Rachel Bloom is sitting in a tiny attic of a house in Westchester, New York, tears welling up in her eyes. It’s a sunny day in April 2017, and the star of the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is filming her first movie, in which her character, Kara, has just learned an upsetting secret kept by her boyfriend, Lowell (Vincent Kartheiser).
And to make matters worse, her ex-boyfriend Billy (Adam Pally) is there too, trying to apologize for his hand in unveiling said secret. Pally improvs line after line about Billy’s worst misdeeds while first-time director Dan Gregor, who is Bloom’s husband, lets the cameras roll. (A sampling of some regrets: throwing ninja stars at Lowell’s exotic birds, scraping off Lowell’s Gore/Lieberman sticker back in the day, and egging Lowell’s house every night.) Kara’s tears dry up with each confession. “Let him hit rock bottom,” she says. “He’s not quite there yet.” Aaand cue the waterworks — from Billy, that is.
But rest assured: Despite the tears, Most Likely to Murder, in which Bloom makes her big-screen debut, is a comedy. “That’s the thing,” she says afterward, reflecting on the scene while breaking for lunch in a different house with a lot more room than the cramped attic. “Sometimes in comedies that have serious moments, the jokey ones sell out the emotion. This is not a movie that does that. It isn’t a punchline for the sake of having a punchline.”
Written by Gregor and Doug Mand (both alums of How I Met Your Mother and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), Most Likely to Murder follows washed-up former high-school alpha male Billy, who returns home hoping to be celebrated the way he used to be — especially by Kara — only to be disappointed. So when he stumbles upon potential evidence of Lowell as a murder suspect, he decides to pursue it at full tilt. “Billy’s fixation on the murder plot is a fixation on his past,” Bloom explains. “If he can prove the murder plot, if it’s true, everyone will love him.” (It’s been billed as “Rear Window for stoners,” but Bloom says, just to be clear, that it’s possible to watch the film completely sober.)
Bloom stepped off set to talk about working on her first film, being directed by her husband, and whether Kara shares any qualities with her Crazy Ex-Girlfriend character, Rebecca Bunch.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your character, Kara, seems to be the Josh Chan — your Crazy Ex-Girlfriend character’s initial obsession — of the story. How does she feel about seeing Billy around town again?
She’s trying to move past it. She was very, very ashamed of how she was in high school, which is when she was with this guy, Billy. She was kind of like a f—up in high school because she wanted him to love her, and when you want someone to love you, you kind of emulate them. All that mattered was being cool and being this guy’s girl, and now she looks back on that with regret, because he’s f—ing douchebag, and Lowell, who she kind of has this burgeoning relationship with, is the symbol of the person he could be. She likes the person she is when she’s with Lowell, and she does not like the person she is when she’s with Billy.
She sounds a lot more mature than Rebecca. Whereas Billy is just like her.
Yeah, I mean both characters are fixated on people for what they stand for, not necessarily the people themselves. As far as my character, the idea of creating new life and seeing that a guy will help you create that new life with her, she’s actually right: In the right context, relationships can really help you become a better person. It all depends on the context. For Billy, his fixation on Kara comes from a wrong and delusional place, but for Kara, Lowell is great for her and makes her feel good, and there’s something very real there. So my character, Kara, I’m much further along than Rebecca in actually understanding what will make her truly happy and not regressing.
Is that maturity what drew you to do this movie?
I loved the script. I remember I read it in my backyard in one sitting, in like an hour and a half. Like, I genuinely didn’t know what was going to happen, and I genuinely didn’t know where the story was going.
It’s about people trying to start fresh, about one person in the past who comes back into this town and is trying to drag everyone back to where he is. It’s weird because he’s the protagonist, but in many ways, he’s the villain of the movie. … It’s a really wonderful way to flip the story on its head.
And when exactly did you read the script? I’m wondering if your interest was piqued because Kara’s so different from Rebecca. Did you read it while developing Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, or before?
Hmm … [She pauses, turns to director and husband Dan Gregor, who’s standing on the other end of the room] Gregor? When was the first draft done? 2012? [Gregor nods. “Right after we got out of How I Met Your Mother,” he says.] Right, so 2013, just when I was developing Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. When I read it, I was in my mid-20s and I read it purely as his wife — we read other’s stuff and give notes — and now I’m in my 30s, so I can play the part.
Speaking of which, what’s it like being directed with your husband and working so closely with him?
I think in all couples, especially couples in comedy, it all overlaps. I ended up reading the script and playing the part. He writes on my show, ended up playing a part. So there’s a lot of overlap. He’s the first person I ask about anything I write. And it’s great. My husband and I met because we were both doing comedy, so we were friends for a couple of years before we dated. I’ve known him as an artist and as a writer before we were together romantically, so we have a really natural rapport. He’s directed some of my music videos, and he’s a fantastic leader. He knows what he wants, so he ends up being very calm and efficient.
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How does working on a film compare to your small-screen experience?
Well, I filmed for a total of about six days on this movie, so the workload just doesn’t compare. But it does give you way less time to get to know a character, especially when you’re doing a lower-budget indie film. You have a lot fewer takes. And Rebecca, I’ve been playing for two years; and Kara, I’ve played for six days. You have fewer chances to get it right, but then from a work standpoint, I’m acting in this, I’m not producing, I’m not writing, so the ability to just focus on the character where sometimes on the set of Crazy Ex, I’m like, “I gotta get this scene over with so I can get to editing!” So it’s nice to sit back and let someone else tell me what they want and trust their vision.
I’m sure your to-do list is shorter.
It’s wonderful. It’s like, “Oh, this is what most actors do?” But it’s also funny, I have even more sympathy with actors on my show, because when you’re acting with someone else’s writing, there is this responsibility to make sure you’re getting it right. I’m like, “Of course you’re getting it right!” but now I see where that’s coming from. Especially when someone has such a clear vision, you want to make sure they’re nailing it. So it gives me even more sympathy with actors, to check in and reassure them more that they’re doing amazingly.
Most Likely to Murder, which debuted at SXSW, will be released May 1 on Digital and On Demand.