‘The Bold Type’ Star Meghann Fahy on Performing Theater vs. TV

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Photo Source: Freeform/Justin Coit

Meghann Fahy started her career with a lucky break, getting cast as an understudy in “Next To Normal” straight out of high school. But she knows from breaks of all sorts. Case in point: the time she broke her tooth on the way to an audition. More on that later.

Currently, Fahy’s taking a break from theater as she plays one of three young women trying to make it in the brutal world of New York media on Freeform’s series “The Bold Type.” As the second season kicks off (with a June 12 premiere), Fahy’s Sutton is trying to juggle her stressful job in Scarlet magazine’s fashion department with her still-very-strong and still-very-problematic feelings for a handsome older board member. Fahy took some time to talk to Backstage about how she’s evolved with Sutton and share that nightmare audition story.

How has playing Sutton added to your acting skills?
Well, “The Bold Type” is my first series-regular television experience so it’s definitely the longest amount of time that I’ve had to really play a character. When I did “Next to Normal” I did that for a couple of years, but this is definitely my first go at it in terms of television. So that in and of itself has been incredible. The difference between the first season and the second season has been really huge just in terms of how much more comfortable I feel in the role and also just in the environment.... I knew what to expect from those long hours and that schedule. I was better prepared. Even physically, I knew what I needed to do to feel my best.

In terms of the actual acting, something that surprised me was that Sutton sort of became—not the comedic character, per se, because I think everybody on the show has moments of lighthearted, funny stuff—but Sutton did sort of become this playful character in a way that I think surprised me and the whole team. In the pilot she wasn’t really so much that for me. I was still sort of figuring her out. I think what was great was they catered to that. They really allowed me to infuse her with all of the comedy that I wanted to. And then they also gave me these amazing emotional moments, which I feel grateful for because I think as an actor it’s a little bit scary—sometimes you feel like you’re playing to comedy and then you’re worried that they’ll just write you into that corner.

Hollywood’s #MeToo moment is being reflected in “The Bold Type” Season 2; in the second episode Sutton is assisting on a photoshoot about honorable men while dealing with slut-shaming from other women at work. What were the conversations like going into this season?
I actually really enjoyed Episode 2 where Sutton’s at the fashion shoot and she’s feeling really insecure. I have that lovely scene with Melora [Hardin] where Jacqueline says, “You’re a people person and that’s a strength and you should totally lean into that and not be afraid.” I personally have felt similarly to Sutton in that moment a bunch of times throughout my life. I also feel like I’m a people person and sometimes it’s hard because I’ve also have had moments of, “Wow, you can’t even be nice to a guy without him thinking that you’re in love with him.” I loved that we were talking about that.

Amanda Lasher, our showrunner, is incredible and so inclusive. Every single time we get a new script she calls us like, “Hey, what are your thoughts?” We’re able to voice our opinions. If there’s something that we don’t like or there’s something that we want to change, she hears us, and more often than not we get a revision and the conversation that we’ve had with her has been implemented into that. I think that’s really, really powerful. Amanda has been incredible, she really practices what she preaches. She’s writing a show about female empowerment and encouraging women to speak up and use their voices and we do that and we are heard. And it does make a difference.

READ: 8 Resources for Actors to Combat Harassment in the Industry

What advice would you give your younger self?
I love this question. I would tell myself to trust myself more. I think I had really good instincts when I was young and I was really afraid to commit to them a lot of times especially as it applied to having an opinion about something or speaking up about my feelings. If I could give my younger self advice it would definitely be, “Commit to your instincts!” It’s usually the right thing—and even if it’s not, it’s important to voice that as well and then learn from that.

How did you get your Equity card?
I was very lucky because I came to New York after I graduated high school in 2008. I went to an open call and the open call was for “Spider-Man,” the [Broadway] musical. I sang for Bernie Telsey that day and then he brought me in to audition for “Next To Normal” and I got the part of the understudy, at which point I was required to join the union.... I didn’t do theater growing up or anything. So I had no idea what was happening. But looking back on that now, realizing sometimes how difficult that process can be, I feel so lucky.

