June 8th, 2012 by thetvchick
Bunheads, a new ABC Family show from Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, premieres on Monday night. Broadway star Sutton Foster headlines as a classically trained turned Vegas dancer, Michelle, who drunkenly elopes a super sweet (if not a little dopey) guy. Suddenly, she finds herself thrust into this new life with Hubbel (the aforementioned guy) and his mother Fanny (played by the amazing Kelly Bishop) and a small town that knows everything about everyone. Will a loveless marriage and an overbearing mother in law drive Michelle crazy? It just so happens that she stumbles upon Fanny’s dance studio…and meets some young bunheads. My fabulous writer Rachel had the chance to chat with Sutton Foster on a media call about the differences between stage and screen, working with young dancers and why Gilmore Girls fans will love the show.
Could you run through some of the things in Bunheads that we’re going to see that you bring to a larger television audience that people may know about from seeing you on stage?
There are a couple reasons I was drawn to Bunheads, one was Amy Sherman-Palladino being one of my favorite writers, but also that the show is based around dance, and it’s affording me a lot of opportunities to do some pretty cool stuff. I’ve already done one song and dance routine, and I know there’s more down the pike. But the thing that I’m most excited about is really the character and the writing and being able to really showcase my comedic stuff and delving into—she’s just a really awesome character who’s a dancer. So I’m sure as the series grows they’ll be throwing lots and lots of stuff at me, and I always say I’ll try anything once. They’ve already thrown a bunch of stuff my way, so I’m sure that a lot more will be coming. But I don’t think theater fans will be disappointed.
What is something that you get to do in Bunheads or that you’d like to do in Bunheads that most people would probably be surprised to see you do?
Well, there’s some cool stuff coming. I don’t want to give too much away. I started dancing when I was four years old and then was in class until I was about 20 years old or so, and then primarily was dancing just in shows that I was doing, but not really studying and training. But the one thing that I’ve done because my character is she’s a ballet dancer trained at ABT. Although, when you discover her, you find out that she’s a showgirl in Vegas. So she kind of loses her ballet way. But the one thing that I’ve done is I take ballet every day. And so I have this incredible teacher, and she comes to the studio, and I have a ballet barre in my dressing room and it kicks my butt. So I’m studying ballet everyday and really training so people will see me as a ballet dancer, which no one’s seen before. Even I haven’t seen that, so I’m really excited.
Did you watch Gilmore Girls, and if so, why should Gilmore Girls fans tune into Bunheads?
I did watch Gilmore. Gilmore was my favorite. And I’m not even—this is before I even met Amy or worked on Bunheads. But it was my favorite show of all time, and I own all the DVDs. I think Amy Sherman-Palladino has a very specific voice; it’s unlike anyone else on television. And Bunheads has—it’s her voice again. You have a whole new set of characters, a whole new town, a whole new base, but you’ve got the rapid-fire dialogue and that wit and the humor that Gilmore had. So it’s exciting. And it’s exciting to hear Amy’s writing again on TV. I think Gilmore fans are going to love it.
You worked with Kelly Bishop in Anything Goes and now again on Bunheads, and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the relationship that the two of you have?
Well, when she came into Anything Goes, I freaked out because I’m such a fan of hers, and she’s just such an awesome lady. She’s Sheila from A Chorus Line. She’s awesome. Our relationship on the show is very specific, and we’re like sparring partners. But off-set, she’s very motherly, actually, and is always making sure I’m okay, and taking care of me. She’s just a wonderful woman. I’ll do a scene, and I’m like, “I can’t believe I’m acting with Kelly.”
Do you see yourself in the young actresses that you’re working with—both in their fictional roles and as young actresses as well, as young dancers?
I do actually. The girls are in their teens—16, 17. And as the character definitely and in my life too because I keep trying to—I go back to when I was 17 years old and when I was just sort of starting out, but they are far better dancers than I ever was. They are the most beautiful, beautiful ballet dancers. They’re extraordinary. And they’re doing things on a show that are so exciting. And it’s them doing it, you know? There’s no body-doubles coming in to dance for them. They’re, like, the real deal, and they’re really great young women. It’s exciting. It’s exciting to see them have this opportunity, and I think it’s going to be a great thing for them in their lives. Michelle, my character, I think she sees in them and wants to impart to them ways to do things better than she did because I think Michelle lost her way. And when you meet my character, she’s very lost, and so she wants to impart some better judgment and wisdom into the young kids so that maybe they don’t make the same mistakes she did.
I know the theater community is a really tight community, and a lot of those before you have made this move. Have any of them given you advice about making this sort of a transition to the—from the big stage to the small screen?
