Backstage on the Set of the New Midlife vs Millennials Show 'Younger'

by Deborah Copaken
Originally Published: 

Now, as income inequality in the country reaches an unprecedented high, and a generation of smart, capable women who were all urged to opt out are clamoring to opt back in, Star, too, is reinventing himself. He’s adapting Pamela Redmond Satran’s novel Younger, in which Broadway heartthrob Sutton Foster plays Liza, a forty-something single mother who can’t, for the life of her, find a job until, at the urging of her friend Maggie (Debi Mazar), she goes back out on the hunt disguised as a twenty-six-year-old who lands a job as an assistant at a publishing house.

I recently sat down with Star on the Younger soundstage in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with the spires of Manhattan more background decoration than foreground setting, to talk with him about his new show, premiering on TV Land this January.


Get More: Younger Official TV Show Website

Your work has been known for hitting the cultural Zeitgeist. Why this show right now?

Star: I read the book [Younger] a number of years ago. I was always attracted to it, by the premise of a woman who had been out of work for twelve years to raise a family and then was trying to get back in the workplace and found that she’d become irrelevant and was un-hire-able. But though I loved the premise when I read it five or six years ago, it wasn’t the right time for it. What’s happened since then is that with this whole 20-something generation, the generation gap feels more profound to me than it has in a long time. This generation has disrupted the model of the hierarchy, and the kids in their 20s suddenly have job skills that are more relevant than people in their 40s, especially when it comes to social media and understanding how the Internet works and whether it works or not. They understand what the disruption is all about.

A woman in her 40s trying to get back in the workforce would have an even tougher time. That she would then have to pass herself off as a 20-something in order to get a job, that idea is one that more people can relate to, and at the same time, she’s more of a fish out of water being a 40-something in a 20-something world because she also has to play catch up.

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Do you have to play catch up in social media?

Yes. I definitely do. One of the other reasons I’m writing this show is because I can relate to it. I can relate to the idea of putting myself in these circumstances, and when you’re writing something, you have to be able to relate to it. By writing this show I’m learning along with the character.

Do you have Facebook and Twitter and all those social media things?

No, I have none of them.

Do you feel at a disadvantage not having them at this point in time?

I don’t because I feel like for me … I’ve tried. I’ve been on Facebook, and I saw what it was, and I wasn’t that interested in staying on Facebook. My shows are my tweets. I don’t feel the need to tweet my thoughts on a daily basis or engage with a “fan base.” It’s probably a generational thing for me. I don’t feel compelled to do it.

But you must see, because you’re writing this show, and you’re using it in the plot, that social media is an equalizer. Meaning people who are in their 20s can somehow make a splash now through social media that they wouldn’t necessarily have been able to make before it existed.

Completely. I follow social media. But what I have to say is not interesting enough to be tweeting it out on a daily basis.

Let’s talk about Sutton [Foster] for a second because it’s an unusual choice to pluck an actress out of Broadway into the TV world. What was it about her specifically that you felt was right for this part?

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I’ve been a fan of her for years. I first saw her in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” when she first did it, which was her first major role on Broadway before she won a Tony. She has this quality in that you really root for her and at the same time, she makes things seem real and believable. She basically is 40 years old, but she doesn’t look it, so you believe this character is legitimately passing herself off as 26. Finding an actor who could play this part was the biggest hurdle in terms of figuring out, “Well, is this show going to work or not?” Because that’s really the key. It’s not like Strangers with Candy. We’re not looking at a woman who’s obviously deluded thinking that people think she’s in her 20s.

Right. We have to actually believe that she’s in her 20s.

Yeah, yeah.

How long did it take to find her, or was she always in the back of your mind when you were casting the show?

She was on my first list. It was more about convincing the network that she was the right person for the role because they weren’t that familiar with her as an actor. She’s a big name in certain circles, she’s well known, but to a large part of the audience she’s not known, which I love because you’re not coming in with this idea that, oh, yes, Sutton Foster, she’s this age so we’re not going to ever believe her as anybody younger, which I think is a problem you’d have with a big established star.

Like if you took Emma Thompson and tried to make her 30.

Exactly. Also I really believe that TV makes stars. That’s what it does best. Audiences love to find and get behind a new actor.

