Sutton Foster, HOOKED

Sutton Foster, HOOKED

Tony Award-winning actress Sutton Foster joins Zibby to talk about her debut memoir, Hooked. The book discusses Sutton’s complicated relationship with her mother just as much as it does her incredible career and the love for crafting she has carried with her all through her life. Sutton tells Zibby about why she has often made decisions based on her strong intuition, some of the important lessons she’s learning now as a mother herself, and what she is working on next (besides her crochet jar holders).


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Sutton. Congratulations on Hooked: How Crafting Saved My Life. Welcome to “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Sutton Foster: Thank you. It’s nice to be here.

Zibby: This was a beautiful, beautiful memoir about your family life, of course, but also a great career book. It’s the answer to everyone’s question. How did that happen? You’re like, here it is. This is how it happened. Leave me alone. No, I’m kidding. Tell me about, what was the impetus for writing this book?

Sutton: Oh, gosh. I wanted to tell my story. I wanted to share the story, especially of my mom. It was a lot of different reasons. I work a lot with young people. I’m on the theater faculty at Ball State University. I was thinking, I want to write a book that’s about — one of my pieces of advice is to get a hobby. Have something else creative in your life that doesn’t require someone to give you permission. You’re not waiting for the phone to ring. Especially as an actor, you feel like so many times you’re sort of waiting for someone else to tell you to be creative when it’s like, what are some things that you can do that you have complete creative control over and that have nothing to do with singing and dancing and acting? For me, my crafts or the things that I make, it’s part of the tools that help me stay sane and help me navigate this business and help me navigate my family. I just felt like it was something I wanted to share. It was also, in many ways, the thread — pun intended — that has kept me together and kept me going. It felt like the right way to tell my story and my journey and also, this is what I do to navigate the day-to-day and the ups and downs and everything.

Zibby: We all need our thing. That’s for sure.

Sutton: We all need our thing.

Zibby: As a structure device for a book, I thought it was so clever and genius. The fact that it’s actually true to your life is great. What better way to weave together a narrative than to actually have —

Sutton: — Yeah, it’s like the quilt of my life. I have so many things that I love to do. I think it’s in the beginning of the book. People know me as an actress, singer, dancer, but those who really know me know me as a crafter. I always have something I’m working on or something that I’m making. I’m surrounded by — I see little projects everywhere of things that I’ve been working on since I’ve been here in London. It just felt like the thing that could sort of tie it all together.

Zibby: Then I feel like the reception that your crafts got — the scene with your grandfather when you gave him that thick quilt, and then when he passed away, you had the quilt left over. What do you do with the quilt? Then you were sadly like, maybe it just went to Goodwill. That broke my heart, that scene.

Sutton: It’s an amazing thing. If anyone ever gives you something handmade, there is so much time and care and love or anxiety or whatever emotion that they poured into this thing. I’ve learned this now as a maker, as someone who makes, if anyone gives me anything handmade, I treasure it. You can’t just discard it. It’s heartbreaking because so much time and effort has been put into handmade things. My grandfather was a tough cookie, hard to crack. A blanket didn’t even crack him.

Zibby: I thought it was really important how you described him and what he was like because then we almost have more empathy for what your mother ends up being like and then how she treats you. I feel like there’s always all this context. If you had just talked about her — everybody comes from something. A lot of things are a reaction to how they were raised or the way they’ve been treated. Then they develop their own mental stuff in response to that.

Sutton: Exactly. The book, working on it was very — there were things that I knew, of course, but then just digging deeper — I’m a mom now as well. That even changes your perception and perspective of your own parents. My daughter’s only four. I’m sure I’ve screwed her up a million times already. You realize, oh, I only know what I know that I’m imparting on her. I’m trying to learn and grow and do my best and all of those things. That’s exactly what my mother and my father did too. They only knew what they knew from their parents. Everyone’s of a certain generation. Everyone grows and learns at different times and speeds. The book, it was this real opportunity for me. It was very healing. My mom passed away in 2013, so I have the space — it’s not as raw — to be able to tell the story. It felt like I gave it a good space. My Aunt Mary Anne, my mom’s sister, my dad, everyone was willing to look back and reflect and talk about it and tell the story, the good, the bad, all of it. It’s scary. It’s scary to put it out into the world because so much of it we’ve never really talked about. I think it was very healing for all of us as a family to talk about it and that we were all going through it together.

Zibby: I feel like there are a lot of people out there who have very complicated relationships with their parents. Then when those parents pass away, the grief is even more complicated because there’s so much unresolved. Your mom, I could feel the disappointment when she wouldn’t come to the opening of your show when you did Thoroughly Modern Millie and the ways that she disappointed you in these bits over time and even how you said, as a child, you just thought this is the way it was. Who knew? Then you go all the way to when she’s putting deodorant on her lips. It just is like, oh, my gosh. You take the reader on this big emotional journey with you. I guess that’s how it kind of feels at the end, is unresolved. There are so many different feelings. That is most people’s life and relationships. I feel like you’re helping all those people who probably feel similarly.

