Bernadette Peters on Smash, Karen's Lack of Desperation and What She'd Do on Glee
Ivy's famous Broadway mom will make her debut in Monday's episode of Smash — much to her overshadowed daughter's dismay -- and it looks like she's also reserved tickets to opening night.
Bernadette Peters, who plays Mama Rose, er, Leigh Conroy, tells TVGuide.com that she'll return to the set of Smash next week to film the season finale. Is that because she's attending Ivy's big night as Marilyn? "I'm in the finale. I come to see my daughter, yes," Peters says, coyly. (No word on whether it's a conciliatory visit because, we suspect, Karen winds up clinching the role.)
We talked to Peters about her role on Smash, Karen's lack of desperation (shouldn't she be wanting that part a whole lot more?) and the perilous life of a theater performer:
Watch full episodes of Smash
In Smash, you play Ivy's mom Leigh, a theater grand dame. When she visits a rehearsal for Marilyn, the cast and crew go wild and beg you to perform on the spot. I have to know: Does that happen to you every time you do a new show?
Bernadette Peters: (Laughs.) Well, people don't say, "Get up and sing me a song!" Actually, people usually a have a lot on their minds when they're about to start a new show. They're very gracious and very sweet but they're concentrating on what they need to do. Now kids, on the other hand, who have less to focus on, can get very, very excited. I can't recall singing on command for any though.
How many times did you perform "Everything's Coming Up Roses" for the episode? I assume you can you do that song in your sleep by now.
Peters: We did it about five times. I hadn't done it in quite a while, but I know what it's about. In Smash, it's got a bit of a different meaning. Leigh's there in a rehearsal room with her daughter Ivy for Ivy's show, and she's sort of making it all about herself. It still has the same underlying intensity as it does in Gypsy though, and it always feels good doing it because it's a great number from a great show.
Any idea why you haven't been on Glee? It's odd that you have not.
Peters: It's funny because when they first started, they said they were going to ask me. And they've mentioned my name in the show! But I guess they still haven't figured out who or what I would be.
Check out photos from Smash
There is room for you and Rachel Berry to do all kinds of things—
Peters: Oh, Lea Michele, yes! Maybe she could stalk me. I think when Rachel was searching for her mother she may have mentioned me. But her mother [played by Broadway actress Idina Menzel] wound up being perfect! They even look alike.
As a leading lady yourself, can you identify with how fragile and paranoid Ivy is becoming?
Peters: Well, you don't ever want a project to go the way Marilyn is. They've got this understudy hovering around her all the time, making her nervous. You think, 'Are they happy with me? Do they want me?' And she's sleeping with the director too, who's not a nice man. It's like the show is taking all these worst scenarios — which could be real -- and throwing them together. Luckily, I haven't really had the experience Ivy is having. But, yeah, if you have a nutty director, you can get crazy.
Do you think Karen is desperate enough to win the role? Does she want it enough? She seems so even-keeled. Is there even such a thing among theater actors?
Peters: Oh, sure. But you could also say that's Karen's defense mechanism to say, "Well, if I just stay like this, it's okay. I won't expect anything." You can do that. Or she could be well-adjusted because she's from the Midwest but happens to be highly talented. It could be many scenarios. There are so many, many different personalities in a rehearsal room. You just hope you get the right combination of them (laughs.) But, for a little drama, you don't want the right combination!
VIDEO: Smash's Megan Hilty says Ivy will do anything to win the role of Marilyn Monroe
Have you ever had to battle for a role? We know Uma Thurman's coming in as a movie star who might also be interested in being Marilyn. And we were told by the cast that this kind of thing happens more than we think...
Peters: Well, nowadays, the thinking is, "We've gotta get a movie star on Broadway! We've gotta get a TV star on Broadway!" I haven't come across it myself, but it might happen more than not when you're choosing between unknowns. It's not very nice, but they can do that.
But have you had to be in competition for a role over an extended amount of time like we're seeing?
Peters: Oh no. Thank God. I don't think I'd let myself be in that situation. I think it's not a healthy creative atmosphere. But then again, you do want some drama — especially for this show!
Poor Ivy. You really feel for her by the end of Monday's new episode.
Peters: You don't want to give up that role. It's her chance. And yet, they're threatening her with other people. It's a very hard position to be in.
It seems like there's a good chance she'll lose out to Karen though, judging by the way Smash has been promoted.
Peters: Hmm, well, I can't say (laughs.)
Decoding Mount McPhee: Is it a Smash spoiler?
Do you know what the outcome is?
Peters: Ooooh, I might! It's nice having power! I might know it...
When you return for the finale, will you be singing again?
Peters: I don't think there will be time for me to sing again. Maybe in Season 2. I'm sure in Season 2, yeah.
Putting on the Marilyn workshop becomes something of an obstacle course. Have you ever had a bad workshop experience?
Peters: I haven't, thank goodness. But in workshops, things are up in the air. You do the workshop, and then they decide if they're going to go forward with you. Meanwhile in Smash, they're dangling the role in front of Karen, and dangling Karen in front of Ivy, and Ivy's just trying to do her best. Sometimes with a workshop, it doesn't even get further than that.
It definitely feels like in every episode things could fall apart at any moment.
Peters: And that part is true. I mean, it really is a matter of all the elements coming together. And if they don't start to come together, or if things start off on the wrong foot, it's very hard to get on track. It can be done, but it's very hard.
Any idea what Stephen Sondheim thinks of Smash?
Peters: Oh, I haven't spoken to him about it! I should call him up and talk about television (laughs). You know, I don't know if he watches it or not.
Would you pay money to see Marilyn the Musical?
Peters: Well, I'll pay money to see anything that's good. Marilyn the Musical? Yeah, sure, I would! Megan [Hilty]'s amazing, they're all so talented, and the music by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman is very, very great. Sure!
Smash airs Mondays at 10/9c on NBC.