Just speaking with actress Carly Hughes is a purely positive experience. This gifted Broadway star has migrated to television as a regular cast member in new fan and critic approved ABC comedy American Housewife and she embodies all that is good about the entertainment industry.
While she was born in St. Louis, Missouri, she grew up in Columbus, Maryland, a place constantly listed as one of the best places to live in America and it shows. You can hear joy in her voice and that makes her not only someone you want to watch, but also someone you want to know.
Hughes received the prestigious Princess Grace Award for Acting and Excellence in the Arts in 2003. She received a B.F.A. in musical theater embarking on her New York City theatrical aspirations. Hughes has appeared in eight Broadway shows including starring as Velma Kelly in Chicago, The Leading Player in Pippin and Lucille/Shirley of the Shirelles in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Her sweet voice is present in most of the songs in Lucky Stiff, the Ahrens & Flaherty movie musical.
Hughes trained hard, prepares well, knows the business, is hopeful, funny, loves her profession, is supportive of other performers and has interests beyond her vocation.
During our conversation, we bantered about our love of theater and something unusual happened. I was talking about a favorite bit in the 2013 Tony Award program and mentioned superstar Megan Hilty. Hughes laughed and told me that she was at Hilty’s home at that exact moment in time! It felt like the stars were all aligned for a perfect conversation.
We will be seeing lots of wonderful things from Hughes in the months and years to come.
Carly Hughes spoke with TheCelebrityCafe.com about her professional journey, some funny theater stories, bonding with her buddies Hilty, Katy Mixon and Leslie Odom, whom she admires professionally, how she likes to spend her free time and more.
TheCelebrityCafe.com: How are you, Carly?
Carly Hughes: Amazing. How are you, Michelle?
TCC: Very well, thank you. I’m really excited about this on multiple levels. I actually saw you in Pippin in 2014.
CH: Stop it. No, you did not. Oh, my god. That’s amazing. You’re one of the very few. I’m just kidding. I only did the last like six months of that show, so it’s a rarity, especially for someone– are you out here in L.A., or are you in New York?
TCC: I’m in New York.
CH: Okay, easy. I was going to say if you’re out in L.A., that’s a miracle [laughter]. Thank you for coming, though.
TCC: It was great.
CH: I love that show.
TCC: It was very fun.
CH: It is near and dear to my heart.
TCC: Could you please first tell me a little bit about your childhood?
CH: My childhood? What would you like to know?
TCC: It seems like you were brought up in one of the nicest places in America?
CH: Yes. Columbia, Maryland. I’m originally from St. Louis. My whole family, my mom’s one of eight and my dad’s one of seven and we’re all from St. Louis. My dad’s side is still there. My mom’s side all moved away one by one. Then we grew up in Columbia, right outside of Baltimore. Columbia, it’s a great city. It’s extremely, extremely diverse. It’s one of the few, I don’t want to say planned cities, but on purpose cities if you will, where there specifically for multi-racial, inter-racial families. We have the highest number of exchange students in our high school alone, but in that area. I grew up with some of everything, which was nice.
TCC: Which kind of dance classes did you take?
CH: I actually didn’t start dance as young as in my mind I would have loved too [laughter]. Like you do when you’re on TV and you’re like I was three. I don’t have those recital photos, because my mom was like, “We have other things to do. You can dance in your room by yourself [laughter].” And so I started hardcore dancing about– in middle school and high school, I cheered on an all-star squad, so not for a team, but for a competition. So we had a choreographer with that and then once I got to high school, we had a dance company that I danced with. So high school was really when I started doing it for real and training and then got to college and had to take all of those classes. So I was a latecomer, but I worked my butt off for it.
TCC: Makes sense. Well, you were also an accelerated student, so congratulations on that as well.
CH: You know everything [laughter].
TCC: I try to do a little bit of homework before an interview.
CH: Thank you. Well, you know what? I know, just a little bit. I know everybody is always like, “Oh my God, you graduated?” And I’m like, “Yeah, but I did that because I knew what I wanted to do [laughter].” So it wasn’t like somebody was like, “I deem you very extremely smart and you may pass.” No, I just was like, “I don’t want to be here anymore. I want to actually go do that.” So I worked my a** off and did– I took like two classes at the community college the summer before I graduated, because I was like, “Nope. I’m going to go play pretend for a living [laughter].”
TCC: So, what made you choose Penn State?
