The premiere season of Smash has been a divisive one for viewers, but if there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that Megan Hilty is fantastic on TV. The Broadway vet (she was the second actress to follow Kristin Chenoweth in Wicked) is now returning to the stage to play Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. It’s one of Monroe’s iconic roles — although Hilty, unlike Marilyn, won’t be needing someone to dub her voice in the tricky parts. We spoke to Hilty about her character’s casting-couch and prescription-drug problems, her hopes for season two, and whether Smash jibes with her real-life Broadway experience.
I’m totally Team Ivy. I actually get upset when other actresses are playing Marilyn on the show.
Yay, thank you!
That said, can you play devil’s advocate and defend Team Karen [Katharine McPhee] to me?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, everybody has to start somewhere. And just because you don’t have any credit doesn’t mean you don’t have the chops to pull it off. That’s what I would say about that.
She just seems like she’s in over her head all the time.
She does get a little overwhelmed. All the time. [Laughs.]
So have you gotten flack from your singer friends for being the first person in history to ever have hallucinations from prednisone?
Well, what comes out later is that it’s not just prednisone. She’s taking a bunch of other things too. Because that was a big concern of mine. I kept telling them, “Guys, I take prednisone all the time. All it does is make me a little bloated and a little shaky.” [Laughs.] But it comes out later that those other side effects really come from amount of pills that she’s taking, not just the prednisone.
People on the show keep making mean jokes about Ivy sleeping with Derek, her director. But it really seems at this point like he’s not only her boyfriend, but actually a pretty decent boyfriend. What is your take on that?
Well, I think this relationship surprised everybody, even the writers, because it was supposed to end really quickly. But something happened when they were actually shooting it and everybody kind of realized, Oh, these two are very similar. They’re both extremely ambitious and are very proud of the work that they do, and they have that common understanding. They just get each other. And the things that make it seem tumultuous, or I guess in some people’s eyes like partly abusive, is that they’re painfully honest with each other, which, while it’s being hurtful, it’s also really refreshing. They both know exactly where the other person stands, and at the end of the day they totally respect it.
Do you think it’s unfair for Ivy to be criticized for sleeping with the director when it’s developed into something bigger?
Absolutely. You know, everybody keeps talking about, “Oh, the casting-couch thing.” But it wasn’t about that for either of the characters. Ivy is a person who throws herself into whatever role she finds herself playing. And you see they totally get swept up in the moment, and they actually develop real feelings for each other. Not only that, but in the next episode you see Ivy questioning whether or not that’s why she got the role, and she’s actually mortified to think that she got it on anything other than her talent, and that she deserves it.
Broadway actress Sharon Wheatley has been writing a fun blog about Smash, and after that episode, she wrote that she had never heard of a casting-couch happening on Broadway. Have you?
I’ve never really heard of it either. And like I said, I don’t even think it happened in our show.
It didn’t seem that way to me with Ivy, but I thought it did have that kind of vibe when Derek was with Karen.
You know what? When Jack [Davenport] talks about that moment in the pilot, he makes a good point. He never asked her to do that. He said he wanted to see her Marilyn. He didn’t ask her to do any of that stuff. And it’s true — you watch it back and it’s like, You’re right. She made this decision to do that. So you can look at it either way. I tend to think that the non-casting-couch way is more interesting.
There are quite a few Broadway actors in the cast who have not performed musical numbers yet. If you could do a duet with any one of them, who would it be?
It would be … let’s see here, who hasn’t sung yet? It would be Anjelica Huston.
What moment in this season has seemed the most true to your experience in the theater?
I think the moment when Christian [Borle]’s character comes up and says, “We just need a star.” I can’t tell you how many readings I’ve done and that my friends have done, and you pour your heart and soul into these roles and helping them create these new pieces, and then at the end of the day, the producers come up to you and say, “We love you, nobody could do this better than you,” and say all those wonderful things. And at the end of the day they just say they “need a star.” It’s heartbreaking, but it’s part of the business, and it’s a very real thing. And I’m so glad that they deal with it on this show, because it really does happen all the time.
Now, on the opposite side of the spectrum, was there a moment where you felt like, “This would never ever happen”?
I would never leave the theater in full costume and then spend all night drinking and singing in it in Times Square. It made for great TV, but it would never happen.
You’ve said that the finale is going to have a lot of cliff-hangers, correct?
Oh, yeah. For everybody.
Can you tell me a little about what you’d like to see in season two, just in terms of your character’s direction?
I would really like to see Ivy get it together for a minute! [Laughs.] I’d love to see more of her and her mother together. I think that’s a fascinating relationship, and I’m just obsessed with Bernadette Peters, so selfishly I want to work with her.
And now you’re doing Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Is your Marilyn Monroe impression going to come through at all?
No, I won’t be doing a Marilyn performance. [Laughs.] You know, originally Carol Channing made that role famous on Broadway, which is very different from Miss Monroe. So, as in all of the other roles that I’ve stepped into after other people have made them iconic, I’d like to do the same thing and kind of pay homage to what was done before me, but really focus on making it my own.