Katharine McPhee is riding a wave a success thanks to her starring role in "Smash," but the former "American Idol" runner-up relates to the ups and downs of show business that her character experiences in NBC's musical drama.
[Note from Curt: Spoilers ahead if you aren't caught up with "Smash."]
"I can look back 2 1/2 years ago sitting with my husband and another couple feeling kind of just hopeless, like, 'This is never going to happen; no one will ever see me the way I see myself or the I want them to see me,'" she told me earlier this month on the "Smash" set at Eagle Street Stages in Brooklyn.
McPhee plays Karen Cartwright, a talented, driven actress struggling to make a name for herself on Broadway. Karen auditioned and was a finalist to play Marilyn Monroe in a new musical called "Marilyn," but was crushed when she lost the part to Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty), a veteran Broadway performer.
McPhee was able to pull from her own experiences to show how Karen feels about being put into the chorus instead of the starring role. A year after "Idol," she was dropped from her label. Although she has appeared in the films "The House Bunny" and "Shark Night," she auditioned for many parts she didn't get. She did land a role in the 2010 NBC pilot "The Pink House," but it wasn't picked up.
“I was devastated, totally green, so in that way I'm very much like Karen,” she said. “I 100 percent relate to her as far as that feeling of wanting something so badly.”
Karen, she said, is incredibly driven to be a talented, successful performer—despite the valleys. “I think I definitely have that same characteristic. ‘This is what you have to offer—this is it—so you might as well keep going.’”
McPhee also can relate to Karen’s love of musical theater, having been raised on it in L.A. Her parents didn’t take her to concerts, but rather to touring Broadway shows at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theatre. McPhee also attended three semesters of college for musical theater, dropping out not because she wasn’t enjoying it, but because she was ready to start acting professionally.
The road’s been a little bumpy since then, but now she’s enjoying her first big role—“If someone had told me five years ago I’d be on a show where I get to act and sing and dance, I’d have said, ‘You’re crazy!’”—even if she sometimes gets uncomfortable when she sees herself on screen.
“Yeah, I’m always cringing,” she said, laughing. “There are always things I see [in the performance] that as an actor I think, ‘OK, maybe next time.’”
I didn’t get much time with McPhee--she was running to a recording session--but we did talk a little about Hilty, who plays her character’s rival for the “Marilyn” role and in the latest episode, “The Cost of Art,” tries to get Karen booted from the musical altogether. I jokingly asked McPhee if she and Megan have pulled diva moments with each other on set.
“That’s a quick easy answer,” she said, laughing. “No, she is so lovely. We have so much fun. She is quite possibly like the most professional yet fun girl ... I absolutely adore her. I'm so thankful that she’s on the show because we just have such a great time together...
"But it’s definitely fun to do that in character."
Watch previews of "The Cost of Art," guest starring Nick Jonas, by clicking the link in the related column to the left.Copyright © 2015, RedEye