InDepth InterView Exclusive: Megan Hilty Talks IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME Album, Plus SMASH, WICKED, LEGENDS OF OZ: DOROTHY'S RETURN & More
Today we are talking to a divinely gifted triple-threat talent who made a name on the Great White Way with her starring parts in 9-TO-5 and WICKED and who has since shot to international stardom with her leading role on NBC's musical drama series SMASH - the gorgeous vocal powerhouse Megan Hilty. Analyzing all aspects of her new solo album, the expressive and sexy IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME, Hilty shares her inspirations, considerations, ruminations and dedications in regards to the new release, explicating the meanings behind both many of the original songs and covers. In addition to all about IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME, Hilty also shares stories about some of her own favorite performers, songs and performances as well as what elements had to converge in order to create this fantastic first solo album. Additionally, Hilty shares details about her day job on SMASH and what we can expect in the coming weeks in Season Two of the series - including behind-the-scenes stories involving guest stars Bernadette Peters and Liza Minnelli, no less; to say nothing of brilliant SMASH songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman - as well as what material we will be hearing sung by the reclaimed bombshell of BOMBSHELL, Marilyn Monroe, now that she is back in the show. All of that, news on sharing a soundtrack duet with Glee star Lea Michele in LEGENDS OF OZ: DOROTHY'S RETURN and her experiences working on that upcoming animated film as well as hopes for a Broadway GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES sometime soon and much, much more awaits!
More information on Megan Hilty's IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME is available here.
Be A Star
PC: How did you decide to make your first solo album so unexpected and outside the box?
MH: Well, it's something that I never knew that I wanted to do, really. I mean, I knew that I wanted to get into recording, but I didn't know if I had anything important to say - and, I also didn't know what my sound is or what it should be; I have such an eclectic taste in music and I don't want to limit myself to just musical theatre. And, so, I thought that the most obvious thing would be to put out an album of showtunes, but I didn't want to do what was obvious. I wanted to stretch myself. So, when Columbia approached me about doing an album, I thought, "OK. I know I am in good hands because I have been working with them through SMASH, and, specifically, this producer, Andy Zulla," who I trust enormously in the way he has been directing me in the pop covers on the show.
PC: One led to the other.
MH: Yeah - it's something I had never, ever done before, so I just thought, "Hey, why not?!"
PC: You took a chance - or, dared to move, as the case may be.
MH: I did. [Laughs.] So, I wanted it to be a project that was just me - not anything that was attached to a character or a story or anything.
PC: What was the process like in the early stages of development?
MH: Oh, it took some time - we did a lot of demos! We played around a lot with what the sound would be and this evolved into something deeply personal - much more personal than I thought it was going to be, actually! But, ultimately, it is something that I am really, really proud of.
PC: You have a few songs featured quite famously in some films - among them, "Wise Up" from MAGNOLIA. When Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman did this column we talked about that very unique movie musical. Have you ever discussed it with them?
MH: No, we haven't actually - but I love that song so much. I absolutely love the movie, too, so it was a no-brainer for me to include that song. It's a really beautiful song.
PC: How did you arrive upon including "The Blower's Daughter" - did you know it from CLOSER or through Damien Rice?
MH: I was a huge fan of Damien Rice - and I am a huge fan still! [Laughs.] I love Damien Rice and that song specifically. The lyrics are so hauntingly beautiful - and devastating.
PC: It's very haunting.
MH: It is, it is. Actually, I was hoping that that was on a soundtrack, but I had no idea it was really in a movie - I have to see that movie now! [Laughs.]
PC: It's a good one. You have some original songs on this album, as well.
MH: We do. We sort of strayed away from the original concept of having mostly cover songs and it turned out in the end that about half the songs on the album are originals.
PC: Tell me about one of them, "Be A Man" - have you ever lived those lyrics?
MH: [Pause.] Hmmm. Well, no, not really... but, I've really wanted to! [Big Laugh.]
PC: Not naming any names, of course!
MH: Yeah, I think we all have felt that way at some point - relationships can go stale, and sometimes for no reason, you know? So, unfortunately, I think it is a very universal feeling - to just want the other person to fess up and say, "I don't want to be here anymore!" I have definitely felt like that.
