The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hey, this is John. So, on April 16, 2016, I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom to talk about their amazing show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. This was all part of the Writers Guild Foundation Craft Day 2016. It was a full day session. So, I did this panel in the morning with Aline and Rachel. Later in the afternoon I did the panel with Lawrence Kasdan and me and Craig. They were both great.
This one was wonderful for reasons I didn’t expect, partly because it was filthy. And so this is also my parental advisory warning. If you are in the car with your kids, it’s not appropriate probably, because specific things are discussed which are probably not things you want your kids to be hearing. But, it’s just great, and so we had a fun time talking about the show and really focusing on character introductions, which is how do you first let your audience know who these characters are, what they should be looking for. And I thought the pilot for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was incredibly useful on that front.
So, enjoy. And we’ll be back next week with a normal episode. Thanks.
[Start of live show]
Hello and welcome. I’m required to say hello and welcome whenever I greet a crowd here. So, in addition to being a screenwriter, I’m also host of a podcast called Scriptnotes. Thank you. Some people are listening to Scriptnotes. And Craig Mazin and I each week talk about the craft and business of screenwriting. And I think our very first guest ever on the show was Aline Brosh McKenna who is going to be joining us up here in a second.
Aline is fantastic. And Aline tells you exactly how things are supposed to be and what to do and what not to do. She gives us fashion tips, which I don’t ever take. Not this last Christmas, but the Christmas before she came to our holiday special and she brought a special guest. And that guest was the star of the TV show that they’ve created together. Her name was Rachel Bloom and she sang a song to the Scriptnotes thing called When Will I Be Famous. And the answer to that question was 2015 when her TV show debuted and was phenomenal and everyone loved it. And then she won the Golden Globe.
So, we are so excited to welcome as our first guests today Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom, creators of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
Aline Brosh McKenna: Hi everybody. Good morning.
Rachel Bloom: Good morning.
John: Good morning. So, I’m obsessed with your show. And I think anyone who listens to the podcast knows that I’m obsessed with your show. I have seen every episode. I’ve seen some episodes multiple times. I saw the version back when it was a Showtime show and then I saw the CW show. So we can talk about all that stuff.
But because this is Craft Day, I thought we might really focus in on just really craft topics, especially I’d like to talk with you guys about how you introduce a character. Because we can look through how you guys introduced characters in the pilot, how you introduce characters later along the way. If people want to read along at home, if you go to johnaugust.com/crazy, the scene pack that we’re going to talk through is in there. It’s a PDF. So you can look through that. Also, in Weekend Read, you can see the whole script, which you guys were so generous to provide for us. The whole pilot script for what you shot. And we can talk through stuff. But, characters?
Aline: Well, I can give you an example. We were trying to figure out the character of Greg’s dad. And we kind of didn’t really know what to do with him and how to make him special and interesting. And it was kind of close in to when we needed him to work. It was actually we were in production already, because it was for episode six. And we just couldn’t kind of get a beat on him.
And then Rachel and I met at Starbucks and we were like, “How do we do this?” We knew we wanted him to be sort of a macho guy, and then I said maybe he was a chef. And then we went on this thing of maybe he had had a restaurant that closed. And then Rachel said — so this is I think typical of our collaboration — so I said, you know, maybe he’s a chef and the restaurant closed and we can talk about West Covina, how like all the good restaurants have been replaced by chains. But it didn’t really give us any behavior.
And then was like, well, what’s funny about him? And Rachel said, “Maybe he’s got macaws.”
John: So a specific bird reference there.
Aline: Maybe he has two macaws. And it was like we started talking about, and that gave us a lot of stuff about him being like very stubborn and collecting birds, even though it’s like not great for his son. And then that led to him like — we had always had him being somebody who is kind of sickly. And that led to him being somebody who still smokes and drinks, despite having emphysema and heart problems. So, it was like — it was a combination of really trying to find the purpose and the narrative, and then finding things that were quirky and special.
And Rachel in particular, in part I think because her background is in sketch, always approaches a character with putting some topspin on them so that there’s always something else going on that makes them kind of interesting and different and special.
