Two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster and Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino join forces on ABC Family's Bunheads, a sassy dramedy about a faded Las Vegas dancer who marries a virtual stranger out of sheer desperation and ends up running a ballet school with his mom. Weirdly, Foster can relate.
TV Guide Magazine: You have Broadway at your feet. How were you ever cast as Michelle Simms, a loser showgirl?
Foster: I know this character. She's a big kid and a bit of a mess. [Laughs] It might seem like I have my s--t together career-wise, but there are so many areas [of my life] where I don't. There's a lot of me in Michelle. I know what it's like to be lost and searching. The good thing about her is she might be lost but she still has a smile on her face. She still cracks the jokes.
TV Guide Magazine: Your character gets drunk one night and weds a guy who seems sweet but, let's face it, he's a groupie with a beach house. How do you keep that setup from seeming dicey?
Foster: Michelle doesn't have a malicious or manipulative bone in her body. Somebody else might do what she does and you'd think it's despicable, that she's somehow using the guy. But I think Michelle's just throwing darts in life, hoping one will hit something, anything. That's why she gets so turned on by the idea of teaching these young ballet students. She's at the age where she can't make it as a professional dancer for much longer, so she's looking for a place where she can matter. She wishes she could be 17 again, and go back and re-live her life and not make all her mistakes. She sees herself in these girls, and maybe she can impart some wisdom to them. I understand all that. This show is not about a ballet school. That's just the meeting ground. It's about people who are trying to move forward, find themselves, and figure life out, no matter their ages. And that's very cool.
TV Guide Magazine: Your ex Christian Borle (Smash) says you and he were insane about Gilmore Girls back when you were married. True?
Foster: Obsessed! That show was a huge part of our lives. I could cry just thinking about it. When I first sat down with Amy I was sure I'd made an ass of myself because I was such a super-freako fan. All I wanted to do was talk about Gilmore Girls. I think she thought I was psychotic.
TV Guide Magazine: So you two get along like cheese and crackers?
Foster: Amy and I are cut from a very similar cloth. It feels like we were meant to meet and work together.
TV Guide Magazine: She recently told us she could write for you for the rest of her life.
Foster: I wish! Her rapid-fire patter is so fabulous but it's the most daunting thing, especially when I haven't had enough sleep or caffeine. Her dialogue only works at a certain speed. I keep having brain melt on the set, but still it's exciting.
TV Guide Magazine: And Kelly Bishop — aka Emily Gilmore — is playing your mother-in-law!
Foster: Love, love, love that woman! She's a fantastic scene partner and so motherly off-camera. She's always looking after me because I'm so new to this TV stuff. Sometimes I look across at her and think, "How the hell did this happen?"
TV Guide Magazine: Is it scary headlining a TV series after a career on the stage?
Foster: I've always been a leaper and a "Yes!" kind of gal and a workaholic. [Laughs] I wasn't freaking out about Bunheads until people started asking me, "So...are you freaking out?" I've been the lead in a lot of theater productions, so I know what it's like to have that kind of responsibility. The thing I'm having trouble with is driving around Los Angeles, turning a corner and there suddenly in front of me is a gigantic billboard with my face on it. Not me in a blonde Reno Sweeney wig all incognito. Me! It's extremely surreal.
TV Guide Magazine: Were you wanting to make a move to TV?
Foster: Not necessarily. I wasn't actively pursuing it but what I really, really wanted — what I put out into the world — was my desire for something challenging and creatively different. I was ready for a change.
TV Guide Magazine: And Amy Sherman-Palladino just magically materialized?
Foster: What's crazy is we had this great meeting over dinner but she never told me she had written Bunheads. It hadn't yet been picked up by ABC Family. It was probably three weeks later that my agent called and said Amy had inquired about my interest in doing her pilot. I was, like, "OK! Sign me up!" And my agent said, "Uh, Sutton, don't you want to read the script first?" But I would have done it sight unseen. It was a no-brainer.
TV Guide Magazine: Word is, we're supposed to call you Dr. Foster now.
Foster: [Laughs] And I will only answer to Dr. Foster! Here's the deal: I teach at Ball State University, a wonderful college in Muncie, Indiana, where they have an exceptional theater and dance program and they recently gave me an honorary doctorate degree in fine arts, which was a huge, most amazing thing. I've become very close with the faculty and the kids there, so this is no big stretch to be playing a mentor on TV. This is bringing good stuff to the next generation. I like kids to know they can work hard and realize their dreams and still treat people kindly and be respected. You can be a success without becoming a difficult, demanding diva. You can have a real life with real friends. You can do it all and you don't have to be a jerk.
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