You know who gave me advice? It’s so funny because my ex-husband, Christian Borle, is on Smash, and we actually talked about it. We’re very good friends, and he’s the one that gave me probably the most advice—which is so weird. But he was saying—because I was asking him how Smash was going and he was saying like you just got to keep moving forward because there’s so much material, and as soon as you finish a scene, you have to let it go and move on to the next one. You can’t keep holding—like with the theater, you get a scene and you do it over and over and over and over and over again for years sometimes. And with TV, everything moves so quickly. So you might spend three hours on a scene and then it has to go away because you have to make room for a whole new scene, a whole new moment. And in many ways, it’s a blessing because you can’t get in your own way. You have to, like, act fast, and you have to go, and there’s 40 people in a room staring at you with cameras. So you can’t get scared, and you can’t go, “Oh, I don’t know; I don’t know if I can do it.” You have to just do it. And in a way, that’s been a real blessing for me just as, like, an actress because I’m like, “Okay, I’m just going to dive in and do it.” And it’s been scary and fun at the same time.
You memorize a script for a Broadway show, and you repeat the same lines every week, eight times a week, over and over for a year, and Amy is famous for her rapid-fire, just constant dialogue. I’m curious as to if it’s intimidating and if it’s been a huge adjustment to try and grasp the new pages of the script every day?
It’s definitely a whole new challenge, and it was the thing that I was probably the most scared about because I thought, “How am I going to do it? How am I going to it?” Because I also want to do her writing justice as well, so that means you need to know it. You can’t just look at it that morning; it’s impossible. So whenever we get a new script, I’m daunted. I go, “Oh gosh. I don’t know how I’m going to do it. How am I going to do it?” But it’s just about work. It’s my job. I’m just constantly working, and I love to work. So I’m a bit of a workaholic so I’m always working on the script, working on memorizing. I grab anybody I can when I’m off-set and run lines. And my best friend lives here in L.A., and she has eight-week-old twins and so I spend a lot of time here with her and the babies, and she runs lines with me. And it’s just part of—I want to do the best I can at really honoring the writing, and honoring Amy, and honoring everybody in the show. And so I just work, work, work, work.
If you were able to choose to do any number, any song, in one of the episodes, what do you think that would be? What would you choose to perform on TV for us?
Well, the first thing I just thought of, which would just be a twist for Kelly, would be something from Chorus Line just because she’s Sheila in Chorus Line. I was just thinking that that would be fun if we did one from A Chorus Line with the girls, and I was Michelle. I think that would be really fun.
What do you think about the relationship that you have with these young female fans who really look up to you as a role model, and the responsibility that you feel towards them?
It’s really important to me. And that was another huge factor of why this show just seemed right. I’m an adjunct faculty at Ball State University. I’ve worked with kids at NYU in New York. I’ve done a ton of master-class work with various schools and camps and programs, and it’s just really important to me, especially young women. And I do realize the responsibility of a lot of young fans and young women who look up to me. I had that when I was growing up, I looked up to actresses and people, and I always want to impart a sense of humility and a sense of dedication and responsibility and integrity and kindness. That’s really important to me to say, “Hey, look. You can have an awesome career. You can be really happy, and you don’t have to be a jerk. You can get very far and be well respected. Keep learning.” That’s so important to me. And be a real person and have real priorities and perspective, and don’t get caught up in some sense of fame or success or celebrity—or whatever any of that is—because it’s not about any of that. It’s about artistry and creativity and challenging yourself. So with Bunheads with the element of Michelle being sort of a mentor to young people and them sort of looking to her, that’s something that I believe in, that Sutton believes in. It’s so important to me. So it was just another factor of why this show seemed like the right fit and the right time.
How was it working with Alan Ruck? Were you a Ferris Bueller fan, and what was that like? He’s adorable.
He’s awesome. He’s awesome and I am so lucky to be able to work with him. And he made my life very easy on-set, and he was just a lot of fun to play with, and we had a really, really good time. Yeah, he was a joy. Ferris Bueller is still one of the greatest movies of all time, and now I have a t-shirt with his face on it that says, “Save Ferris.” So I walk around—yeah, so he’s with me all the time now.
What would it have meant to you as a young performer if a show like Glee or Smash that were on TV?
When I was growing up, we didn’t have stuff like that. I was trying to think of what I used to watch as a kid. I used to watch Carol Burnett Show, Fraggle Rock, Muppet Show, you know. I guess it was sort of different. Those were more like variety shows. Well, I think it’s exciting because, you know, things like sports and law shows, doctor shows, all those type of shows get a lot of attention, but then there’s this whole other area of kids and adults that center around the arts—dancing, singing, painting, more artistic things—and to have scripted shows that are showing the lives of people who dedicate their life to dancing, singing, theater, it’s exciting. And I think it’s exciting for young people to go, “Oh wow. Look. I could do that too.” And to have that in their living rooms every week, I think it’s important. And especially as more schools and more programs get cut—art programs get cut—it’s just I think it’s more and more important to have outlets like this. Oh gosh, if I had had YouTube when I was a kid to look up stuff, oh my gosh I would’ve been videoing myself every day and putting myself all over the video. I would’ve been obsessed. But it’s such an incredible outlet for people, and it’s exciting. It’s bringing theater—people who maybe can’t travel to New York—it’s bringing all of that stuff into the living rooms of people all over the world. It’s exciting.
Be sure to tune in Monday, June 11th at 9 PM to ABC Family for the series premiere of Bunheads.Tweet