CH: You know what, I actually don’t tell people that I went there. It’s not one of my best experiences that I’ve had, but I went there. I’m sure it’s changed now, but my experience wasn’t the best. But when I was in high school, my high school boyfriend was being recruited for their football team [laughter]. And his parents were alumni there. And they’re like, “You should go to Penn State.” And I was like, “OK.” And lo and behold, I got in and he didn’t end up going there because the defensive back that recruited him ended up going to Maryland. And that’s where he went [laughter]. So I was stuck there for four years and we didn’t date after that [laughter].
TCC: That’s all right. That’s funny.
CH: I know. But, no, I learned, what I did get from there was there was– the dance teacher was amazing. She actually studied and danced with Bob Fosse.
TCC: You also won the Princess Grace Award for acting. What is that?
CH: I did. Well, so it’s a program that you apply for. And it was founded by Princess Grace and the Monaco family for the arts because, I mean, you know how big she was in the arts and all [laughter]. So they founded this organization in her honor and it’s run by the Monaco family. Prince Albert’s there every year, and they give out awards and scholarships for acting, for dance, and for — I think film is the other one or directing or something of that nature. And then they also have statue awards every year for people who have previously won. And there’s a process. You apply. You have to, depending on your category, send in so many songs or dances or whatever and a huge application process and reference letters and then basically a big audition. And then the committee decides who wins and who gets the honor of the Princess Grace Award.
And I think if you’re still in college, it’s a certain amount, a good amount that goes toward your tuition. And then outside of college, it goes toward furthering your education. So they don’t just give you a chunk of money. It goes toward your classes or whatever you’re taking and then there’s a huge ceremony every year. I think, ironically, the year that I won, Ann Reinking presented me with my award and then I got a special award from the Grace LeVine Family for excellence in acting. And cut to however many years later, we won’t say [laughter], two years ago I was doing Chicago – Ann Reinking came in and set the choreography on me.
TCC: That’s awesome. Everything’s tied together.
CH: Mind blown. Exactly. Mind blown. It was a huge thing for me, but it’s a huge honor. It’s a very prestigious award and every year I find out more and more of the people that have received, Tony Kushner, that have received this award and you’re like, “Oh, wow. This is actually a big thing.” Because once you get stuff like that you go, “That’s great. I’ve accomplished it,” and then like you kind of move on and do your other thing until you’re like, “Wait a minute. That was a big deal” [laughter].
TCC: Well, how did you know that you wanted to become an actor?
CH: You know what? My mom will tell you differently, I’m sure. She’ll be like, “This child is her whole life in bla– [laughter].” But I used to grow up watching with my mom on VHS all the golden age musicals so Singing in the Rain, Anchors Aweigh is our favorite, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, anything that you can get on VHS from the library is what we would get and watch. I thought, “Oh, that’s so cool. I’d love to do that.” That is so great that they got to do it back then, because I didn’t grow up going to live theater and I didn’t really know what Broadway was until later, like about high school. I just thought that’s so cool they did that then.
And then, high school like sophomore year we took a trip to New York and saw my first Broadway show. I was like, “Oh, what? This is still happening?” I wasn’t in a sheltered world but it didn’t seem attainable at that time. I didn’t know the means to get there. Once I figured that out and saw that show, I was like, “Oh, I’m graduating early. This is what I’m doing.” But I always knew from a young age. My mom always wanted me to be a singer. So I was like, “Yeah, I’ll be a singer.” Every year as I got older, I realized I can actually do all of them and I was like, “Peace out, homies. I’m going to go do this.”
TCC: Well what are some of the favorite theater roles that you’ve done?
CH: Oh, man. The top, top leading player and Velma Kelly in Chicago. Those were like dreams come true. The last two before I left New York. I also really love playing Sarah in Ragtime and Aida is a great role. Then there is Dessa Rose. It’s an Ahrens & Flaherty piece that they did. Do you remember that one at Lincoln Center?
TCC: I don’t actually. That’s one of the ones I didn’t know.
GH: Norm Louis did it with LaChanze and it was at Lincoln Center. But I did the West Coast premiere of it. It was one of those where I was like, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” Then you do it and you’re like, “Oh, my god. This was life changing.”
TCC: How did you make the transition from theater to TV?
CH: It was a long road, I’ll tell you that. But it was because for a while a lot the stuff wasn’t filming in New York, you know what I mean? So it was still that whole quote-unquote, you have to be in L.A. if you want to do TV to film whereas, now, everybody and their mom films out of New York, so it’s kind of an even playing field, which made the transition for me a little easier. It’s always harder when you’re doing eight shows a week on Broadway to convince a casting director to even bring you in when they’re like, “No. You have eight shows,” because they kind of don’t understand the world of I have it in my contract or I have an understudy so I can go do this, you know? So that has kind of since smoothed, and I got a great new team behind me, new managers who were kicking some doors down for me, so it made it easier to get into the room.
