Mornings With Sutton Foster
In the series ‘Mornings With’ we begin a new day with inspiring talent in film and television, in an equally inspiring place. ROSE & IVY founding editor, Alison Engstrom sits down and chats about morning routines, exciting projects, New York and what inspires them and drives them to be their very best.
I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a morning with Sutton Foster, the two-time Tony Award winner and star of this hit series Younger at the newly opened Queensyard in Hudson Yards. We chatted about her morning routine, the importance of always trusting your gut, the evolution of her character Liza in season six and when she feels most in the flow.
Photography by Daniel G. Castrillon
Star of TV Land’s Younger
Queensyard at Hudson Yards
Coffee with Cream
Would you say you are a morning person?
No, but I think that’s primarily coming from the theater world and working in it for over 20 years—I’d be more of a night person. Although, now that I have a two and a half-year-old daughter, my mornings are different because I have to get up earlier. I’m lucky because she sleeps and doesn’t get up until 7:30 or eight. But when filming Younger, I’ll have 5:30 a.m. call times, so those are tricky.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
I usually make coffee first, then I feed the dogs—I have two rescues, one’s a Yorkie-Dachshund mix and the other is a Westie-Poodle mix—then I have my coffee, pour my daughter her milk and then wake her up.
Do you wake up with coffee or tea?
Coffee. Always coffee. My dad just bought me this new coffeemaker from Cuisinart; it has the large pot on one side and the single cup on the other. It’s an amazing coffeemaker.
How do you prepare it?
I like to brew a big pot and then I’ll drink maybe one and a half cups in the morning with cream. I’ll save the rest of it and have an iced coffee later in the afternoon.
Do you have a motivating morning mantra to help frame your day?
I consider myself a pretty mindful person. I used to wake-up in my 20s and 30s and be like ugh—there was just a level of drama. Now in my forties, I get up and there’s just no drama. My life is so hectic and full that I literally just take it hour by hour because if I look at the whole day or the whole week ahead, I get really overwhelmed. I try to be present, but it’s a constant struggle and there are days where I’m like ‘I don’t know what’s going on.’ I’m doing a lot right now and I’m eager for things to sort of settle a bit, but I actually function better when I’m busy. Sometimes when I’m idle, I’m actually a little more untethered.
My daughter is very grounding too. I really want to be present-minded for her. I’m like go-go-go-go, but she has her own time, so I have to slow down. She might take five minutes to drink her milk or she might take 45 minutes to drink it. When I’m hanging with her and just playing with blocks, there’s no agenda, we can just be together. Having a kid explodes your life. It changes the way you look at everything. You notice every playground and you learn how to play again, because I’m such a workaholic, I had forgotten how to play.
I’d love to know since you are a woman of many talents what came first for you—singing, acting or dancing?
I started dancing. My mom put me in ballet class when I was four and it all sort of happened from there. I grew up in a small town in Georgia, and there was a local community theater doing a production of Annie when I was 10. They needed dancers for the orphan roles so they called our dance studio and my mom was like, ‘you should audition,’ but I wasn’t very interested in it. She kind of pushed me to do it and I had to sing, dance—I had a natural singing voice. This was the first time I’d even sang in public; they ended up casting me as Annie at the Augusta Community Theater.
How did you end up landing the part as Liza on Younger?
At the time, I was doing Anything Goes on Broadway and I met Amy-Sherman Palladino. She was talking about this new show Bunheads she was creating, so I did that for a year. I was waiting to see if it was going to get picked up again and they ended up canceling us six months after we had wrapped—I was devastated. Then the Younger script came and my agent’s like, it’s Darren Star, I think you might be able to pull off this one. I was in this weird place in my career where I was reading young but also older. I read it and thought, oh, maybe I can do this. Whenever I read scripts, or look at any material, I always look at who’s involved, this instance was Darren Star. I thought, oh my gosh, that would be so cool. I could hear myself saying the lines and it felt like a natural fit.
Sutton is wearing a Prabal Gurung dress
How do you deal with the rejection that you just talked about that is so common in the industry?
Rejection is just part of it. I’ve had way more nos than I’ve had yeses. I don’t know how I’ve never let the nos beat me, but I’ve always let it be fuel. I think, okay, what can I learn? I look at the situation and go, how can I apply that to the next thing and how can I be better? Is there an opportunity within the rejection to be better? I think that’s served me really well. I feel like every rejection has made me better. Sometimes I look back at things I didn’t get, and there’s disappointment, but then I go, I wouldn’t be here. I also think that you have to trust your gut.
I’ll talk to you about that in a minute. One thing I love about the show is that you film in recognizable places in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Does that making filming a lot more fun?
It’s so fun. We film a ton in Brooklyn and all over the city. It’s great for me, because I’m a bit of a homebody, so often I ask, ‘where are we?’ It’s been really eye-opening for me. I love the way that Darren really showcases the city. Younger makes New York seem very cool and everyone in it has such fabulous clothes.
Where can we expect Liza’s character to evolve in season six?
In this season, Liza has grown-up in many ways. She’s really owning her power, her responsibilities and she has a lot more of them at work. Almost everyone knows her secret, there are still a couple of people who don’t know. She’s definitely in a relationship with Charles, but Liza still kind of wants it all. I feel like Liza’s always trying to do the right thing and her heart is very big. She has rewritten her story and she’s still writing it. I think she has chosen Charles, but I think she still has uncertainties. It’s funny, we make the show and we release it to the world—but we live in this bubble. Our fans are amazing, but they are vocal and have a lot of opinions about a lot of things. I’ll be really curious at how this season plays out.