Rachel: But, Aline, you do the same thing. We’re right in the middle of writing season two right now and I feel like we have this great pattern where one of us will ask kind of a general question, and then the other will answer with a really unexpected specific.
I remember in the original Showtime pilot, and this ended up being in the CW, we were talking about what happens when Greg and Rebecca go on this date. And then out of nowhere you were like, “What if she just like gave him a hand job?” And I was like, what, no. And then — but then it was like, okay, well what if she did that? And that ended up being really like the thing that sets up their relationship. This idea of this hand job/make out interrogation scene where this idea of from the beginning it was always about this messed up sexual power.
Aline: And that she’s not afraid to use her sexual — she doesn’t even understand that that might not be okay. That she’s just like — and in her mind, if you asked her, she’s just giving a guy a hand job. She doesn’t realize she’s doing an interrogation. Which is something they should do by the way. I think it would be much more effective than waterboarding.
Rachel: I totally agree.
Aline: Because you could get anything out of a man.
Rachel: Oh yeah. Yeah. If you just threaten like, you won’t get to cum, like, “Okay, fine! The bomb is here.” Yeah.
John: I saw the Showtime pilot.
Rachel: Saturday morning. You like my cum sounds.
Aline: This is what we do all day.
Rachel: All day.
Aline: This show is very much built in conversation. You know, Rachel and I spend, somebody said what are you doing to prepare for season two. I said, well what we always do, which is talking for hours, and hours, and hours. And we talk about stuff that’s not relevant to the show at all, like stuff with the characters and stories. We know things about these characters that isn’t relevant and will never be relevant.
I always say it’s like when they go into a hoarder’s apartment and he’s built like an entire universe out of like creatures he made from soda cans and, what do you call that fuzzy wire, pipe cleaners? That’s sort of what we do is we build this world and then we populate it. And it is sort of like kids playing with a dollhouse.
Rachel: Yeah. I mean, that’s why writing with Aline always feels like — we were just talking about this — it feels like the most effortless part. The time just flies so quickly. Because it’s building a world made up of a bunch of really fun specifics. And I learned so much, because I come from more sketch, and animation, I kind of worked in more broad strokes. Okay, so what are the ideas we want to service, and then kind of like not working in stock characters, but like how do the characters service this premise.
And when we started creating the show, I mean, I’ve learned so much about character specificity from Aline, but I remember like the first day it was like, okay, so it’s going to be a show about how love takes you over, so how is this girl a symbol. And you were like, “What’s her favorite color? What’s her favorite meal? What was her childhood like?”
And it was like going into it with an emotional specificity that I hadn’t done before, and that’s how now we approach every character. And I learned that from you. You’re so smart.
Aline: That’s what we do.
Rachel: I love you so much.
John: So, Aline, I know you from things like Devil Wears Prada. You’re known for long features, where you’re setting up a character and taking them through this journey, a journey that happens exactly once, versus a TV show which is we’re seeing this character again and again, and all of these characters again and again.
Rachel, I first knew you from Robot Chicken. And so Robot Chicken, those are incredibly fast sketches where the first frame we have to understand what that character is supposed to be, and then getting to the joke as quickly as possible. So, what was this first conversation between you guys about who was this character? Did it start with who is the Rebecca character, or did it start with the situation? What were those initial conversations like?
Aline: They were kind of both, but I will say, you know, we’ve always felt like we were writing a 45-hour movie. That’s always how we’ve approached it. I think the series that I love the most are the ones where you feel like the creators are in control of the whole story. Like when you’re watching Breaking Bad there’s no question in your mind that he knows where he’s going. Mad Men.
I get tense when I watch TV shows where I feel like you know that every week they’re like [makes noise of car screeching]. And so we divided it into four chapters, and every chapter has an ending, and it’s building to an ultimate ending. And that’s the only way I could approach it.
John: Are these chapters seasons?
John: So, when you guys were having this conversation, were you talking about how you were first going to meet her. What were the initial conversations about how we first meet Rebecca?
Rachel: Do you remember the construction site?
Aline: Yeah, I do.
