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It’s a beautiful, breezy summer afternoon in Riverside Park, and a busking violist is providing background music for our photo shoot with Younger star Sutton Foster, who’s posing on a sunny patch of grass. It’s like being in a dreamy New York postcard—that is, until Foster realizes she’s stepping in, er, dog shit, and we’re thrown back into reality. But the two-time Tony Award winner forgoes a diva moment. Instead she laughs and says, “I’m a dog owner; I’m used to it.” Yeah, you could say this Upper West Sider is pretty down-to-earth, especially for someone who’s been making a name for herself onstage and onscreen for two decades. (She first appeared on Broadway at age 21 in Grease in 1996.) In person, she’s remarkably youthful, not unlike her Younger character, Liza, a 40-year-old mother pretending to be 26 who navigates the publishing world and Brooklyn’s dating scene. Talk about art imitating life.
Can we talk about how scumbag Thad’s death in season two of Younger was such an edgy moment?
It was a shock to all of us! Most of our episodes are themed around books, and [Thad’s death] was our Game of Thrones episode. There was this idea that any character could die at any time. There is a fantastical tone: The relationships are rooted in authenticity, but the circumstances are often extreme.
One of the things I enjoy most about Younger is there’s a recurring theme of women supporting other women.
That’s one of the things I love so much about the first season: Female friendships are formed without an agenda. No one is trying to tear anyone down. That’s not very present in my industry. But creatively, I feel like I’ve surrounded myself with incredibly inspiring, amazing women that make me want to be better. And I would never wish anything but greatness for them.
“Age is just a number. In my mind, I still think I’m 26 years old.”
Foster in Younger
Has your interpretation of millennials changed after pretending to be one on the show?
I think so. One of the things I admire most about millennials is they celebrate individualism, and their singularity is encouraged. To be different is to be cool as opposed to weird. When I was growing up, everyone dressed the same. You had to have bootcut pants and chunky heels. Now, especially in fashion, anything is considered in style as long as you feel confident.
If you could be 26 years old again in NYC today, would you live any differently?
I would try to relax more. I had a lot of anxiety, especially socially. I think a lot of people in their twenties feel that way.
You’re describing me right now. I’m 25.
It’s a tumultuous time! You’re trying to figure out your career, and you’re making decisions on your own. I’d go back and tell myself to chill the fuck out! It’s all going to be okay. You just need to go through it. Now I’m happier than I’ve ever been, and I’m thrilled to be in my forties.
You really don’t seem 41.
Age is just a number. In my mind, I still think I’m 26 years old. I just noticed some of my passwords still have the number 26 in them because they were created when I was 26; now I’ve changed them.
Let’s talk about the Gilmore Girls reboot. How are you involved?
I’m in one of the four episodes—let’s call it a beautiful, fabulous cameo. I became very close with Amy and Dan [Sherman-Palladino] when we worked on Bunheads together. When they decided to do the revival, they mentioned they were going to write something for me. Gilmore Girls is my favorite show of all time, so my head exploded. In Stars Hollow, they do a town musical for tourism, and I’m one of the participants. It’s really fun. [Fun Home composer] Jeanine Tesori wrote four original songs for the show.
You’re also about to star in the Sweet Charity revival Off Broadway. What fresh take are you bringing to it?
The show was set in the 1960s, and now we’re trying to rediscover it for 2016. The cast is 12 people, and the theater sits 200. We’re peeling it back. It’s a big risk to take a classic piece and turn it on its head. My character, Charity Hope Valentine, is delusional in her hopes for love, and I think a lot of people can still relate to that.
How do you feel about so many film, TV and theater franchises coming back?
I’m a fan of originals and classics, but I’m also a fan of new ideas. In musical theater, we do that. We turn movies into musicals. However, the biggest shows in the past 10 years have been new ideas, like Book of Mormon and Hamilton. I think [in film] people are afraid to take creative risks.
You’ve been doing musical theater in New York since the ’90s. How has the scene changed?
I feel like it’s become cooler! Granted, I always thought musical theater was cool. But the millennials have made it more so. Performers were once a mystery, and now you can watch interviews and go behind the scenes in actors’ dressing rooms—it all just feels closer and more mainstream.
Do you prefer to be onstage or onscreen?
I always hope to have the privilege to do both. May I be so lucky, performing live will always be a part of my life. I never thought I would be on TV, but after two great experiences, I can honestly say I love it. Learning a new craft has been fantastic. Especially when, as you get older, you feel like doing what is safe. But I went for it and now have this new confidence in a world that I finally understand.
The third season of Younger premieres on TV Land September 28 at 10pm. Sweet Charity opens November 20.