A Tony Award-winning veteran of the Broadway stage, Sutton Foster has also methodically developed a vibrant career on the small screen in recent years. In 2012, the actress, singer, and dancer shone as a dancing instructor trying to reinvent herself on ABC Family’s one-season wonder, Bunheads. Her next leading role on television presented itself in 2015 when she was offered the lead of Liza Miller on TV Land’s half-hour dramedy, Younger. She plays a fortysomething mother posing as a twentysomething publishing industry underling on this delightful series executive-produced by Darren Star (Sex And The City). Foster’s upcoming role on the Netflix Gilmore Girls reboot will be her first appearance on the program, as well as a reunion with Amy Sherman-Palladino, the creator of Bunheads. After the season two finale of Younger, The A.V. Club spoke with Foster about the character of Liza Miller, her experiences working for TV Land and ABC Family, and her role on Gilmore Girls.
The A.V. Club: Liza’s complicated friendship and working relationship with Hilary Duff’s Kelsey anchors the show as much or more than her romantic relationships do. How do you portray the complexity of that relationship, especially when it involves a secret?
Sutton Foster: Ultimately the relationship with her has definitely evolved. There are different levels of it because Liza is obviously 40 years old. She sees so much of herself in Kelsey, and also sees a lot of her daughter in Kelsey, so you already have a complexity there. What ends up happening is there’s a real friendship developing and Kelsey and Liza, despite age, are becoming best friends. Yes, there is a lie and Liza has reasons to justify keeping the lie from Kelsey, but I think ultimately she loves her and wants to take care of her and protect her.
AVC: You’ve spoken about how Liza’s inspiring qualities attracted you to the role. She’s also a flawed character. Were there any unwise or selfish choices that she made this season that were difficult to portray, or at least difficult to see her make?
SF: I think we’re all flawed, you know? I think the thing that was most important to me is playing a character you hope the audience can get behind and root for. This is a character who is lying to her friends, but I always bring it back to her daughter. She’s doing everything for her daughter. It justifies everything for me as an actress. If everything springs from that, I forgive her for all of the little lies along the way. At Liza’s core, I think she’s a really, really good person and someone who cares very deeply about the people in her life. She doesn’t want to hurt anybody. This is just the way she’s able to—at this time in her life—figure out how to have the career she’s always dreamed of. As long as it stays earnest and truthful and comes from a place of goodness. I think at the end of the last episode, she’s willing to give up everything for her friend. She’s going to let her friend know what kind of guy she was going to marry. Her friend takes precedence.
The thing that was probably hardest for me was the stuff with Josh. She did pick career over him with The New York Times stuff and that was hard, but at the same time it’s all very tricky, you know? What I love about the show is that yes, men are in her life and there’s definitely romance and all of these things, but career and friendship are more important to her than relationships.
AVC: What’s the experience been leading a show that’s taking TV Land in a new creative direction?
SF: It’s been awesome. TV Land has been amazing. It’s exciting to work for a network that’s so behind the show and so behind Darren. My only other big television experience has been with ABC Family with Bunheads. I feel incredibly passionate about Bunheads, but the network was not supportive of the show and you have to have that. And to be a part of a network that’s rebranding itself and reinventing themselves—like Liza, really—is exciting. And it could have gone any way. It could have been a disaster and disappeared, but to have support for a show to keep growing and keep going is awesome. I think we all just feel really lucky.
AVC: Speaking of Bunheads, were there any surprises while working with Amy Sherman-Palladino again on the Gilmore Girls reboot?
SF: I just finished filming this past week. It was unbelievable. I got to do a scene with Lauren Graham. I might have cried a little bit. It was two days; it was surreal. I cannot wait for people to see it. Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino gave me such a gift with Bunheads and to give me this gift of going on Gilmore Girls was beyond. It was awesome.
AVC: What moved you to tears? Was it a scene or the actual experience of being there?
SF: I think it was the actual experience of being there. I was just really nervous and anxious about it and then it was done and we wrapped. I just stood there. [Feigns sobs.] I’m such a fan of Lauren and her work. It’s a dream come true. It’s one of those major pinch-me moments so it was surreal and awesome.
AVC: Something that Darren Star and Amy Sherman-Palladino share is a distinct comedic voice. What is it like to prepare to work with them?
SF: You’re absolutely right. I was so grateful to work on Bunheads. We had so much material and everything was so rapid-fire and I developed—through theater too, I developed a really great work ethic. I think preparing for both of them is just that—you come to set ready to go, ready to play, you know your lines, you’re ready to work. There’s not a lot of improv. Everything is on the page, and that’s exciting. Like you said, they both have a distinct voice and it’s great to know that that tone is ever-present. They are both very present on set as well. They’re both there every day and incredibly active on set. You want to know your shit and they deserve that too. You want to give as much time and dedication as you’d give to anything.