That’s a really lucky experience, but auditions run the gamut. Do you have a worst audition story?
Oh god, I have so many. Musical auditions to me are truly the scariest thing in the world. I think they are so difficult and so challenging. And when they are great there’s nothing like it. But when they are bad, it’s so bad. I’ve started songs in the wrong octave. I had one musical audition where right before it, I cracked my tooth in half and I had to superglue my tooth back into my mouth in the bathroom of a McDonald’s.

You put a tooth back together in a McDonald’s bathroom? How?
I had a Poland Spring water bottle and I went to go bite the plastic protector off so I could open it and drink it. I broke my tooth in half. I got on the train, went to a Duane Reade, got superglue—like, nail glue—went into the McDonald’s by Penn Station where there was no mirror so I used my makeup mirror from my purse. I went to the audition which was actually for “Dogfight.” I got it. I was in the ensemble of a reading they were doing for “Dogfight” at Lincoln Center. It was my first reading ever and I don’t think I even ever told anybody that happened because at the time I was so mortified. And now I think it’s a great story.

How do you normally prepare for auditions?
It varies. I haven’t auditioned for a musical in a very long time partly because I haven’t been available and also because I want it to be the right thing. But I love theater so much and I always want it to be a part of my life because that community is so special to me and it’s how I entered this world of performing. But for film and TV, it’s totally a different process. It’s easier to get away with not being off-book in TV and film, whereas if I’m going in for a play I’m poring over the words, the commas, the periods.

I actually had a casting director say something really helpful to me once and it was for a TV audition. She said, “Read the sides like it’s a piece of music. Pay attention to the punctuation because it’s like it’s a song and those are all important parts of the song. If there’s a rest in a song, you don’t skip it.” It’s the same when you’re reciting words for a regular audition. I try to approach all of my auditions with that in mind and it is helpful.

So you feel a little freer when it comes to movies and TV?
On “The Bold Type” we ad lib all the time. [Aisha Dee, Katie Stevens, and I are] super close in real life. I think part of the magic of the show is the authenticity of that relationship. It’s very important to everybody who is making the show to honor that and so they always give us room to make it our own and to say the words the way they feel best in our mouths. So that’s been my experience on this show which has been really lovely. I think theater’s different but it’s different in a totally opposite way where you say the exact words the same every night but everything else about the performance can be different. Theater feels more specific in terms of the literal dialogue, but there is so much freedom to play within the words and I think that’s what’s so beautiful: making it new every night even though it’s technically the same words.

READ: 23 Must-Know Musical Theater Audition Terms

You got your start right after high school, but did you ever have a survival job?
Yeah, I really was shot out of a cannon. I got involved with a show that was Off-Broadway and then it moved to Broadway and I was the understudy and then when the girl who originated it left, I took over for her. It was this kind of unheard-of experience. And then the show closed and I remember being like, “Cool, I wonder what my next Broadway show would be?” Just because I had no other experience to go off of. And I was wrong about a lot of it. I had a lot of time after that where I was out of work. I nannied. I was nannying even after we shot this pilot for “The Bold Type” because I didn’t know if it was going to get picked up. I absolutely have ridden the rollercoaster that is super highs and super lows in terms of whatever the idea of success is. It’s different for everybody. I was really happy when I was working as a hostess or a nannying. I learned so much from that part of my life as well.

What was your first headshot like?
Oh, my god. I had it taken in my hometown in Massachusetts by a local photographer. I had him print it black and white because I had only ever seen headshots in black and white and I thought that’s how they were supposed to be, which is not true. They are definitely supposed to be in color. When I went to the open call I brought my black and white headshot and I brought my high school résumé which included my GPA and my extracurricular activities. And that is what I handed them when I walked in. It was basically my college application.

Looking to go to more auditions? Check out Backstage’s TV audition listings!