INTERVIEW: Sutton Foster Meets the Bunheads
The two-time Tony Award winner discusses starring as a dance teacher in the new ABC Family series.
In the show, she plays Michelle Sims, a former Las Vegas showgirl, who moves to her husband's sleepy hometown and ends up working at the dance studio for teenaged girls run by her mother-in-law (played by fellow Tony winner Kelly Bishop).
"The timing was right for me to do TV," says Foster of her career switch. "I still love New York and theater - I'll be coming back - but I was coming to the point of my life where I wanted a new challenge. It's great that the show is based around dance, but it also allows me to showcase the more comedic side of my personality. It's been an incredible experience. At 37, I am learning something new every day."
As Foster readily admits, one big reason she jumped at the opportunity was the chance to work with series creator and head writer Amy Sherman-Palladino, best known for her work on Gilmore Girls. "Amy and I met over dinner last year, but she didn't tell me why she wanted to meet me," recalls Foster. "Then I got a call from my agent about two weeks later to say there was a script, and frankly, the script could have been about anything. Amy is my favorite writer. Her rapid-fire dialogue and sense of humor are so exciting to hear on TV."
However, Foster also acknowledges that learning a new Sherman-Palladino script every week is a very different experience than what's she's used to. "I am still scared about doing her words justice," she says. "Luckily, I'm a bit of a workaholic, and I grab anyone I can to run lines with me. My best friend lives here in L.A. with her twins and she helps out a lot."
Foster also got some salient advice from her ex-husband, Smash star Christian Borle. "He told me to just keep moving forward and that you have to take each scene, do it, and then let it go. You are never going to own it," she notes. "It's been scary and fun at the same time."
The actress admits she's really enjoying working with her young co-stars, who play the school's students. "I see myself in many of them, although they are far better dancers at their age than I ever was," she says. "They are great young women, and it's so exciting to see them have this opportunity."
She is even more thrilled to work with Bishop, with whom she co-starred in Anything Goes. "When she first came into Anything Goes, I freaked out. I was such a fan of hers - not only from Gilmore Girls, but she was the original Sheila in A Chorus Line," says Foster. "Our relationship in this show is very specific - we're like sparring partners. But off the set, she's very motherly, always making sure that I'm okay."
Foster's lifestyle has changed completely since shooting began in March. "First off, because my character was trained at American Ballet Theatre, I now take ballet every day. I have a barre in my dressing room and a trainer, who kicks my ass," she says. "And I love being in my car; it's like this little bubble where I don't have to deal with crowds. Of course, the biggest change has been in my hours. I wake up now at 4:30am, and some nights, I am in bed at 8:30. It's so bizarre."