Ask any millennial woman to discuss their fondest memories of Hilary Duff, and there’s a fair chance you’ll hear a response that’s something along the lines of “I want a bra!” or “Hey now, hey now.” Since her Disney days, though, Duff has taken on the more mature, complex role of Kelsey Peters on TV Land’s comedy-drama Younger. As an ambitious 20-something book editor, Kelsey works her way up the corporate ladder and earns the opportunity to run her own imprint, with her good friend and colleague Liza Miller (Sutton Foster) by her side. Lately, her career highs have been juxtaposed with a personal low: her cheating fiancé being killed by a falling construction beam at the end of last season. Vulture recently hopped on the phone with Duff to discuss her role on Younger, the types of characters she enjoys playing the most, and the lasting legacy of Lizzie McGuire.
Younger is one of the shows that has brought TV Land a new, younger demographic. When you were first approached, were you reluctant about the network’s image?
I was. At first I was like, TV Land? I don’t watch anything on TV Land. When you think of TV Land, you typically think of reruns and older stuff. But I was immediately hooked with the fact that it was Darren Star running the show. A few years ago, television transitioned into people not really being fans of the network, but rather following the show. AMC a few years ago, for instance, didn’t have anything that I wanted to watch before The Walking Dead. So I think people are getting more interested in shows and not caring about the network that’s providing it. I was excited that Younger was at the forefront of rebranding that network. They’re being bold and letting us be bold. I trusted Darren, and our writers and cast are so great. We got to be on a network that let us really go there, you know?
Speaking of boldness, your character has sex on the Roosevelt Island tram in this week’s episode. Now that’s bold.
[Laughs.] I’ve never been on the tram either until then, so it was a very interesting first tram experience for me, to say the least.
One of the things I love most about Darren Star shows is that he writes such fun, interesting roles for women, and I think the spirit of Sex and the City really shines through here. What’s it like working with him?
He’s so great. I love him as a person, and he does write so well for women. He has a very funny way about him — he’s naturally humorous, but has a funny way of dealing with sex and women’s friendships and women’s insecurities. He knows how to tap into all of that. Obviously Sex and the City set a great tone for a show like ours; obviously fashion is a big part of our show. And just like Sex and the City, New York City isn’t an invisible character, it’s really there too. Except ours is a little bit more gritty and edgy, I think, because we take place mostly in Brooklyn.
And for another Sex and the City connection, Patricia Field is Younger’s costumer. She creates such amazing wardrobes for everyone.
They’re amazing, aren’t they? She’s a true visionary. Obviously it’s great to go to work and wear awesome clothes, but by the end of the day we’re like, Get these off of us. They can get so uncomfortable! At the end of the season, the producers are always like, “Do you guys want to keep anything?” And of course we’ll keep a few items, but for the most part we’re so sick of wearing these outfits and we’re like, “No, give us some sweatpants, give us some slippers.” [Laughs.]
What attracted you to the role of Kelsey in the first place?
I hadn’t worked in television for a long time, and I got excited that she’s an adult character who’s fighting for her spot in the workplace. She’s ambitious, she’s smart, but she has insecurities, obviously. She doesn’t have the best sense when it comes to men. She’s relatable. With my first character on TV, which was Lizzie McGuire, it was such a relatable character. People really fell in love with her. I could be her friend, you could be her friend. I feel like it’s the same thing with Kelsey. She’s a little wild, she’s a little cuckoo, but she’s a good person and a great friend, and a hard worker. She’s reachable, and I love playing characters like that.
The show’s depiction of women supporting other women feels so genuine. There’s no backstabbing and there’s no secret power plays, although, of course, a central lie encompasses Younger’s narrative.
Exactly, we really do care about each other. That’s why I think this show is so juicy. It’s obviously based on the central lie, and obviously it’s wrong, but you realize the reason why Liza’s doing it. It really is for a good reason — she has to put her child through college. And in the process, it shows how the world shames people for getting older, and also how people don’t get enough respect when they’re younger. Younger deals with ageism on both spectrums, which is very unique. Their friendships are real and true, and aren’t conniving in any way.
