STAGE TO SCREENS: Sutton Foster Talks About "Bunheads," a TV Series That Keeps Her On Her Toes

By Kenneth Jones
25 Jun 2012

Kelly Bishop and Sutton Foster
Photo by Andrew Eccles
Classical dance class seems to be ubiquitous in the lives of many girls. Were toe shoes and tutus in your past, or were you more pop, tap and show tunes? Did you ever dance en pointe?
SF: I started ballet at age four and took classes until I was 20 or so. I never danced en pointe. When we started production I started taking ballet again. I take [lessons] privately almost every day now. It's so challenging and frustrating but exciting.

Was there one influential teacher, like Fanny Flowers, in your own formative years? Who was he/she?
SF: I had two. Diane Clements from Augusta West Dance Academy in Augusta, Georgia, and Juliana Perpenelli from Juliana's Academy of Dance in Michigan!

I like that Michelle Simms is a work-in-progress. There's something rootless about her. Did that appeal to you?
SF: Absolutely. I think, like Michelle, I've struggled to find roots of my own. Growing up, my father was transferred a lot. We moved every three years. I spent my early 20s on tour — traveling city to city living out of a suitcase. Even moving out here to L.A. for the show has been uprooting. So I recognize that in Michelle and in myself, big-time.

I love the well of sadness and focuslessness in Michelle's personal life, compared to how she lights up when she's with the girls. There is almost a maternal light to her when she is around those kids. Do you sense this in Michelle, too?
SF: I love that you noticed that. I think Michelle is lost and she is desperately trying to find a place or a way that she can matter. I think she sees herself in the girls. Her own lost youth? Her own misguided path? I think she'd like to impart some of her own life experience onto them — those girls could become "roots" for her.

Foster in the pilot episode
photo by Eric McCandless

I love that Michelle's performance background has a path — classical training, Broadway work, Vegas. All different disciplines, which means the series' dance vocabulary can be diverse (and it means Michelle has a few years of history!). Will we get to see Sutton Foster do an eight-minute tap dance, like in Anything Goes? More importantly, will we see and hear Michelle sing in the series? Give us a scoop? Or a tease?
SF: There is definitely some singing and dancing down the line!

I was surprised that the series has such a frisky comic tone, at times a touch daffy and absurd (particularly the Paradise world that surrounds Michelle). What's it like navigating that and finding a balance? She is a fish out of water, really — someone earthbound surrounded by sprites.
SF: It's a ball. I love the crazy world that Amy has created and it's fun encountering all these oddballs. It affords a lot of fun and discovery and, at times, horror for Michelle!

How well did you know Kelly Bishop before this experience? There's great tension and chemistry between Michelle and Fanny.
SF: We did Anything Goes together — she came in after Jessica Walter and we became friends on that. We have become friends and I adore her, and she is such an amazing partner to work with!

Broadway's Ellen Greene and Valarie Pettiford were in the second episode. Can you sneak us some other names in upcoming episodes?
SF: Hehe. You'll just have to keep watching!