Art is imitating life for Megan Hilty. A Broadway veteran of shows like Wicked and 9 to 5, she currently stars on the NBC series Smash, which centers on the making of a new Broadway musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe. Hilty portrays Ivy Lynn, who lands the lead role in this new show-in-development after years of toiling as a chorus girl. Although Ivy dreams of having her name in lights, she learns to look over her shoulder and see what—or who—is lurking behind her.
DivineCaroline: Some people think there are actors out there who slept their way to the top. Do you feel your character Ivy is giving some truth to this statement, since she is sleeping with the director of her new show?
Megan Hilty: I can see how it can be perceived that way. However, I chose to play this differently. There is a real relationship that builds between Derek and Ivy and you will see it as the season progresses. Ivy will even question the relationship a lot and wonder if it had anything to do with her casting.
MH: Yeah, there are even some regrets that come along with that. However, they do have a real relationship that will last a long time. It is an unconventional relationship, but Ivy and Derek really do have real feelings for each other.
DC: Is Derek capable of having a relationship, given the fact he has a reputation of being a slime bucket?
MH: Yes, because even slime buckets have a good side to them. You may even see his good side coming up very soon...
DC: Keep in mind that Derek made a pass at Katharine McPhee’s character Karen before Ivy gave in to his advances.
MH: For me, I view Ivy as someone who gets very swept up in her work. She really throws herself into her work and I think at that particular moment really fell for him. I’ll admit, it is not the typical “casting couch” situation.
DC: Speaking of Derek, he has hinted that Ivy may not be playing Marilyn after all, because he is still eyeing her rival Karen. You have to dish about that storyline.
MH: I will tell you—as someone who has been a part of these workshops in real life—that the person who may be cast as the lead for a workshop does not necessarily play it when it goes to Broadway. You can be replaced in a heartbeat in these shows. In this case, it will make for a really great drama.
DC: If Ivy is bumped from the starring role, is that something you can relate to?
MH: I have done many of these readings and workshops as well as two Broadway shows, so I have been replaced in many shows. It is part of the business.
DC: Have you been in Ivy’s shoes where you audition for a part for months and then see it go to someone else?
MH: Absolutely. A lot of times I didn’t get it. They can bring you back a number of times to see if you are right for a role and then not give it to you.
DC: Given your Broadway experience, does that help you create Ivy’s character?
MH: Absolutely. There is a lot of my past experience that I draw on for this character. We are not alike in some of the choices we make, but I do use my experience in the Broadway community and growing up in the theater to portray Ivy.
DC: Having done Broadway and now a television series, is Smash accurate in telling the story about what is takes to produce a big stage musical production?
MH: Yes it is. It is very true.
DC: Tell us about the competition to make it on Broadway.
MH: It is fierce. The amount of talent in [New York] is incredible. It sometimes takes a matter of chance and then getting people to believe in you. That is exactly what Ivy is going through.
DC: What are the big differences between doing a Broadway show and a television show?
MH: My old job was doing the same thing every day and every night and trying to make it new. Now I am doing something new every day. The audience is different too. I used to perform in front of a live audience of hundreds of people. Now my audience is the crew and a camera in my face. Although it is a challenge, it has been so much fun to adjust.
DC: You do a lot of musical numbers on this show. Tell me how long you prepare to perform them before the camera is ready to roll?
MH: It varies. Last week, I was handed a piece of music of Tuesday, recorded it on Wednesday, and shot it on Thursday. That’s the beauty of it—you never know what to expect.
DC: What is it like to work with a cast that includes Debra Messing, Anjelica Huston, and Katherine McPhee?
MH: It is incredible—actually terrifying, at first. When I heard all of these big names I was truly terrified. I will say, from day one everyone has just been so cool and lovely to work with. It is such a joy to go to work.
DC: Speaking of Katherine, her character Karen is your nemesis on the series. Are those two about to do battle?
MH: (laughs) Oh yes. That is something you will want to watch.
DC: Ivy has immersed herself in the idea of playing Marilyn Monroe. Do you do the same when you really want a part?
MH: Absolutely. I am a firm believer in research. As a matter of fact, I am still researching Marilyn just so I can keep her in the front of my mind since we do mirror her life for this musical. Since I want it to be real, having a constant reminder is great.
DC: Was there ever a part you desperately wanted and didn’t get?
MH: There were several Broadway shows for which I got put through the ringer and then didn’t get the part. Little Shop of Horrors was once of them. I was going for Audrey and was devastated when that didn’t work out. However, that is the nature of the business and why we are making a television show out of it.
Photo credits: Will Hart/NBC & Patrick Harbron/NBC