'Bunheads' star Sutton Foster talks about the new series(Read article summary)
'Bunheads' stars Broadway vet Sutton Foster as a ballet teacher in a small town.
Andrew Eccles/ABC Family/AP
BUNHEADS is the story of what happens when life takes a Vegas show dancer in an unexpected direction when she accepts an unusual proposal. Leaving the bright lights of Las Vegas and finding herself in a cozy small town teaching at a ballet dance studio, the life of Michelle Simms will never be the same.Â Fortunately the young dancers provide Michelle with a unique opportunity to explore a new life and rediscover her love of dance.Â Taking a few minutes to chat with press in a recent conference call, star Sutton Foster explains what drew her to this remarkable, heart-warming series and what exactly is a â€śBunhead!â€ť
Â Could you run through some of the things in BUNHEADS that weâ€™re going to see that you bring to a larger television audience that people may know about from seeing you on stage?
Â SUTTON: There are a couple reasons I was drawn to BUNHEADS.Â One was Amy Sherman-Palladino being one of my favorite writers, but also that the show is based around dance, and itâ€™s affording me a lot of opportunities to do some pretty cool stuff.Â Iâ€™ve already done one song and dance routine, and I know thereâ€™s more down the pike. But the thing that Iâ€™m most excited about is really the character and the writing and being able to really showcase my comedic stuff and delving into it. Sheâ€™s just a really awesome character whoâ€™s a dancer.Â So Iâ€™m sure as the series grows theyâ€™ll be throwing lots and lots of stuff at me, and I always say Iâ€™ll try anything once.Â Theyâ€™ve already thrown a bunch of stuff my way, so Iâ€™m sure that a lot more will be coming.Â But I donâ€™t think theater fans will be disappointed.
Â What is something that you get to do in BUNHEADS or that youâ€™d like to do in BUNHEADS that most people would probably be surprised to see you do?
Â SUTTON: Well, thereâ€™s some cool stuff coming.Â I donâ€™t want to give too much away.Â I started dancing when I was four years old and then was in class until I was about 20 years old or so, and then primarily was dancing just in shows that I was doing, but not really studying and training.Â Â But the one thing that Iâ€™ve done because my character is sheâ€™s a ballet dancer trained at ABT.Â Although, when you discover her, you find out that sheâ€™s a showgirl in Vegas.Â So she kind of loses her ballet way.Â But the one thing that Iâ€™ve done is I take ballet every day.Â So I have this incredible teacher, and she comes to the studio, and I have a ballet barre in my dressing room and it kicks my butt.Â So Iâ€™m studying ballet everyday and really training so people will see me as a ballet dancer, which no oneâ€™s seen before.Â Even I havenâ€™t seen that, so Iâ€™m really excited.
Â What exactly is a â€śbunheadâ€ť?
Â SUTTON: A â€śbunheadâ€ť is someone who spends a lot of their life with their hair in a bun, meaning it would be someone who has dedicated their life and their time to the art of ballet.Â Ballet is an incredibly difficult, beautiful art form that takes a lot of training, a lot of time, and a lot of hard work.Â And so when someone is deemed a bunhead, thatâ€™s what it means. I live near Alvin Ailey Dance Studio and Iâ€™ll see a bunch of girls walking down the street with their hair in their buns, and Iâ€™m like, â€śOh, theyâ€™re ballet dancers.â€ťÂ Itâ€™s like a symbol.Â You can go, â€śAh,â€ť and say, â€śI know what they are.â€ťÂ Thatâ€™s a bunhead.
Â Did you watch GILMORE GIRLS, and if so, why should GILMORE GIRLS fans tune into BUNHEADS?
Â SUTTON: I did watch GILMORE GIRLS.Â GILMORE GIRLS was my favorite.Â This is before I even met Amy or worked on BUNHEADS.Â But it was my favorite show of all time, and I own all the DVDs. I think Amy Sherman-Palladino has a very specific voice; itâ€™s unlike anyone else on television.Â And BUNHEADS has her voice again.Â You have a whole new set of characters, a whole new town, a whole new base, but youâ€™ve got the rapid-fire dialogue and that wit and the humor that GILMORE had. So itâ€™s exciting.Â And itâ€™s exciting to hear Amyâ€™s writing again on TV.Â I think GILMORE fans are going to love it.
