NBC’s SMASH, set in the world of Broadway musicals, has its first season finale tonight at 10 PM. Never fear – the show has been renewed for a second season. This year, one of the main plotlines has been the rivalry between veteran musical chorus member Ivy Bell, played by musical theatre veteran Megan Hilty, and New York newcomer Karen Cartwright, played by Katharine McPhee in her first scripted TV series lead.
McPhee, a Los Angeles native, shot to pop fame as the runner-up in the 2006 fifth season of AMERICAN IDOL. Since then, she’s appeared in feature films, including THE HOUSE BUNNY and SHARK NIGHT and guest-starred on CSI: NY and COMMUNITY, but Karen is her biggest acting role thus far.
SMASH is currently on hiatus, but McPhee isn’t spending her downtime relaxing – she’s recently returned from a trip to Africa on behalf of the Malaria Is No More project, and she is also recording an album. With all this going on, she takes some time to answer a few questions.
ASSIGNMENT X: You’ve said you’d like to see Karen be more assertive …
KATHARINE McPHEE: I think some of her interactions – you’re starting to see her more assertive, but I’m talking more in terms of how she is with her own career. [She is] just being okay with just being in the ensemble, like, “I’m just so happy to be here.” I’m like, “no, let’s get down to it.” She has an incredible drive, she wants to be the single person in the spotlight. It’s not that’s she not helpful, it’s not that she’s not being authentic, but it’s like there are so many crazy things that happen towards the end [of first season]. Nobody else plays at being nice, so she better smarten up, and that it’s not about being nice to people all the time, it’s about being smart. I don’t know who you’ll be rooting for towards the end. It’s pretty tough to decide who to root for towards the end.
AX: So are we going to see Karen start being a little more devious?
McPHEE: No. Karen, even throughout the end, never plays dirty.
AX: On the show, Uma Thurman plays Rebecca Duvall, a movie star who comes in, takes over the lead in the musical and at least temporarily thwarts both Karen and Ivy. How was Thurman as a costar?
McPHEE: I got on great with Uma. She really bonded with me and I think she over time really trusted me. She was very funny. She has an incredible figure and I was blown away by her constant eating on set. I was like, “How is this possible? This woman is so thin and so tall.” She’s pregnant – it’s well-known [now] that she’s pregnant [but at first] she was keeping it very quiet and I obviously had no idea. I was like, “You’re so lucky! You eat all the time.” And she confided in me that she was pregnant, and I was, “Oh, she’s trusting me. That’s nice. She told me. She hasn’t told anybody else.”
AX: Megan Hilty is going to be playing Lorelei Lee in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES on Broadway during the SMASH hiatus. Do you have any plans to do a Broadway musical?
McPHEE: I think she could probably do it better. I think if there were ever to be any possibility of me doing any Broadway show, it certainly wouldn’t be on a hiatus between seasons. The workload of Broadway is just incredibly difficult and I respect the craft of what they do. [With] what we do [making a television series], fifteen hours a day, you really need some kind of break. I’m in the studio right now, recording.
AX: What kind of music are you doing?
McPHEE: I’m kind of keeping it a little bit close to the sleeve. I know I don’t want to have a really solemn and dark record. I feel like I can naturally go there sometimes – I really love depressing songs – but for me as an artist and what I want to do, get out there and perform songs, I want to also enjoy myself and not have to slit my wrists every time I go out there. I’m joking. But you know, I want something that’s fun, that feels sophisticated but youthful.
AX: The late Whitney Houston had said that you had an amazing voice. Were you aware of her admiration for you?
McPHEE: I met her, and – listen, I feel like everyone paled in comparison to her, so that was very kind for her to say, but I don’t know if it was warranted. She really was obviously very giving and she really embraced other artists, and I think that’s what’s amazing about her.
AX: How was your stint working with the Malaria Is No More project in Africa?
McPHEE: My main focus was malaria. Malaria is not just about the mosquito and people getting sick, it’s about, if a parent gets sick, then the little money that he does make [when healthy], he can’t go and make the money, he can’t work and then he can’t survive for the child, or the child gets sick and can’t continue his education. It all feeds into each other. I didn’t really do any study when I was there on any of the water clinics, but I know there are a lot of initiatives to [make improvements]. It’s not that they don’t have the resources, it’s that they don’t have the cleaning supplies, they don’t have the purification system for the water. So my main focus was malaria.
AX: Do you get a similar kind of fan reaction from SMASH viewers as you did from AMERICAN IDOL fans?
McPHEE: I really think that IDOL, its intention, what it wants to do for the contestants who go on the show, is for them to leave the show eventually and have their own successes. And I’m very appreciative of that, because it’s really given me that. Although it’s nice to be remembered from the biggest show of all time, basically, it’s nice to have people come up on the street and say, “I love your music, I love you on SMASH,” and I really love that. I loved doing HOUSE BUNNY. I loved doing that silly SHARK NIGHT movie. So for me, it’s very different, but the intention of the show is exactly what it’s supposed to do.
AX: Have you seen anyone from IDOL since you finished the show and subsequent tour?
McPHEE: I saw Paula [Abdul] and Simon [Cowell] at a taping of THE X FACTOR before our show [SMASH] went into series, so they knew it was going into series, but they were very excited for me. Simon has always been very supportive of me.
AX: In terms of your own career, do you see yourself as a singer who acts, an actress who sings, as an actress and singer …?
McPHEE:, I see myself as an actor who sings as well and a singer who acts. When I came off IDOL, I took tons of agency meetings with the top agents and I said, “No, I don’t want an agent who represents singers who want to act, I want an agent who represents actors, not actors who want to sing, but actors who act, and I want an agent who represents singers.” I feel like there are two very different – not personas, because you want them to sort of balance each other and all flow into the others, so it doesn’t mean suddenly I go wear crotch pants and sing club music and then I play these Victorian small indie parts. You want it all to, match and that’s up to the artist.
AX: Can you think of anyone who’s mastered that?
McPHEE: I’m trying to think. It would be probably some of the older actors – [Barbra] Streisand. I was thinking even like in the older days, but Streisand is an incredible example. I’m a completely different singer than someone like her, in that I don’t have the big Broadway voice, but man, she could sing, and the acting was just as good as the singing, and the singing was just as good as the acting. I hope that I can continue to keep a certain level of [quality in] whatever parts that I choose to play and never take stuff [unless] I feel like I can be really great at it.
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Article Source: Assignment X
Article: Interview with SMASH star Katharine McPhee on the first season of SMASH