There comes a moment in the premiere episode of Younger, TV Land’s newest comedy, when the 40-year-old character played by Bunheads alum Sutton Foster is mocked by two twenty-somethings in a locker room for — how shall we put this? — being a less-than-diligent tender of her lady garden.
“It was hilarious to shoot it,” Foster tells TVLine. “Obviously, we’re on TV Land and you can’t show anything, but I had to, like, take off my panties.” She laughs. “I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ [The cameras are] angling on me as I’m taking off my panties and I thought, ‘Well, it’s another day at work!'”
In other words: We’re a loooong way from the Paradise Dance Academy.
Foster’s latest gig — her first series-regular role since ABC Family cancelled Bunheads in 2013 — finds her playing Liza, a mom who returns to the work force and resorts to pretending to be in her 20s to land a job in publishing. The job means she must find her place among hardened careerists like Diana (played by Miriam Shor, GCB) and hungry up-and-comers like Kelsey (Lizzie McGuire‘s Hilary Duff, one of the aforementioned horrified locker-room witnesses.)
“What I liked about her is that she didn’t just roll over and play dead. I found her very empowering,” Foster says during an interview at New York’s Crosby Street Hotel while Mabel, the daschund-terrier mix she adopted last year, sniffs around nearby. “She seized a moment and took matters into her own hands. She was quirky and different and not your typical leading lady, and that was just something I could relate to.”
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Younger premieres tonight at 10/9c on TVLand. Below, the Broadway vet talks Younger‘s central dilemma — how long can Liza realistically play the ingénue? — and offers a bittersweet behind-the-scenes look at Bunheads‘ last curtain call.
TVLINE | When you read the Younger script, what made you think that you had to be Liza?
After Bunheads, we had about six months where we didn’t know if it was going to be picked up or not. They kept stringing us along. Finally, when it was cancelled, I had no idea what I was going to do next. I was sort of at a loss, and Younger came across my plate, and it was of course [created by Sex and the City’s] Darren Starr. I read this script, and something about the character that I just understood, “Oh, that would be fun. I think I could do that. Maybe I could pull that off — the idea of coming off as 40 and then also coming off as 26 — that would be a fun device.”
TVLINE | Liza’s boss, Diana, is not very nice to Liza, and does something very underhanded in the premiere. But Liza seems to roll with it. Talk to me about their relationship.
I think if [Liza’s] life went a different way, that’s who she’d become. I think that’s why she can tolerate Diana and being treated that way. Their relationship changes, which is one of my favorite relationships in the show. It morphs, and they dance this line of sort of being friends but not… [Liza] comes in with this wisdom and this maturity, but the relationships she has with Hilary Duff’s character — with Kelsey — there’s like a motherly quality that comes out with that. She wants to take care of her, but she has to let her do her own thing.
TVLINE | Nico Tortorella’s Josh takes a liking to Liza in the first episode. How prevalent is their interaction in the first season?
Josh brings out a side of Liza that’s incredibly positive. It’s complicated, because she’s lying to him in a sense, but she feels more herself with him than with anybody. Their relationship grows, but it’s complicated… He’s definitely somebody prominent in the first season, and their relationship is pretty much the arc of the first season.
TVLINE | With shows with this premise, I immediately start trying to predict which character will figure out the secret first.
It’s interesting, because characters will ultimately find out, then how will it change the show? Only [Liza’s best friend] Maggie knows, but no one else knows, so what will happen when Hilary’s character finds out, or Diana finds out?
TVLINE | You don’t have to tell me who it is, but does somebody find out Liza’s secret before the end of the first season?
Yeah, somebody does. I think that we couldn’t end the first season without someone. Then you’d be like, “Really?” Someone has to find out.
TVLINE | Some scenes — like the one in the locker room — test the TV Land boundaries a bit.
It made me laugh. It’s funny, and I feel like all of the risks — because the show definitely pushes the envelope — the risqué, edgier things are laced with humor. If I had to do a sex scene where I had to be serious and steamy then I’d be terrible, but if there’s a sense of humor to it, and a sense of play and fun, it makes more sense because that’s what the show is.
TVLINE | Let’s talk Bunheads. Were you as devastated as we were when that show ended? What was the six-month waiting period between the finale and cancellation like?
It was… interesting. What was so fascinating about being in Bunheads was, critically, people loved it and wrote about it unprovoked. They loved it and fought for it and there were all these articles… I felt like I was a part of something that was really special and I’m so glad it existed. I’m so glad I did it, it taught me so much and it was really cool. It just didn’t find its niche. I wish the network had given it more time to find more of an audience, and I don’t think they knew what to do with it. It was a weird-ass little show that I loved so much, so it was definitely devastating. I was holding out for hope, but as more time passes you realize, ‘Oh wow, they’re just gonna let this go.’
TVLINE | Ever think about where Michelle would be now?
I don’t know. I trusted Amy [Sherman-Palladino, Bunheads creator]. I trusted her about wherever it was going. I mean, all the girls, all of it, it had so much potential where it could head. We were just beginning to find something really cool, too. We were all discovering it together.
TVLINE | That farewell video of the girls dancing (see below) — was there ever a point you were going to be a part of it?
[Sherman-Palladino] had talked to me about doing it, and I wasn’t available. It was really cool. But Amy and I are really good friends now. She’s one of my closest friends. It’s really crazy to think: I was such a fan of Gilmore Girls, then to work with someone I admire so much and now become friends with her, I would follow her anywhere. She’s pretty wonderful.
TVLINE | Fans clamor for some sort of continuation. Has there been any talk of a TV movie or anything like that?
Not yet, but maybe.
TVLINE | Would you do it?
[Whispers] Of course I would! [Laughs]