Rachel: So, I think originally — because when we first met it was going to be a network show. And we weren’t even sure if I would get to play it, because like who’s going to hire this over someone famous. And so we were like, okay, so we weren’t thinking as much of like me playing the character as much as the character. And originally the pilot started with this scene of there was a construction site. It was a going to be a helicopter shot of New York City.
Aline: Right. We were not really up to speed on budget.
Rachel: No. [laughs] A construction site and she walks onto the construction site in giant stiletto heels and says–
Aline: Well, it was going to be a thing where there’s like a bunch of dudes on a construction site, and then this girl comes out with these heels and she kind of goes through. And then the very next thing that happened is she Instagrams a selfie of herself on this construction site, trying desperately to get everyone. So you sort of immediately contrast like she’s very capable at work, but she’s a loser, has no friends, so she Instagrams a picture of herself with a helmet. And the guys behind her–
Rachel: Yes. And she chews out the guys. She basically — she calls them all mentally handicapped. And she makes one of them cry. And then she’s like, “Having fun on the job.” And like hashtag Work Times. And like no one — and she keeps refreshing it and seeing if anyone likes it, and no one likes it.
Aline: Right. And then we very early on had this idea that she runs into this ex-boyfriend, and we spent just an inordinate amount of time figuring out if it was a high school boyfriend, or a college boyfriend. There was a whole long thing that led us to summer camp boyfriend, but there were a lot of considerations.
But, ultimately she runs into the boyfriend and then we had her having a panic attack in the script, in the outline for a long time, in the script for a while she was cutting herself in the — right now in the pilot she’s taking those pills. She used to be cutting herself.
Rachel: You had the really crazy idea that she would — and I kind of loved this — she would take out a pack of cigarettes, and you think she was going to smoke, and then she’d take out a needle or a razor blade and be cutting herself like below her nailbed. And this is when we were with Showtime. And they were like, “Wow.” [laughs] They were like, “That’s dark.”
John: They’re like, “We had Dexter on the air. Like that’s dark.”
Aline: But you know what, that became our litmus test when we were pitching the show. We’d pitch that, and that became our litmus test for should we do the show here, because people who blanched at that so much, it’s like cutting is super prevalent, guys. Lots and lots and lots and lots of women do this, particularly — well, men do it, too. But it’s very prevalent behavior that you almost never see, especially not in a high-functioning person. And when we pitched it that became our litmus test to like people who blanched too much at that.
And then ultimately Showtime was excited about that kind of stuff. But we ended up peeling away from that just because in that moment we had gone to this thing of trying to explore her medication and how she was medicated, so that’s how it ended up being that way.
Rachel: And then I just want to say one more thing, that the show then, once we settled upon the idea that I was going to play the character and we were going to pitch it to smaller cable places, who wouldn’t care as much that I wasn’t a name, that’s — we basically wrote the pilot by improvising aloud to each other. And as I started to play Rebecca more in the improvisation with Aline, the character changed.
Aline: It changed.
Rachel: Because it was like, oh, here’s how I portray her. So I think she was much more of a hard-ass, and then when I started to portray her there was this weird musical theater ingénue bubbliness, where it was like she was never necessarily going to be the person to be like, “Fuck you, you fucking ass — ” Like, that just wasn’t my portrayal of her. So it changed with that improvisation.
Aline: That’s right.
John: But from the initial instinct, it was always that she was the highly functional dysfunctional hero of this story.
John: And the idea that we would get access to her inner mind by songs, was that in the very initial conception?
Aline: Always. And Rachel comes from a background of doing musicals, traditional musicals, and then also her music comedy videos. And so she knows way more than I do about when to have a song and how the song accesses emotions. And that’s all completely second nature to her.
And one thing that was interesting about working with someone who is a lot younger than me, and in certain areas was not as experienced, Rachel has like rock solid experience and convictions about the music, and the songs, and how they’re put together, and where they belong in the narrative. And it’s just — it’s that thing we’ve talked about a lot on Scriptnotes, about expertise. Rachel is — no matter where we were, how intimidating the situation was — when we’re talking about the music and the songs, Rachel has such a firm point of view. She knows every musical. And knows the background of American musicals inside and out.
So, that’s where our background. And I’m a newbie and a learner about that stuff.