And after that point, it’s just about, like any audition process across the board, getting your face known, doing great work and making it so that casting directors know you and can trust you in what you do, so when they pitch you for work, they’re backed up. So I have just been auditioning for a long time and have gone in for a couple casting directors a lot. And it was at that point, it was just about a matter of the right project and the right feel. And I had to learn patience and practice patience, because not everything is for you, and that’s okay. But this came along right at the right time and it had happened when it was supposed to, so it was just about persistence and going in and making sure I was on top of my game, so that when something came along, I was ready.
TCC: This may humor you, every time I hear of someone who’s going from theater to TV, I think of Neil Patrick Harris tribute that he did in the Tony’s in 2013 with Andrew Reynolds, Laura Benati and Megan Hilty–Where they sang, “I want to be in a TV show,” and it was a special tribute to Sondheim and Marvin Hamlisch.
CH: Yeah, I remember it vividly.
TCC: I have had that song in my head ever since I knew I was going to speak with you [laughter].
CH: You did? I love you. Well, the funny part is that I’m actually at Megan Hilty’s house right now, so [laughter], so that song runs through my head. We make fun of that song – not make fun of it, we sing that song and make fun of ourselves all the time [laughter].
TCC: That’s amazing. Say hi to her for me.
CH: I will [laughter], I will. It’s so true though, it is like, [singing] “I just want to be in a TV show, make some money in a TV show [laughter].
TCC: Before we move on to TV, are there any fun theater stories that you want to share?
CH: Fun theater stories? Not off the top of my head besides the beautiful moments when live theater takes over and you crack while you’re singing, and you’re like, “Ahh” [laughter]. Most people– I feel like it’s a good thing when you sweat. Most people get terrified and mortified, and they’re like “I can’t believe I just cracked” and I’m the opposite. I giggle, because it’s live and I’m always like, “I know you guys heard that. That was hilarious, and clearly I do it on purpose. Yes, it’s embarrassing. But it’s also like, “Wow [laughter].” Well I didn’t know that voice, that could come out of my throat [laughter].
TCC: Well do you have a dream theater role that you’d like to play one day?
CH: Yeah. I’d really like to play Glinda in Wicked. Well most people are like, “You don’t want to play Elphaba?” And I’m like, “No. I want to come in on a bubble. Duh!”
TCC: Yeah [laughter]. Well I think “For Good” is one of the best songs ever done, so–
CH: I love it.
TCC: I’d love to hear you sing that one day.
CH: I love it.
TCC: Who are some performers you admire?
CH: Oh, man. I really admire– let’s see. There’s so many. Well, theater wise or TV and film wise?
CH: All the ways, okay. I really enjoy Thandie Newton. I think she’s really, really brilliant in what she does. She’s in Westworld right now and I was watching it like, “Ah. I’d love to do that, minus the being naked all the time part.” But [laughter].
TCC: I feel like I discovered her in Flirting, years ago.
CH: Yeah. Yeah. And she’s just like so– she’s so good and smart with what she does and who was the other one I was watching the other day? Oh, I can’t remember her name. Anyway, Meryl Streep is– she’s a duh. And anyone on your life trajectory, it should just be like, life trajectory. Insert Meryl Streep [laughter]. Half of her success with the roles that she’s gotten to play is unbelievable. Unbelievable. I really enjoy watching Jessie Mueller. I mean, she’s a close friend of mine, just because we did Beautiful together. But to watch her process is amazing and to be a part of it. But to then watch her on stage do what she does every single night, is unreal. It’s unreal. And I really admire Lin [Lin-Manuel Miranda], another theater guy. But I admire his hard work. I admire how his brain works. It’s just a different level. You know what I mean?
TCC: I think he does. I think all musicians are weird in a great way.
TCC: They see the world a little differently than everybody else.
TCC: And I think that’s how he rolls, too.
CH: Yeah. Yeah. And I think we need more of that. Or at least half of that. Because what he did with Hamilton. It became not just about theater, and in essence, took it back to what theater used to be but how it effected the whole world and not just our small community. I think we have been waiting for something like that for a while to break out. Also call attention to the beauty of the art and how important they are. Not just Broadway and not just TV and film, but how they effect our young children and how they effect our society and the positive effect that they can have if you do it correctly.
TCC: It is. Tell me how you came to be Angela on American Housewives?