PC: It's a Mary J. Blige-esque production - how did that come about?
MH: Well, we got the demo through Columbia - that's one of the originals that they sent us - and I immediately wanted to do it. Andy, the producer, arranged it. We always say that one of the reasons we work so well together is that we agree that the cello makes everything better. [Laughs.]
PC: Especially this!
MH: Definitely this.
PC: You look so sensational in the "No Cure" music video. Where did you film it? Is that really your apartment?
MH: No - I wish! [Laughs.] That was this awesome flat out in Brooklyn - it was so, so beautiful! Oh, my God - it was like every dream I've ever had of a Brooklyn apartment, you know? That was another thing that happened that I never thought would - a music video?! I mean, we didn't mean for it to be a radio album or any of that stuff at all, but I guess when they tested it they found out that everybody - all the radio stations - said that they wanted to play it.
PC: So, that's how the video came about, then?
MH: Yeah, we thought we should do a lyric video for the first single and I guess we are going to be on the radio, too. Will they show it on TV? I don't know. But, I think it's so amazing that that has been what has come out of this experience - stuff like that.
PC: IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME has made the iTunes charts, as well, if you aren't aware.
MH: Oh, really?! It did? Are you serious? That's so awesome! That is so, so crazy! Wow.
PC: What is "No Cure" about, in your opinion?
MH: I think that it is about being lovesick and feeling like that is never going to end.
PC: "It's not going to stop," to quote another song on the album, "Wise Up".
MH: Exactly! Exactly.
PC: When was IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME recorded? Was it after GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES?
MH: Yes. Actually, I spent all summer going down to Austin and recording these demos and listening to lots of songs and deciding what this album was going to be.
PC: Were you exhausted or resilient having come off of the first season of SMASH and the run of the show at Encores!?
MH: I wasn't tired at all, actually - I found it very relaxing! You know, I would go down to Austin for a week at a time and spend four or five hours everyday in the studio trying things out. It was never tiring or exhausting, it was always exciting and interesting. It was a very, very interesting process.
PC: Did you play around with a country sound at any point?
MH: You know, it's so funny because people always think of me as being a little bit country or assume that I am from the South - I don't know why! [Laughs.] I'm from Seattle, you know!
PC: You have the Southern look.
MH: Yeah, it's been that way my whole life, that people have thought that I was from the South! I do tend to gravitate a little bit more to the country sound, I guess. [Pause.] I don't know - I just love great lyrics and great storytelling and that is what country music usually is about. No one pushed me in that direction with this - when I did 9-TO-5, though, they would say, "Oh, you need to do a country album!" But, you know, to me, that didn't make any sense in a girl from Seattle. It didn't make any sense then and it doesn't really now either, to me.
PC: You've already played Dolly [Parton]!
MH: That's right - I've done it! [Laughs.]
PC: "Hopin'" is another smashing original song.
MH: Oh, thanks for saying that - yeah, "Hopin'" is an original one, too.
PC: What are some of your own favorites on the album?
MH: Well, I think "Heart Of The Matter" is probably one of my favorites, for sure.
PC: Why so?
MH: Well, that was one of the ones that almost didn't make it on the album and I am so, so glad that it did. [Pause. Sighs.] Again, it's all about the lyrics to me - I am obsessed. So, as soon as we broke down the lyrics of that song after I had first played it for the producers, I realized, "Oh, this is so sad! This means something completely different to me now!" And, I have always been a fan of the song and the different versions of it, so I am really happy with how ours turned out and I am really happy we included it in the final mix for the album.
PC: It was originally an Eagles song, right?
MH: I think so - Don Henley. India.Arie redid it, too, for SEX & THE CITY, I think, and I loved her version. I don't know, I just think it is all about trying to move on and sometimes you feel like you can't - sometimes you just miss that person, you know? And, then, the whole idea of forgiveness - after everything that has happened. It's just a beautiful idea and I think by really breaking it down like we did it really gets down to the message of it even more.
PC: And a chance to gorgeously float those high notes in there, too!
MH: That, too! [Laughs.]