The cast seems to have such great chemistry. What do you love about working with them?
The only person I knew was the actor who plays my daughter, Tessa—we did Shrek together on Broadway. Chemistry is a funny and elusive thing; you can’t manufacture it. We all are so different, but we genuinely love and respect one another. Our work environment is incredibly positive, inspiring and calm—there’s no drama. If there’s any drama, we’re like, nope! We’re all grateful to have a good job and it’s so nice to go to work and be in a show that’s about good things.
Even though I have long graduated from college, I love getting inspired by commencement speeches. You recently delivered a poignant one at Boston Conservatory’s Class of 2019.
You said, “Trust your gut even if others don’t agree because in the end no matter what happens or how it all turns out, it will have been your choices so own your choices because even if you fail your gut gets smarter but if you follow someone else’s gut and you fail all you learn is to trust your own gut.” You say trusting your instincts led you to eventually land as the star in Thoroughly Modern Milly. I love that. What advice to you give to those who struggle with that idea?
You have to take responsibility for your choices because, in the end, they’re yours. No matter what happens, you get nowhere by blaming other people and you won’t grow. You’ll spend your whole life pointing fingers and it doesn’t help anybody. I’ve always taken the weird road. People will be like, ‘what, why?’ There’s something that happened recently, and I was so angry at myself because I knew better and I didn’t trust my gut. I ended up getting stuck in an airport for 24-hours. I listened to someone else and I was beating myself up over it!
You also talk about the importance of having a hobby. I completely agree, I have a ton of them. What are yours?
I crochet. It started while I was doing Thoroughly Modern Millie; I found myself in this hit show where I won a Tony Award but I was miserable. One hundred percent of my identity was wrapped up in this job and who I was on stage. I needed to find balance and that’s when I knew, I needed to do something else that gave me purpose. I wanted to create something. So much of what we do as artists is waiting for someone else to tell us what to do and give us permission; or we are waiting for the phone to ring. It’s easy to think, I can’t be creative because I don’t have a job. Well, that’s bullshit because you have the power and the control to create every single day, so when I’m not working I don’t sit around idly and feel sorry for myself. I made jobs for myself—I draw, I design little sweaters, I cook, or I give myself goals. It’s been a wonderful thing. I’ve crocheted many a blanket, and then lately I’ve been doing baby blankets and now toddler sweaters and stuffed animals for my daughter.
It’s interesting because sometimes people will think, oh I’m too tired or I don’t have time. I think when you do something you love, it gives you energy.
Right now I don’t have a lot of extra time, but even if I just do one row or something, at least I’m like, ‘ah, okay.’
The word is out that you are going to be returning to Broadway after a six year absence alongside Hugh Jackman in the musical The Music Man. Very exciting! Do you move seamlessly from theater to television or is it a bit of a shift?
I just did a stint at The Carlyle, which is interesting because that’s a different type of show; it’s just me—I’m not playing a character. I’ve done theater for 20 years, so the transition from TV to the theater was very hard because I was like what is this, a camera? I’m used to being on stage and performing, but television has been a wonderful departure for me. I’ve learned so much about it—the train is moving so fast and you just have to leap into every scene and you can’t be afraid, there’s no time. I feel like that has translated to my live performances, because I’m more in the moment and ready to go, as opposed to being uncertain. Ultimately, they’re very similar because you’re playing a character, you’re telling stories. Television, I think has more subtly, which again I think has translated into my theatrical work, and my work ethic has translated really well to TV. It’s been this wonderful relationship. I’d love to be able to continue to do both for the rest of my career.
Music Man starts in a year and I have to start training now with voice lessons, dance lessons and exercise—you have to be an athlete; it’s a 24-hour job. At The Carlyle, I’m only on stage for 70 minutes, but my whole day is spent making sure those 70 minutes are awesome because I don’t ever leave the stage. I also need to take a nap during the day, because if not, I’m not going to make it (laughs). I planned out my days so that those 70 minutes were protected and that the audience got the best version of me they can get on that day.
If you could reprise any role again which would it be?
I’d love to revisit the character Reno, in Anything Goes, she was pretty awesome. It would be fun to play her, seven years later, since I have a little more life experience. I have more going on; I’m a much more interesting human, so it’d be fun to bring that to her.
Does writing or directing interest you?
Writing and directing don’t pull at me, but I’m more curious about producing and being part of creating something. I’d like to be more on the peripheral and working in collaboration with others. I don’t think I want the power or the control to be the writer or director.
Would you say that a lot of your dreams have come true?
A lot of my dreams have come true. I’m re-evaluating what my new dreams are, and I think about that a lot. I’ve always been a five steps ahead person. People talk to me a lot about ageism and getting older. I feel like when I first started, I was like ‘ what is all this’ but now at 44, I think about it and I’m starting to understand it all better.
You do a lot, I’d love to know when you feel the most in the flow and alive?
When I’m performing live. My days leading up to a performance, like my performances at The Carlyle can be insane and even the minute before I hit the stage, I say to myself, oh my gosh, I’m so tired, how am I going to do this? But as soon as I step on the stage, it just all becomes very present. I have no choice because for that performance, there were around 90 people in the room and I know I couldn’t hide. I think, I’m enough and that I don’t have to be any more than I am right now. I can allow this moment to be good and be all in. There’s something about that which feels very in the flow and in the moment, like it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be.
You can follow Sutton Foster here and be sure to tune into Younger every Wednesday at 10PM EST on TV LAND.
A special thank you to Queensyard