CH: I actually auditioned initially for this show. It was opening night. I was doing Cabin in the Sky at City Center Encores in NYC. We had rehearsed all day, 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. and then I had to run from Encores on 37th to ABC on Columbus Circle for my 6:30 p.m. audition. So I was tired. I knew the material but I was like scattered because it was opening night. I went and I auditioned and I did it and then I was like, “Ah, okay. I’ll do it again.” They were like, “Do you want to do anything else?” I was like, “Oh, I have to go. I’m almost late for my half hour.” So I went, opened the show and then end of the week they were like, “So you’re penned for this part.” I was like, “Great. What does that mean?” Then like two days later they were like, “Ah, that pen has now turned into a test. You need to fly to LA tomorrow.” I was like, “What?” I think the beauty of it all is that because it happened on opening night and my brain was semi-elsewhere, I didn’t have time to get in my brain and mess myself up about anything. So it was probably one of the most real auditions, that when you’re forced to not think about it, it becomes one of the most real, down-to-earth auditions that you do. And they’re like, “Oh, I like that person. She’s a person [laughter].” And so, because all of that, I flew out and I tested and then I found out a couple days later that I got the pilot. And I was like, “Holey, moley. What is–?” Because this is my first pilot. So I was jumping up and down in the streets of Inwood, where my apartment is, screaming like a crazy person, but it’s New York, so half the people started screaming with me [laughter]. They did [laughter]. They did, and I was like, “Thank you,” and they were like, “Congratulations!” Just don’t know what I’m talking about. I was like, “Thank you so much.” Crying, I’m snotting snot out of my nose, and everything. I was like, “Thank you [laughter].”
TCC: I read that you knew Katy Mixon actually before the show.
CH: Yeah, I did. I met Katy, actually. So, Katy went to Carnegie-Mellon. Leslie Odom and I did shows together when we were younger, and that’s how I met my best friend Megan. Then I would go and visit them all the time at Carnegie Mellon. I was supposed to be at Penn State but I would drive in and take classes with them or sit in. So I met Katy through Leslie when we were all babies in college. So I’ve known that group for a long time. But Katy and I had never worked together. Megan and I ironically never worked together either. We’re still waiting the day. But I met Katy in college when she was at CMU with Leslie.
TCC: If you could pass on to Megan that I really want Smash to come to Broadway, that would be fantastic.
CH: She’ll be like, “Yeah, make it happen.” Except for she just bought a house here in LA. Except for Bombshell, they’re still trying to do something with that.
TCC: I think they could. I think most of the songs there were really good.
CH: It was actually in the works. Not in the works but in talks of them actually wanting to bring the show within the show, like Bombshell that they wrote to Broadway. I want to say they did a reading but I could be lying so don’t take my word for it. I know that it’s still being talked about because there’s all this music and there’s basically a script there so it would be easy.
TCC: Well I’ll help with it any way that I can.
CH: And there’s a fan following. Yeah, absolutely.
TCC: Well please tell me about American Housewives for people who have never seen it before.
CH: It’s a fun show. A fun family show. It deals with this family, the Ottos, Katie and Greg, and the three children. They move to Westport, Connecticut to find a better life for their family, and specifically for the youngest one who has all these intricacies of OCD. And there she meets Angela, who is moi, and Doris, who’s played by Ali Wong, and we’re kind of the trio band of self-proclaimed misfits, the Island of Misfit Toys if you will, because we’re all three in Westport, and know that it’s the right place for us to be for specific reasons, but we all rebel in our own ways because [laughter] we’re clearly not the Westport types. So we form a bond that way and you get to see how we cause a ruckus sometimes and other times just say what everyone else is thinking but we say out loud [laughter], so everything you want to say at your breakfast, but we actually say it. And then you get to see how the family has their ups and downs and battle with the majority of the Otto family liking the area and Katie clearly wanting so hard to not like it and finding moments where she does like it, but then going, “Gah, I don’t think I want to like this, but I do.” So, yeah, it’s a fun show. The writing is really fun.
TCC: I think it’s one of the best new series this year, and this is a tough year for competition between series. There are so many good ones to choose from.
CH: I know, well thank you so much for saying that because I’ll take that to the bank, literally [laughter].
TCC: I hope you do. This show could last a long time. I think it’s great.
CH: Yeah. It’s so fun, right? They’ve opened so many doors for Angela and for Doris for– season one is always about you focus so that the audience doesn’t get ADD. You focus on the family, and then like any other thing, season two, season three, you start to be able to branch out and have more storylines. But they’ve already laid some platforms and opened doors for what you could possibly see. With my character, they keep– even to us we were like, “Oh,” in a table read that Angela cheated on her wife. But initially, for the first couple of episodes you think, “Oh, she’s going through a divorce. That lady must be awful [laughter],” or whatever way they’re putting it. And then you find out, “Wait a minute. You cheated [laughter]?” And that she has no remorse. Every time I repeat Angela, I giggle. She’s just like, “Yeah. Well, her friends are cute, so?” And you’re like, “What [laughter]?”