PC: Did you play around with adjusting keys and doing the same songs in different registers while working on the album?
MH: Oh, yeah! We played around with everything like that - just everything! I am happy with how it ended up, though - it turned out to be a very personal album.
PC: Did you meet any resistance from the powers-that-be given your somehwat unusual song choices and non-Broadway fare?
MH: Well, they went a little bit back and forth on it, but I think that that's why it's good that I ended up doing it with the people that I did - we don't necessarily agree on everything all of the time. And, I think that that is good for me. I think that I need to be pushed and stretched sometimes instead of just doing the same old thing.
PC: Another original song is the title tune. Tell me about that original Glen Ballard ballad.
MH: Yes, "It Happens All The Time" was one of those songs that I heard and immediately said, "Yes! I have to put this on the album." It's such a cool, different sound and it just feels so restless to me. I just love it. I thought it was a no-brainer that that would be the title track of the album, too, once I heard it - that's what all the songs on the album are really about and what ties everything together; people fall in and out of love all the time.
PC: That's the overriding theme, you would say?
MH: I think so. I mean, it's not really a break-up album, but, at the same time... it is.
PC: What didn't make the final cut?
MH: Oh, a lot of stuff! It was mostly just because they didn't fit the album, though, not that they weren't good songs. One that I really loved was "You Don't Know Me" - it turned out really great but it just didn't fit the style of the album at all! Not one bit.
PC: Any others?
MH: Oh, there were so many that almost made it. I would bring in songs all the time and say, "Oh, you have to hear this!" And then they would give me the strangest looks and say, "What kind of album are you trying to make here?!" [Laughs.] Then, I was like, "I don't know - I've never done this before, guys!"
PC: You have some Target Bonus Tracks for the special edition of IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME, as well, do you not?
MH: Yes, we have two exclusive songs on the Target special edition of the album - we did "Gravity" and "It Will Rain".
PC: A Bruno Mars song - from TWILIGHT, no less! Are you a fan of his?
MH: Oh, God - I think he is a genius. I love putting his station on Pandora and just listening to it - I love all of his songs and all of the ones like it on there. I love him.
PC: And Sara Bareilles with "Gravity", yes?
MH: Yes, Sara Bareilles I love, too - that is one of my favorite songs, actually. I am so glad we got to include it on the special Target version of the album.
PC: What have been some influential sounds to you in particular in making this album?
MH: Oh, well, usually it's epic, sweeping Faith Hill songs and stuff like that that I love to do - movie theme songs, too; I love singing movie themes. Mostly, it was the arrangements and playing around with them that I found to be one of the most rewarding and interesting parts of this process - and we did a lot of that kind of stuff!
PC: You sang some Robyn on SMASH earlier this season at your own request, correct?
MH: I did. I love Robyn. That was actually something I requested in my very first meeting with Josh Safran - I just said, "There's one song that I want to sing this year." [Laughs.]
PC: And you did!
MH: He had actually worked with her on Gossip Girl once - she was a guest star. So, he was like, "Oh, absolutely! I love that song and I love her." It just made a lot of sense in the story, too, the way that we did it.
PC: Will you be singing any other contemporary chart hits coming up that you can tell us about? I've heard a rumor about Rihanna's "Stay", yes?
MH: I think that that one is coming, yes, but Kat [McPhee] is the one who is doing it, I believe.
PC: And is it true that Justin Timberlake's "Mirrors" is being done by Leslie Odom Jr.?
MH: Well, I know that he has sung that, but I am not sure if he is doing that on the actual show - I don't know for sure.
PC: Are you a JT fan in general?
MH: Oh, I am - I love Justin Timberlake. I am a huge fan.
PC: Have we seen the last of LIAISONS! on SMASH or is there more of your Cecile still to see?
MH: Unfortunately, yes - we're done with LIAISONS!
PC: So that is all we will be hearing from you in LIAISONS, too - one song?
MH: Yep. "A Letter From Cecile" is my only LIAISONS song. It's so funny, though, because Marc and Scott were like, "OK, so they've really given us pretty much carte blanche with this so we can do whatever we want, so what kind of song do you want to sing?" So, I said, "Well, I've never sung classically on the show yet, so why don't we try that?" And, so, they wrote me a classical scene - and, of course, it is just one of the most fantastic songs, especially for not having really worked in the operetta genre before!