Â Amy writes a lot of pop culture references. Have any popped up in the script yet that youâ€™ve been stumped by and youâ€™ve been like, â€śIâ€™m going to Google that; I donâ€™t know what that is?â€ť
Â SUTTON: Yes! Â Whatâ€™s so great is that a lot of them Iâ€™ll get, and then thereâ€™s some Iâ€™m like, â€śI donâ€™t know what that means.â€ťÂ And when I read the script for the first time, I just â€” anything I donâ€™t know, I just look up, and then Iâ€™m like, â€śOh, okay.Â Okay.â€ťÂ A lot of them I know, but some of them are just so crazy.Â But then once you read it, youâ€™re like, â€śOh, got it.Â Got it.â€ťÂ But yeah, I think sheâ€™s just a genius.Â
Â The long, gold earrings youâ€™re wearing in the pilot look really cool.Â Can you tell us a little bit about your characterâ€™s sense of style and how she dresses?
Â SUTTON: Sure.Â The thing about a dancerâ€™s life is usually itâ€™s about comfort, and because as dancers youâ€™re wearing tights and youâ€™re in like tight costumes or your feet are shoved into weird shoes â€” so when I was talking with Brenda â€” whoâ€™s our wardrobe supervisor â€” and we were like, â€śMichelle should be comfortable.â€ťÂ But yet, sheâ€™s a Vegas girl.Â Sheâ€™s living in Vegas, and so those gold earrings were Vegas.Â So she always had a little bit of Vegas with her.Â But I wear a lot of flowy, comfortable tops, cute jeans.Â I rock a lot of TOMS.Â Sheâ€™s pretty natural and laid back, very easy-going, but really natural.
Â You worked with Kelly Bishop in ANYTHING GOES and now again on BUNHEADS. Could you talk a little bit about the relationship that the two of you have?
Â SUTTON: Well, when she came into ANYTHING GOES, I freaked out because Iâ€™m such a fan of hers, and sheâ€™s just such an awesome lady.Â Sheâ€™s Sheila from â€śA Chorus Line.â€ťÂ Sheâ€™s awesome.Â Our relationship on the show is very specific, and weâ€™re like sparring partners.Â But off-set, sheâ€™s very motherly, actually, and is always making sure Iâ€™m okay, and taking care of me.Â Sheâ€™s just a wonderful woman.Â Iâ€™ll do a scene, and Iâ€™m like, â€śI canâ€™t believe Iâ€™m acting with Kelly!â€ťÂ
Â Do you see yourself in the young actresses that youâ€™re working with, both in their fictional roles and as young actresses as well, as young dancers?
Â SUTTON: I do actually.Â The girls are in their teens, 16 and 17, and as the character definitely and in my life too. I go back to when I was 17 years old and when I was just sort of starting out, but they are far better dancers than I ever was.Â They are the most beautiful, beautiful ballet dancers.Â Theyâ€™re extraordinary.Â And theyâ€™re doing things on a show that are so exciting.Â And itâ€™s them doing it, you know?Â Thereâ€™s no body-doubles coming in to dance for them.Â Theyâ€™re, like, the real deal, and theyâ€™re really great young women.Â Itâ€™s exciting.Â Itâ€™s exciting to see them have this opportunity, and I think itâ€™s going to be a great thing for them in their lives.Â Â Michelle, my character, I think she sees in them and wants to impart to them ways to do things better than she did because I think Michelle lost her way.Â When you meet my character, sheâ€™s very lost, and so she wants to impart some better judgment and wisdom into the young kids so that maybe they donâ€™t make the same mistakes she did.
Â Youâ€™ve done a lot of TV work here and there, but here itâ€™s really your first really big lead role.Â How are you feeling taking this step?Â It could be a huge shift Iâ€™m sure.Â
Â SUTTON: Yeah, I have to say that Iâ€™m loving it; I really am.Â I am having the time of my life, and I think itâ€™s because it just feels like the right role, the right writer, the right project, and the right timing.Â Iâ€™ve been living in New York for about 15 years.Â I absolutely love the theater.Â Itâ€™s my home.Â Itâ€™s what I always wanted to do.Â Â But I was coming to a point where I just wanted a new challenge and something new, and this came across my path, and already itâ€™s just been an incredible experience.Â And Iâ€™m learning every single day something new, and itâ€™s exciting.Â Itâ€™s exciting that Iâ€™m 37 years old and Iâ€™m learning so much.Â And itâ€™s really cool.Â Itâ€™s a whole new challenge, a whole new chapter of my life.Â Â
Â I know the theater community is a really tight community, and a lot of those before you have made this move.Â Have any of them like Matthew Morrison, Cheyenne Jackson, Kristin Chenoweth, or Megan Hilty Â â€“ any of them given you advice about making this sort of a transition to from the big stage to the small screen?
