Jane Levy on filming 'most raw, vulnerable, honest' Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist episode yet
While Zoey's (Jane Levy) superpowers have certainly helped her grow, they sure haven't made her life any easier on Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist. But it turns out that up until now, she's actually had it easy.
In this week's episode, "Zoey's Extraordinary Glitch," heartbreaking news about her father's health sends her on a spiral that in turn causes her powers to glitch out and malfunction. So instead of hearing other people's innermost thoughts and desires through musical numbers, well ... take a look for yourself in this sneak peek to see what happens next.
Yeah, now Zoey is singing her innermost thoughts and feelings. Out loud. Without the accompanying music and backup dancers she sees in her head. To everyone around her. Talk about awkward!
With her powers glitching out at a crucial time in her work and personal life, it makes for a unique episode of Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist where Levy performs every single musical number herself. Sometimes she's got a whole crew of dancers with her, but sometimes she's on her own. It's an intimidating ask for the actor who has no professional musical theater training, but it's one she's been looking forward to all season long.
"It was an idea that [creator] Austin [Winsberg] talked about very early on, as far back as shooting the pilot before we were even picked up to series," Levy tells EW of this high concept episode. "He said he had an idea for an episode in which Zoey sings every song. And when we were shooting the pilot I was the straight man working with all these incredible performers and watching my colleagues dance and sing, I couldn’t help but feel envious. I would say to Austin, 'I really want to participate in the musicals.'"
Since Zoey always sees others performing, it didn't make sense to have her join in. There's a scene early in episode 2 where she does, but it turns out to be a nightmare. So when episode 8 finally came around and Levy had the chance to embrace her "inner musical theater nerd," she was excited ... and also downright terrified as she realized the full meaning of what was expected of her.
"This episode was looming over my head all season," she says. "I was really stressed out about it – anyone who is a performer, the anticipatory stress about performing is so colossal and always a lot scarier than the actual experience. We took three days off of production so that I could prepare all these numbers since I’m basically in every scene so there wasn’t time to prep while we were shooting. When we actually started filming it was just so much fun. I now have this episode of television that I’m extremely proud of."
Being in every scene and starring in every single song and dance number was "a very big task," Levy admits with a laugh. "But we pulled it off! Mandy Moore, our choreographer, is a dream to collaborate with. She is so hardworking and creative and supportive so the process of coming up with these numbers with her was really fulfilling."
And Levy is the first to admit that the hour wasn't a walk in the park for her. "For one, I have never lip-synced before. It was totally new to me," she says. "But I did sing some of them live. There are pieces of all of them that are live."
Since the performances in Zoey's head are much more produced, there's music and dancers and perfect vocals. That's where Levy had to lip-sync while filming after recording the songs previously. But when the episode shifts to reality and we see everyone around Zoey reacting to her bizarre song and dance breaks, Levy had to sing totally live during filming.
"'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus' was completely live," she says. "'How Do I Live' was hard because crying and singing at the same time is hard. 'Crazy' is a number that I am so proud of – it was magical on set. That whole number is mostly one shot. There’s hundreds of dancers in the background. If I mess up, it’s a chain effect that affects every single person and we have to start over. And we did that! Mandy was like, 'I’m so used to doing this that I don’t often get moved but this really surprised me, I got tears in my eyes, Jane! I’m so proud of you!' When I watch that number, it might be my favorite."
While everyone at work besides her BFF Max (Skylar Astin) may think that Zoey's having a mental breakdown because of her newfound penchant for performing in the middle of the office, Zoey knows exactly what's happening because of the glitch — and she's mortified, to say the least.
"Zoey is a neurotic person who is constantly trying to avoid feeling what she’s actually feeling," Levy says. "Since her powers glitched, she’s singing her 'heart songs' and a 'heart song' is our deepest desires, needs, pain, fears. To play Zoey at her most raw, vulnerable, and honest without her neuroses piled on top was a great exercise. What’s going through Zoey’s mind a lot of the time is horror, because she’s saying all these things you don’t want to say let alone sing to people at your workplace. The whole episode is about her avoiding her deepest emotion which is the fear and pain of the thought of possibly losing her father."
It's an understatement to say that the entire episode is full of secondhand embarrassment — you'll be cringing every other minute for Zoey as she sings her innermost desires to her coworkers and boss and friend. And Levy admits that portraying all those moments was equally difficult for herself.
"I have to say, 'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus' was embarrassing," she says with a laugh. "When I was doing it, I was embarrassed! It’s like clown work, basically, if you don’t take it seriously and you don’t technically do it right, the humor is lost. I was always scared that I would mess up and it would just be awkward and it wouldn’t be funny. I was going through stuff as an actor of genuine vulnerability and fear and embarrassment."
While Levy won't reveal how Zoey's heart songs change things for her moving forward, she does tease that this episode is going to have far-reaching ramifications, but not in the way you might expect.
"It turns out to be positive," she says. "A lot of our show’s message is that we are all the same, the human condition is complex but we’re all going through it together. You don’t know what the person beside you is going through but you might actually relate to their pain or desires. Zoey admitting these things that are so horrific to her actually makes people understand her in this way that she doesn’t allow when she’s being her emotionally awkward, neurotic self. And Zoey going through this will make her even more empathetic and compassionate to other people’s experiences, especially when she hears their heart songs moving forward."
As for that love triangle that's been brewing all season long between Zoey, Max, and Simon (John Clarence Stewart), expect some major game-changing moments to happen as a result of Zoey's glitch. But Levy doesn't want Zoey to have to pick a side of the triangle.
"I don’t think that Zoey needs to be with either and I like that the way our story is constructed – Zoey doesn’t owe either of them anything," she says. "She is possibly in love with her best friend and at the same time, she is very attracted to one of her colleagues. To me, that is so normal! That is so human. That is so okay."
Plus, the fact that Zoey's going through "such an extremely terrifying painful time in her life and she’s very honest about that" means that she shouldn't have to pick. "She’s honest about how she can’t give anyone any answers or be rational with her emotions at this moment in time," Levy adds. "In my opinion, let her be! I like the way that this love triangle is constructed and moving forward you will definitely see more intimate relations between her and both men."
Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.