Most of the action on last night’s episode of “Smash” revolved around the callbacks for the pivotal part of Marilyn Monroe in the musical-within-the-show that is the centerpiece of the series. The decision on whether to give the big part to the Marilyn-looking vet Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) and the talented-but-raw Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee) was a tortured one, but it came down to experience, and the part went to Ivy.
But there were some complications along the way, namely the fact that Ivy and cad director Derek Wills (Jack Davenport) fell into bed together. However, as Hilty told us last month at the TCA press tour, things are going to go a little deeper than they seem at first blush.
“They have a really interesting relationship,” she said. “When I started reading how things are progressing, I was like ‘Wow.’ I really wasn’t expecting it. And I don’t think they were either, because we were originally supposed to break up really soon. Something happened where they said, ‘Let’s keep this going and see how this can affect these other things.’ It’s unlike any conventional relationship, certainly. They do care about each other.”
In the episode, it’s made pretty clear that Derek isn’t using his budding romance with Ivy as a consideration on whether to give her the part or not; he vacillates between the two hopefuls because, even though Ivy is a pro, he knows there’s something there with Karen. Also in his favor is the fact that Ivy has the support of Tom (Christian Borle), whom he despises, while Tom’s writing partner Julia (Debra Messing) is on Team Karen; if he really had any less than the best interests of the show at heart, he’d could come out on the side of Karen, just to stick it to Tom.
It’s why Hilty thinks that people’s opinion of the relationship will change as things go on. “Everybody’s saying, ‘Oh, the stereotypical casting couch was in the second episode,’ but for me, they really have feelings for each other. I think it’ll become clearer in further episodes.”
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Even in person, we get the overwhelming feeling that not only was the blond and curvy Hilty born to play Marilyn, but that she’s been a Monroe disciple her entire life. But Hilty told us that the opposite was true.
“I grew up thinking that being a blonde and loving Marilyn was kinda cliché. So I had an aversion to her for awhile,” she said. “Then I read a biography on Arthur Miller, and there’s a huge section on their marriage. I found out about the film he wrote for her, ‘The Misfits,’ which turned out to be my favorite movie of all time. Then I started really researching her life because I found it so fascinating. And I continue to as the show goes on.”
When we were watching the episode, there was a thought that both women were doing so well, and that it was so early in the process, that the writers would have decided to split the part in two, giving Karen the part for Marilyn’s early Norma Jean years and Ivy the part of movie star Marilyn. According to Hilty, that vibe was borne out of how the writers wrote for her and McPhee. “I think it’s kinda how it turned out. A lot of those things developed after they got to know us and our styles.”
And even though Ivy has the part for now, Broadway vet Hilty warns viewers that things are still in flux, especially because the musical is only in the workshop stage. “Like in real life these workshops can change in a second; people get replaced in a second. That’s why this show is so genius.”
Will part of that involve Ivy going through some Marilyn-like difficulties? “Maybe. It depends on how much you know about Marilyn,” she laughed.