The relationship between Kelsey and Liza is the heart of the show, and it’s great to see two intergenerational women form such a unique friendship both in and out of the office — even though Kelsey doesn’t know Liza’s real age. Did you and Sutton ever discuss how you’d like to approach the intricacies of the relationship?
We didn’t, but we had a long work session with Darren before we starting shooting the pilot. We got to know each other really well. We work really well together. We’re both very different people, but she's a goof, and I’m a goof, so we try to keep it silly for our friendship to be authentic. And we’re friends in real life! We respect each other, and the fact that we both have playful personalities makes it easy for our real friendship to shine through and make that bond strong. I love working with her.
I’m sure you’re not allowed to discuss if Kelsey finds out Liza’s secret this season, so instead I’ll ask — how do you think Kelsey would respond if and when she finds out?
It’ll be a very, very big betrayal. I don’t think she’s going to respond well to it. I think it’s going to be a big shock and she’s going to be hurt. But you never know. Kelsey sometimes surprises me right when I think I know her so well. Last season, when Liza tells Kelsey that Thad is cheating on her and she has a video to prove it, she gets mad at Liza instead of getting mad at Thad. I was so upset that I had to play it that way. I was like, What, that’s nuts?! It’s very real; some women have a reaction that’s a “don’t butt into my personal life.” In Kelsey’s mind, Thad checked off all of the boxes for her. He’s got a good job, he’s handsome, he comes from a good family, he would probably make good babies. It was obviously a terrible relationship, and everyone questioned her from the beginning. But she was going to go through with that no matter what, so she got really mad at Liza. I hated having to do it that way, but you never know! Maybe this time around she’ll be like, I’ve known all along!
Speaking of Thad, his shocking death last season confirmed my theory that being killed by falling construction equipment is my biggest New York fear.
[Laughs.] You know what? It was really based on true events that were happening in New York City last year. I believe two or three people died by construction while we were filming. It’s quite scary. It’s not supposed to be scary on the show, though, it’s supposed to be kind of funny and fucked up at the same time. I always joke, Well, I had to get rid of him somehow. He was terrible! But it is real, and people get hurt all of the time, and that was based on true events.
TV Land has already renewed the show for season four. What other plotlines would you like to see play out in the future, both for Kelsey and as the group as a whole?
Hmmm, I’m not really sure, to be honest. The writers always surprise us; we never really know what we’re getting into with each season. We could never dream up anything that’s as good as what they’re going to come up with. I think there’s going to be a lot of conflict between Josh and Liza. Their relationship seems to be juggling a bit at the moment, but I don’t want to give too much away. They’re on good terms right now, but there’s the whole Charles dynamic. Kelsey starts dating a guy pretty seriously towards the end of the season, so that’s new. What I will say is that the season ends pretty heavy this year, which is exciting. One thing that was great about this season is that everyone got their own side piece of story line, outside of the main narrative. Everyone has their own dramas going on, and everyone ends in a much different place than last year.
As Kelsey works in the publishing industry, have you personally ever had an interest in writing a memoir about your life?
I’ve had an offer to do that before, and I don’t know. I’m not even 30 yet. I know I’ve had a long career already, but I just don’t know. I have too much on my plate at the moment, with the show and other business ventures that I want to get involved in, and being the best mom I can be while having little tidbits of time for myself. For me, I’m like, What is so interesting? [Laughs.] I don’t know what I would say.
People would definitely read it.
You think? Maybe in ten years. I think when I’m a little bit older that could be something interesting. When I move out of L.A. and live on a farm somewhere.
You've been a part of Hollywood since you were young, on Lizzie McGuire and The Lizzie McGuire Movie. Why do you think that role has maintained a legacy in pop culture all of these years later?
I think that when Lizzie McGuire came out, television needed a young girl who was totally relatable and was going through similar things with other girls. It was really a broad age range of people who loved that character — there were girls watching the show who were her age, obviously, and then girls who were a little bit older who had just gotten out of middle school and going into high school, or even going into college from high school, and were dealing with all of those same issues, or had just dealt with them. Lizzie was a little bit of an oddball but was into fashion, and was friends with everyone, but wasn’t necessarily the most popular. I think it touched on things people really related to. When something touches you at an age where you really remember everything, it sticks with you for awhile.
This interview has been edited and condensed.