For most actresses, age is one of the most hated
four three-letter words in the English language. But for her latest role, Sutton Foster had to embrace it.
"I've never had to face my own age in this way before," she tells TVGuide.com. "Suddenly I'm like, 'Oh, sh--!' I'm now the 40-year-old who's like, 'Is that what the young kids are doing?'"
The actress has received a crash course in just that as the star of the new comedy Younger, which premieres Tuesday at 10/9c on TV Land. From Beverly Hills, 90210 and Sex and the City executive producer Darren Star, the series follows Liza, a newly single housewife and mom who must pretend to be 15 years younger to re-enter the publishing world. "It appealed to me to play someone who was reinventing herself in such a fun way," Foster says. "She's kind of flailing and figuring it out and in many ways, I guess I feel that way about myself too."
Younger is Foster's second shot at small-screen stardom. After finding success and winning two Tony awards in Broadway productions of Thoroughly Modern Millie and Anything Goes, among many others, she arrived in Hollywood in 2012 to star on Bunheads, a fast-talking dramedy from the creator of Gilmore Girls. The show, and Foster, earned critical raves, but it was canceled after one season. "I still mourn the loss of it, but it definitely sort of just broadened up my fan base," Foster says. "I've met Bunheads fans who had no idea about my theater background, but because they were such a fan of Bunheads, they now have researched theater and now they're like huge theater fans."
Foster was unsure of what she wanted to do next - "I didn't want to do something just to do something" - and where she wanted to do it. "I'm going to go wherever there's work," she says. "I do have a sense of, like, I just want to feel settled. I feel like the last couple of years I've bounced around a little bit, but I think I'll always be a gypsy."
Although more scripts started coming her way, "I was finding that when I was going in for certain roles, I was reading a little young for things or they were like the steely secretary. I was like, 'OK, I'm never going to be the steely secretary," she recalls with a laugh. "And then this one came along and it said Darren Star. I sat at my kitchen counter, and I read it in one fell swoop."
Soon, she was having lunch with Star. "I think I freaked him out because, I don't know what he was expecting, but I showed up in a T-shirt and jeans and no makeup," she says. After all, this is someone who proclaims, "I still shop at the Gap!" when describing the disparity between her real age and Liza's fake age. But it was Foster's gypsy mentality that served her well when she signed on for the role and met with Star's frequent collaborator, famed costume designer Patricia Field. "I'm like, 'I'm a blank canvas. Do with me what you will. I have no concept of this world so I'm your Barbie. Just dress me up,'" she says.
Liza's transformation into a 26-year-old goes far beyond highlighting her hair and donning beanies in order to keep her demanding boss (Miriam Shor) and her young co-workers (Hillary Duff and Molly Bernard) in the dark. "My voice is a little higher. I'm a little more bouncy. I have a little more energy," she says. Liza, thankfully, can let her hair down both literally and figuratively with Maggie (Debi Mazar), her longtime BFF and the only person who's in on her big fat lie. "I always go back to Tootsie. If you don't see Dustin Hoffman out of his makeup and if you're just watching Tootsie all the time; I need to see the other side of what's going on," Foster says. "Her apartment is very important because I feel like that's the place where Liza can really be herself and can really go, 'Oh my God what the hell am I doing? Can I really do this? Do I really want to do this? And why am I doing this?'"
Playing a heroine with something to hide has been a challenge behind the scenes as well. "The other characters have to believe her but the audience has to be in on the joke, so where is that line so that it becomes believable that you're with [Liza] as an audience, as opposed to going, 'Oh, you know what? She's duping all these people,'" she says. "You want to be able to go, 'Yeah, but I want her to win.'"
As her character dives head-first into the world of hipsters, Twitter and Brazilian bikini waxes, Foster is also excited to move into new territory. "Bunheads was great because I still got to sing and dance and now I'm really excited to do a show that isn't about that at all. It's just about creating a great character and telling a great story and I don't think singing... I don't think that's part of the story," she says. "I'm like, 'Hey look, I can do something that doesn't break into song and dance,' and I think that that's important too."
However, Foster's theater fans new and old shouldn't worry. "I hope to have a very varied career and I can sing and dance on the side," she says. Just as long as that career doesn't involved any steely secretaries.
Younger premieres Tuesday at 10/9c on TV Land.