John: Let’s take a look in the packet here. I’m going to hand these out to you guys.
Rachel: I haven’t seen this in a while.
John: Yeah. I know.
Rachel: It’s really cool.
John: It’s so weird with a TV show, like when do you ever go back to the script.
Aline: Yeah. Yeah.
John: You shoot a script and it’s dead to you.
Rachel: Last revision September 15, 2015.
John: And this was Golden Rod pages. This is–
Aline: This is what we shot–
John: This is what you shot for the CW when you–
Aline: This was our CW version, yeah.
John: I’d love to start with this first scene here. So this is a first time you’re going to the new offices. So, essentially for people who aren’t familiar with the show, Rebecca has bumped into her camp boyfriend in–
Aline: Oh, these are selected scenes. Yeah, okay.
John: These are selected scenes. She’s bumped into her camp boyfriend, Josh, who is now moving to West Covina. She’s like, “You know what, I hate my job here. I’m going to move to West Covina.” She’s gotten herself a job at this law firm and this is her showing up at this law firm for the first time.
So, this is our first time meeting really important characters who are going to be series regulars, so Darryl, her best friend who is going to be following her around. So, let’s read aloud.
Aline: Oh, okay read aloud. Great.
John: Do you want to be Darryl and I’ll do scene descriptions?
Rachel: Great. And I’ll play Rebecca.
John: That’s a bold choice.
Rachel: Did it a couple months, so.
John: So we start off-screen. So there’s a pre-lap voice over of Darryl here.
Aline: I hope you don’t mind, but I handed out copies of your resume. We’re just — oh you’re going to read scene description.
John: So, then we’re inside Whitefeather Law Offices, morning. The offices of Whitefeather and Associates. Everyone stands up to watch Rebecca and her new boss DARRYL WHITEFEATHER (50’S) walk through.
Aline: We’re just so honored… and confused, frankly… to have an attorney of your caliber here.
Rachel: So, Darryl WhiteFeather…That’s an interesting name.
Aline: Yeah, I’m what they call a full one- eighth. One-eighth Chippewa. That’s why everyone here calls me Chief.
Aline: Yeah, they don’t, but I wish they–
John: She checks her phone. Still nothing.
Rachel: Hey, is there a problem with cell phone service in West Covina? Like some kind of mountains or…magnetic clouds?
Aline: No, I have Sprint. It’s the bomb. I’m sorry, I have kids.
Aline: But I am getting divorced.
Rachel: Oh, I’m sorry.
Aline: I’m not! Hey-o! Let me show you around.
John: They walk through the office.
Aline: So you’re from New York? Spent some time there myself.
Rachel: Oh, yeah?
Aline: Yeah, a week after college with my buddies. We went to ALL the best places. They still have that greaaaat pizza place downtown? De– something? You know that one? The one with the pizza, that has pizza?
Rachel: Oh, yeah, that one…it’s great.
Aline: Cheese and–
Rachel: Yeah. That’s pizza. Yeah.
Aline: Yeah. That’s it. We actually have some great places here in the ‘Cov. There’s a wine bar on Foothill, has a killer Riesling. And the restaurant in the Hilton, the chef there trained in…was it Tustan? Or was it…no, it was Tuscany.
Rachel: That’s in Italy. Cool.
Aline: Yeah. It was Tuscany. Have you ever heard of Branzino?
Aline: It’s a fish.
Rachel: I know.
Aline: Oh, because I thought it was a sandwich.
Rachel: Well, I really look forward to everything this town has to offer. That’s why I moved here, to chillax. Live the SoCal sunny lifestyle.
Aline: We are only two hours away from the beach. Four in traffic, but it’s not a big deal.
Aline: Feel like you and I are gonna have a lot in common. And not just the pizza and the fish.
John: He smiles. She reaches over to a desk, grabs a few brochures for the firm.
Rachel: …until my business cards come in, think I’ll just take a few of these to show I definitely work here, in case anyone asks or is curious.
John: ANGLE ON: Paula, who is at her desk, looking at Rebecca’s resume. Paula’s cubicle is decorated with a mix of angry cubicle art, puppy and kitten photos, sexy vampires and office-themed cartoons.
