Katharine McPhee finished in second place in the fifth season of “American Idol.” Now, she plays an up-and-coming Broadway star who is competing for the starring role of Marilyn Monroe in Smash, NBC’s new TV series, premiering tonight at 10 p.m., and her character Karen Cartwright could finish second to Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty). Will art imitate life? Tune in to find out.
But first, Katharine talks to us about Marilyn, acting vs. singing and Smash.
Were you a Marilyn fan before landing this role?
You grow up knowing who Marilyn Monroe was and you love Marilyn because she was an American icon and she was just a beautiful actress who left us too early, but I wasn’t too familiar with her work at all. Obviously, now I have seen a lot of the projects she worked on but I have been more fascinated with Marilyn as the person versus the characters that she played in the films.
Did you see Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn?
I was really anxious to see it because I wanted to see how she did it. I really loved her performance. I really enjoyed the movie as a whole. To me it was a nice interpretation of Marilyn. I think that is the best way to do it. To have the essence of Marilyn. First of all, she really looks like her. I, on the other hand, don’t look like Marilyn, so I have more against me. Hopefully, I will have the essence of Marilyn when I play Marilyn. There is an opportunity to play Marilyn in a dream sequence, it doesn’t necessarily mean I am playing Marilyn.
Can you talk about your costumes?
I get to wear some amazing stuff. I feel that I am constantly at the costume shop. Eric Winterling who makes all of our dresses, they are wonderful and I am constantly being surprised.
Which do you feel comfortable doing?
I really feel at home in both places. The first time I stepped on a set, which you may not know, but it was before House Bunny, but really House Bunny was my first major film, we had a big studio behind it, I remember coming home every day saying, “I just love being there.” I loved asking the cameraman, “Why are you spraying the lens?” I really love it. I love crew people. They are everyday, great, hardworking people. I just really, really enjoy it, so I feel comfortable there, especially when you get to know people. Of course, the first day you are a little nervous.
Katharine, as a current artist, what do you get out of performing cover songs versus original songs?
It’s something I really enjoy. I thought since I’ve spent a lot of time in the recording studios in the last five years that the recording part process of the show would be my least favorite — I’m not picking favorites of what I do — but I would say that the recording process for me is actually really rewarding because it’s such a different pace from the set. We’re really on the set a lot every day, so I enjoy it a lot more than I thought I actually would.
Cover versus a brand‑new song?
It’s definitely different because I’m usually singing songs that I’m hearing for the first time, and it’s such a fast pace that we’re on, and you don’t get a whole lot of time to sit with the songs and perfect them, as much as I would love to. It is different because, for me, I think of myself as more of a pop artist, and Megan Hilty has the big Broadway voice, so I’m always trying to balance the two so that they kind of are cohesive together, that it makes sense in terms of the show.
There are a lot of stereotype themes in this such as the casting couch, backstabbing rivalry, working as a waitress in order to support your habit in the theater. Are those stereotypes there for a reason? Have you experienced all of this?
I 100 percent think that the stereotype is there for a reason. I have worked in a restaurant. I wouldn’t say there was backstabbing. But there was a time where I was testing for a film and I had an actor who was reading opposite me and he had rehearsed with a girl who was at the same agency and things like that. You hear about that happens, and you think, “Well, gee, that’s not fair,” but it’s the business and you kind of just pick up where you left off and keep going. So it definitely happens.