Sutton: I hope so. My mom gave me so many amazing things too. I never would be doing what I’m doing without her and without her pushing me and without her wanting her children to have a life that she didn’t have or that she didn’t think she could have. How she went about it, there’s questions about that, but I’m incredibly grateful to her. I mourn the loss of my mother, but I also mourn the loss of a mother I never really had in many ways. It’s interesting now being a mom. My daughter, she’s four. She knows that my mom has died. She asks some questions about her. It’s funny, but I don’t talk about my mom a lot to my daughter. One of the reasons why this book, too — it lives on like an heirloom in many ways. One day, I’ll just be like, read this. I think this will help you understand your mother. The book becomes sort of like a little time capsule. I poured a lot of thought and love and pain and memories and all sorts of things into the book, crafted it just like I would a blanket, same type of thing.

Zibby: I also thought it was neat getting this front-row seat, if you will, into how you get a starring role on Broadway and all the twists and turns your career took from that very first audition where you take your friend and stand up. You opened your mouth to sing, and the whole room gets quiet. I loved that moment. Reading it, I was like, oh, gosh, I wish I were there hearing it. What did it sound like? I wish I had been there. It’s such a visual moment. Then we get to see how much pain is involved for you too. Those tours that you went on at such a young age and those mean girls and being apart from your family and the raciness of some of them and all of that, it’s a lot. I was so impressed with you when you chose that one touring role versus the role your agent wanted you to pick. You were like, no, no, this is the company I want to be with. That sense of self you had and that you were so — you just knew what you wanted, where the right place was for you. That’s amazing. Where did that come from?

Sutton: I don’t know. To be honest, it’s interesting. When I was younger — I’m still, in many ways — I can be very green and naïve. I think a lot of it was naïveté. I’ve always thought of myself as a leaper. I would leap into the pool, but I wouldn’t know how to swim. My mom and dad were always like, oh, my god. If someone told me not to do something, it only made me want to do it more. I don’t know where that came from. My mom was very stubborn. Maybe it’s a little bit of stubbornness fire. I’ve always trusted my gut. Every time that I’ve not trusted my gut and I’ve taken the safe route, I’ve always regretted it. That’s an interesting thing. I think my naïveté and greenness really — I didn’t know that that was a risk or that it could not go well. I was like, I want to do that. It was sort of dumb luck. A lot of that early greenness of just wanting to work and learn and be with different — I still feel that way in many, many ways. I have different factors now that come into play. I have a family. I have to navigate different things now. I have a strong instinct of — I still get scared. I want to quit. I want to run away. Then I have this thing inside me that won’t let me quit. It won’t let me stop. If someone says no, it makes me want it more. My brother would always be like, “Don’t date this person. Don’t date that person.” I’m like, “You know I’m going to go date them now, right? You’ve just basically set me up to go date all the bad boys.” I have this inner drive. I think, early, fueled by naïveté. Now I’m not sure what it’s fueled by. Maybe now it’s fueled by old age.

Zibby: Speaking of men and all the relationships in your life, the one scene you had when Tom was laying back in bed with his arms behind his head, oh, my gosh.

Sutton: I know. That’s when I was like, I’m done.

Zibby: Yeah, those moments. So what was it like? How long did it take to write? When did you fit this in with your busy life? Did you dictate it? Did you work with somebody? How did you get this book done?

Sutton: I worked with a collaborator, an amazing woman named Liz Welch. We met in 2019. It was before the pandemic. Was in 2019? It might have even been 2018. We met and started just chitchatting and talking. I knew I didn’t want to do a straightforward memoir. I knew I wanted to tell my story through objects that I’ve made. I knew that that was the concept behind it. It took us two years, I would say, to — it’s interesting. I really do look at it the same way I would look at any type of — one of the things I’m most proud of is that it wasn’t just me dictating the words and her writing the book. We really wrote it together, which I am so proud of. It was this incredibly collaborative relationship of writing and words and chapters flying back and forth, which I was incredibly hands-on and in the depths of. We did a big chunk of it during lockdown, during the beginning of COVID, that whole summer. Then we did the final push at the end of last year and beginning of this year. It was while I was filming. I was finishing the last season of Younger. I was doing it then in between scenes. I’d be in a corner working on things. It was like we wove it together, which I’m really proud of. I didn’t just buy her the yarn and let her make it. We made it together. I’m really, really proud of that. I feel like that translates in the book, too, because it really feels like it’s me. It should be me.

Zibby: On a scale of one to ten, how much do you like actually having to talk about your book? Do you love it? Do you hate it?

