Megan Hilty
Megan Hilty

Megan Hilty plays the seductive, self-doubting Ivy Lynn on NBC’s new water cooler hit, Smash. Hilty is part of a new breed of triple-threat performers, in the same vein as another Broadway star-turned-screen-siren, Kristin Chenoweth. We are in the Glee era of television after all, where the small screen musical has taken hold of mainstream entertainment, and audiences are tuning in and enjoying what this larger-than-life genre has to offer.

The road to Broadway glory is paved with plenty of creativity, competition, scandal and heartbreak, and Smash delivers a delicious take on the fledgling careers and private lives of wannabe stage stars, Ivy Lynn and Karen Cartwright (played by Megan Hilty and American Idol alum, Katharine McPhee). With the two hopefuls vying for the chance to play Marilyn Monroe in a Broadway production about the screen goddess’s life, the cutthroat competition and backstabbing are in full swing, and so is the music. Add to that, the incomparable talents of Angelica Huston and Debra Messing as two of New York theatre’s biggest power brokers, along with a string of A-list guest stars, and Smash has positioned itself as appointment television.

Critics from top tier publications have had a field day giving their own take on the colorful musical drama. The Hollywood Reporter shared its emotional investment in McPhee and Hilty’s on-screen rivalry in Smash, asking readers, “Are you Team Ivy or Team Karen?” and declaring Smash, “Glee for grownups.” While The Los Angeles Times blog directs some snark at Megan Hilty’s “breathy Marilyn act,” The Huffington Post backpedaled on its own original jaded spin, now insisting that audiences “tune in to see what this show is capable of.”

As for Megan Hilty, she’s taking the paper and digital trail of media coverage in stride, reveling in her role as Ivy Lynn and delving into pre-production on her debut album, slated for release next year (Sony Masterworks). (Allison Kugel): You just had a birthday. How did you spend your day, and who did you spend it with?

Megan Hilty: I made the decision not to make any plans and to just see where the day took me, and it was actually pretty fantastic. I started a new fitness class which was so much fun, and then got a pedicure and a massage and cleaned my apartment. I took a nap, met some friends for dinner, and then ended up at my house with some of my closest friends just playing games and acting like idiots (laughs). Oh, and I bought myself some shoes! And you’ve just been signed to Sony Masterworks. Congratulations on becoming a signed recording artist!

Megan Hilty: Oh my goodness, I’m so excited! We are going to start working in May and we’re in meetings now to try to figure out what kind of sound, what kind of songs, and what kind of writers to work with. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and now I feel like I’m in the perfect hands to do it. This is the very first thing that I‘ve done in my career that isn’t character-driven so I am going to be involved in everything. Who is your dream producer for your debut album?

Megan Hilty & Katharine McPhee in Smash
Megan Hilty & Katharine McPhee in Smash

Megan Hilty: I’ve got him. His name is Andy Zulla and he works with us on Smash. We’re so lucky that he’s agreed to work with us. How old were you when you realized you could sing? Not singing in the car or the shower like most of us, but that you could sing?

Megan Hilty: I think it was when I was about twelve. That was when I started taking voice lessons and started taking it more seriously than just singing around the house, or singing for people’s birthdays. When I started training, my voice teacher thought that I should start training for opera and start really going classical. That’s what I did for all of my teenage years. I even went to opera camp, if you can imagine (laughs). I realized that kind of lifestyle didn’t suit my personality. Musical theatre fits me like a glove. And Broadway was the goal, you’ve said, mainly because up until recently there were no opportunities for musical theatre performers in television.

Megan Hilty: As far as singing on television, sure. And people seem to think that theatre actors can’t do television because we’re too biiig and we’re too Broadway! But it’s so crazy because we’re all actors and part of our job is to gauge our audience and play accordingly, whether you’re playing to a two thousand seat auditorium or the audience is literally in your lap, via the camera. But people have been taking chances on theatre actors lately, which has been great. Do you think the success of your show, Smash, and the doors that are now opening, do you owe all of that to Glee?

Megan Hilty: Oh, absolutely! They were the groundbreaking show that really paved the way for our show to even exist. As I watched the evolution of your character Ivy Lynn in Smash, she goes from appearing to be somewhat manipulative and conniving to becoming more sympathetic. Once her mother (played by stage legend Bernadette Peters) comes into the fold, we see that Ivy Lynn is the insecure daughter of a Broadway star who constantly feels overshadowed by her mother. Then you start to feel for her and to root for her.

Megan Hilty: I can’t judge the character like that. I can’t think that she’s manipulative or conniving. I have to look at it a different way, because I have to love her. In my mind I had kind of rationalized [Ivy’s] behavior as something along the lines of her being a victim of circumstance. She’s backed into a corner because of these certain things and that’s why she’s behaving this way. That’s why she’s making decisions that I wouldn’t necessarily be making.

Jack Davenport & Megan Hilty in Smash
Jack Davenport & Megan Hilty in Smash There’s a classic casting couch scenario that unfolds with your character, for lack of a better term. Is that something that is overly hyped within show business lore, or does the casting couch really exist in as prevalent a manner as it is oftentimes portrayed in movies and on television?