Speaking of making stars, let’s say Sarah Jessica Parker—I mean “Carrie”—walked onto the Younger set with her new book idea at the age that she is now.

Carrie’s already established as a writer. I don’t think Carrie is having a problem getting published.

Oh, I bet Carrie is having a huge problem getting published right now because I know a lot of Carries who are having problems getting published right now.

Oh, I bet Carrie is having a huge problem getting published right now because I know a lot of Carries who are having problems getting published right now. Including yours truly.

I guess I believe in Carrie. I think she figures out ways to keep herself relevant and keeps coming up with those smart ideas, but I do feel like she’s having to maybe reinvent herself, too.

I’ll spare you my own personal travails of staying relevant in the publishing world so we can talk about you and your relevance. You’ve had a phenomenal career in TV, and yet Hollywood is a place that spits out old people like garbage. And yet: like the Energizer bunny, you keep going. Do you feel an affinity with this character?

I do. I definitely feel an affinity for a character trying to navigate and stay relevant in her work and in the work environment. The great thing about being a writer is that your only limitations are whatever you write. You set your own limitations in a way. This idea that the TV business is unkind to older writers, I guess if you defined older by saying over 40, I would say that’s not completely true. I don’t really believe that. I think the TV business and the entertainment business in general is great to people who keep working. I think the problem is taking that 12-year hiatus. Then you’re in trouble.

In any profession.

In any profession. Truthfully, in the entertainment business, if you’re a writer or a director and you keep working, you keep working. Certainly as a writer I think you create your own work. If you take a 12-year hiatus, however, you’d have a tough time getting back in.

And yet let’s call a spade a spade. That 12-year hiatus is mostly a female phenomenon because it’s more often than not the females who take the time off to nurse and raise babies. Especially here in the U.S. where the infrastructure for working parents is so…nonexistent. I have a feeling, I’m just going to put this out there, that there are going to be a lot of mothers trying to get back into the workforce who are going to relate very, very seriously to this show, especially to the main character’s struggles of trying to get back into the workforce.

Exactly. I know a lot of women who have taken a hiatus to raise their kids and then poked their head up and been like, “I’m ready to go back to work,” and it’s not that easy. I know they struggle. It’s tough!

What would you say to these women as a group?

I feel your struggle. I understand. You’re just as smart and capable as the men who didn’t take off time, if not more so, but people are looking at your age and that gap and judging you.

I feel your struggle. I understand. You’re just as smart and capable as the men who didn’t take off time, if not more so, but people are looking at your age and that gap and judging you.

Define the culture right now. It’s 2014. Ready, set, go.

Oh gosh. I don’t even know if I can … What does it mean to define the culture?

Well, you’re defining our current culture with your show, right?

I’m not sure. The whole notion of defining the culture is you define the culture by creating, doing, working, and making something ring true in the time period in which you’re working. It’s only retroactively that you go back and look at it as a record of how things were then.

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Yet most of the work that you’ve done, it’s like a history book of our cultural eras. You go back and look at your shows, from Beverly Hills 90210 to Melrose Place to Sex and the City, and they mark that period of time from a very Zeitgeist point of view. What I’m trying to understand is how is it that you’re able to tap into this undefinable thing that’s going on even though the rest of us are not really seeing it until we see it in retrospect?

I’m just looking to tell stories about the time that I’m living in and can relate to.

Historically accurate?

Historically accurate in a way that’s meant to entertain. They’re not documentaries, you know what I mean? I’m trying to find the humor in our time.

Now, one other important issue I want to talk about is Sutton’s character, Liza, who takes an assistant job that pays a lot less than, let’s say, a job that she could potentially get in her 40s, if only someone would have given her that chance or if the economy were better. Meaning, she’s probably earning no more than $28,000 a year.

Right. She’s not making a lot of money. We do think about how much she’s making and that she’s not making very much money, but a big part of why she’s taking the job is self-esteem. I think it’s really important for this character to feel relevant and also that we don’t know where that job can take her. What she’s doing [lying about her age] is dishonest and unethical, and I think people forgive the character because they think, “You know what, she’s being dishonest and unethical for the right reasons,” to work her way back up the ladder.

Will we, the audience, or will Liza’s boss ever find out her real age, or is it going to be more like the Snuffleupagus on Sesame Street, where only we and Big Bird know the truth?

That’s why you have to keep watching.

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