Jane Levy on why ‘Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist’ is ‘the most meaningful project I’ve ever been a part of’ [Complete Interview Transcript]

Jane Levy is exploring new territory as Zoey Clarke on the NBC series “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.” The musical comedy centers on Zoey, a computer programmer who realizes she can hear people’s thoughts through song.

Levy recently spoke with Gold Derby senior editor Rob Licuria and contributing writer Paula Sullivan-Licuria about what attracted her to “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” her favorite musical numbers from the first season and how the audience has responded to the series. Watch the exclusive video chat above and read the complete transcript below.

Gold Derby (Rob Licuria): Jane, you’ve said in the past that you love how this show wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s earnest and joyful and explores empathy, love and lust. Do you still feel that way?

Jane Levy: I absolutely do. It’s been really interesting being on the air during a global pandemic. It’s a really anxious, scary, uncertain time and I have had many people reach out to me personally, through my email or text, but also through Twitter and talking to audience members across the world who have said that “Zoey’s” is offering them joy, distraction, entertainment, catharsis, just a respite in such a weird time and I feel so gratified and humbled and moved that our show can offer that. We did take it very seriously when we were making the show and we put our hearts into it and I think it reads and shows that it’s a full-hearted show.

GD (Rob): Yeah, I think that’s what I’ve really taken out of this show most of all because it’s not sarcastic, it’s not ironic, it’s actually really beautifully earnest and emotional and that’s exactly what we need in these times. So I’m wondering, you filmed this quite a while ago, how did you become involved in the show? What were your initial thoughts when you first received the script?

JL: We just finished shooting in January so it’s not that long ago that we’re doing with the first season. I read the script initially in January or February of 2019 and I thought it was a lovely story and I was interested in the character of Zoey Clarke but it’s such a fascinating journey from script to screen in any project. It’s such a collaborative art form and every contributor shapes the project, the actors, the set decorators, the choreography, everybody. The “Zoey’s” that we’ve all given birth to together has been far beyond anything I ever imagined. I sat down with Austin [Winsberg] last February before pilot season and he told me that they had hired Mandy Moore as the choreographer and that Paul Feig was our producer. He was such a lovely man to speak with and he was so enthusiastic about the story and also it’s a personal story for him. I just was attracted to the script and the people involved and it’s just even become more amazing every step of the way. But originally I also didn’t know to what degree Zoey was going to participate in the musical numbers and I had so much fun finally getting in on the goods in Episode 8. Spending so many weeks watching my cast do something that looks so joyous, I was jealous. It was great to be able to participate in the musicality.

Gold Derby (Paula Sullivan-Licuria): That’s wonderful. So my first question is do you have a favorite musical number from this season?

JL: I get asked that and it’s really hard to pick a favorite. Mandy Moore tops herself over and over. I don’t understand how she’s so consistent. Not even consistent, just every number is so great. However, I have some tops. Last week, “Happier,” which ended Episode 9 was one of my favorites. I love “Con Te Partirò” I don’t know how to say it, when Max sings opera. I love when Mo sang gospel, “This Little Light of Mine.” I think the number that is the finale, Episode 12, is definitely a top. “Pressure” was one of my favorites that I got to do. “Don’t Speak,” by Tobin, I loved. “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” by Maggie. Those are the ones that come to mind right now.

GD (Rob): I could be wrong but I remember you from when you were on “Suburgatory” and we’ve seen you on other projects. I don’t think musicality is necessarily in your wheelhouse. Am I right? It’s a bit of a departure for you? Were you apprehensive about taking that on? You’re gonna be in the spotlight for every episode so it’s quite a big challenge to take on, I would think.

JL: Truthfully, deep, deep down I think that I am a ham. Ever since I was little I loved performing and especially singing and dancing but it’s not something I’ve ever really explored or done professionally. I’m not trained. But I have this deep wish and desire to participate in song and dance and I’m so lucky that this part came along and that I got to stretch that side of myself because I love it. Since we wrapped, I’ve been taking FaceTime tap-dance lessons with our associate choreographer and we’re doing tap to Prince. It’s so fun. So no, this is new for me but I think it’s been a secret not-so-secret dream.

GD (Paula): I would love to know, every scene that you’re singing with Peter Gallagher is always so emotional and I am unable to actually watch it because I’m crying so much. It’s just so beautiful. How do you get through those scenes without being emotional?