Â SUTTON: You know who gave me advice?Â Itâ€™s so funny because my ex-husband, Christian Borle, is on SMASH, and we actually talked about it.Â Weâ€™re very good friends, and heâ€™s the one that gave me probably the most advice â€” which is so weird.Â But he was saying â€” because I was asking him how SMASH was going and he was saying like, â€śYou just got to keep moving forward because thereâ€™s so much material, and as soon as you finish a scene, you have to let it go and move on to the next one.Â You canâ€™t keep holding onto it.â€ťÂ Like with the theater, you get a scene and you do it over and over and over and over and over again for years sometimes.Â Â And with TV, everything moves so quickly.Â So you might spend three hours on a scene and then it has to go away because you have to make room for a whole new scene, a whole new moment.Â And in many ways, itâ€™s a blessing because you canâ€™t get in your own way.Â You have to, like, act fast, and you have to go, and thereâ€™s 40 people in a room staring at you with cameras.Â So you canâ€™t get scared, and you canâ€™t go, â€śOh, I donâ€™t know; I donâ€™t know if I can do it.â€ťÂ You have to just do it.Â And in a way, thatâ€™s been a real blessing for me just as, like, an actress because Iâ€™m like, â€śOkay, Iâ€™m just going to dive in and do it.â€ťÂ And itâ€™s been scary and fun at the same time.
Â You memorize a script for a Broadway show, and you repeat the same lines every week, eight times a week, over and over for a year, and Amy is famous for her rapid-fire, just constant dialogue.Â Iâ€™m curious as to if itâ€™s intimidating and if itâ€™s been a huge adjustment to try and grasp the new pages of the script every day?
Â SUTTON: Itâ€™s definitely a whole new challenge, and it was the thing that I was probably the most scared about because I thought, â€śHow am I going to do it?Â How am I going to it?â€ťÂ Because I also want to do her writing justice as well, so that means you need to know it.Â You canâ€™t just look at it that morning; itâ€™s impossible.Â Â So whenever we get a new script, Iâ€™m daunted.Â I go, â€śOh gosh.Â I donâ€™t know how Iâ€™m going to do it.Â How am I going to do it?â€ťÂ But itâ€™s just about work.Â Itâ€™s my job.Â Iâ€™m just constantly working, and I love to work.Â So Iâ€™m a bit of a workaholic so Iâ€™m always working on the script, working on memorizing.Â I grab anybody I can when Iâ€™m off-set and run lines.Â Â And my best friend lives here in L.A., and she has eight-week-old twins and so I spend a lot of time here with her and the babies, and she runs lines with me.Â And itâ€™s just part of it. I want to do the best I can at really honoring the writing, and honoring Amy, and honoring everybody in the show, so I just work, work, work, work.
Â Did it take much persuading when Amy offered you the role?Â Did you need to be convinced, or were you just kind of like, â€śYes, Iâ€™ll do it,â€ť and, â€śIâ€™m ready,â€ť or was it more of a process?