TCC: Yeah. Well, do you think you’ll be able to do some singing and dancing on your show?
CH: You know what? That’s been asked a lot of me and then a couple of times people have approached, I’m sure, our team about it. “Are you guys going to– because you have Carly and you have Katy.” If they can find a way to weave it in that’s not cheesy, I’m sure they will, eventually at some point, because why not? That’d be a hilarious episode and the daughter, Meg, on the show– or, well, her name’s Taylor, but Meg. She is actually one of my little muffins from New York. We did a couple readings together, and she sings, as well. They have the bone structure, it’s just a matter of are we going to make this a corny musical episode or is it going to be a– we have to find– I think they’d have to find a way to make it on purpose and then make it really funny. You know what I mean?
TCC: Definitely [laughter]. Well, what do you like to do for fun, speaking of fun and funny?
CH: I love to go to the movies. I love to watch the movies. I want to be in a movie. I’m all about the movies [laughter]. And I also really love to cook. It’s therapeutic. I turn on my record player, because I’m obsessed with my record player, and I find the latest recipe from Pinterest or wherever the heck I just pinned it, and I cook [laughter]. Cooking and movies and I knit. I do knit. That’s very fun. And I like discovering– in New York, I lived there almost 15 years, and I still love finding new parts of the city because there’s still so many parts that I haven’t seen because New York’s like that. And out here in L.A. is similar. I like taking a day to explore and going to find new activities or new parts of the city to walk around or– in L.A. you hike. Everybody hikes, so…[laughter]. Yeah. I like staying active and then coming home at the end of the day and chilling.
TCC: Sounds like a very good plan [laughter].
CH: Yeah, right? With a glass of wine. Whoop [laughter].
TCC: Now in life, what is something you want to do but haven’t done yet?
CH: What is that? Well, in life, something I really want to do and haven’t done yet is play an action hero [laughter] or maybe a Marvel Avenger. It’s literally, you don’t understand. It’s on my list of must-do before I can’t do it because I think I’d be great at it. And, also, it would be so fun.
TCC: I think so, too. Well, watching you dance, I think you’d be able to move nimbly like a great action hero.
CH: Yeah. I’m going to take you with me everywhere to my audition and be like, “Just so you know, she says I move nimbly and I’d be great [laughter].”
TCC: Well, what advice would you have for someone who wants to be an actor?
CH: I say the same thing all the time because I think it’s important, and it’s what I tell my students when I do master classes and everything. People are like, “Can you give me advice or what should I do, I mean?” Everybody’s path is different, so I can’t tell you what you should do or could have would have because it’s what worked for me. However, I do say all the time, “Know what you do and do what you know,” meaning don’t waste your time trying to imitate somebody else or do what you saw that person do on stage because that’s for them. You need to cultivate your own way and know how you do that specifically to yourself. So that when you go in a room, they want to hire you, not an imitation of. Do you know what I mean?
TCC: Yeah. I understand. Yes.
CH: And I think a lot of times people get lost, especially so young, because you grow up, that’s the first thing you learn is imitation. So you carry that with you, and then you have to relearn especially how to be yourself and decipher what’s an imitation, and what’s my voice, how does my body move. So you’re not looking like or sounding like an imitation. And you can go in confident in what you do because that’s what gets the job, confidence and you being you.
TCC: Now, how do you like your fans to connect with you?
CH: I love for them to follow me on Instagram, which is @carlyt101, or Twitter, which is CarlyHughes101.
TCC: Now, here is a kind of dumb question. It only comes up just because I just thought of it. As you’re from St. Louis, how often do you break into the Trolley Song [laughter]?
CH: Not often. Not often enough, put it that way [laughter]. But I do randomly sometimes sing, “Meet me in St. Louis, Louis. Meet me at the fair.” And then people will be like, “What?” And I’m like, “Never mind. Nothing. Ignore what you just saw here.”
TCC: I’m having a moment.
CH: I know. I’m having a moment. Stop, let me have my moment [laughter].
TCC: Well, is there anything else you’d like to add?
CH: I don’t know. Just watch the show. And thank you for caring and wanting to know a little bit about me. I think that’s really cool.
TCC: I think you’re going to do great things. I think the show’s great. And I’m wishing you only the best.
CH: Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you.
TCC: All right. Well, good luck with all your endeavors.
Carly Hughes can be seen on American Housewife Tuesdays on ABC.
See the trailer for the series here: