Paul Feig on Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist and Love Life Season 2
From creator Austin Winsberg, the NBC series Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist always manages to find that perfect blend of laughter, tears and heart-warming goodness, with some fantastic music numbers thrown on top. It explores the love of family, as well as the grief of family tragedy, and all of the relationships and friendships that make life special.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist executive producer Paul Feig talked about how and why he got involved with the show, his suggestion that helped lead to the casting of Jane Levy as the title character, telling a story that’s a celebration of life, and pinching himself over the show’s incredibly talented cast. He also talked about the upcoming TV shows that he’s producing, the goal for the anthology series Love Life, directing the Netflix film The School for Good and Evil, and his desire to get the monster movie Dark Army made.
Collider: How did Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist originally come your way and what was your reaction to it initially?
PAUL FEIG: My backstory is that I’m obsessed with musicals. I just love them. I’ve been desperately trying to develop a musical at my company for years, to do a big musical movie. It’s just a genre I’m desperate to do, but it’s really, really hard to develop a musical because there’s a lot of things you wouldn’t think are a problem that you have to contend with them. The biggest thing is, what is the context in which the movie is a musical? Are you just gonna go the old fashioned way and have people burst into song for no reason? They did that brilliantly within with La La Land. To me, I’m always so hung up on logic that I have to have some reason why something happens, so that’s what I’ve always struggled with. So, when Austin Winsberg came in and pitched this idea to our company, when you first hear it, you’re like, “That sounds nuts!” But then, when you think about it a little bit more, you’re like, “Well, actually, this is what we’ve been looking for. This is the excuse for why a musical number would happen.”
What I liked about it the most, on top of that, is that the music is not only justified through the internal logic of the show, but it’s almost a clue and a mystery because whenever she hears something, it’s like, “Why am I hearing that?” And then, she has to go solve something or find something out. That just adds the extra layer of, “I’m enjoying this music, but I’m also really trying to figure out why it’s here.” It’s pure storytelling. I’m never a fan of anything that goes,” And now, let’s stop to do something that has nothing to do with the story,” unless it’s character based and you’re learning something about the characters. So, as soon as he finished pitching it, I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s a great idea.”
My only real contribution, other than helping to get it made, was that it was originally pitched as a guy in the lead and I was like, “Can it be a woman?” Austin loved the idea of that, and I loved the idea of a woman in the tech world, just because you don’t see that representation on the screen. He took that and ran with it, and thank God, because now we’ve got the amazing Jane Levy. When we were deciding whether we were gonna come on board, I remember having a few moments of going, “How do you carry this beyond a few episodes? How does this keep going?” But then, when we talked to Austin, he was like, “Here’s how . . .” He knew this so inside and out and had such a plan that I was like, “You know what? We’re gonna go along for the ride because I think this is gonna be super fun.” And thank God we did.
Do you have any more insight into the mythology for Zoey’s powers than the rest of us do?
FEIG: No, I don’t. I don’t know if any of us know whether there’s some sort of God-like entity who’s doing all of this for her, other than Austin Winsberg, who’s the God of this world that he’s created. But I do know that it really came from his desire to communicate, when his father was going through the exact same disease that Peter Gallagher’s character goes through and his father couldn’t communicate with him anymore, and Austin being a big fan of musicals, would fantasize that music could somehow be the thing that they communicate through, with each other. I know that was definitely the impetus for coming up with the idea, but within the show, I don’t know why she’s been chosen.
What do you think it is about this show that, even if you have experienced a similar type of grief and loss, it still makes you want to watch it and it still gives you some sort of comfort that a lot of stories like this don’t do?
FEIG: Well, because it’s a celebration of life, first and foremost. It’s a celebration of all phases of life, and life with a capital L. So, even when you’re in the heaviest moments, if it was just Mitch sitting there and it was a show without the music, it would be a total bummer because she can’t communicate and you don’t know what he’s thinking. But you know what he’s thinking, so it’s happy. That last episode, I get choked up even talking about it, where they’re all watching him when he’s about to die and you hear him behind her and she can have that dance with him and he can tell her that everything’s all right. That’s so uplifting. It takes the sting off of his death because he’s carrying on. It’s a very, very life affirming thing. What’s more reassuring and what’s a more lovely way to portray death than that?
What was it like to put a cast like this together? Was it challenging to get a cast together who is not afraid to make themselves so emotionally vulnerable, especially when it comes to the songs?
God bless actors because they will go for it. It was really important to Austin to make sure that everybody on the show could sing and had a musical gene. Even some of them aren’t known for being that, they still had to be good singers. There was a moment when I was going, “Oh, it would actually be really funny, if some of the who sing aren’t good.” And he was like, “No, here’s why,” and I realized that he was right. We’re not watching somebody physically sing in Zoey’s world. We’re seeing who they think they are or what their deepest dreams are. And so, because of that, if somebody launched into a song and they were a shitty singer, then there’s something wrong with their psyche and their self-image, which could be something funny to do, down the line. So, everybody was very heavily vetted, on making sure they really have musical chops and could do it. It’s such a great cast. Every time I watch dailies, or I watch an episode of the show, I pinch myself because they are all so talented and they’re the most lovely people you’ve ever met, in your life. Every one of them is just a joy.
