Tony-nominated Broadway and television actress Megan Hilty, 35, was born and raised in Bellevue, Washington, and studied acting at Carnegie Mellon School of Drama. She made her Broadway debut as Glinda in Wicked, played Doralee Rhodes in 9 to 5: The Musical and this year was nominated for a Tony for her role in the Broadway revival of Noises Off. On television, she was best known as Ivy Lynn on the musical-drama series Smash. On Aug. 6, she will perform with the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra on the lawn at Castle Hill in Ipswich as part of the Trustees of Reservations’ 125th anniversary celebration.
Jonathan Soroff: Were you always a Broadway baby?
Megan Hilty: No. I started out wanting to be an opera singer. But then I kinda quickly turned into a Broadway baby.
You never had the long period of struggle that most actors have, landing Wicked right out of school. Well, my period of struggle came before college. I took two years off before I went to college and worked every awful job you could imagine to support my theater habit at night.
Worst job? There was one place I worked in retail, where they had cameras, not for security purposes but to monitor the employees. They weren’t looking for shoplifters. They were looking for reasons to bust us for stupid things. It was really awful.
Actor you sometimes get mistaken for? Any blond actress. I get that all the time. But the worst is when people say, “ I know you! What do I know you from?” And they expect you to rattle off your credits, and when you do, if you fall for it, they’re like, “No, that’s not it. Nope.” To make it even worse.
All-time acting idol? I’d pick Bernadette Peters.
And she played your mother on Smash. Were you intimidated to work with her? Absolutely. I still am. She is the sweetest person in the world, and she’s one of the few people I get really weird around. I just can’t handle it. She’s so amazing.
How close was Smash to the reality of doing a Broadway musical? It wasn’t far. Of course, there were things that were a little far-fetched, but a lot of crazy stuff happens when you get a bunch of big personalities together to create something. Someone wrote an article this year about 10 things that actually happened on Broadway that if they’d happened on Smash, people wouldn’t buy it.
Three adjectives to describe the way you felt when your feet first hit the stage on Broadway. When I debuted? Terrified. Excited. And nervous.
What’s your favorite venue to perform in? I don’t know. It’s getting harder and harder these days, because the audiences are on their cellphones, or bringing their dinners to the show, so it’s becoming that more and more my favorite places to perform are the concerts that I do, whether they’re with symphony orchestras or with my band.
So you must be super excited about your show at Castle Hill. Oh, my gosh, yes! That’s going to be incredible. Goodness gracious, it’s so beautiful. I’m so excited.
What is the show you wish you had been in? I don’t know. The show I’d love to do is Sweeney Todd, but I feel like I still have time to do that. I guess I’d say Lost or Game of Thrones. Those are my two TV obsessions.
Do you still sing opera? Every once in a while, I will train with a vocal coach who trains classically. It’s so fun. But I’m just doing exercises. There’s no way I’ll ever be an opera singer. You train your whole life for that.
And isn’t it true that female opera singers’ voices change, or that they don’t even know what their voice will sound like until around 25? It’s actually like 35. That’s one reason I wanted to do musical theater instead of opera, because I didn’t want to wait around and train and train until I was in my 30s. I couldn’t wait that long to start working. I’m 35 now, and I think this is what my voice is going to be for the rest of my life, if I take care of it.
Favorite opera aria? “Quando m’en vo” from La Bohème. I did it in opera camp. [Laughs.] It was with the San Francisco Opera, when I was 16. I just think it’s so beautiful and sexy. Singing anything in Italian is better because of the open vowels.
Favorite opera? Elektra. It’s a one-act by Richard Strauss, and it’s very, very dark and very, very bloody. [Laughs.] I remember seeing it when I was a teenager in Seattle, and I just loved it.
How bummed were you to not to win the Tony this year? Not bummed at all. Are you kidding me? I was just so happy to be there. I knew there was no chance in the world that I was going to win. I’d seen everybody else’s performances. I was just thrilled to be listed among all of those great performers.
Who were you planning to thank if you’d had to make an acceptance speech? Everybody. I knew I wasn’t going to win, but I did have some kind of idea, just in case. I didn’t want to be one of those people who got up and said, “I don’t know; I’m totally unprepared!” I was just going to talk about how important the ensemble is, and that was what Noises Off really meant to me: working as a team. And if one of us took home a win, it was because of all of us, not just the cast, but the crew and the creative team and the front of house, the people working the box office, everyone.
Was Shrek the Third the easiest payday you ever had? [Laughs.] Well, just because it was unexpected. I had done the demos for the music, and they just used it. That’s how I got my SAG card.
Anyone you can’t wait to work with again? Allison Janney. She’s the greatest person on the planet. I’m dying to do something with her again.
Fantasy duet partner? I just saw Norm Lewis the other day, and we were talking about how we’d love to do something together. They call him the Golden Voice of Broadway.
What is your spirit animal? [Laughs.] My sprit animal is Melissa McCarthy, because I am obsessed with her. I love her.
Do you still feel like a wide-eyed kid, or do you feel like a seasoned pro at this point? I hope I will always be like a wide-eyed kid. Aspects of the business might have made me just a little bit jaded about certain things, but when I’m surrounded by people that I admire, I think I maintain that sense of wonder.