be different if she had a loving mommy and daddy but she didn't. And the relationship with her brother was good and positive and they had each other but he's still a wayward, lost, kind of flailing through life, while she's trying to finally make roots and settle and change her life and he's still floating about. So it's interesting to see that.
There was a scene with your brother where you tried to explain how you have changed and are now making a commitment to your current life in Paradise. Do you think Michelle even surprised herself when those words came out of her mouth?
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely! And it's amazing. I don't think she could have said those things to anyone but her brother. And I think you are absolutely right, I think she surprised herself that she felt so strongly about wanting to commit to this town and stay here and that the Girls look up to her and mean something to her and I think all of those things were a shock to her as well.
You mentioned how Michelle sees Fanny as the mother she never had. On the other side of the coin, it seems as if Sasha views Michelle as a role model, or perhaps the mother that she never had. Do you think Michelle wants to take on that role?
I think yes, she does, reluctantly. Michelle is interesting. She's not a character who wants to have a family of her own. She's not the mother type. She's not Out There trying to have babies and be a mommy. But she sees a lot of herself in Sasha and so I think she reluctantly wants to help her and be there for her. It's not a natural instinct for Michelle to be a mothering type, but it's changing her, the more these Girls kind of turn to her and talk to her and ask her about stuff. It may not be the most natural thing for her to do, but it's changing her life.
It's so much fun to watch you and Hunter acting side by side. Do you think we will be seeing more of him down the road?
He definitely shows up again in the finale, unexpectedly he pops up. And then, praying that we get more episodes to come, I know for a fact he'll be back.
That's great news! This season I've noticed some very subtle Broadway references sneaking into the dialogue. Hunter's character for example, mentions 'Sun Records', a reference to his Broadway show, 'Million Dollar Quartet'. Are those intentional little nods to Broadway fans?
Well the best part about the show is that our creator, Amy Sherman Palladino is a huge Broadway fan, a Broadway lover. A lot of the references are all nods to all fans of Broadway and theater. I think there was some obscure ones in this last episode, something about Julie Taymor and like some random ones that only the diehard Broadway fans would ever get. So yeah, there's a lot of Broadway love going on in the writer's room.
And speaking of Broadway, this week's episode involved an audition for 'Bells Are Ringing,' and it was so great to see you briefly singing and dancing. Can we hope to see more of that?
Well in the finale we'll see Michelle actually Go On a cattle call, open call audition for a
Broadway musical. And so you'll see me do a full on dance call and get to sing like a 16-bar audition. They do it top to finish about what a cattle call would be really like.
Any other teasers you can give us about upcoming episodes?
Just that this audition sequence is pretty cool. The thing I'm most proud of is that it is pretty authentic to what a real audition would be. The other thing I'm really proud of is that all the singing, even the ukulele playing and the stuff in the audition, we do everything live. Nothing is studio recorded. So it's really cool. There's just a cool live quality to it. All the 'Bells Are Ringing' was done live as we were taping it. Nothing was pre-recorded or auto-dubbed in. I'm very, very proud of that with our show.
Sort of the Tom Hooper approach to 'Bunheads'.
Yeah totally, totally!
Speaking of the ukulele, did you know how to play that instrument prior to the show?
I had gotten it as a gift for my birthday last year. I had always wanted to learn how to play it and a friend of mine was helping me learn. And then Amy said she wanted Hunter and I to sing this song, and so I learned how to play that song on the ukulele. So now I'm continuing to learn songs just for the show which has been a lot of fun!
Photo credit: Rick Rowell/Carin Baer/Eric McCandless/Adam Taylor/ABC Family