Personal Best: Q&A With Katharine McPhee

The "Smash" star discusses health, stress, and her work on eradicating malaria.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on February 26, 2013
4 min read

The second season of NBC's musical drama Smash has fresh stars and characters, new music, and surprising plot lines. Look for singer, songwriter, and actress Katharine McPhee, 28, to stay the musical and dramatic course of her Midwestern character, Karen Cartwright. McPhee herself hails originally from Los Angeles. Since finishing American Idol's 2006 season as runner-up, she's recorded three albums, acted in Shark Night 3D and The House Bunny, and appeared on TV's CSI: NY, Community, and Family Guy. In between, she founded a charitable foundation, McPhee Outreach, which supports the fight against malaria in Africa as well as childhood hunger and pediatric cancer in the U.S.

When you're overworked and stressed out, how do you reset and unwind? 

"I have a new apartment downtown in New York City with a big bathtub. It's nice to really relax after a long week -- to chill out and just soak."

What's your go-to healthy snack and dinner?

"I love an apple and peanut butter with granola, or a banana and almond butter -- maybe a handful of almonds to pop in my mouth. Cookie Dough Balance Bars are quick when I'm on the go.

"For dinner, it's a fresh piece of fish, steamed, grilled, or sautéed. I used to be the pickiest eater, but now I can't get enough of veggies like broccoli. I eat kale salads and any kind of leafy green -- I fill up on that."

What three ingredients are always in your refrigerator and/or pantry?

"Lemons: My mother-in-law is a cancer survivor and a fan of the antioxidant properties of lemons. She taught me to freeze lemons and grate the zest over all kinds of foods like salads and pasta.  Eggs: In a bind you can always make scrambled eggs and toast -- even for dinner. Olive oil."

What does a perfect day look like for you, when you have no place to be and no calls to return? How do you define "me-time"?

"An ideal day is toast and coffee first, hanging out for a while, then walking in Manhattan's West Village -- shopping and just blending in with people -- then hopping in a cab to go uptown to the Plaza Hotel's Caudalie Vinothérapie Spa. The treatments are amazing, and I have fruit, cheese, and wine. Another ideal day: See a movie and eat a bucket of popcorn!"

What's your workout regimen like? What do you like best and least about your fitness routine?

"Sometimes I get busy, making excuses, and more time goes by without working out -- I just don't like it until I'm back in my grind, ideally four to five times a week. With my busy schedule, I strive for three times a week. I like to see a trainer twice a week and then do the SoulCycle indoor, full-body workout or Barry's Bootcamp."

How do you keep healthy on the road and on the set?

"Life's daily anxieties cause stress. Having a few close friends and your family helps keep you accountable -- that's how I stay balanced. Meditation and prayer give me a way to process things."

What three makeup items do you never leave home without when you're traveling (or every day)?

"I don't want to look too done -- plus, that's too much work. I use Clinique Chubby Stick Moisturizing Lip Colour Balm and I'm into Bobbi Brown red lipstick now and her blush for a pinch of cheek color. I use a little Yves Saint Laurent Volume Effet Faux Cils' Mascara in burgundy. I apply a bit of under-eye concealer and Jouer Luminizing Moisture Tint for nice coverage -- it doesn't feel heavy. Also, I feel best with some texture in my hair."

What do you always keep in your purse? 

"I keep Arnica pellets, because I feel like they help with muscle aches, swelling, and injuries. I'm so active -- dancing, talking, and singing so much on set. I think Arnica may help keep my vocal chords from swelling, too."

If you could visit any one place on Earth, where would you go and why?

"I'd love to go to the Cannes International Film festival in the South of France -- for an actual movie role! I'd want to rent a yacht for a night."

What's the best life/skin care/fitness/health advice you ever got?

"Partying too much takes a toll on your skin. Get as much sleep as you can -- it really helps keep skin looking fresh. And moisturize, moisturize, moisturize -- I use tons and I like La Mer."

What cause is near and dear to you?

"I like to support causes that feel attainable. McPhee Outreach supports Malaria No More, which is determined to end malaria deaths in Africa by 2015 -- and I'm also a spokesperson. Earlier this year, I went to Africa and helped distribute mosquito nets. Net usage among the most vulnerable groups, like pregnant women and young children, has increased so much. Malaria, which is preventable and treatable, also affects the country's economy when parents can't go to work and then can't support their children. We also helped build a preschool in Africa's Burkina Faso, one of the world's poorest countries with one of the highest illiteracy rates."

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