Megan Hilty: I’ve never ever come across something like that, and to be honest I didn’t play it like that. I didn’t view it as a casting couch situation. In the episodes that follow, you even see that she is remorseful and she hopes that nobody thinks that is why she got the role, and she hopes that it isn’t why she got the role. She wanted to get it because she was talented enough. I view her as somebody who really throws herself into whatever role she’s playing one hundred and eighty-five percent. She got caught up in the moment and she developed true feelings for him, true enough that it’s an actual relationship that lasts a really long time. So it’s not just a one-time thing to get a job. They’re both getting something from each other that has nothing to do with business. I’m sure you can relate to these characters in Smash being that you come from suburban Washington State, and at some point you had to explain to your family that you wanted to move to New York to pursue a career on the stage. How did that go over with your parents? Were they worried, excited, supportive?

Megan Hilty: My family has always been really supportive of me and pursuing my dreams, from a very early age. I’ve been very lucky, because I know a lot of people who don’t have families that understand the need to be in this business. So I know how lucky I am to have that support system. It wasn’t even a conversation like, “I think I’m going to go try and do this.” That’s just what was going to happen (laughs). It wasn’t a big deal. It was more like, “Of course she’s going to go and try this.” Being that there is so much star power and so much talent on Smash, do you ever feel competitive and wish that you got to sing a particular song, or that you got to say a particular line that another actor was given?

Megan Hilty: Not really. I feel so lucky to have what I have, and I can’t imagine my character doing anything that any of the other characters do on the show because she’s so different, and they’re all so different. How did you prepare yourself to play Marilyn Monroe in this fictional musical within your show, Smash? How do you prepare to play a role within a role, and to play the legendary Marilyn Monroe?

Bernadette Peters & Megan Hilty in Smash
Bernadette Peters & Megan Hilty in Smash

Megan Hilty: It kind of makes it a little less daunting to play such an iconic role, by hiding behind my character. So it’s not necessarily me playing Marilyn. It’s Ivy Lynn playing Marilyn, and I get to hide behind her a little bit. I read almost every biography and I’m still reading about her. I think it’s really important to keep her essence in the back of my mind. Even if my character isn’t playing Marilyn [in the moment], there are so many storylines within the context of Smash that parallel stories within her life. I think it’s important to keep reminding myself of her vulnerability, her ambition and her tragedies. What is your opinion of Marilyn Monroe?

Megan Hilty: I think she’s a fantastic creature and I think she’s deeply fascinating. I grew up kind of thinking that it was a little cliché for blondes to love Marilyn just because she was beautiful, and that was before I knew anything about her. It wasn’t until I read a biography on Arthur Miller and read about their tumultuous marriage, and that was when I really started to become fascinated by her. And I saw The Misfits; that was the very first movie that I saw of hers, which is still my favorite film of all time. It’s so beautiful and her performance is unbelievable. Do you think Marilyn Monroe was underestimated in many ways?

Megan Hilty: I think she absolutely was. She was very intelligent and she knew exactly what she was doing. She was a very good businesswoman and I think because she was so vulnerable, she was taken advantage of in many ways. I think that’s why we still talk about her today, because she can be so many different things to so many different people. There were many different sides to her, and she became famous in a time when there was no Twitter, there was no Google. There will never ever be a celebrity like she was because we know too much about people [today]. Marilyn Monroe was a fictitious person. Norma Jeane was the real person, and she was able to create this character and make that character famous. That’s just not possible today. That kind of mystery keeps people interested. How is it playing the femme fatale to Katharine McPhee’s sweet-girl-next-door character on Smash?

Megan Hilty: Oh, I love it! I’m obsessed with this role. I love that there is nothing predictable about her. You never know what she is going to do, which makes it really fun to play for me. She is so deeply flawed just like a real person is. She makes huge mistake and she regrets most of them, although some she doesn’t care about (laughs). She’s a very well fleshed out character, and I think and hope that she is interesting to watch because of that. What’s your relationship with your co-star Katharine McPhee?

Megan Hilty: She has become one of my dearest friends throughout the course of this season. I think wrapping this week was particularly sad because I knew I wasn’t going to be spending time with her, as much as we had been. She’s in Africa now doing charity work for Malaria, and then she’ll be in LA, so we are going to try to figure out how to hang out.

Megan Hilty as Ivy Lynn Playing Marilyn Monroe in Smash
Megan Hilty as Ivy Lynn Playing Marilyn Monroe in Smash I happened to just read that Uma Thurman will guest star on Smash for five episodes?

Megan Hilty: Yes, she will. What kind of character will Uma play?

Megan Hilty: She plays a movie star and I think that’s really all I can say without giving too much away, but she’s fantastic and she looks beautiful! She brings such a unique energy to the show. I haven’t seen any of it, but being there in person I can tell you she is really going to blow people away. Are celebrities now lining up to guest star on Smash?

Megan Hilty: Oh, I don’t know. With Glee, celebrities were just throwing themselves at the producers to be a part of that show, and now Smash is getting one great guest star after another. I picture you guys sitting around making up your wish lists of who you want on the show, and it’s yours for the asking.

Megan Hilty: No (laughs). I don’t think they care who we want to work with. Out of sheer curiosity, what is your pop-culture guilty pleasure?

Megan Hilty: Ooh, The Real Housewives Of… anywhere.

“Smash” airs Mondays at 10/9c on NBC.

Follow Megan Hilty on Twitter @MeganHilty.