The Sex Lives of College Girls star Reneé Rapp would like your attention, please
To some, it was a paper plate. To a young Reneé Rapp, it was an opportunity.
Growing up in Huntersville, N.C., a 4-year-old Rapp knew she'd have to work to get her neighbors' attention. But she also knew she had something that deserved it. "I would take paper plates around the neighborhood, and they were considered tickets to my concert at my parents' house," Rapp says. And yes, she means full-sized paper plates. "Well, I needed everybody to pay the f--- attention," she says. "I was like, 'There's a debut show going on tonight, this is a hot ass ticket.'"
Rapp, who's currently starring in the second season of Mindy Kaling's hit comedy The Sex Lives of College Girls and who just released her debut EP Everything to Everyone, kept that same attitude through her teen years and into young adulthood. After watching another student find her way to Broadway through the Jimmy Awards, a.k.a. the National High School Musical Theater Awards, Rapp did the same. In 2018, she won a Jimmy Award for her work as Sandra in her school's production of Big Fish. That award, which came with a cash prize of $10,000, allowed Rapp to chase her dreams in New York ... but when that money started to run out before she could find success in the music industry, she headed back to the stage, starring as the trend-setting, carb-hating HBIC Regina George in Broadway's Mean Girls.
And yet, even after finding success on the stage, she struggled to get her music career off the ground, as labels continued to turn her down. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. "I was like, 'This is a perfect opportunity for me to now become Beyoncé,'" Rapp says with a laugh. At least that was her first thought. But upon the realization that nobody was actually working at the start of quarantine, her agents had another suggestion for her: She should audition for TV.
"I never thought that I would really act in any capacity because I thought I was a horrible actor," she says. "I really thought I was so bad for such a long time. I always wanted to do music."
But her self-tape for Sex Lives of College Girls — only the second or third she'd ever done for television — landed her the part of Leighton Murray, a very opinionated, very wealthy college student, who undeniably shares some typical "mean girl" similarities with Regina George, although underneath all her judgment, Leighton's heart is (usually) in the right place. (Would Regina buy all of her roommates iPads to say sorry?!)
Sex Lives premiered on HBO Max on Nov. 18, 2021, and by December, Rapp made the call that would launch her music career. She was fresh out of a relationship, and she rang her manager. "I said, 'This is going to be the best year of my life. This is the beginning of my music career. I don't know why, but this is it.'"
Less than a year later, Sex Lives of College Girls is back for its (hilarious) second season and Rapp has launched her debut EP, an undeniably catchy mix of emotional ballads to sing-cry in the shower and bops to dance to in the kitchen (though, ironically, her song "In the Kitchen" is the former). "My songwriting has become really personal," Rapp says, with songs about her breakup, her mental health, and even her relationship with her mother featured on the EP. "I don't overthink it as much anymore," she says. "I'm not trying to be somebody else."
That theme of coming into her own translates to her acting as well. Much like her character on Sex Lives, who came out to her suite mate Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet) in the season 1 finale, Rapp is feeling much more confident heading into season 2. "In season 1, Reneé was a fresh 21-year-old who just moved to LA, who was in a relationship, who was doing everything for other people. And this 2022, season 2 Reneé, who is doing music, is a fully formed version of who I should be at this point in my life," she says. "I am no longer living for anybody else. I'm no longer dumbing myself down to make someone else feel comfortable. I'm no longer living my life in service to people pleasing."
But make no mistake: Not everything has changed. Much like that 4-year-old who passed out paper plates nearly 20 years ago, Rapp is still determined to get your attention. "I'm just kind of the person who's like, 'I will do this,'" she says. "I believe in myself even if I'm insecure, because I know that I have to in order to be where I want. I've been very lucky that everything has ended up working out, so I'm waiting for something to crash and burn. I'm a little nervous. But I feel like the bad part is my emotional well-being. And if that's all that I have to deal with, I'm actually fine."
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