Aline: I don’t get it. You see this resume? Harvard, Yale, special skills: Mandarin? She get this out of a resume book? What the hell is she doing here?
John: Mrs. Hernandez shakes her head, shrugs.
Aline: Exactly. Makes no sense.
John: Rebecca and Darryl pass Paula’s desk. They stop.
Aline: Rebecca, this is Paula.
Rachel: Oh, great, hi. Are you my assistant? I’m gonna need a ton of help getting my computer set up, I’m a total grandma with that stuff.
John: She notices Paula is glaring. And Darryl is afraid.
Aline: Actually, Paula is our head paralegal.
Rachel: Oh, I’m so sorry.
Aline: Two years of training, six months of night school, fifteen years of experience, but never mind. Those are some good knockoff Louboutins. I know how to say it. Yep.
Rachel: Oh, thanks! Actually, they’re real, but I got them on sale.
Aline: Lindsey Lohan wears those. She’s been to jail six times and has fake hair. Did you know that? Everyone knows that. Right, Mrs. Hernandez?
John: Mrs. Hernandez nods. “For sure.”
Aline: Oh, sorry, this is Mrs. Hernandez. She is our communications director.
Rachel: Pleased to meet you.
John: She shakes hands with Mrs. Hernandez, who crushes her hand.
Aline: Careful there. She went to a “Women in Business” seminar a couple of years ago, came back with that death grip. So, what brings you to our lovely West Covina?
Rachel: Just looking for a change.
Aline: Oh. Know anyone in town or have any relatives? Anything?
Rachel: Um… nope.
Aline: Huh, I see. Yeah. Mm-hmm. Well welcome aboard.
John: They walk away. Paula turns to Mrs. Hernandez.
Aline: “They’re real, got them on sale.” Who is that person?
John: She eyes Rebecca who walks into Darryl’s office.
We can stop there. So, let’s talk about–
Rachel: That was weird, because I was doing an — we shot that scene in the original pilot, and then we reshot because we recast the role of Darryl. And when I reshot it, I was kind of doing an impression of myself in the original pilot, because I had watched it so much. And right now I was doing an impression of myself doing an impression of myself.
John: You’re a copy of a copy of a copy.
Rachel: Yeah. [laughs]
John: So good. So let’s talk about introducing Darryl and Paula.
Aline: Well this is interesting, I think, for people who are crafty folks and making things. So, Darryl went through a lot of evolutions. We wrote Darryl, he was kind of a stock character, I would say, like the dumbo boss. And we auditioned a million people, including Pete Gardner, but he didn’t get the part. Michael McDonald got the part. And the reason we hired Michael was that he brought this weird intensity to Darryl that we really loved. Darryl seemed like some really strange things had happened in his life. And we really liked that.
So, Michael is in the pilot. You saw Michael. And Michael brings a completely different thing than Pete does. Michael really brings this thing of like he hits on her a bit, and you can’t get a beat on him, and you would sort of believe that he was secretly blackmailing everyone in the office. There’s something a little nefarious about him.
So, then when Michael — so some of this dialogue is improvised by Michael McDonald in his audition and on set, right?
Aline: And we incorporated. So these poor actors — so then Pete came back with a bunch of other people to audition and had to read stuff that had been improvised by Michael.
Rachel: And Michael couldn’t do it because he had other — by the time we got ordered to series on CW, which was more episodes than Showtime, he has a ton of directing commitments. So it wasn’t like a bad–
Aline: He was the in-house director for Mike & Molly. And he was really sad, but it was more of a time commitment. So, we cast this wide net. We got a bunch of different people. And we found Pete. And Pete is a veteran — most of our cast are veteran Broadway people. And Pete is a veteran-veteran improviser. I mean, anyone in Los Angeles who does improv knows Pete.
So, when he was improvising with Rachel, I remember during his audition they improvised a lot. And I remember Rachel said to me after the audition, “I feel so safe with him,” because you could anywhere, take the scene anywhere. And then Pete has then kind of lovable goofiness. He’s so sweet. And so he has brought a lot of his Pete-ness to the role.
