Amy Sherman-Palladino, Executive Producer
Sutton Foster, Actor
Last summer, ABC Family aired Bunheads, a show by executive producer Amy Sherman-Palladino, who also created the well-loved Gilmore Girls. Bunheads is the story of a dancer named Michelle (Tony Award-winner Sutton Foster) who is stuck in Las Vegas until a nice man named Hubbell (Alan Ruck), whom she does not love, entices her to marry him and move to Paradise, Calif. Unfortunately, he forgot to mention that he lives with his mother Fanny (Kelly Bishop), who runs a ballet school. Then he dies at the end of the first episode, leaving her his estate — and his hostile mother.
The show, which features ballet dancers and dance numbers, has been given a 10-episode winter season. We pick up after Michelle, who ruined the school’s production of “Nutcracker,” has moved back to Las Vegas. The first new episode airs tonight at 9 p.m.
TheTwoCents: So much of the first season was about the character of Michelle struggling to adjust to life in Paradise, but when she returns are we going to see more of the same sort of fish out of water issues, or is she going to get more settled in?
Amy Sherman-Palladino: I don’t think Michelle necessarily is a fish out of water. Michelle’s struggle and a lot of people’s life struggles, is what do I do when all of the plans that I’ve made and all of the things I thought were going to happen I suddenly realize, oh, that’s actually not going to happen. I need a new plan. And that to me is Michelle’s journey and frankly, it may be her journey for the rest of her life to figure out. It’s “I was supposed to be a dancer and those years are slipping away and now where am I, what am I, can I fall in love, can I have a relationship, will I ever be married, will I stay here forever, will I leave in a month?” She’s a girl with a lot of armor, and it takes a lot to cross through that armor sometimes.
TTC: Were you concerned about the comparisons between Bunheads and Gilmore Girls, especially in casting Kelly Bishop?
ASP: Well, it comes into your head, and the thing about Kelly Bishop is when I was casting that role I did not go to Kelly. I did not go to Kelly mostly because Kelly lived in Jersey and her life is in Jersey, and I knew the show had to shoot out here, and that’s not something Kelly was keen to do, and also, yes, because of the comparisons. And then I found myself in the auditions, after these lovely women would read and work and leave, I would turn to the casting director and I would say, yes, but they’re not Kelly Bishop. And after three weeks of saying “They’re not Kelly Bishop,” I had to just go get Kelly Bishop, because it was like, what the hell was I doing? There’s nobody who could have done this part but Kelly Bishop.
Some people can take swipes at me for Gilmore, or comparisons or whatever, but it’s not Gilmore. It’s different relationships, they’re playing different characters. Sutton Foster is not Lorelai at all, and you’ve got to get the best person. When I put things on the air, I get “This is what we get, the Gilmore Girls, really? Thanks a lot, lady.” You can’t make your creative decisions based on (the fact that) somebody thinks I’m going to try to recreate something that I’ve already done.
TTC: Sutton, your brother, Hunter, is going to be on several episodes this year. How did a family to produce two Broadway stars?
Sutton Foster: I have no idea. Both of my parents, neither one of them are in the business, no one in our family, and Hunter and I, we were never the singing Fosters. We just like to perform and do stuff for fun. And the fact that we both have chosen to make careers in this business, I have no idea why or how it happened, but it’s been awesome and it’s been really, really, really special to have him on the show and to be able to work with him. This is our first time working together as actors and so it’s been really, really fun to have this opportunity.
TTC: Will we see Alan Ruck again this season? (Ruck played Michelle’s husband who died in the pilot.)
ASP: You will. Alan Ruck has said to me, “… you’re going to have to let me go now. I don’t know how many other ways you can bring me back.” And I’ve said to him, do not underestimate me, young man, because I will figure it out, because he shows up and the whole world is a little cheerier. He’s just so great.
TTC: In the pilot there was a lot made about Hubbell’s window looking out over the ocean, and it seems like as the season went on the ocean kind of disappeared. Are we going to see that again, how close they are to the beach?
ASP: Well, here’s the funny stuff, oceans, they cost money to go there, and the thing about ABC Family, as delightful as they are as people and supportive as they are of the show, they don’t have unlimited money to go anyplace. So moving away from the ocean was not necessarily a creative gesture, it was more – when you’re allocating your money I can either put a great dance in there or I can drive us out to the ocean, and the ocean tends to lose.
I hope to go back there, because what the ocean represented to Michelle in the pilot was a sense of openness, a sense of freedom, a sense of not being trapped in a crap apartment off the Strip in a depressing sort of environment. So we’ve tried to keep that alive with her wonderful Topanga Canyon-y feeling house that still has lots of windows, lots of air, lots of space. We try to keep the elements that drew her here alive, and we try to do it on our budget. And hopefully we will get to do more there, but story trumps locations many, many times, the nuts and bolts of actual production money.
TTC: Sutton, you had a lot of interesting co-stars in the beginning of the season, tell me about your most difficult one — what was it like acting with a possum?
SF: Well, the first thing they told me about the possum is they said, “He bites,” and I was like, oh, wonderful. And I had to have my feet under him, and they were like, “When he gets nervous he’ll bite the blanket.” They had all these blankets to protect my feet. And sure thing, as soon as I put my feet in, he started biting the blankets. It was hilarious.
He had two handlers. I was on the bed and then there were two people on either side of him, so if he lunged and attacked my face or something I think they would have grabbed him. But he was a very nice possum. I’d never been that close to a possum before. But that was definitely one of those moments that you write in the record book for posterity, but that was great.
Patricia Morris Buckley — Sr. Staff Writer