Last season she worked in a bunny suit in the short-lived period drama “The Playboy Club.” This season the Tony Award-winning actress (“Gypsy”) is going for laughs as she helps soothe Matthew Perry’s pain as the tightly wound leader of his support group on the NBC comedy “Go On.” The series had a sneak peek during the Olympics and premieres in its regular time slot Tuesday at 9 p.m. on Channel 7. We recently chatted with Benanti, who was also nominated for Tonys for her work in “Swing!” and “Into the Woods,” at the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills.
‘We’ve seen a lot of darker comedies on cable, but there hasn’t really been an answer to that on network television, and I feel like [“Go On”] is the answer.’
Q. Your character Lauren on “Go On” is very different from others you’ve played on stage and TV. I’m guessing she’s not going to be a singing counselor.
A. No, she’s not going to be singing. She’s not going to be caustic. Ironically in [the FX comedy] “Starved,” I played a member of a support group. I was a bisexual songwriter with an eating disorder, so that was interesting. [Laughs.] And I’m a soldier on “Law & Order,” which is hilarious to me. I like that the characters I’ve played have been varied. I like that they’re not me. This person is the closest to me.
Q. Everyone in the group is dealing with some type of loss, which must be a tough topic to tackle comedically.
A. For me, I feel like the best way to heal from anything is through humor, at least in my experience. I feel like we’ve seen a lot of darker comedies on cable, but there hasn’t really been an answer to that on network television, and I feel like this show is the answer. I think there’s something about the humor that opens your heart and you don’t even realize it, and all of a sudden the message has slipped in surreptitiously. For me, you can laugh harder at people you love, and I think the audience is really going to love these characters.
Q. Were you a big “Friends” fan?
A. Yes, I was!
Q. Was Chandler your favorite?
A. I was super into Jennifer Aniston, just like “Wow, that woman is very beautiful and very funny.” But yeah, how could he not be your favorite? He’s a genius.
Q. Many of your Broadway brethren are crossing over to television this season. What’s the biggest difference between acting onstage and for television?
A. I feel the method of acting is the biggest difference. For me, when I’m onstage there is a level of energy I have to achieve in order to radiate to the back of the house. This is going be very New Agey-sounding, but I feel like I infuse myself with light in order to be seen, and in order to get across an emotion, you can’t just rely on thinking it — there has to be a certain level of showing it. Whereas on TV, my biggest adjustment is I don’t have to do anything more than think a thought and the camera will pick it up. I don’t need to “show” what I’m feeling; I just need to feel it.
Q. How do you feel when they use the term “Broadway” as a pejorative when giving feedback on “American Idol”?
A. I hate that. To me it sounds like this: “You sing too well. You sound like you’ll be able to sing for the rest of your life instead of for the next five minutes.” Not to be too angry. [Laughs.]
Q. Compared to “The Playboy Club,” I’m guessing the wardrobe on “Go On” is a little more comfortable.
A. A little bit. [Laughs.] But I’ve got to say I kind of miss my [bunny] suit. I did keep it. It’s in my attic.
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