So, that role I would say of all the roles evolved the most to kind of suit the actor. And I think one of the things that’s interesting when you’re writing something is particularly sometimes if you have a character who is maybe not as strongly conceived as some of the other ones, an actor can really bring something very special to it. And we have really — our characters have flowed to the actors that we cast very frequently.
John: That’s the luxury of television is that you get to see who those people are and what their strengths are and play to their strengths.
So, let’s talk about how we first meet Darryl. So, from the very start, “I hope you don’t mind, but I handed out copies of your resume. We’re just so honored and confused, frankly, to have an attorney of your caliber here.” So right at the very start he’s laying out exactly sort of like — he’s like the dog who is rolling over on its back and exposing his belly, saying, “Ooh, we’re so happy that you’re here.” And it puts him in a strange place. It also gives Rebecca a lot of power in the situation, which is an unusual dynamic for somebody to be coming into an office as–
Aline: A beta boss.
John: Yeah. A beta boss is sort of a new thing. Then we’re getting into his Native American heritage, which we’ll get into a little bit later on. He leads with the fact that he’s divorced and that he’s sort of flummoxed, that he’s easily sort of overwhelmed. So it’s an interesting, exciting character. I noticed that there’s actually very little scene description here. It’s mostly just a big run of dialogue.
Aline: Yeah. There’s probably more — this is a production draft, so if you went back to our pilot draft, I’m sure it’s filled with lovely crafted sentences. And then when you’re in production it’s like, “Who needs all that?”
John: But you’re still trying to keep up Rebecca’s story. So, Rebecca has moved here and she’s trying to find — doesn’t want to make it seem strange that she’s moved here. So she’s grabbing the brochures in place of business cards in case Josh sees her. It’s like, “Oh, well this is going to be my excuse for why I moved here. And I really do have a job here. I’m not just stalking you.” Even though she’s really just stalking him.
Rachel: Yeah, because there was a risk of this scene just being like kind of a typical sitcom, like meet the new boss at the new firm, and throughout it she’s checking her phone, checking her phone. We never wanted to drop the plot of the pilot.
Aline: And this is the big lie that’s revealed in — spoiler alert — but it’s revealed in a later episode, in episode nine, that this is a bunch of — she then tells people that Darryl recruited her. And like a lot of liars, Rebecca doesn’t bother to clean up her lies. Because the clean-up of the lie is often the thing that undoes the lie. So, she just lies and just thinks–
John: She lies and walks away from it.
Aline: Hopes for the best, right. And this one comes back to bite her on the ass. She never tells Darryl that it’s a secret, because it would undermine her. But she basically just said, you know, once he got that resume. But, part of Darryl thinks, “Oh, I deserve this. I’m wonderful. And this is one of the wonderful things I deserve. And I finally am getting something good.”
John: Yeah. Like he did The Secret, and he visualized this moment and now it’s come true.
John: You are his embodiment of a secret.
Aline: Darryl has multiple copies of The Secret, for sure.
Rachel: There was always this idea of Darryl putting on an identity because he didn’t know who he was. And so hence the one-eighth Chippewa thing. He’s searching for who he is. And we’ve dropped this a little with Pete’s particular portrayal, but this idea he thinks he’s — he’s kind of falsely sophisticated. And so the idea that he would deserve a Harvard lawyer.
Originally I think Darryl had a little bit more hubris. And now Pete has brought this sweet, sad, humbleness to it, but we always knew, even though he was kind of stock, that there was a deep sadness to Darryl. We just didn’t always know what it was or what it was rooted in.
John: And so how early on — this is a little spoiler for people who aren’t caught up on the show — the idea that he is bisexual, or discovers he’s bisexual. Did you know that when you were writing the scene, or was that just–
John: Okay, you knew that. Wow.
Aline: We knew very early on. And it was partly because Darryl’s sort of like search for identity and the amount of upset that he had about his divorce, but he doesn’t dislike his wife, he just feels really upset about the divorce and he really misses his daughter.
And we just started talking about like who would Darryl go out with and what would Darryl’s dating life be like and would he be interested in Rebecca. And that never really made sense to us. And also the thing about being bi is like it’s the only thing that I can think of that you work up an enormous amount of courage and you say to someone, “I’m bisexual,” and they go, “No you’re not. You’re not. No.”