Sutton: That’s such an interesting question. I’m just starting. The thing is that I’m a little bit freaked out because people are reading it. a little bit even though it’s coming out any day. I’m excited to talk about it. On a scale of one to ten, ten being the most excited, one being the , I think I would rather talk about my book than about — I don’t know. I’m excited. You know why? Because it has to do with crafting, and I really like talking about crafting. Yes, it has to do with me, but I really do love talking about crafting. I would say I’ll give it a seven.

Zibby: All right, not bad.

Sutton: Not bad. Not bad.

Zibby: What’s coming next for you career-wise, book world-wise, anything?

Sutton: Book world-wise, Hooked comes out on October 12th. I start rehearsals for a brand-new Broadway production of The Music Man with Hugh Jackman. We start rehearsals on October 28th, which I’m so excited about.

Zibby: My mother has had tickets to that to take my daughter. It keeps getting postponed. It’s been in my calendar. It keeps being like, pushed back because of COVID. They will be there.

Sutton: I know. It’s been this thing that I’ve been attached to for three years. I’m excited that I’m finally seeing it through. I realized, I was like, my name has been on a marquee for a year, and I’ve done nothing. That’s really weird.

Zibby: That’s great.

Sutton: It’s been a really weird time. That comes out. My daughter’s in pre-K. I’ve been in London for the summer. I’ve been doing a production of Anything Goes here at the Barbican Theatre. I’m in my final week right now. I’m so sad that I’m going to be leaving London, but I miss my family like crazy. I’m really looking forward to getting back. That’s it. I’m going to hopefully just be doing a lot more crocheting and creating. One of my favorite phrases is, I have an idea. I have lots of ideas. I’m hoping to be able to allow the space to be able to just keep creating and keep seeing those ideas come true.

Zibby: You should really just be doing one of your crafting projects while you do your interviews.

Sutton: I thought about it. Honestly, there’s a couple things I could grab right now. My latest thing, I’ll show you, which is very exciting, is that — I’m in London. I’ve been collecting glass jars and stuff that peanut butter comes in or olives or something. I’ve been crocheting around them making little vases or things to put your scissors in or whatever.

Zibby: Aw, that’s so cute. I love that.

Sutton: I have this little collection of little glass jars that have little cozies on them. That’s what I’m looking at right now. I’m dreaming of, what else can I do?

Zibby: I won’t keep you longer, but do you have any parting advice to aspiring authors?

Sutton: Oh, gosh. I am a first-time author, so it’s hard for me to give advice right now because I’m still very much learning. For aspiring authors, the only thing I can think of is, any type of project that begins with nothing — same with making a blanket. Same with creating a character. There’s nothing, and so every day, you can’t expect it to be done in a day. You must give it time. You must be patient. Sometimes you make enormous progress in one day. The only analogy I can do is like pushing a blanket. You have a row a day, a row a day. Then sometimes you’re like, oh, man. You have to take out a row. You look back, and there’s a big hole. There’s some mistake. It’s like the garden too. It’s so funny. It’s like pruning a garden. Then at some point, you have to stop. I think that was the hardest part for me. When is it done? For me and this project, it was like, this is what my story is right now. It’s like a little time capsule of where I am right now in 2021, who I am, the story I want to tell. I might have another story I want to tell later, but this is the story I’m telling right now. Like anything creative, that will live on forever, which is also pretty intense. It’s being patient and realizing that not every day is prolific. Sometimes you have to start over completely, but just got to keep going. Then next thing you know, you look down and you go, oh, look what I made.

Zibby: Amazing. See, that was great advice.

Sutton: You can sort of take that with anything. I think there’s an expectation that you have to be brilliant right away or that you have to come up with — one of the chapters in the book, I was working on. It was snowing in Manhattan. We weren’t filming because of the snow. I was working on the chapter of Christian’s Mom’s Christmas Cookies.

Zibby: I loved that. I loved those, the shapes and everything.

Sutton: That’s one of my favorite chapters in the book. I remember I was in my bedroom. It’s snowing outside. It was all happening. I was just writing. I knew exactly what the chapter was. I had the beginning and the end. It was just one of those things where I went, oh, my god, it all worked out. I was like, wow, if every day could be like that, but no, it’s not. It was this perfect thing, snowy day. I’m writing. Then other days, you’re just staring. You’re like, I have no idea, or a chapter that took us forever to figure out. Things take time, and that’s okay.

Zibby: Awesome. Sutton, thank you so much. Thanks for coming on. Thanks for your book and sharing your story. I wish you all the best.

Sutton: Thanks for reading it. I really appreciate it.

Zibby: Of course. I really enjoyed it.

Sutton: Have a great rest of your day.

Zibby: You too. Buh-bye.

Sutton: Bye.

Sutton Foster, HOOKED

HOOKED by Sutton Foster

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