PC: You can say that again!
MH: That's just them, though - that's Marc and Scott; they write songs in one afternoon that people would spend their whole lives dying to write.
PC: So true.
MH: It's totally, totally amazing to watch.
PC: What a shame that's it for LIAISONS!, though! You looked so sensational in those costumes.
MH: Oh, thank you! That's so nice. Yeah, I loved doing LIAISONS!
PC: When you last did this column, you said your dream was to someday sing a duet with Bernadette Peters - and now you have!
MH: I know! Can you believe it?! I actually didn't know that that was what we were going to do - to do it together in a recording studio like we did [recording it]. You know, she sings most of it and I just have a little bit at the end, so I thought for sure that I would just be coming in and laying down vocals on top of what she already did. But, of course, the one day I am super-late because of traffic - which was ridiculous - it was the day I was in the recording studio with Bernadette Peters and I walk in and am just mortified. Mortified! [Laughs.]
PC: Of all the times for a traffic jam, right?
MH: It was the worst. But, of course, she is the nicest woman on the planet so she didn't even say anything about it, but I haven't been able to stop myself from apologizing ever since.
PC: Besides SMASH, you both also appear in the upcoming LEGENDS OF OZ: DOROTHY'S RETURN.
MH: That's right! And Bernadette plays Glinda in it - which is so fabulous and hilarious. Everyone thinks I am playing Glinda in the movie because that's who I played in WICKED, but I'm not - I play the China Doll. The woman who is my idol and plays my mother on SMASH plays Glinda. [Laughs.]
PC: What can we look forward to you singing in the film?
MH: Well, I have a song with Lea Michele and Hugh Dancy which is really fun - it's kind of like a Glinda-esque, soprano-y song where I am making fun of all my suitors and turning them away.
PC: SMASH meets Glee meets HANNIBAL!
MH: Oh, yeah, man! We've got it all in OZ! [Laughs.]
PC: What was Lea like?
MH: Oh, well, I have known Lea for a long time - since a long time ago. But, she is so lovely. We didn't get to really do anything together on this, though, because when you record these things - we've been working on this movie for years - you never get to be in the same booth together. She is so great in the film, though. I am really excited that people are going to get the chance to see it soon. Also, I went to see Hugh Dancy after his show in New York - VENUS IN FURS, which I absolutely adored by the way - and I said to him, "Hugh, I loved you so much in the show. P.S. I have been playing your lover in LEGENDS OF OZ: DOROTHY'S RETURN for the last couple of years." [Big Laugh.]
PC: That's hilarious.
MH: He was like, "Well, then, nice to meet you, Megan!" [Laughs.]
PC: Speaking of VENUS IN FURS, would you take on Nina Arianda's role in that someday? It seems like a good fit for you, no?
MH: [Pause.] Hmm. After Nina did it, though? No, no, no, no - she is a force! I would never touch anything she did. [Laughs.]
PC: Are you considering a stage role this summer now that SMASH has wrapped for Season Two?
MH: Well, I'm still not sure what's happening with SMASH, so I can't really make any plans yet - I would love to, though.
PC: What roles are at the top of your list to play onstage?
MH: Oh, I'd love to do GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES again - especially on Broadway. I would love to do anything, really, onstage. I have to get back.
PC: Liza Minnelli is coming up on SMASH,as well - Broadway's biggest star!
MH: I know! How lucky am I? We have some amazing people coming up - some amazing guest stars. It's awesome.
PC: Do you two share any songs or scenes on the show?
MH: No, unfortunately, but she did sing to me onset - the whole day, actually! We got to hang out quite a bit and the whole time I was just pinching myself - I mean, it's Liza!
MH: She really is.
PC: So, what can you tell us about Ivy's new storyline?
MH: Well, I can tell you that a new story will be starting up for Ivy in these next few weeks now that she is back in BOMBSHELL - but, that's all I can say! [Laughs.]
