[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Season 1, Episode 8, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Glitch.”]
The musical numbers in Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist are phenomenal. Not only does Mandy Moore deliver invigorating choreography that’s a pure joy to watch time and time again, but she also contributes big time to making those moments so much more than just song and dance breaks. The beauty of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is that the songs and dances aren’t just there for fun; they serve a real purpose and play a very active role in nudging the characters forward.
However, there was one particular song in the show that series star Jane Levy thought would have benefited from no dance choreography at all, and the end result is quite powerful. While on an episode of Collider Connected, Levy spoke about the different prep process required for a dialogue-driven scene versus one that calls for her to sing and dance. Her rendition of ‘How Do I Live’ in Episode 8 immediately came to mind and she explained why that was such a unique experience for her:
“So Episode 8, I sing and perform six songs, and ‘How Do I Live’ I knew was going to be very emotional for me so I told Mandy – and she so generously was like, ‘Sure!’ – I was like, ‘Can we just not involve dance with that one? I just really want to be simple in that, it’s just me and my dad and the expression of what I’m going through.’ And I look back and I’m like, ‘Was that f*cked up of me to just say, Mandy, I’m taking this one?’ But she was like, ‘No,’ we have a good rapport and I love her so much. And I’ve said to her in person and I say to you now Mandy if you’re watching, ‘Thank you for being like, sure! Take it!’”
Personally? I find that that choice paid off big time. Not only does Levy nail the scene that way, but that decision also contributes to making ‘How Do I Live’ a unique moment in a show that’s packed to the brim with wildly impressive dance choreography. But, that decision was only one part of the ‘How Do I Live’ puzzle. Scheduling was also a major factor here:
“And then the assistant director, Shea [Rowan], who was really generous with me and a great friend, and she was like, ‘Tell me which ones you want to do on which day,’ because everyone knew I had a lot of anxiety about this episode. It was like a colossal undertaking, because not only am I performing six songs – most people do one an episode, if that – I was doing six in one episode. Then I had to prep all of that while shooting the series, so it was really scary and I had a lot of support from this team of people and Shea was like, ‘Which do you want to do first?’ So I was like, ‘I want to do ‘How Do I Live’ first,’ because as an actor, when you have a scene that you know is going to be really emotional, it plagues you and it’s just [so much easier] to get it over with. [So I knew if I got that out of the way], I’ll know that there’s no emotional moment I have to anticipate and I can just focus on the singing and dancing.”
So at this point, we’ve put the focus on the emotion of the song, and also have ‘How Do I Live’ in a prime spot on the shooting schedule. But we’ve still got to account for the challenge of pairing raw emotion with lip-synching:
“Besides ‘I’ve Got the Music in Me,’ it was only my second time ever lip-syncing. And this wasn’t dance. It was very close on my face so technically, I have to just be good at lip-syncing, which is something that I forgot that you have to be able to sell that the words are coming out of your mouth. So we do one take and I’m highly emotional and the emotionality doesn’t match the pre-record, so even though my lips are moving at the right time, it doesn’t look right because what’s happening outside is so emotional and the music I recorded a week before in a sound studio. So they were like, ‘Okay, that was really good, but it just doesn’t match.’ So then I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll sing live and I don’t care if it sounds bad.’ So then I do the next take, I’m highly emotional and when you cry, you know, you can’t breathe. There’s a lot of gasps. [Laughs] So I can’t make noise, so the song wasn’t coming out of my mouth! So I was like, ‘Ah, now what?’ And I had an acting coach on set, my friend Megan, and she was like, ‘Just breathe. To be able to sing, you just have to breathe.’ And I did it again and I was able to sing and cry at the same time. Not that crying was necessarily the goal, but it was like, it’s hard to have emotional freedom in set choreography and set pre-records because then you have to do the delicate balance of threading – it’s like ADR, but performing ADR in music and acting at the same time on camera, so it’s a whole new set of skills that I was learning on the day. And ultimately we pulled it off!”
There you have it! That’s how Levy and the team nailed one of the most emotional beats of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist Season 1. If you’re eager to hear more from Levy about her experience working on the show, hang tight because we’ve got her full episode of Collider Connected coming your way on Thursday!