Bernadette Peters Is Busy Coming Up Roses and Revisiting Smash

The Tony-winning star takes a motherly attitude to her dramatic new film and favorite TV show.

Bernadette Peters
Bernadette Peters
© Tristan Fuge

There may indeed be no place like home, but Tony Award winner Bernadette Peters was happily hundreds of miles away from New York just days ago in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. “It was my dream cruise,” enthuses Peters. “We never left the dock and I had a gay audience that just loved my show. They were so lovely.”

Still, Peters had plenty of great reasons to make it back to the Big Apple this week, including shooting her latest appearance as Broadway diva Leigh Conroy on NBC’s Smash and promoting her independent film, Coming Up Roses, which is receiving a theatrical release on Friday, November 9.

In the film, which is loosely based on the real life-story of writer-director Lisa Albright, Peters plays Diane, a depressed yet domineering former actress who tries to make a new life for her teenaged daughter Alice (played by Rachel Brosnahan) in an economically troubled New Hampshire town in the 1980s.

“The script just came to me – which is what always seems to happen to me in my career – and I thought it would be such an interesting role since Diane goes on such an emotional roller-coaster,” says Peters. “There was a scene where I actually had to hit my daughter, and I didn’t know if I could find something within myself to express that anger. That’s why I like to do these roles, because I discover new things about myself.”

While Peters is childless in real-life, she has recently played a slew of mothers on stage, including Momma Rose in Gypsy, Desiree Armfeldt in A Little Night Music, and Sally Durant Plummer in Follies. “I never thought about it, but it’s nice to be able to play mothers at this point in my career. There’s such a special bond between mothers and children, even if it’s a difficult relationship like the one in the film.”

Indeed, Peters says she understood the dilemmas of both mother and daughter in the movie. “I think that I would have told Alice, the daughter in the movie, that while she should never desert her mother, she didn’t need to live with her once she grew up,” says Peters. “It’s most important that as a person you should be strong and think about what’s best for yourself and take care of yourself. Then, you can be of service to other people.”

Megan Hilty and Bernadette Peters in <I>Smash</i>
Megan Hilty and Bernadette Peters in Smash

One might be tempted to give the same advice to Ivy, Peters’ fictional daughter on Smash (played by Megan Hilty). “That’s another complex relationship, which I love playing,” says Peters. “Leigh is this great musical comedy performer, so everyone fawns over her, yet her daughter wants to also be in the limelight. It’s enough to drive Ivy crazy.”

Peters can’t divulge exactly why or how Leigh returns to the series this season (which launches on February 5), but the actress is thrilled to be back on the show. “Megan is so great to work with, I just love her,” she says. “Everyone in the cast is just divine — Christian Borle, Debra Messing, and Anjelica Huston are all such great people.”

In addition, Peters gets to sing a tune composed just for her by the show’s resident writers, Tony Award winners Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman. “I had no idea what they were going to write for me, but when they handed the song to me, I just loved it,” she reveals. “And it’s always nice when someone writes something just for you.”

Another reason that Peters is happy to back in town this week is the chance to attend Thursday night’s Broadway opening of her dear friend James Lapine’s production of the musical Annie at the Palace. “I’m very happy for James, because I know this is the kind of material he’ll be so good with – finding the dark humor in this show,” she says. “I can’t wait to see Katie Finneran, but I’m most excited to meet the dogs who play Sandy. I was talking to trainer Bill Berloni just the other day. Did you see that special on the dogs in the show, Searching for Sandy. I’m so glad he found them just in time to save them.”

Indeed, in between seeing shows and traveling to concert engagements over the next few months, Peters will be concentrating on promoting her beloved pet adoption charity, Broadway Barks, which is about to celebrate its 15th anniversary. “I’m actually in awe of how far we’ve come,” she says. “We started with just six shelters at our annual event, and now so many want of them to work with us that we can’t fit them all in Shubert Alley. But the amazing thing is how much the Broadway community supports us and how all the shelters work together.”

As for when Peters will actually return to the Broadway stage — that remains in the hands of fate, she says. “I don’t think I’ll be doing anything in the next year, but it you never know. I have a part in mind, but I’m afraid to say it out loud, because the way my life works it might happen. And right now, I’m enjoying a little time off.”