LOS ANGELES Life has been full of ups and downs for Katharine McPhee since she ended "American Idol" as runner-up in 2006.
Dropped by her record label in 2008 after her debut album, McPhee has struggled to establish a mainstream career as a singer, and after co-starring in the comedy "The House Bunny" several other movie projects proved disappointing or failed to get off the ground.
But McPhee, now 27, is back in a role that seems tailor made for the former musical theater student. She stars as a young actress competing to be cast as Marilyn Monroe in a Broadway musical in the new TV "show within a show" series "Smash".
McPhee spoke to Reuters about her career and her new show ahead of its February 6 debut on NBC.
Q: You are playing a character whose story is a bit like your own -- auditioning and hustling for parts.
A: "I thought, finally it was a part that was really, really right for me. I approach acting as always trying to find a piece of yourself in each role ... If I read something that is absolutely mind-blowing and fantastic and edgy and dark I tend to stay away from it. You are not really going to get the part. So when I find similarities within myself I get really excited."
Q: With your background in musical theatre this seems like the perfect part for you. Do you feel most at home in that genre?
A: "I feel most at home on the set. One of my first big studio movies was 'House Bunny' and I remember coming home every day and saying to my friends, I love being there ... I have intentionally not pursued musical theater. I toyed with the idea of doing some stage but over the years, there wasn't the right projects for me ... In this part I get to live the best of both worlds. I get to play a character who wants to live on stage. It is pretty rare. If someone had told me five years ago you will get to be on a show where you get to do it all, I'd have said, 'You are crazy! It's not going to happen.'"
Q: "Smash" is a very different show than anything we have seen on TV. Why don't we see more shows like it, and who do you think will be watching?
A: "Up until 'Glee' we hadn't seen it, or it never worked. 'Glee' opened the doors for us and hopefully 'Glee' watchers will enjoy our show and vice versa. The business has always been to follow trends and hopefully this won't be a short-lived trend."
Q: Do you get the part of Marilyn in the show?
A: "I can't tell you that!"
Q: Okay. So how daunting was it playing someone who was trying out for a role playing Marilyn Monroe?
A: "For me as an actress, the question was how do I play that within my character, Karen, and how much do I try and play Marilyn or do I just get the essence of Marilyn. It's definitely been a lot of watching interviews of her, and thinking do I play the Marilyn that she was in real life or the version that we see -- the parts she played and the characters she created? Which version do you play? The one people will recognize the most, or the real version of who Marilyn Monroe was as a person."
Q: The last time we saw you on TV in a big way was in "American Idol" in 2006. Did you see your career turning out this way?
A: "No, I certainly did not. But I don't think I had an idea in my head about what my career would look like. I think I came off of 'Idol' and I didn't do a whole lot of thinking. I was on this whirlwind experience. I guess I was hoping there would be all these people around me who would make the decisions for me and they would be all the right decisions and they would all work out beautifully.
"I was so much greener than I thought I was. I thought, I've lived in LA my whole life, I know what I am doing. But I really didn't. Now I am on a whirlwind but there is so much more wisdom to it. The rides I have been on I never would have predicted and I never would have predicted landing here. It has just made this experience that much more rewarding and I feel like I am really enjoying it this time."
(Reporting By Jill Serjeant; editing by Patricia Reaney)