Darren Star’s new TV Land series Younger made its own star, Sutton Foster, feel like she was “cheating” on Amy Sherman-Palladino.
Foster’s previous TV series was Sherman-Palladino’s beloved but tragically axed Bunheads. Ever since, she and the Gilmore Girls creator had been attempting to find a way to reunite. “I loved Bunheads and our relationship so much. It felt so strange doing something else without her,” Foster tells EW. “I also knew I was going to be in good hands with Darren and all the people on the show. She took such good care of me on Bunheads, and it was such a great experience, and I was so afraid that Younger wouldn’t live up to that—but it did. It was a really great experience.”
In Younger, Foster plays Liza, a 40-year-old mother who pretends to be 26 to reenter the job market. In her adventures, she befriends a (truly) young co-worker played by Hilary Duff, and starts dating a hunky Brooklyn tattoo artist played by Nico Tortorella. Debi Mazar plays Liza’s friend who knows her secret, while Miriam Shor plays her demanding boss. Just don’t expect Foster to exercise her Tony-winning pipes on the series. In fact, she tells EW she doesn’t think Liza can “carry a tune.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Many people, myself included, feel like Bunheads was canceled before its time. What made you eager to return to TV after that experience?
SUTTON FOSTER: Thank you, and I agree with you. ABC Family waited about six months before they canceled us, so we finished filming [in] January and then didn’t get canceled until July. It was this total limbo period. In my naive heart of hearts, I was like, we’re coming back. How can they cancel it? And then when they canceled it I was totally heartbroken, but I wasn’t necessarily looking to come back to TV.
Amy Sherman-Palladino and I have become really good friends, and we were in talks of trying to figure out something that we could do together to keep that relationship going, just because we loved working together so much. We were having trouble sort of figuring out what that would be or what that would look like. There were a couple of other projects that sort of had floated through, but nothing that really felt right. The Younger script came by and I read it, and I was like, this is funny and interesting. I thought that the concept was intriguing and had a lot of possibilities and potential. The character spoke to me, and so I began to pursue it. I met with Darren and went in and read for it. The first thing I thought of was, I’m cheating on Amy. I remember when the pilot got picked up, and I told her, I said, “the pilot got picked up.” And she goes, “I know. It’s okay.” And I was like, “I feel like I’m cheating on you.”
You said you weren’t necessarily looking to return to TV. What was it about the Younger script that made you decide to do it?
I think the opportunity of working with Darren Star. When I read the script, I went, oh wow, where’s this going to go? It just seemed like it had a lot of room for storylines. Also, it felt like it would be fun. I thought it would be really fun to play this character and to sort of flip back and forth and kind of delve into this other world. It seemed like something I could do and it would be fun to do.
You take Liza back and forth from twentysomething mode to “mom” mode when she’s on the phone with her daughter. What’s it like to play that?
Sometimes I have to be reminded. They’re like, remember you’re 26. I’m like, oh yeah yeah yeah. If I was just playing a character that was 26 that would be one thing, but to be able to play a character who’s 40, pretending to be 26, but also has a daughter and an ex-husband and is trying to balance all of these things and now she’s having this romance with this guy. The thing that’s really fun is I get to have all these different relationships with all these characters.
I just have to remind myself of who am I right now. What role am I playing? With the boy [Tortorella], there are issues later in the season that flare up that highlight some of our age issues, but I think we have an innate understanding and chemistry and age doesn’t really come into play. With Diana [Shor], we are the same age, and I can sort of empathize and sympathize with where she is and why she behaves the way she does. I can tolerate her behavior even though she treats me like an imbecile. With Kelsey [Duff], I see in her all of the mistakes I made when I was 20, and I want to protect her and mother her, but I can’t because I’m supposed to be making all the same mistakes. But I’ve already done that, so I’m trying to figure all that out. It’s fun. I get to chameleon, kind of change it up between whoever it is I’m in a scene with.
Did you do any Brooklyn-based research or young person research to tap into that millennial mindset beforehand?
I just turned 40. The thing that kills me now is I realize all the clothes that I used to wear in the ’90s are now coming back. As soon as the overalls came back I was like, I’m so screwed. The best gift I have is Hilary [Duff] and Nico [Tortorella], because they are both in their 20s. I pay attention a lot to what they’re up to. I just sort of watch them a lot. Also we shot a lot in Brooklyn. That was incredibly informative. I have the best wardrobe team in the history of the world, and so my clothes and my wardrobe play a huge part in my look and vibe. The good thing is that Liza’s trying to still figure this out, so I wanted to go on the journey with her. I didn’t want to do too much figuring out, because she doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing.
You’re working with Patricia Field, who is a legend, especially given her work on Star’s Sex and the City. What has that been like for you?
It’s been awesome. She has finger on the pulse of fashion and, like, eight steps ahead. The thing I love most about her is she knows how to dress a character. When we first met she sort of was trying to get a vibe of what my style was, and since I have no style, I was like, “Pat, I’m a blank canvas. You can do whatever the hell you want with me. I have no idea what the young people are wearing; I wear jeans and T-shirts and TOMS and I’m a very basic type of gal.” So I really threw my faith into my makeup and hair team and the wardrobe. I was like, just have at it. It’s been really fun to try on things and to see how things made me feel.
After Bunheads, you did Violet on Broadway. What’s gratifying about doing TV versus doing Broadway, and how do you hope to integrate the two going forward?
I just want to be challenged and I want to work with people that excite me. Bunheads I got to work with Amy Sherman-Palladino; I got to do a project that I felt so passionate about. Violet I got to work with Jeanine Tesori and Leigh Silverman and Brian Crawley, all these people I just admire. And Younger I work with Darren Star, with these incredible actors—Hilary and Nico and Debi and Miriam—and work on something that is so fun and so different.
I think when I was first starting out, especially in theater, I was more narrow-minded and especially just wanted to do theater. Now I’m broadening my horizons. TV was something I didn’t know, and it scared me. I didn’t have any experience. Bunheads was such a turning point, because I learned so much. I was like, oh. Moving forward I have no idea what it will be, career-wise. I would love to do Younger for as long as I can keep pulling off that I look younger than my age. But I would love to do theater in there too, because they both inspire me and challenge me.
Speaking of, how long can Liza pull this off? Will people start to figure it out as the show goes on?
It wouldn’t be realistic if someone didn’t find out. I can say that. But you’re right. I don’t know where the shelf life is. After a while, when Liza’s grey and in a wheelchair, she can’t keep telling everybody she’s 35. It will be interesting to see where it will go. Hopefully the characters are strong enough, and people want to follow them that no matter which way the show goes.
You’re doing The Wild Party this summer with Joshua Henry. Why did you want to do that show?
Again, it was just something completely different—it’s naughty and dirty and sexy and nasty, and I was like, yeah! There’s something intriguing about that. It’s drugs and sex and deceit, and I’m just interested in doing the left turn. I find that exciting. We’re doing it in July. We haven’t really started working on it yet. We’re still in the very beginnings of it.
Will we ever get to see Liza sing and/or dance?
I don’t think so. I don’t think Liza can sing or dance, and if she ever did sing, like if there was ever that karaoke night I don’t think she could carry a tune.
That’s disappointing to me.
I know, I know, but I really don’t think that’s in her cards. I don’t think she has any hidden talents.