JL: Well, I am, if you notice (laughs). I think what allows people to connect so much to our show is that I think we represent humanity in a really honest and like you said, earnest way, and messy. I think we allow for confusion and messiness when it comes to love and heartbreak and yearning and desire. I think we all universally know what it feels like to yearn for parental love, parental connection, to be taken care of by a parent, to take care of a parent, to miss a parent, to think about what we wished our parent could have said to us or would have said to us or should have said to us. For me, Peter Gallagher is such a great actor and he’s so affecting and music is such a quick way to get straight to the heart and so, a lot of our scenes that are musical, and this is what Zoey’s whole lesson is throughout the series is some things you have to just feel. You can’t fix logically or work through with your brain or cerebrally. You just have to feel it and it’s hard. I remember shooting “How Do I Live,” which is Episode 8 where I have to sing and it’s highly emotional and every take I was like, “I don’t think I can do this again!” And Peter was like, “At least you’re not doing it on stage, kid.” Peter’s like, “I’ve done 3,000 performances on Broadway. Imagine if this was a play. You’d have to do this every single night for a year straight.” I was like, “Okay, I can do this just a couple more times.” Yeah, it was a real pleasure working with him and he made the job very easy. Spoiler alert, there’s some more emotional scenes coming up with us.

GD (Rob): I don’t think we could possibly handle it! The other aspect that you have taken on board as the leading lady on the show is how physical the role is. There’s a lot of dance and there’s a lot of movement? Have you enjoyed that aspect? Has that been particularly challenging for you?

JL: TV is a very quick, grueling schedule so it’s very tiring, but the physical part, the dancing part, is actually invigorating. It gives me energy, actually. Even though it’s tiring it’s so much fun and Mandy Moore is a dream collaborator and she’s so supportive. It’s just pure fun.

GD (Paula): You mentioned Episode 8, it’s the one that I’ve most recently watched. I was checking where we get “Zoey’s.” Episode 9 is out, I haven’t watched it yet, but I wanted to know for Episode 8, was it really daunting to you to have all the responsibility with all the singing for that episode?

JL: Oh yeah, it was absolutely terrifying. Most of the other cast members, who by the way, are mostly trained singers and dancers have maybe one per episode. They don’t even have a guaranteed one per episode. For me, the person who is in every single scene, who is an untrained singer and dancer, to suddenly have to do six in one episode was terrifying. So, so scary. I was convinced I couldn’t do it. There was many emails to Austin being like, “Let’s make it four songs.” And he was like, “Six,” and I was like, “Five,” and he was like, “Six,” and I was like, “I don’t understand how you think this is possible.” Anyways, it’s possible. When I was actually doing it, it was a blast and it’s one of the most proud of myself I’ve been. Grammatically I can’t figure out how to (laughs).

GD (Rob): Can you pinpoint any other particular moments from Episode 1 up until the most recent episode that you’re just most proud of yourself, where you were completely out of your comfort zone and realized you achieved something that you’d never thought you would be able to achieve?

JL: Yeah, 8 is absolutely that episode for me. I had to do slapstick comedy, basically clowning and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and I had to do a real emotional heartbreak scene then sexy seduction song and dance, all singing and dancing, that was really hard. It’s an interesting job to be at the center of this universe because I’m in every single musical number because it comes through my character so I’ve witnessed all of my cast members perform their numbers on set and it’s just so cool to be able to see my friends and colleagues shine, and also figuring out how I can dance with them in those moments emotionally. Where is Zoey in this scene and how can I enter in with them that lifts their performance up even more? That’s been a really cool role and is there anything else that was outside my comfort zone besides 8? 8 was so colossal. I can’t even remember. I’m like, “What happened in the other episodes?”

GD (Rob): Yeah, they all blend into one after a while. I think we have time for a couple more questions. Have you got anything else you wanted to add before we finish up with Jane?

GD (Paula): Yeah, I would love to know, has a Season 2 been announced yet?

JL: I would like to know the same thing. I am like, ”I need a job, I need a job, I need a job.” This is my favorite, most meaningful project I’ve ever been a part of. It encompasses so many things for me. I’m just so proud of the show and I love my castmates and I love my boss, our showrunner so much. It would be such a shame if we couldn’t do a second season. Maybe I’m naive but I think that it’s very likely and I ask NBC, please!

GD (Rob): I have a good feeling about it as well. We’ve got Emmys coming up soon and we hope that we might see you guys there on the red carpet. You never know, right? My final question is I wanna go right back to the beginning of this interview when you were touching on how this show is the perfect antidote to the uncertainty and sadness of our times that we’re all stuck in at the moment. Obviously, you take that on board because it was the first thing that you mentioned. Is there a particular example where you’ve received some feedback that really stuck with you and you took to your heart?

JL: A lot of people who have either lost their parents or are in the process of living with a parent who has a debilitating disease have reached out and talked about how moved they are by the show and the relationship between Zoey and her father. That means the world to me. But also right now is a very strange time wherein we’re all stuck at home and it’s really amazing that the internet allows us to connect but I think that that’s what our show is about at its core, is connection. The human experience is universal and there probably isn’t anything that you’ve gone through that the person next to you hasn’t gone through or is currently going through also, so our show is about how music connects us, opening up your brain to someone else’s experience and to hold space for other people’s pain and love. I hope that people can feel connected while they’re watching our show.

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