PC: What do you think about the move to Saturdays? Do you think that it will actually be a benefit to the show?
MH: I don't know - I don't know much about any of that stuff, actually; the numbers and all of that. It seems to me, though, that people don't watch TV the way that they used to - especially with the internet and everything - so it is hard to track it. It seems like how they track shows these days doesn't actually reflect what people are really watching on television. You know, our show is the type that everybody likes to DVR and people might prefer to watch a couple in a row, you know?
PC: It is a soap, after all - ultimately.
MH: Right. So, unfortunately, all of that doesn't really count in the way that they rate these shows now and how they count who is watching. So, I really don't know. [Pause.] I really don't know if moving will help or hinder. All I can say is that I have done my best work on the show and I hope that it continues! But, at this point, who knows?
PC: You have been the true breakout star of the show, in any event - you are such a bright light.
MH: Oh, thank you so much for saying that, Pat. That's so sweet.
PC: Will you be doing some concerts in support of IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME over the summer - maybe a mini concert tour?
MH: Well, I can't actually make any plans like that since I am under contract to SMASH right now, so we will see what happens. I do have a bunch of symphony dates, but those don't have a lot to do with the album or anything, of course. I would love to go out and do some concerts. I am doing Joe's Pub as an album release thing on April 23 - I have two little shows there on the same night. But, that's it for now - hopefully I'll get to plan something else later.
PC: Will you have any special guests at the Joe's Pub show?
MH: Oh, I don't know - I didn't even think of that yet! [Laughs.]
PC: You're Megan Hilty - you don't need any special guests!
MH: [Big Laugh.] I guess not!
PC: Will you and Jeremy Jordan ever be singing together on SMASH in Season Two?
MH: I actually only have one tiny little moment with him in the entire series - we just exchange a few words and that is it.
PC: Tell me about Sean Hayes. Will you two ever sing together?
MH: Oh, I wish! I wish! He is just so amazing - such a sweet, kind man. He was so wonderful to have onset - he is so professional and he is just a genius. He really is. Also, he is so playful - he's a great reminder of, you know, "Hey, we're here to do a job, but it can be fun and we can play a little, too!"
MH: Yes! Yes. Exactly.
PC: Would you be open to doing PROMISES, PROMISES with him - maybe a TV movie version with Craig Zadan and Neil Meron producing since they are behind SMASH and the most recent Broadway revival?
MH: Oh, my God! I would die - I would seriously just die. Anything to work with him again - I'd do anything.
PC: What about doing a full-out BOMBSHELL TV movie were it to happen someday?
MH: Absolutely! I just hope they'd let me audition! [Laughs.]
PC: Let's hope you wouldn't have do audition at this point. Would that be a satisfying send-off for the series if it is not renewed for Season Three, do you think?
MH: Oh, that would be fantastic! That is the first I have ever heard of it, but that would be so great if they did it. I'd love to do it.
PC: Will you singing any of your own solo album material on SMASH at all?
MH: No. We did talk about that, but ultimately we decided that it was best to keep things separate, you know?
PC: You and Patti LuPone were both recent guests on Andy Cohen's WATCH WHAT HAPPENS. Have you two ever performed together?
MH: We have, actually! We both participated in the concert for President Obama earlier this year - BARACK ON BROADWAY.
PC: You sang with Cheyenne Jackson at that, correct?
MH: Yes - I love Cheyenne. It was just an amazing night. She is so cool and so amazing, though - in whatever she does.
PC: Cheyenne will be on the SMASH finale - with Rosie O'Donnell and Christine Ebersole, too?
MH: Yes. We have so many amazing Broadway people in the finale - it's really, really awesome. Broadway fans are going to love it.
PC: Last question: would you be open to appearing in THE RINK with Patti someday?
MH: Oh, yeah - that would be amazing! I'd love to do a show with her - anything. I just can't wait to do another Broadway show.
PC: IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME is exceptional and you continue to shine on SMASH every single week - you're such a star. Thank you so much for this today, Megan.
MH: Thank you so, so much for this, Pat. You are so awesome and this was so much fun to do. Bye.
Photo Credit: Walter McBride, NBC Universal, Columbia, Sony, etc.