We love you madly, madly, Madam Librarian.

Sutton Foster may have earned her seventh Tony Award nomination for The Music Man, but Marian Paroo wasn't on her list of dream roles.

Mostly because she had never imagined herself as a fit for the role. In her two-plus decades on Broadway, Foster has originated her fair share of iconic characters (Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Fiona in Shrek: The Musical) and played in plenty of buzzy revivals (see: Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes).

But The Music Man was not on her bucket list. "She wasn't even on the list of parts that I would play," Foster tells EW while sitting down with four of her fellow Tony nominees for a special Awardist roundtable. "I didn't even think about it. They first approached me three years ago to play her, and my first response was, 'What? Why?'

"It didn't make any sense to me," she adds. "I could probably cast 20 other people before I would get to me, but that was also why she was intriguing. She was not in my wheelhouse. She was a left turn. And then I thought maybe there was a new way to discover her, that maybe there was more to her than just a straightforward ingenue. So I took it as a challenge."

Sutton Foster as Marian Parro
Credit: Julieta Cervantes

Foster met that challenge and then some, bringing a quirkier personality and spunk to a role that can often read as a milquetoast ingenue. (She also changed the key on "My White Knight," a horror to some musical theater obsessives and a delightful shift for others.) Starring opposite Hugh Jackman, who plays con man Harold Hill, Foster matches her castmate for wit and banter.

That's not to say she went in intending to make Marian exceedingly different from any version audiences have seen before. "I had no preconceived notions of how she was going to unfold," Foster reflects. "In fact, I was pretty confident I would be fired. I just really didn't know how it was going to turn out. I took it day to day and discovered it along the way. I wasn't really aiming for anything. That blank canvas and the openness to discovery was very useful for me being able to be in such a collaborative room."

Instead of being fired, Foster has earned raves (and that Tony nomination) for her performance. But she says she still learns something new every day and feels the pressure to deliver to audiences because The Music Man is such a beloved entry in the musical theater canon.

"I wasn't anticipating the audience being so excited from the get-go," she says. "I've never had that experience where before we even did anything, the audiences are going crazy as soon as the overture starts. But that's like, 'Okay, all right, we have to deliver something.' Every night I'm blown away by that."

As for those who've perhaps bristled at Foster's changes to the role and Marian's songs, to her that has to remain background noise. "I want to feel good about my work and true about my choices," she says. "I knew I was taking a huge risk. I knew there might be people [who didn't like it]. But as long as I felt true, it was about finding my own voice. The minute I started trying to please other people or try to do what I thought people wanted, it was going to be disaster."

Well, Madam Librarian, in your case there are aspects of Marian that we never knew about… till there was you.

Check out more from EW's The Awardistfeaturing exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's best in TV.

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