Â SUTTON: Amy and I met at the end of the summer last year, and I was, like, a superfan.Â But I didnâ€™t know that she had a project in mind, because at that time I donâ€™t think the pilot had been picked up by ABC Family.Â But she wanted to meet me because she had me in mind for the show, but she didnâ€™t mention it because she couldnâ€™t.Â But I was like, â€śOh my gosh, GILMORE GIRLS!â€ťÂ I was just, like, freak of a fan.Â She probably thought I was this weirdo.Â Â And it was right before I was doing a performance of ANYTHING GOES, and I hadnâ€™t eaten, and she was meeting someone for dinner.Â So she just sat there and watched me eat.Â I was eating chicken fingers, and we laughed because she was like, â€śI just sat across from you and watched you eat chicken fingers, and I couldnâ€™t tell you why I wanted to meet you.â€ťÂ But then two weeks later, my agent called and said, â€śAmy has written this pilot, and she wants you to star in it.â€ťÂ And I was like, â€śWhat is it?Â Iâ€™ll do it.â€ťÂ And heâ€™s like, â€śWell, read the script first.â€ťÂ And Iâ€™m like, â€śOh, okay, alright.Â Sure.Â Send me the script.â€ťÂ Â And I had already made up my mind before I even read the script.Â It couldâ€™ve been about â€” I donâ€™t know â€” it couldâ€™ve been about anything and I wouldâ€™ve been like, â€śYes, I want to work with this woman.â€ťÂ But then I read it, and I was like, â€śOh my gosh.â€ťÂ And then it just seemed like a no-brainer.Â So it really didnâ€™t take much convincing.
Â How have you had to change your physical routine from doing Broadway to doing television?
Â SUTTON: Well, and I will say from going from ANYTHING GOES to the show, I was like, â€śUh-oh, Iâ€™m going to get fat,â€ť because in ANYTHING GOES I was moving so much.Â I was walking in New York and everything.Â And thatâ€™s another reason Iâ€™m taking ballet every day, and Iâ€™m trying to stay super in shape and healthy because Iâ€™m like, â€śIâ€™m a dancer.Â I have to look like a dancer.â€ť But the biggest change in my life is probably the hours because I wake up at, like 4:30 am. We shoot on location about half of the week.Â We work on a studio lot for about three days a week, and then we work up in a location spot thatâ€™s about a 45-minute drive away.Â And theyâ€™re like, â€śOkay, your pickup is at 5:45.â€ťÂ So thatâ€™s just different, waking up at 4:30 a.m. and being awake while itâ€™s dark.Â Â Last night I went to bed at 8:30 because I was just tired.Â Weâ€™re in production for roughly three months, and my life right now is this.Â Itâ€™s intense, and the hours are intense, and I work 12-14 hours a day.Â Itâ€™s hard but different, obviously, than doing a Broadway show.Â Â A lot of people are asking me, â€śWhatâ€™s the difference between a Broadway show and doing TV?â€ťÂ And I say, â€śWell, the hours.â€ťÂ Itâ€™s just when you do a show, itâ€™s two-and-a-half hours of bam, intense.Â And then with this, you still work, but you have a lot of lag time where youâ€™re waiting for them to do setups, and then itâ€™s like you have to be on.Â Iâ€™ve become addicted to Coke Zero and coffee.Â I drink a lot of coffee.Â Itâ€™s just different. I have a totally different lifestyle, but itâ€™s fun.
Â Psychologically as an actress is there anything thatâ€™s similar or is it just a totally different world for you working with a giant green ogre versus these cute ballet girls?
Â SUTTON: Oh, itâ€™s just a totally different world.Â In BUNHEADS, all of our main cast, itâ€™s all women, which is very exciting and it is fun too.Â The girls â€” theyâ€™re awesome.Â They are awesome, and they are so talented and so sweet but theyâ€™re also youthful and full of energy, and they are so excited about â€” and itâ€™s different.Â Iâ€™m getting older, and Iâ€™m tired, and itâ€™s just different energy.Â But theyâ€™re really, really great, great kids.Â Theyâ€™re not even kids; theyâ€™re young women.Â How about that?Â Itâ€™s totally a different vibe, but a welcome vibe.
Â What type of preparation did you do to get ready for your role of Michelle on BUNHEADS that was maybe different than how you would prepare for your other roles?
Â SUTTON: Itâ€™s all very similar.Â I mean, the process is just faster, so preparation for different characters and stuff because with different roles Iâ€™ve done different things.Â But with this role, a lot of it was just really, really getting the script and the words in my body and in my brain so that Sutton and her were one and the same.Â Â And Iâ€™m still discovering more and more about her every day.Â Whatâ€™s exciting about playing a character like this is that you sort of discover her at a real crossroads in her life.Â Sheâ€™s really letting go of one life and beginning at a whole other one, and as audiences are discovering her, so am I.Â So a lot of itâ€™s just about remaining really open and bringing as much of my sensibility and sense of humor to her as I can, and then just really getting inside the words.
