Before she was America's most beloved reality show host, So You Think You Can Dance's Cat Deeley earned her comedy chops in the U.K. as a bona fide goofball, hamming it up on a live kids' show every week in wigs and funny teeth.
Those years of pratfalls and punch lines are a lifetime away from the evil celebrity medium, Camomile White. The role banks on her telegenic glamour of Fox's ratings stalwart SYTYCD. But Deeley says she wouldn't have earned her three Primetime Emmy nominations without the nerves of steel she earned back then.
"Anything that could happen to me on live TV has," she says, during a break from the SYTYCD audition tour, "from being ill, to having my first migraine, to dropping a mic, to falling over, to talking very inappropriately about groupies. Because everything has happened, live isn't scary anymore."
But returning to comedy did give Deeley the jitters. She costars in Deadbeat — an original series debuting April 9 on Hulu — as a glamorous-but-evil celebrity medium, Camomile White. The role banks on her telegenic persona while giving her room to lampoon the duplicitous side of show biz. SYTYCD fans have never seen Deeley like this.
"It terrified me," she says.
It didn't take much, though, for Deeley to recoup her comic timing. She threw herself into the role, channeling Alexis Carrington, the brunette vixen from Dynasty, and Alan Rickman at his most diabolical.
"I get to play a real baddie," she says, chuckling.
As Camomile, Deeley has her sights set on ruining the pot-smoking slacker played by Tyler Labine, whose authentic psychic abilities threaten her lucrative shtick.
The show's Emmy-nominated executive producer–director, Troy Miller (Flight of the Conchords, Arrested Development), cast Deeley after watching her hilarious cameo in the first season of Showtime's House of Lies, where she played a prickly version of herself.
"The [Deadbeat] part wasn't written for a British blonde bombshell," Miller says, "but the fire and ice of that scene — and her comic timing in it — showed she's got the chops. She's a beautiful woman, and that brings you in. But then you realize that there's sincerity there. She's such a sincere, gifted actor."
Yet, she was never formally trained. Deeley is self-made, a Birmingham, England, girl whose beauty caught the eye of a modeling scout and eventually led to an MTV hosting gig and then eight years of award-winning live children's TV before SYTYCD brought her to the U.S.
As that show heads into its eleventh season, Deeley still sounds awed by the job. She calls dancers "godlike athletes" and marvels at those she's watched perform on broken feet and split toes, driven by passion above all else. And then there's the energy of live TV, which keeps her down-to-earth, a trait that endears her to fans.
"If you humble it with a little bit of self deprecation and a sense of humor and you're very honest and you're funny and don't take yourself too seriously," she says, pausing, "anything that does go wrong — the audience like it."