Jane Levy On Taking The Mic In 'Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist' [Interview]

Sometimes an actor gets an opportunity to show a completely different aspect of their talents and it ends up taking their career to another level. That’s been the case with Jane Levy in NBC’s midseason favorite, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.” And while Levy’s character has mostly witnessed the rest of the talented cast sing their hearts out for the first seven episodes, that all changes when the appropriately titled “Zoey’s Extraordinary Glitch” episode airs on Sunday.

READ MORE: “What/If” is a frothy, frustrating summer binge [Review]

Created by Austin Winsberg (“Gossip Girl”), “Zoey’s” is a one-hour musical comedy that finds the title character (Levy) gifted with the ability to know what people are thinking by seeing them act out their feelings in song. And that leads to numerous musical numbers in each episode of the series that only she can see. At the same time, she’s trying to process this new power, she’s been given a promotion at her San Francisco tech gig and finds herself in the middle of a love triangle with her longtime best friend, Max (Skylar Austin), and another work colleague, Simon (John Clarence Stewart).

Levy took some time to talk about “Extraordinary Glitch” which finds her singing not one, not two, but six different songs over the course of the episode. And if this doesn’t get her a much deserved Emmy nomination we’re not sure what will. You can also preview one of those songs in the clip embedded in this post.

Please note: There are song spoilers for the upcoming episode in this interview.


The Playlist: How much lead time did you have to prep an episode where you sing six different songs?

Jane Levy: When we were shooting the pilot last year at exactly this time, Austin mentioned that for the series, even before we were picked up, he had an idea for an episode in which Zoey sings all the numbers. So, I’ve known about this for a very long time, and it was a source of extreme terror and anxiety. It may even have caused a minor nervous breakdown. The TV schedule is really grueling and really fast and there isn’t a lot of time for preparation, especially when you are an actor who is in practically every single scene of the show. I was working 14 to 16 hour days daily and there was no time to prepare for six-song and dance numbers. So we took three days off of production. The cast and crew all went on nice vacations or hung out with their family while Mandy and her team of choreographers and I crafted these six numbers…I knew some of the songs early on. I knew “How Do I Live” was going to be one of my songs even before we started shooting this season. So, I’m practicing that song and I took a couple of weekends to pre-record these numbers. Some of them I sang live. There’s a mixture of me live singing and pre-records, but it was really scary and then it ultimately was really fun and then really fulfilling. I’m super proud of it.

How many days do you film a typical episode?

We’re on an eight-day schedule, which is crazy because it’s an hour-long, but then you add six musical numbers. We are on a pretty tight schedule.

Out of all the numbers, which was the most difficult or gave you the most terror to actually have to shoot that day?

I mean, they’re all hard for different reasons. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” is physical comedy. It’s basically clowning. It’s very Jim Carrey/Lucille Ball. If you don’t get it right, technically the jokes don’t land. So, that one was hard for that reason. But then “How Do I Live?,” I’ve never had to cry and sing at the same time, which proved to be a problem because when you’re crying you’re not getting much air. You’re involuntarily doing some weird shit with your face. And then having to either lip sync in unison with a pre-record while crying or sing out loud without being able to breathe were both pretty tricky. And then I just always never wanted to fuck up anything for the hundreds of people that were dancing behind me. If I mess up, everybody starts over. But I had a lovely assistant director who came to me before we started shooting and was like, “You tell me on which days do you want to shoot which numbers,” which was really generous and really helpful. I was like, “I want to get ‘How Do I Live?’ out of the way day one,” because when you have an emotional scene as an actor, no matter what you’re going to think about it all the time until you shoot the scene. “Once I get that out of the way, I’ll feel great.” And then there were a lot of other reasons why we had to shoot things on different days. I had a great team of support from Mandy Moore, our choreographer, and Austin, the writer, Jon Turteltaub, who directed the episode, our assistant director. Everyone was really there for me and supportive and we rocked it out.

Was it a relief knowing you just had four episodes left afterward?

Huge. I was like, “Oh I’m done. The rest of the four episodes are vacation. It doesn’t even matter.” That’s how it felt spiritually. It was like I had taken 10,000 pounds off my shoulders for sure.

And obviously I’m assuming the fact you guys did this so far into the season was also a huge help. You knew your co-stars by then. You knew how to dance with them, you knew everyone on board. I’m guessing you would not have wanted to do this as the second or third episode.