Â How was it working with Alan Ruck?Â Were you a â€śFerris Buellerâ€ť fan, and what was that like?
Â SUTTON: Heâ€™s awesome.Â Heâ€™s awesome and I am so lucky to be able to work with him.Â And he made my life very easy on-set, and he was just a lot of fun to play with, and we had a really, really good time.Â Yeah, he was a joy. â€śFerris Buellerâ€ť is still one of the greatest movies of all time, and now I have a t-shirt with his face on it that says, â€śSave Ferris.â€ťÂ So I walk around, yeah, so heâ€™s with me all the time now.
Â What would it have meant to you as a young performer if a show like GLEE or SMASH that were on TV?
Â SUTTON: When I was growing up, we didnâ€™t have stuff like that.Â I was trying to think of what I used to watch as a kid.Â I used to watch Carol Burnett Show, Fraggle Rock, Muppet Show, you know.Â I guess it was sort of different.Â Those were more like variety shows.Â Â Well, I think itâ€™s exciting because, you know, things like sports and law shows, doctor shows, all those type of shows get a lot of attention, but then thereâ€™s this whole other area of kids and adults that center around the arts â€” dancing, singing, painting, more artistic things â€” and to have scripted shows that are showing the lives of people who dedicate their life to dancing, singing, theater, itâ€™s exciting.Â And I think itâ€™s exciting for young people to go, â€śOh wow.Â Look.Â I could do that too.â€ťÂ And to have that in their living rooms every week, I think itâ€™s important.Â And especially as more schools and more programs get cut â€” art programs get cut â€” itâ€™s just I think itâ€™s more and more important to have outlets like this.Â Â Oh gosh, if I had had YouTube when I was a kid to look up stuff, oh my gosh, I wouldâ€™ve been videoing myself every day and putting myself all over the video.Â I wouldâ€™ve been obsessed.Â But itâ€™s such an incredible outlet for people, and itâ€™s exciting.Â Itâ€™s bringing theater â€” people who maybe canâ€™t travel to New York â€” itâ€™s bringing all of that stuff into the living rooms of people all over the world.Â Itâ€™s exciting.
Â What do you think about the relationship that you have with these young female fans who really look up to you as a role model, and the responsibility that you feel towards them?
Â SUTTON: Itâ€™s really important to me.Â And that was another huge factor of why this show just seemed right.Â Iâ€™m an adjunct faculty at Ball State University.Â Iâ€™ve worked with kids at NYU in New York.Â Iâ€™ve done a ton of master-class work with various schools and camps and programs, and itâ€™s just really important to me, especially young women.Â Â And I do realize the responsibility of a lot of young fans and young women who look up to me.Â I had that when I was growing up, I looked up to actresses and people, and I always want to impart a sense of humility and a sense of dedication and responsibility and integrity and kindness.Â Thatâ€™s really important to me to say, â€śHey, look.Â You can have an awesome career.Â You can be really happy, and you donâ€™t have to be a jerk.Â You can get very far and be well respected.Â Keep learning.â€ťÂ Thatâ€™s so important to me.Â And be a real person and have real priorities and perspective, and donâ€™t get caught up in some sense of fame or success or celebrity â€” or whatever any of that is â€” because itâ€™s not about any of that.Â Itâ€™s about artistry and creativity and challenging yourself.Â Â So with BUNHEADS with the element of Michelle being sort of a mentor to young people and them sort of looking to her, thatâ€™s something that I believe in, that Sutton believes in.Â Itâ€™s so important to me.Â So it was just another factor of why this show seemed like the right fit and the right time.
Â What is it about BUNHEADS that you think will appeal to a fan base for MAKE IT OR BREAK IT if they want to come over to the show?
Â SUTTON: Well, I donâ€™t know MAKE IT OR BREAK IT very well. Â The thing that I think will appeal to audiences â€” beyond those that tuned into MAKE IT OR BREAK IT â€” is that I think this show is very witty.Â I think itâ€™s smart.Â I think it has incredible characters.Â I think it says something.Â It has a point of view, and I think it has some really great storylines that are going to make people want to tune in week after week.Â It also has a lot of heart, so I think viewers and audiences are going to tune in.Â I hope.
Tiffany Vogt blogs at The TV Addict.