The hills of Empirical Press are alive with the sound of … polite conflict resolution … with this week’s Younger episode finally getting to the heart of the love triangle shared between Liza (Sutton Foster), Quinn (Laura Benanti), and a dumb publishing man who’s obsessed with a novel called Arabian Sea. No, the ladies aren’t going to pull a reverse Bridget Jones and fight in a fountain over Charles (Peter Hermann). Actually, they seem to be trapped in a classic Sound of Music scenario instead. “You may not know me, but I know who you are. You’re Maria von Trapp. You’re sweetness and light and pillow fights and guitars and I’m just not that. Whether I like it or not, I’m the Baroness,” Quinn tells Liza, dropping the egotistical shtick for an affecting moment of candor. “Nobody roots for the Baroness. But what they always forget is the Baroness loved the Captain. She loved him very much.”
Quinn has been a constant source of tension, both romantic and professional, looming over Younger’s final season: The publication of her divisive “failure” memoir has kept her in the orbit of our Empirical crew, and by the sixth episode, Quinn felt the need to humiliate Liza with a ruse to get her to retreat from her blossoming relationship with Charles. But she’s also super gracious and will attend your daughter’s college gala if you ask? Yeah, we’re just as confused as you are, so we eagerly jumped on the phone with Broadway icon Benanti to better understand the essence of Quinn.
I have to admit that Quinn’s presence has been a bit of a mystery to me this season. She’s kind of a Diana stand-in, a romantic foe, and a work villain all at once. How do you view her?
I play her like I always have, which is a driven woman. I think she’s incredibly intelligent and has a great sense of humor. She’s singular in her vision. She’s incredibly self-centered and knows what she wants and she goes after it. I really enjoy playing her and I don’t see her as a villain, mostly because I don’t want to play her as that. Like, twirling my mustache or something. [Laughs.] She’s really funny and a good foil for Liza, who’s such a goody two-shoes.
What is Quinn’s vision?
She lives her life like a man. She lives her life by putting herself first. Nobody really says anything when men behave that way, but they do when women behave that way. I think of her like a visionary, I really do. She’s living her best life to the best of her ability and not really worrying about anything. What makes her sort of “villainous” is that she doesn’t worry about who she’s hurting in the process. That’s the tragedy of Quinn — her lack of empathy.
The scene between her and Liza at the Vassar event was pretty interesting: Quinn admits that “bitch is unpredictable” and she doesn’t understand herself well. Why do you think that is? She always struck me as Younger’s most self-assured character up until now.
She lives on the surface. She keeps herself incredibly busy so as not to investigate anything on an emotional level. I think she’s been courting fame and fortune for a long time. So often when that’s one sole objective, you’re not dealing with an emotional life. I don’t think she’s the kind of person who’s seeking a deeper connection with her inner self. I don’t think that’s what her journey is about. She’s living an almost epicurean life! Pleasure is the highest good for her. And you know what? She’s kind of simple in the way, frankly, that very powerful men are simple. I think her journey in this life is, What can I get, how much can I get, how can I keep it, and how can I look fabulous doing it? I don’t think she’s trying to change herself or trying to change the world.
Her whole monologue to Liza was terrific, as was the Baroness and Maria comparison. How would you characterize their relationship at this point?
Quinn looked at all of those women as silly. They allow their emotions to run their business, and that’s not the way to run a business. That’s kind of the choice I’m talking about — Quinn puts the emotional and personal part of it aside to run a solid business. Liza and a lot of the other characters let their feelings and emotions dictate their behaviors. Quinn looks at that and goes, That’s absolutely ridiculous. They put their life before business but her business is her life.
With all that Sound of Music and a capella talk, I was hoping you and Sutton would spontaneously break out a musical moment.
Trust me, me too. [Laughs.] You know what’s really funny? For my first Broadway show ever when I was 18 years old, I played Maria in The Sound of Music. And then I played the Baroness in NBC’s live The Sound of Music. I literally got the best of best worlds.
Which one was more enjoyable to play?
The villain is always more fun to play than a doe-eyed gal. I certainly loved playing Maria at 18. It was incredible and one of my dream roles as a child, but there’s something really delicious about playing characters like Quinn and the Baroness. They’re layered. Humans are layered. I appreciate the shades of gray. But seriously, the Baroness is amazing. Everything the monologue said is true. She did love the Captain! But did she want all of those kids? Hell no. That doesn’t make her evil.
The idea of the love triangle has been integral to Younger since the beginning, and given the reaction I’ve seen from other viewers, it’s come as a shock that Quinn is now part of one with Liza and Charles. Has your opinion on any of those characters changed since this romantic reshuffling began?
I was surprised that Charles would fall for Quinn. But I think that when people are hurt, they behave in ways that are surprising. Quinn can be very charming, and the writers did an excellent job at humanizing her and making it seem like Quinn and Charles have a lot in common. Maybe they even have more in common than Liza and Charles. How many of us have dealt with someone and dated them, only later to find ourselves later being like, Wait a minute, why am I attracted to that person? That’s not necessarily an uncommon thing to happen. But I definitely was surprised at their relationship, I didn’t see it coming.
And I’ve noticed that most of the fan ire has gone to Charles as opposed to Quinn.
That makes me feel better! Usually in our society when men and women behave badly, it’s the woman who gets the shit end of the stick. I’m glad that people are more mad at him. Look, people love to hate Quinn. If people hate Quinn, I’m doing my job. [Laughs.]
Listen, if my boss took me on an all-expenses work outing to Dave & Buster’s, I’d love them forever.
Right?! Also, I found out that day that I’m an amazing basketball player. I had no idea. I was smoking Peter Hermann in basketball.
So, I guess the big question is this: Do you think Quinn actually loves Charles?
I think she loves Charles as much as she can allow herself to love anyone other than her. When you’re completely self-involved and lacking in empathy, you can’t love someone in the way that’s necessarily meaningful to them. I think in the moment Quinn says she loves Charles and the moment it seems like she loves him, she does.
I’m curious, did you model Quinn on anyone in particular?
Not really. I play her like she’s a man. Basically, I play her like some very powerful men that I know. Not necessarily one specific person. I’ve taken the bold, brash characteristics of so many successful men. Her sense of humor is also my sense of humor. A lot of the humor that you feel in there comes from the writing, but also how I really am.
Would you buy one of Quinn’s books?
Hell no. [Laughs.]