Stepping from stage to screen

By Guy Davis

Broadway star with Flight of the Conchords connection relishes her TV role as a small town dance teacher.

Sutton Foster says she loves dance and teaching so accepting the role was "a no-brainer". Photo / Supplied
Sutton Foster says she loves dance and teaching so accepting the role was "a no-brainer". Photo / Supplied

Sutton Foster may not be a familiar face to many TV viewers, but that doesn't mean the multi-talented performer hasn't paid her dues.

While her biggest TV role to date may have been a brief but memorable stint as Bret's girlfriend on the cult comedy Flight of the Conchords, Foster is an acclaimed musical-theatre veteran with 15 years on Broadway and two Tony Awards to her name.

But now the singer-dancer-actor is making a shift, taking on the lead role in Bunheads, the new series from Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino.

Playing Michelle, a former Las Vegas showgirl who ends up overseeing a small-town dance studio full of aspiring young ballerinas (the "bunheads", because of their shared hairstyle), has resulted in something of a culture shock.

"It's definitely a huge life change," she said. "I had been living in New York for 15 years, I had never really spent time out here in Los Angeles, and so I was sort of just taking a leap."

Not unlike her Bunheads character, one might say. "It was a total parallel," she said. "Brand-new town, brand-new job and [thinking], 'Is this going to be a good thing? Is this going to work?' But it's been really nice."

Q. How is starring on a TV series different from starring in a stage show?

I'm coming from a world of theatre where every day is the same, and there's a comfort in that. But on TV, once you're done with a scene, you never do it again. You've got 40 people staring at you with a camera and lights, there's no time to be scared or to be like, "I don't know how". There are days, obviously, where I'm like, "I can't do it". But you work through it and move on to something else.

Q. Have you found yourself getting recognised more since Bunheads premiered?

It's definitely changed. I was followed in the grocery store by a gaggle of 10-year-olds, and that cracked me up. I just heard, "You go after her". "No, you go after her." I'm standing there looking at cereal and there are four little girls. They come up behind me and they're like, "Are you on Bunheads?" And I'm like, "I am". They said, "Oh my god. I told you. We love that show." It was so sweet.

Q. How do you view your character Michelle?

In a way, Michelle is the villain. That's not the right word, but she is wreaking havoc. I love her because she's flawed but trying, and it's fun to play such a messy character. Plus, it's neat to be in a show that's about dance and teaching and relationships, so it was just a no-brainer.

Q. How is your relationship with the girls playing your students?

At first they thought I was cool, and now I don't know. They're wonderful girls. We work really hard but we have a great time. When we shot the pilot they were like, "I saw you in [Broadway show] The Drowsy Chaperone" or "I saw you in Anything Goes". I've always tried to maintain a professional manner on set, while also having fun. It was just trying to keep a balance with them. I don't necessarily know if I want to be their mentor, or if they need me to be a mentor, but I do want to be a good example and say, "Hey, look, you can work hard, you can be a good person, you can treat people respectfully and you can have success". And that's important to me, but they're already great. There's not a bad apple in the bunch. They're really great kids, and we have a great time together.


TV profile

Who: Sutton Foster
What: Bunheads
When: Saturday 3pm TV2

- AAP

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