Smash, 1.03 - Anjelica Huston and Jack Davenport
Episode, 1.03 "Mr DiMaggio" - Eileen Rand (Anjelica Huston) and Derek Wills (Jack Davenport) © 2012 NBC

NBC’s new drama Smash chronicles the dreamers and schemers who are putting on a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe, from its inception through its Broadway debut.

In it Debra Messing (Will & Grace) portrays Julia Huston, part of a successful songwriting duo, and Jack Davenport (FlashFoward) plays Derek Wills, the brilliant but egocentric director.

They both spoke at the TV Critics Association about their new series.

Debra, your character is torn between mounting a musical and adopting a child. How do you balance those two stories?

Smash, 1.03 - Debra Messing
Episode, 1.03 "Mr DiMaggio" -Julia Houston (Debra Messing) © 2012 NBC

Debra: That was one of the things that was most exciting to me about the character when I read the pilot. Here is a woman who is very passionate about her creative life and needs that part of her life fulfilled, but also is a proud mother and wants that home life and balance.

I love that nothing is simple. The way Theresa (Rebeck, the series’ creator) writes, there’s such richness. And all of our characters go through difficulties and challenges, and we’re often surprised at the table reads. We have no idea what’s happening next, but it’s all interesting and it all feels authentic.

You always said how much fun you had working on Will & Grace. Is this as much fun but in a different way?

Smash, 1.04 - Megan Hilty and Debra Messing
Episode, 1.04 "The Cost of Ar" - Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) and Julia Houston (Debra Messing) © 2012 NBC

Debra: The amount of fun that I’m having on this show is ridiculously off the charts already. Of course, you can’t compare them. They’re apples and oranges. This is a huge ensemble, a drama, very character-driven, and a very naturalistic world and tone.

This cast is so accomplished and so committed. Everyone is so passionate about this project. We’re working really hard, but we’re laughing a lot, and we’re really proud of what we’re doing.

Jack, this character is different from the ones you’ve played recently. What are your thoughts on him?

Smash, 1.02 - Jack Davenport and Katharine McPhee
Episode, 1.02 "Callbacks" - Derek Wills (Jack Davenport) and Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee) © 2012 NBC

Jack: I thought, ‘I’m never going to get this job.’ And I desperately wanted it. I had to plead my case. No one’s asked me to be a sociopath for ages, and I’m thrilled to be doing it now.

The difference between film and theatre, from the point-of-view of a director, is that film and television are director’s mediums. A director gets to shoot everything, and play God in the editing room.

Theatre is an actor’s medium. And at a certain point, the poor director has to let his vice-like grip go and the actors let it live. So there’s a very different kind of power dynamic between a director and his cast, or her cast. And so that means I get to be kind of evil, and I love it.

What director did you take a cue from?

Jack: Well, that would be telling. Obviously it’s an amalgam of many. I couldn’t possibly have based it on one person or I’d be in court. I’ve worked with lots of directors, some gentler than others, but it would be invidious of me to name names in a room of 250 journalists!

Smash episode 3 airs on Monday February 20, 2012


Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.