Singer, actress, and Tony-nominated Broadway star Megan Hilty is one of the few who can boast of having a truly magical career. Fresh out of college, she scored the role of Glinda the Good Witch in Wicked on Broadway. Since then, she’s returned to Broadway numerous times, earning a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actress in 2016 for her performance in Noises Off. Her formidable resume also includes starring in the hit musical-drama series, Smash, for NBC. On top of this, she’s touring the world, belting showstoppers and classics at sold out concerts.
You can find her this holiday season both in the Warren Beatty-directed film Rules Don’t Apply and on tour in the United States to spread Christmas cheer with her new album, A Merry Little Christmas. Before launching into the media maelstrom, Hilty talked with us about her new album, film, hopes for the new year, and “earning her ballads.”
So, you have had an exciting November so far.
Megan Hilty: Yeah, it's everything you could possibly imagine. I did this film a couple years ago—actually when I was pregnant with my daughter, at the very, very beginning of my pregnancy—and it premiered the first week of November.
Rules Don't Apply?
MH: Yeah, yeah, yeah! I went to the premier here [in NYC], and then we go to L.A, where we start concerts. We're in Palm Springs, and then doing a Christmas tree lighting in Beverly Hills.
Oh, cute! And you have the Christmas album coming out.
MH: Mhm! Yeah, and we have a little tour for that; we start two days after Thanksgiving in Detroit, and go for about three weeks in Indianapolis, New York, Washington DC, and Boston, where I'll sing those songs with the Boston Symphony. Afterwards, it’s back to San Francisco and L.A. It's going to be insane.
What made you want to do a Christmas album this year in particular?
MH: I've been wanting to do a Christmas album for a really long time. I love Christmas; my daughter loves Christmas. Every day she watches Rudolph, or Frosty, or Santa Claus is Coming to Town, or Mickey's Christmas Special. So I talked to my concert agent and I said, “If people want us to do a Christmas show, I would do this Christmas album this summer.” For someone who's self-financing—I don't have a distributor or anything—all of my sales have to come from the shows. My concert agent came back to me in January and said, “Yup, we've got a whole little tour lined up for you,” so I said, “Great! Let's do it.”
What was important to you while making this album?
MH: I wanted the CD to feel a little nostalgic, because to me that's what Christmas is. It's about traditions. I wanted it to feel a little old school, so I thought, why don't we do a live studio album? I had to rehearse the band several times before we actually went into the studio. Usually everything's done by yourself and layered on a computer, but this way, I really believe listeners connect on a subconscious level, because you're not hearing an auto-tune or robot voice. It sounds great, in part thanks to my producer Andy Zulla, and also because of this awesome place called Carriage House in Stamford, Connecticut, where we recorded it. We decorated it like Christmas, and I wore a terrible Christmas sweater while we were recording.
What's the album going to be called?
MH: A Merry Little Christmas. And the concerts, “A Merry Little Christmas with Megan Hilty.”
How would you describe the album?
MH: I'm not religious at all, but I love Christmas for the tradition and surrounding yourself with family. So there's not a lot of religious stuff. I'd say about half of the tracks are traditional Christmas songs. It's a four-piece band, so it's got a little bit of an old-school jazz feel. The other half of the album, are songs that really represent Christmas to me. There's a song from The Muppet Christmas Carol, another from the Broadway musical, A Christmas Carol, called “A Place Called Home.” Then, there's a wildcard from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer—the little song that Clarice sings to Rudolph, “There's Always Tomorrow.” Every time my daughter hears it, she stops what she's doing [laughs].
What was it like filming Rules Don't Apply?
MH: Oh, it was crazy. First of all, it was a long time ago, and I'm going to see the movie on Friday, which is good because I've never seen the script. I would just show up on set and they would hand us what we were doing for the day.
MH: Yeah. I do sing in the film. I recorded two songs, but I don't know what they used from it. So it'll be really interesting to see how it all came out. It's really hard for me to talk about the film because…
…You have no idea!
MH: I don't know! [Laughs] I mean, it's about Howard Hughes and how he kept actresses on contracts, and I play one of those actresses, and you see me in my classes with the lead [Lily Collins]. So we'll see; I'll find out on Friday.
There will never be another Marilyn Monroe because there's no mystery anymore. That was a character that she made up. It was interesting to see her turn it on, turn that person on for reporters and for her public. It was her public persona when in reality she had a very sad and lonely, troubled life.
Do you have anything planned for after this Christmas tour, once the holidays are done? You're moving to L.A. for a TV show – The First Wives Club?
MH: I did a pilot for TV Land this last summer, and we find out in this month if it gets picked up – again, it's a big month. So is January, when I have symphony shows in Seattle. That's my last job until the baby comes as far as I know. I'm really excited; there's a lot of change, but it's all really fun and exciting.
Do you want to get back on Broadway after your Tony nomination?
MH: It would have to be a really great role and really worth it. But who knows, because it's going to get harder and harder once the kids get older. It makes it a little more difficult and me a little more selective.
You've played a lot of characters, a lot of big characters; do you have any favorites that stick out more than others?
MH: I think one of my favorites is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I had such a great time doing it. I love the character because everybody has this preconceived notion about her because – I mean – so many people have seen the movie with Marilyn Monroe. So people think that's what it is, but the musical starred Carol Channing. Carol Channing and Marilyn Monroe have very different interpretations. I think it's really exciting to try to find some kind of balance between the two. The music's amazing, the script is hilarious, and I also love her anthem song at the end, “Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend.” To me, that song is about female empowerment. Hear me out on this because a lot of people think she’s a gold digger. The whole show, you think she’s really dumb and naive, then at the end she comes out in a completely different voice and basically says, “This is the world I’m living in and I’m going to take care of myself because this is the only way this world has let me.”
And you also played a character on Smash, Ivy Lynn, who wanted to play Marilyn Monroe in the movies. Does she have a strong connection with you?
MH: Marilyn? I mean, certainly not in the beginning. For a long time I thought it was super cliché for blondes to love Marilyn Monroe just because she's glamorous and beautiful and all of those things. So I resisted [laughs] liking her for a long time because of that. It wasn't until Smash that I thought it was really important to find out about her. There will never be another Marilyn Monroe because there's no mystery anymore. That was a character that she made up. It was interesting to see her turn it on, turn that person on for reporters and for her public. It was her public persona when in reality she had a very sad and lonely, troubled life. I fell in love with her in finding out about her life story.
You probably get asked this all the time, but what was it like going right out of college to playing Glinda in Wicked on Broadway?
MH: It was absolutely terrifying. It was nine or ten months after the show opened, so it was already hugely famous. Kristin Chenoweth made that role iconic and Jennifer Laura Thompson, who took over for her, was equally funny, beautiful, and charming. I stood-by for Jennifer and thought, “Oh my gosh, these two amazing women – what the fuck am I doing here?” My Broadway debut was opposite Idina Menzel. I had two hours' notice to get ready. I would have it no other way, though. It was thrilling, and exciting, and terrifying, and perfect.
Do you have a favorite song to perform in your shows?
MH: I love doing “They Just Keep Moving the Line” from Smash. Even if you haven't seen the show, that song always speaks to people on some level. I love doing the standards because everybody knows them, but you can’t do too many of them otherwise people will start to groan. I call it, “earning your ballads.” It’s the same with new pieces that people aren’t familiar with, you have to use them really reservedly otherwise people are going to tune out. They have to be really special.