Is there one of the supporting characters that you find yourself most wanting to learn more about?
FEIG: I’m always fascinated by Mo. I remember when we saw Alex [Newell]’s audition, we were like, “Wow, this is above and beyond anything we thought this role could be.” Alex, as a person, is just so wonderful and so talented. I can never get enough of what’s going on with Mo, but I’m also very partial to Skylar Astin. As a fellow nerd, I’m always rooting for the nerdy underdog. If only I could have been a nerd like he is. He’s a very cool nerd.
What do you have up next as a producer, and what do you hope will be next for you as a director?
FEIG: Producing wise, we have a new show that’s gonna be coming out on Fox, hopefully this year, called This Country, which is like what we did with The Office. It’s a BBC show that we’ve done an Americanization of, and we’re in the middle of shooting that right now. I directed the first three episodes, and it’s such a funny show. It’s not The Office, but it’s a mockumentary, so it’s that same comfort food feel that The Office has, where you just love to be in this place with these people, and we’ve got the funniest cast. So, we’re really excited about that. We also just produced a pilot for HBO Max called Minx, which is a fictionalized retelling of the origins of Playgirl magazine, which is very, very funny, and another amazing cast. We also have Love Life coming back for Season 2, and Zoey’s is plowing along. And then, directing wise, I’m in London right now, prepping to do a big movie for Netflix, called The School for Good and Evil. That’s going to be a giant, big fantasy movie that’s Frozen meets The Princess Bride and Harry Potter. It’s something I never thought I do, but when I read it, I just felt so in love with it, so I’m gearing up for that. And we’re continuing to develop more stuff. We’re doing very well in television, creatively. I just love all of our shows and couldn’t be happier with them.
What are you most looking forward to with the second season of Love Life, shifting the focus from Anna Kendrick to William Jackson Harper?
FEIG: I’m just looking forward to telling a completely different story, but in that same world. It was always such a goal of ours to really have each season be about somebody completely different from previous seasons. The show is really just about love and what turns us into the people we are. Anna was just so amazing and so relatable in that world, but now it’s gonna be fun to go into this other world with this character, who’s gonna go on such a different trajectory. I can’t give away any secrets on it, but he’s starting in a much different place than Anna Kendrick’s character was starting, at the beginning of that season. It’s just really fun to get to explore every aspect of someone’s love life.
How long do you think that show could run, with its anthology structure?
FEIG: Forever, honestly. I really think it could run forever because there’s a billion different types of people with a billion different stories of how they found love, or didn’t find love, or were scarred by love, or were made better by love. Our dream is that it could become international and different countries could do their own versions of it and tell their own stories, based on their cultures. The sky’s the limit because, like my friend Nancy Meyers says, nobody isn’t interested in how somebody else fell in love or how somebody else met their partner, and it’s true. Anytime you’re out with a couple, you’re like, “So, how’d you guys meet?” We love those stories.
Where are things at with Dark Army?
FEIG: Oh, Dark Army. I love that project so much. I think the studio thinks it’s a little too expensive, perhaps. God as my witness, I’m gonna make that movie. I’m so obsessed with making that movie. One of the many reasons why I was drawn to doing this current Netflix [movie] is that there’s a lot of stuff I can work out in it, as far as effects and all that, that I can bring to Dark Army. I love it. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. It’s one of my favorite lead characters I’ve ever come up with. So, fingers crossed that we will make it someday.
Freaks and Geeks is now streaming at Hulu with its original soundtrack, which it sounds like something that was holding up its availability. Were you ever worried that the show wouldn’t be more available for people to be able to watch again, or to discovery for the first time, because of the music?
FEIG: The funny thing is, I didn’t realize that there was an option to have the show without the original music. Now that I know that there is, I’m gonna put a stop to that. I’d rather not have the show out there than to have it out without music because that’s like cutting Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) out of the show. You can’t do it. We’ve streamed it, in the past. There was a time that we were on ABC Family, which was not streaming, but on their schedule. And we were on Netflix for awhile. Every time the licensing runs out and they take you off of whatever it is, it was always very sad because less people would get to discover it again. So, every time we come back, I’m so happy. I was very surprised to see that having the original music was an issue. It’s not going out without the original music. I will kill it. I guarantee it. It immediately takes you out of it. And if you’re seeing it for the first time, you’re not getting the full experience. There’s nothing worse than somebody telling somebody, “Oh, my God, it’s so great,” and then they watch it and go, “That wasn’t so good.” And then, you find out that it was missing something.
After the recent death of Jessica Campbell, some of her co-stars and even Judd Apatow have had nothing but nice things to say about her. What are your memories of working with her on Freaks and Geeks?
FEIG: I was just stunned and heartbroken when I read that. I still can’t process that. I just remember her so vividly, being on set. She was lovely. She was such a sweetheart. She came into this cast that really worked as a unit, with this great character, and she just committed so hardcore to it, but brought such a third dimension to it and an emotionality to it. She helped in the development of a lot of stuff with it. We couldn’t have loved her more. It was just such a fun thing. She and Seth [Rogen] worked together and got along so well. It was lovely. It’s hard to be an actor, coming into a show as a guest star with a big part and endear yourself, and everybody just absolutely loved her.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist airs on Tuesday nights on NBC.
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