Shirley MacLaine played the lead role in “Sweet Charity,” Bob Fosse’s 1969 debut as a film director. But the MacLaine character only appears in one brief scene in the premiere episode of FX’s “Fosse/Verdon.” Still, Burnsville native Laura Osnes — a Chanhassen Dinner Theatres favorite who went on to a Tony-nominated Broadway career — jumped at the chance to play the icon.
Speaking by phone from her home in New York, Osnes shared a few thoughts about the experience:
Q: How did you wind up in this production?
A: I actually auditioned for the role of [Fosse protegée and lover] Ann Reinking, which I didn’t get. But later they asked me if I’d play Shirley MacLaine and I said, “Great. Cool.” I was literally on the set for one day. Like, we started shooting my scene at 10:30 p.m., did it four times and wrapped by 11 p.m. I’ve basically got one line. It was really quick. I’ve got a big orange wig. You might not recognize me.
Q: How familiar were you with Fosse and Gwen Verdon’s work?
A: I did “Pippin” in high school and “Cabaret” for the Children’s Theatre summer program. I had the “Fosse” soundtrack growing up. I wasn’t as familiar with Gwen, but I was certainly aware of who she was.
Q: How much research and preparation do you do for a role knowing that it’s going to be so small?
A: I watched clips from “Sweet Charity” and talk shows [MacLaine] did. We think of her as this larger-than-life personality, but in those interviews, she could be understated and sarcastic. I had to figure out which version to bring to this one line. Thomas Kail, the director, was so busy looking at the big picture, I didn’t want to bother him, but Andy Blankenbuehler, who directed me in “The Boys Are Back — Bandstand” on Broadway was on hand to do the choreography for [the song] “Big Spender.” I found him and asked how I should approach it. Should I walk in like I own the place? Should I have a limp because I’m sore from rehearsals? He said to just walk in with respect toward Gwen Verdon, so that’s what I did. When you’re on stage, you get a month of rehearsal to figure out who the character is. In TV, you just do it.