I mean in some ways, maybe I would have because at that time I still had energy. By the time we got to episode eight, I was so rundown. TV schedule, people say, I’m sure you’ve heard this before, it’s like running a marathon until you die. And then to add singing and dancing, it’s like a marathon in which you’re dying throughout the entire race. I don’t know when would have been ideal to shoot it, but as I said, I get along so well with the entire cast and crew and everyone was so supportive and it was ultimately so fun.

Looking over your resume, I don’t remember seeing you singing anywhere and I know you went to theater school, but how did you even get into the room for this role in the first place? How did you prove you could sing?

I made a very bizarre musical in 2014 that went to the Toronto Film Festival called “Bang, Bang Baby.” I was the lead of that and it was a strange ’60s, Ann Margret, on acid musical. And so there’s footage of me singing. And my mom was a singer, my dad went to conservatory for guitar. There’s a lot of musicality in my family. I’ve always been able to carry a tune and I’ve always loved dancing. So I was actually offered this part. I didn’t audition. And Austin, our showrunner, had heard those recordings from “Bang, Bang Baby.” And so he knew I could sing, but at the same time, nobody knew to what extent Zoey was going to participate in the music. In the pilot, I’m just the straight man. But while we were shooting the pilot, I was so envious of my colleagues because what they were doing looked like so much fun, I kept saying to Austin, “Give me a number. I promise I can do it.” And it was then a whole year ago that he had this idea brewing that there was going to be one episode in which Zoey sings all of the numbers. And then we had lunch or dinner before we started shooting the series. And he was like, “We also have this idea that maybe episode two starts with you singing, and it would be a nightmare.” And I was like, “I love that idea. Instead of drawing it out, why don’t we give the audience that treat right away and then take it away?” So there’s been a lot of discussions, a lot of which included me begging for musical numbers. Yeah, I guess it’s new for me. I am in no way an experienced professional singer and dancer, but it’s something that I’d like done before here and there.

Do you sing again before the end of this season?

There is one number in which I sing one verse and that’s it after this.

Can you hint about where the direction of the show’s going? Will Zoey find love with either of the two men in her life?

Yeah, you will see her go down both roads and there are some fun intimate numbers, musical numbers between Zoey and Simon. And there’s some between Zoey and Max as well. I really like how Austin has crafted this “love triangle.” Can’t give away much more than that.

Has Austin given you any hint about where he’d like to show to go in season two?

Yeah, actually during this quarantine, I’m sure we’ve all been doing the same, but I just call everyone in my life. I’m like, “Hey.” So, I called Austin and we talked for an hour about possibilities of season two and it was really fun to brainstorm with him. Fingers crossed, we get one. I love making the show and I think the audiences like it too. So NBC, if you’re listening, pick us up.

And is there any song, whether it be next season or whatever, that you would be dying to sing or a song by any artist that you would love to do in a future season?

Yeah. I called Austin just because I was like, “I have a song to pitch for season two.” And he was like, “Give me.” And then I sent it to him and he was like, “Well, who would sing it?” “I Will Love You Forever” by Donna Lewis.

Oh, yeah.

I love that song. I don’t know who would sing it to who, but maybe it’ll be there and you read it here first.

It actually sounds like a perfect song for the show. Everyone has been isolating at home alone and watching television and streaming and obviously they should be catching up on “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” but if they’re watching something else, is there anything you would recommend?

I have been tuning in every week to Alex Garland’s FX show, “Devs.” I love it. I’m from Northern California and I like thrillers and I think the main actress is really interesting and it’s scary but beautiful, and it’s heavy. I really recommend that. And then last night, Richard Shepherd, who actually directed the pilot of “Zoey’s”, has been posting weekly movie suggestions on his Twitter. And so I watched the 2002 movie “Dirty Pretty Things” last night. And I was blown away by how good that movie is. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but what a gem.

It is! And I’m guessing you have not watched “Tiger King” yet.

Oh, I watched the entire thing. [Laughs.] I watched the entire thing in two days.

I’m assuming you’d recommend that as well?

I would. I mean I have to say at first I was like, “Haha, wow, what extreme characters. You’d never believe these people if you wrote them in a fiction novel or if you did a Groundling show.” People would be, “Too broad, too broad.” But then it started to get so sad and I ended up having so many nightmares by the end of it, but it’s obviously worth watching. I just would say disclaimer, it gets dark and it’s quite sad. I feel bad for the animals.

“Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” airs on NBC Sundays at 9 PM