You know, I mean, if you tell someone you’re gay, a negative reaction might be they were upset or they’re judgmental, but bisexual people confront someone going, “No, you’re not. No.” And that seemed like a good predicament for Darryl, because Darryl is always trying to find an identity, and people are always saying, “I don’t believe you. You’re not really that.”
And so what I love about where we went with that ultimately is that when he discovers he’s bisexual, that’s the first thing in his life that has really rung true for him. It’s really like, “That’s it.” And so that’s why he embraces it so fully. But we did know that here. But there were a lot of things in the show that because of the really detailed pipe cleaner art, that Rachel and I knew that we waited to reveal until — I mean, we still have stuff that we haven’t revealed, but we just waited a long time with Darryl for the right moment. We didn’t make it part of his shtick in other words.
John: Let’s talk about Paula, because she’s the second most important character in the show overall, because she ends up being the confidant, the buddy, the cheerleader. Like you’re on the road to destruction and she’s the one who says, “No, go faster. Go faster.”
John: Let’s talk about Paula here. Because when we first meet her, it seems like she’s going to be a stock villain. She’s going to be the stock person who is taking you down. If this is 9 to 5, she’d be the Roz character who is going to stop you. And what I love about how you set her up is from the start we see her cubicle decoration, even though we’re not going to really catch that in the pilot, it’s important for it to be there so we sort of inform the choices about her.
But she’s telling us about herself, which is really telling us more stuff about Rebecca. “You see this resume? Harvard. Yale. Special skills: Mandarin.” Again, it’s reminding us, oh don’t forget, she’s actually really competent, which was crucial. You’re setting up Mrs. Hernandez, a character who never speaks, and who’s sort of like–
Rachel: And we know why that is by the way. And we’ll–
Aline: We’ll get there.
Rachel: We’ll get there.
John: You’ll get there eventually.
Rachel: I just want to say we know why that is. It’s not just a gag.
John: Not just a gag. All right.
Rachel: Put that out for all the haters. Because this audience is clearly full of haters.
John: But in her dialogue choices, you’re describing she’s getting a chance to say things that she actually knows about. And she’s obsessed with popular culture. Louboutins. She wants to be — she aspires to be the person who gets to talk about these things, and yet she doesn’t. So, when you were writing this character for the first time, did you have a sense of who that person was going to be cast down the road? It wasn’t written for a person, but it was just a type?
Aline: She was always an antagonist — she’s the antagonist of the pilot. She doesn’t get on board until the very end. Well, we cast — the widest net we probably cast was for Paula. We saw every kind of — I mean, we weren’t restricted. We were color blind in almost all our casting except for — no, we were pretty color blind in most of our casting.
Rachel: Except for Josh, who was specifically Asian.
Aline: Except for Josh was always supposed to be Asian. So, here’s my tip for you. If you are looking for the deepest pool of talent in the world, it’s women between the ages of like 38 and 58. I’m telling you.
Rachel: They’re unbelievable and they can all sing.
Aline: Literally people you don’t know can sing, so here’s the thing. When we cast Greg, there’s a lot of dudes, especially white dudes, who think they’re amazing. And have been told they’re amazing. And we saw more bad auditions. Like guys were like kind of handsome and someone said you should be an actor. We saw millions of those.
Rachel: Okay, wait. I just want to clarify. I think the thing, and this is actually really good to know for any actors out there, the problem with a lot of the people we saw for Greg was because they had in their heads, okay, I’m the like hot romantic lead, everything was really small. And everything — the wine bar is over on — and they’re basically falling asleep because someone had told them this is what naturalistic acting is. This is your role. You’re the romantic heartthrob lead. And that’s why–
Aline: But it’s also a supply and demand thing. I mean, if you’re a handsome Caucasian gentleman, you know, 30, plus or minus five, you’re on a TV show. You have your own TV show. They’re so in demand. Middle aged ladies, who are so talented — I mean, literally, women would come in and crush the scene, and then you could click on their singing thing and it would be like, wow, that was a really good sing. And then they would sing and it would be like — it was like that commercial, your hair would be blown back, by how good they sang.
