Off Script: Megan Hilty Talks Having Nearly Nothing On for 'Noises Off'
"People felt very comfortable giving their opinions about my body," the Tony nominee tells THR. "They’d say, 'You’ve lost a lot of weight since 'Smash.' "
Megan Hilty won a Tony Award in 2013 — in the series finale of NBC’s Smash. “They gave me an amazing speech on TV, and I don’t know if I could top that if I ever…let’s not talk about that,” she said humbly during a recent concert at New York City’s Cafe Carlyle.
This year, the actress, who made her Broadway debut in Wicked and starred in 9 to 5: The Musical, nabbed her first Tony nomination for playing a scantily clad, deeply comedic blonde in Jeremy Herrin’s revival of the intricate farce Noises Off. THR’s review said, “The stiff walk and posture that Hilty has created for her clueless character, a stunningly untalented British stage actress cast for her generous curves, are the gift that keeps on giving.… Whether she's galumphing around backstage or sashaying through a performance with priceless self-consciousness — delivering every line straight to the audience with a blissful inability to take direction or interact with her fellow cast — Hilty's Brooke Ashton is a sparkling comic caricature that never gets tired.”
Hilty — who appears next on CBS’ Braindead and Hulu’s Difficult People — goes Off Script to recall her demanding role, lament her lingerie-minded diet and share her love of Nespresso.
Did you base your character on anyone?
Yes, a couple people I’ve worked with. But there’s a little Brooke Ashton in all of us actors, especially in the beginning. Before Nothing On, the play they’re doing in the show, she never had to deal with words before, so she doesn’t really know how to approach it. We’ve all been there when we’re first starting out. She really, really, really wanted to do a good job and be taken seriously.
Megan Hilty as Brooke Ashton in 'Noises Off.' Photo credit: Joan Marcus
What did you love about playing this character?
It was so all in. Man, it was exhausting, but it was fun to do something that was so demanding, physically and mentally. Your mind can’t wander for a second, otherwise you’ve missed some important moment.
This show has so much physical comedy. What was the toughest sequence to execute?
In act two, I was down on the floor looking for my contact lens, and then they have to get me up, turn me around and push me through the door, and I have to hit my head on the door before I go through it, while climbing up a couple stairs, and then climb through a window and flip over the couch when I get there.
What new habits did you take on for this role?
I had a baby the year before the play, so I had some pregnancy weight that I wanted to get rid of before I ran around in my underwear in front of thousands of people. I told myself I was going to work as hard as I could until we opened, no matter what shape my body was in. If I didn’t feel comfortable and confident in my skin, the audience would feel uncomfortable too on some level, and they wouldn’t know why. So for a good nine months, I was on a very restricted diet and workout plan.
What did you give up for this role?
Every food that I love, and I love food so much. I’m addicted to French fries. And tater tots. And chocolate chip walnut Levain cookies.
When do you wake up on a show day?
No matter when I go to sleep, my daughter wakes up at 6 a.m. That’s when she’s in her best mood. We put her in the stroller and the dog on a leash and go to Central Park in the mornings.
What’s your pre-show ritual?
I’m obsessed with Nespresso. I have a giant machine in my house, and I got a small one for my dressing room. It was kind of a ploy to get people to come talk to me and hang out with me. I’d put on some Rosemary Clooney and make coffee for cast members; I knew what they all liked, and they’d come and tell me about their day.
What do you do when you weren’t onstage?
We still had cues. I had to open a door so someone else could shut it, and knock on a door. There was one two-show day when I couldn’t remember if I had already done one of the things: was it this show or last show?! By the time I panicked about that, I had missed my first cue, and that’s something else someone depends on.
What do you do on your day off?
Sit in my pajamas.
Most memorable stage door reaction?
Because I was in revealing clothing, people felt very comfortable giving their opinions about my body. They’d say, “You’ve lost a lot of weight since Smash.” One woman even called it "fluff." I understand that you think you’re paying me a compliment, but you should really listen to what you’re saying.
The cast of 'Noises Off.' Photo credit: Joan Marcus