Katharine McPhee has had a rough start to her career after placing second on American Idol in 2007. She was dropped from her record label only a year after being introduced to the public, and had only previously appeared in supporting roles in movies like The House Bunny and Shark Night.
But all of that is about to change—McPhee is starring in a breakout role in NBC’s Smash, set to premiere tonight.
The actress will play a young performer fighting to be cast as Marilyn Monroe in a Broadway production. The type of show fits perfectly into McPhee’s wheelhouse as a former musical theater student.
In an interview with Reuters, McPhee said, “I have intentionally not pursued musical theater. I toyed with the idea of doing some stage but over the years, there wasn’t the right projects for me… In this part I get to live the best of both worlds. I get to play a character who wants to live on stage. It is pretty rare. If someone had told me five years ago you will get to be on a show where you get to do it all, I’d have said, ‘You are crazy! It’s not going to happen.’”
McPhee has a lot in common with her character, Karen Cartwright. Both have spent many years trying to get noticed in the industry. She said, “I thought, finally it was a part that was really, really right for me. I approach acting as always trying to find a piece of yourself in the role…If I read something that is absolutely mind-blowing and fantastic and edgy and dark I tend to stay away from it. You are not going to get the part. So when I find similarities within myself I get really excited.”
The much-hyped series also stars Anjelica Huston, Debra Messing and Megan Hilty (as Karen’s main competition for the role.) The set has already become a comfortable place for McPhee. “I feel most at home on the set. One of my first big studio movies was House Bunny and I remember coming home every day and saying to my friends, I love being there.”
Although the role is sure to get McPhee attention, the project came with its challenges. Essentially she’s playing a role within a role—Karen playing Marilyn Monroe. McPhee said, “For me as an actress, the question was how do I play that within my character, Karen, and how much do I try and play Marilyn or do I just get the essence of Marilyn. It’s definitely been a lot of watching interviews of her, and thinking do I play the Marilyn that she was in real life or the version that we see—the parts she played and the characters she created? Which version do you play? The one people will recognize the most, or the real version of who Marilyn Monroe was as a person.”