PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With "Smash" Star Megan Hilty

News   PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With "Smash" Star Megan Hilty
In the new NBC musical series "Smash," Megan Hilty stars as Ivy Lynn, a veteran Broadway chorus girl hungry to break out of the rank and file of the ensemble and nab the spotlight for herself.


Ivy Lynn, an insecure schemer who tends to quickly retreat to the negative, is something of a departure for Hilty, who is best known on Broadway for inhabiting sweeter characters such as the perky, type-A good witch Glinda in the hit Wicked and the down-home country charmer Doralee Rhodes in 9 to 5: The Musical. caught up with Hilty in the midst of her filming schedule for "Smash." The hourlong drama's fifth episode airs at 10 PM March 5 on NBC.

You're a Broadway trouper. What's it like playing a Broadway performer auditioning to play a Broadway performer on television?
Megan Hilty: When I read the breakdown for Ivy Lynn, I said, "Oh, this is not me." She's a dancer and she's written as a very, very strong dancer. In order to be in the ensemble of Broadway shows for ten years you've gotta be good and that's a kind of good that I don't have. I found that very daunting and I called my manager and said, "I don't think I can do this. I'm not willing to put myself through all the dance auditions and make a fool out of myself. I just know I can't do this." But she talked me into putting myself on tape in Los Angeles because they were casting out of New York and I was living in L.A. at the time. I got a phone call later that day frantically asking how tall I was and they said, "Steven Spielberg needs to know how tall everyone is before he watches their tapes." My stomach was just in knots!

Show business irony? You left New York for L.A., only to come back east for a television series about Broadway?
MH: [Laughs.] I know. Isn't that great? It's everything I ever loved in one job. Whoever thought that would happen? So, ultimately, you got over your fear of dancing. I mean, you landed the role.
MH: Yes! Well, we have the most amazing choreographer on "Smash," Josh Bergasse. He makes it look like I know what I'm doing and he's essentially saved me from my biggest fear.

Hilty on "Smash."
photo by Patrick Harbron/NBC

Are you protective of how the Broadway experience is portrayed in the script? You've got an A-team of theatre insiders working on "Smash."
MH: There are so many times I've stood backstage during a Broadway show and thought, "There needs to be cameras here." I loved the pilot when I read it. Theresa Rebeck is a genius, she's unbelievable. Her writing style is so strong and so specific. It's every actor's dream to get to say her words, or it should be. When I read the script I totally fell in love with it and the idea. I'd been saying to myself for years that this needs to be on TV as reality or something scripted.

People outside of the theatre industry might not know how long a show takes to develop, and that sometimes the people who work hard to develop a role — for years — get replaced with a star when the show finally makes it to Broadway.
MH: It's so true. Chasing your dreams is inevitably going to include heartbreak somewhere along the way and you'll have to go through it if you want to succeed. Me and a lot of my friends in the Broadway community have done readings, workshops and developed so many things and, unfortunately, at the end of the day, what they really need is a star. Someone who is going to sell tickets. It's just a reality. It's just the case of the business and "Smash" touches on that a lot. What is it to be a star? Are they made? Are they born? Do people create them? And who gets to say who the star is and is not. You get to watch all these people struggle to get to be a star and figure out what that is. For my character, Ivy Lynn, that's exactly what her storyline is.

Do you carry those personal dreams and those stories with you as Ivy Lynn?
MH: Absolutely. I carry them with me. Everything I do. I keep pinching myself on set and saying, "I get to do a TV show about the thing I love the most in the world." I still can't really believe it's happening. All of my performance is infused with things I've gone through or I've watched other people go through in this business. There are so many specific choices I've made that are modeled off people I've worked with, or gone to school with, done community theatre with, even. I feel so lucky to have so much to pull from. Hopefully it will be entertaining for people who aren't in the musical theatre loop and I hope that people who are in the community will like it, too.

Hilty on "Smash."
Photo by Will Hart/NBC

The producers and creators of "Smash" have remained very faithful to the Broadway community — we see so many familiar faces in the series.
MH: It makes me really proud to be representing the Broadway community in this kind of way. It speaks volumes about how much the creators and producers wanted to stay authentic to the story. They hired so many people with theatrical backgrounds and I'm so lucky to be one of them. It's a breath of fresh air. They could have just hired every pretty face in L.A. who's done a million T.V. shows, but they're going for people that are really from this world and can do it. There are so many stereotypes that theatre performers can't do TV because we're too big and we're too Broadway, but it's such a crock.

So, while Broadway is hungry for Hollywood stars lately, "Smash" is taking the opposite approach and putting our stars on the screen.
MH: Right. In my opinion, to be an actor, your first job is to gauge your audience. Your performance is going to change from playing a 2,000-seat house, to the intimacy of performing for one person who's practically sitting in your lap. To insinuate that it can't be done is just crazy and "Smash" is turning that stereotype on its head.

With that in mind, what did you think when you first saw the pilot?
MH: I really had a hard time watching the pilot, because I have a hard time watching myself anyway. But it's never a pretty thing to watch someone really singing, watching their face on camera when they're really, really singing. We are really singing when we film this stuff. We're not just lip-synching. For the most part it's all pre-recorded, but we sing full-out everytime so that it looks like we are singing and not just lip-synching and trying to look pretty.

Then, after I saw the pilot I thought, "Oh, I have to watch my 'singer face' during the performance sequences and I gotta make this more pretty. But after sitting with it a while I thought, "No. It's not gonna be pretty and if I want to make this authentic I'm just gonna go for it and show 'em my singer face. It might not be pretty, but it's gonna be real."

There's a lot to think about. Your performance really does change when you're in a big theatre like the one we shoot in on Staten Island, and my thought was, "Well, I'm just going to go for it and play to the back of the house and see if that works." 

Hilty in 9 to 5.
photo by Joan Marcus

"Smash" is filmed in real New York City locations that are very familiar theatre folks. That must be surreal for you.
MH: The most surreal moment for me so far has not been singing in Times Square in an angel suit. It has been shooting scenes in Bernard Telsey's office, where I've sat and waited to audition for so many things before. That was a really surreal moment. It's so great to be in Shubert Alley so much and walking around our old stomping grounds. I mean even the Westway Diner. Come on! It's all the places we know and love and hang out. I keep pushing for a big scene dinner at Kodama!

Tell me about playing Ivy Lynn, who is also playing Marilyn during the musical sequences.
MH: There was one number in particular we were doing out in Staten Island. I was playing Ivy Lynn, Ivy Lynn was playing Marilyn and Marilyn was playing Sugar in "Some Like It Hot" and she shows up wasted and is having a hard time doing the number. But they're filming it on stage, so there's a fake camera crew, and a fake director on stage, and then there's the real camera crew that's out in the audience and above us swirling around us capturing it all. It was a lot to think about.

Broadway fans will also be excited to know that Tony winner Bernadette Peters guest stars as your mom on some upcoming episodes.
MH: That put me over the edge. She's the reason I'm in this business in the first place. She was it for me, she still is. I mean, she was my ultimate musical theatre idol. When they told me that they were talking to her about it I thought, "I don't know if I'll be able to do anything with her!" I was a complete goober around her on set. But we had some really great scenes together. I can't wait til people see that relationship, it's very interesting. She is just incredible. Watching her perform was like a master class.

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