I don't think anyone was worried about Megan Hilty's future when NBC canceled Smash after two seasons. It simply remained to be seen which show would be smart enough to snatch her up.
Turns out Hilty didn't have to go far for her next gig, which is doubly-infused with Smash DNA since she's sticking with the Peacock for Sean Saves The World, a new sitcom co-starring Sean Hayes, who made a lasting impression on Smash fans with his manic season two guest spot.
ETonline caught up with Hilty at July's The Television Critics Association Press Tour to talk about her second TCA in under a year, learn that comedy is more her speed and reflect on the tumultuous experience that was Smash.
ETonline: You were at TCA in January to promote Smash and now you're here with a new show. Is it a strange experience to be promoting a second show in less than a year?
Megan Hilty: Yeah, I keep joking that the reason I took this job is so I can go to as many TCA's as possible. This is where I feel comfortable [laughs]. It does feel weird to, admittedly, be here and not talking about musical theater. This show is a total 180 for me.
ETonline: You said on stage that Sean Saves The World is more your speed than Smash. How?
Hilty: Even when I was doing theater it was more comedic. Don't get me wrong, I love doing the dramatic and heavy stuff, but I just want to have fun. I want to make people laugh. And Sean is a genius. There is nothing like watching him work, so this is literally a dream job.
ETonline: Sean called some of the actors and asked them to come do this show, was that how you came to replace Lindsay Sloane?
Hilty: No, no. He didn't call me. They needed to replace a role, and I'd just heard that Smash was canceled and I was now free. I'm sure it didn't hurt that we had such a good working relationship on Smash because in my test I had to read with him and it just feels so right working with him.
ETonline: How do you describe your character, Liz?
Hilty: Liz is young and fun and a little wild. She is Sean's best friend and kind of represents the old life he had before acquiring his 14-year-old daughter. I represent the old and slightly more dangerous -- that might be a bad word [laughs] -- lifestyle. Throughout the course of the show we ask ,"Who is The Mother Figure? Will it be Liz or Sean's mother?" We're both well-intended people, but also a mess. Well, I'm a little more of a mess, she's just kind of controlling.
ETonline: This show films in front of a live studio audience, so in a strange way, does this feel more like doing Broadway than your show about Broadway did?
Hilty: Yes! I've been lucky enough to do guest-starring parts where we shot in front of a live studio audience and I remember thinking it's just like theater. You know instantly what works and what doesn't, and you can't recreate that energy. I'm so excited. I've invited everybody to tapings ... I don't even know what the protocol is, but I just keep telling people to come watch. It's going to be a great time.
ETonline: You've always described yourself as "a singer, not a dancer." So what were your thoughts about finding out today that Liz would have some dance scenes on the show?
Hilty: Did you see my face when [Sean] said that?!? It was the first time I'd heard that about her. I mean, if they're doing that for my benefit ... they don't need to [laughs]. I'm kind of hoping Liz never sings -- and if she does, I hope she's terrible because there's nothing worse. I mean, when you go to karaoke with a professional singer and they really start singing, there's no bigger buzzkill than that! I feel like if I were to go on a show that had nothing to do with singing, like this, and start singing, everyone would just roll their eyes.
ETonline: You also spent a good chunk of the year promoting your album. How was that experience?
Hilty: I loved it. I just like working. I'm not good with downtime. I need to be doing something. I'm a music person, so I'll always have that going ... whether or not I'm getting paid for it [laughs]. It was different to go into talk shows and performances by myself. I kept joking that it was so crazy shows like The View would let me in the door without all those other big, fancy people.
ETonline: Will you make another album?
Hilty: Yeah. Now it's about what's next. I really want to do a Christmas album. I love Christmas and I want to take a lot of time and do it right. So, look out Mariah!
ETonline: Turning to Smash, I have to say that I only had one requirement for the series finale -- that Ivy win the Tony -- so I came away feeling good about it. What was your take on Ivy's big win?
Hilty: That whole thing was very, very surreal because all of my heroes were there. Christine Ebersole announced my fake nomination! Marin Mazzie gave me my fake Tony! They're heroes of mine. I was dying all day. All my real dreams came true in a fake way and I got to wear a real pretty Badgley Mischka dress. I also thought that acceptance speech was real beautiful. What they wanted to do was say thank you to the audience who stuck by Smash and also have it be a love letter to people who love live theater. I thought they handled that very well.
ETonline: I actually feel like they handled a lot of things really well with the final few episodes. Looking back on the experience, what's your take away?
Hilty: It's one of the greatest things that's ever happened to me. Talk about dream jobs, it had every element that I ever wanted to do in one job. And it was with incredible people. And, on top of that, it got people excited about live theater again! You can say whatever you want about the show, but I can't tell you how many people come up to me and say they'd never seen a live production of anything before and this made them want to. I think it did some really great things for the theater community.
ETonline: And I think some of the songs will really endure.
Hilty: [Composers] Mark [Shaiman] and Scott [Wittman] are unreal -- they came up with something like 40 songs. And all of them are incredible.
ETonline: OK, my personal favorite is They Just Keep Moving The Line. When you hit the "straightened up my spine" line and do that crazy thing with your voice ... I get chills every time. What's your favorite Smash performance?
Hilty: That one! It's my favorite too. There's an interesting story about that song -- [the producers] went to Mark and Scott and told them to cut the song to less than 60 seconds and they wouldn't do it. They insisted that this song, in particular, needed to have a beginning, a middle and an end, otherwise they wouldn't do it. NBC didn't think the audience would want to watch one person sing an entire song. But Mark and Scott said they wouldn't let NBC use it if they didn't air the whole thing, so they did, and it got one of the best responses. There was a big fight over that, but luckily Mark and Scott were heard and trusted. I mean, it has nothing to do with me. Oh God, I hope this doesn't read like I was saying, "That performance was soooo great because I just crushed it." [laughs]
Sean Saves The World premieres October 3 on NBC.