Why Sutton Foster Is the Magic Ingredient for TVLand’s Surprise Hit Show

Special Features   Why Sutton Foster Is the Magic Ingredient for TVLand’s Surprise Hit Show The two-time Tony winner may just be the secret to Younger’s success.
Sutton Foster
Sutton Foster Photo courtesy of TV Land

The chemistry between the cast members of Younger is palpable. From scripted scenes to bite-size interstitials for social media, it’s clear that this is a crew who genuinely enjoy each other.

At the center of these scenes is Liza, a 40-year-old newly divorced mom trying—to no avail—to reenter the workforce after raising her daughter. When a local tattoo artist, Josh, mistakes her for a 26-year-old, Liza begins a double-life juggling multi-generational friendships and romance.

So what makes this half-hour romantic comedy click?

It all begins with the show’s lead, Sutton Foster. “It starts at the top, you know?” says co-star Peter Hermann. “We have Sutton Foster that’s kind of just running the show; [she] has an energy and an aura about her that’s so wonderful. She comes to work every day just excited about what we’re doing, and it all kind of trickles down from there.”

Sutton Foster and Nico Tortorella
Sutton Foster and Nico Tortorella Photo courtesy of TV Land

Foster sets the tone. She leads her troupe by example; her dedication creates the aura Hermann talks about. Foster credits her theatre roots for her devotion and focus. “I’m grateful for my work ethic,” says Foster. “I’ve done theatre for 20 years, and I’m grateful for the discipline and the structure I had. There’s nothing harder than doing eight shows a week, and to be able to sort of bring that type of work ethic into doing television [is invaluable].”

Still, hard work doesn’t amount to everything if you don’t have the goods to back it up. Luckily, Foster has them in spades. Her quirkiness and humor make the character of Liza endearing and relatable, but are also the sparks that light the camaraderie on set.

Not to mention, the cast is made of theatre people. Peter Hermann played in War Horse and Talk Radio; and Miriam Shor was most recently in The Wild Party at Encores!, originated the role of Yitzhak in Hedwig and the Angry Inch and will soon be Off-Broadway in Sweat at the Public. As for Younger’s younger generation, Molly Bernard earned acclaim for her role in SoHo Rep’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again., and Nico Tortorella garnered raves for Off-Broadway’s Crude.

“We’ve created this really great environment, and I feel like that is all because of my theatre background—because I realized how important that is, like what it means to be a family and a company as opposed to anyone being out for themselves,” says Foster. “We’re all kind of in this together, and that’s what, hopefully, happens in theatre is that we’re like, ‘Let’s all get together and put on a show!’”

Shor says, “We’ve got a great cast and great writers, who I think are so smart.”

It’s true. Younger works not only because of its leading lady, but because it is a relevant show—tackling issues like ageism, sexism, beauty ideals and identity. Smart, yet emotionally vulnerable—like Liza and Josh (for fans out there)—the show wins in both departments of intelligence: book smarts and emotional IQ.

Younger strays from staid archetypes of women and, instead, presents relatable characters and characters who viewers—or even the actresses who play them—can aspire to be. “Lauren is one of the few women on TV who loves herself,” says Bernard of her character, “and so, for me, as a person—I’m 28—I’m learning how to love myself. What a gift it is to play someone who unconditionally, boldly, irreverently f***ing loves herself.”

“I love how fierce Kelsey is with other women. She is a damn good friend, she’s understanding, but she doesn’t have that [for herself],” says Duff of her role. “I think that’s … relatable to watch.” Indeed, Kelsey is that reminder of the girl who champions and protects her friends, but not herself.

In the 40s age bracket, the characters played by Shor and Debi Mazar are unapologetic—though in very different ways. Both are bold, Diana (Shor) in a tightly-wound way and Maggie (Mazar) as a very easygoing, truly self-satisfied woman.

As for Liza, “Liza’s a mixed bag of all sorts of things. She’s very sexy, but ultimately just a big dork,” says Foster, who confesses that she incorporates a lot of herself into every character she plays. If she can’t find the Sutton, it’s not right for her. Having played so many different women, Foster’s repertoire of characters builds on each other. “Violet’s in [Liza], Reno’s in there, and those are all parts of who I am,” Foster says. “I try to infuse as much of myself, and then everything sort of grows from there.”

“It’s really humbling more than anything,” Tortorella says of working on a story driven by strong female characters. “You have this cast of incredible women actors that are some of the funniest people that I’ve ever met in my life—men or women—and to be the masculine backdrop for them to shine, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

What’s more revelatory than the female focus and variety of women on Younger, are the relationships between them. Much like Darren Star’s other hit, Sex and the City, Younger slams the door on cat fights and social climbing and emphasizes the strength and importance of female friendship.

Hilary Duff
Hilary Duff Photo courtesy of TV Land

“I feel like Darren and all the writers really strive to show that these relationships matter and can be everything, can be the difference between you falling apart and you becoming successful,” says Shor.

“Darren Star loves women,” says Mazar. “He clearly loves women, and he writes very well for them. It’s always just nice to see women being nice to each other.”

As Season 3 takes off (the Season 3 premiere was September 28), Younger deepens in authenticity—especially when it comes to friendship and female support. “Our friendship has a bump in the road at the end of this season,” explains Duff of Kelsey and Lauren. “[Molly] called me and was like, ‘I don’t know how I feel about this, what are we going to do?’ And I was like, ‘Actually, though, it happens. This happens in friendships.’ The season is a lot more grounded than Season 2.”

What’s exciting is that Younger has made it this far and, like Liza, continues to earn respect. Like the show’s main character, TVLand took a chance to reinvent itself—go edgy and contemporary.

Who thought one of the sexiest show’s on television would pop up on a network previously famous for reruns of Three’s Company?

But, it has. “I think when you start with Darren Star, and then you add a dollop of Sutton Foster, and sprinkle in Hilary Duff and Debi Mazar and these two ridiculous people over here [Nico and Peter] and Molly Bernard…” Shor sighs. “You just feel like you hit the jackpot,” says Hermann.

Sounds like the recipe for success.

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