We could have cast that part — I mean, Donna is amazing, amazing, amazing, and stood out even in that group, but I’m telling you, we saw women from all different backgrounds, in a 20 age range, and they were incredible.
John: Let’s talk about that age range, because it’s an interesting gap between the two of you. Because she’s not quite a mother figure, I mean, she’s old for being a friend, but she’s not quite a mother figure. It’s a really fascinating gap that I don’t see a lot in television.
Aline: Well, it’s not that different from our age gap.
John: All right. Is there a degree to which the nature of that relationship was your relationship, or that gap?
Rachel: Yes. I mean, I actually remember when I first pitched the character of Paula to you. Do you remember this? And my thinking was — I remember I was filming a web series in Westwood and I was eating lunch. And I was like Rebecca needs a best friend.
And I was like, well what’s like a best friend character we hadn’t seen. And I’ve been watching a lot of Frasier, which I always do. I love Frasier. And I was thinking about Niles is a more Frasiery Frasier than Frasier is. And I was like, oh, what’s Rebecca’s Niles? And then instantly I was like, oh, it would be someone who buys into all the shit that we’re trying to deconstruct with the show. Buying into romantic comedies and buying into like love, destiny, destiny.
And when I think of that, I think of like — I mean, the people now who are glued to their phones and Twitter and Snapchat, arguably more than 13 year old, are like 50-year-old women.
Aline: So it was like Minivan Moms. It was right around that time of 50 Shades and it was like Minivan Moms who have 50 Shades, Twilight, and some good vibrator. A good vibrator stashed somewhere. That was kind of the genesis of it.
And I think there’s a — the season finale is on Monday and Paula has–
John: Which you directed.
Aline: Which I directed.
Rachel: Ah yeah.
Aline: Paula has a huge number in it. And I have been talking to Donna about like I think there’s this vesuvial rage in middle age ladies, because I always feel like there’s three genders. There’s men, women, and women over 40. And it’s sort of like — and luckily we have Jennifer Lopez working on it. But I feel like — I just feel like there’s this age where women sort of disappear and people start to look through you. And Paula is the smartest person in our office. And she’s just as sexy and sexual as Rebecca is, but the world is telling her to sit down and shut up. And she doesn’t want to.
And so she doesn’t know how to do — what she decides to do ultimately is to live vicariously through her friend.
John: So, ultimately we’re going to find sort of Paula’s backstory life. In the pilot she’s just sort of the foil for Rebecca, but we’re going to find out her unhappy family life and why she’s so determined to act out. How much of that did you know going into this pilot about what her home life was going to be like and what her–?
Rachel: We knew a lot of it. I mean, I think that Paula is very much like a symbol of what happens to a dream deferred, right? And, again, there’s still stuff we know — I don’t know, the stuff, once we started talking about Paula it really came–
Aline: Yeah, I mean, one of the things, their dialectic, like Rebecca is sort of a person who makes terrible decisions and does things that are not great. But worries a tremendous amount about being a good person and seeming like a good person. And Paula could give a rat’s ass about that. Paula does not care about whether people think she’s a good person. She knows what she believes in and what she thinks are the things to do, and she’s very — she’s the Henry Kissinger of sexual politics. She is realpolitik above all.
And she thinks everybody in the world is out to get some, and get theirs, and that Rebecca should be doing that, too.
John: Well, also, Paula is a character who didn’t do all that stuff in her time. And so she made the safe choice every time and she’s regretted making those safe choices all those times. So she sees this character who will make wildly dumb choices all the time and is like, yes, you should do more of that. And it’s a very interesting choice.
Let’s jump ahead to page 14, which is the final scene with Paula and Rebecca. This is happening at a house party. Rebecca has gone there to try to find Josh Chan, because there’s legend that Josh Chan is going to be coming to this party. So, in the Showtime pilot she’s just started to give Greg a hand job and that didn’t go well. In the CW pilot–
Rachel: No, no, in the Showtime pilot, she’s actively blowing him.
John: Oh, that’s right.
Rachel: And crying on his dick. By the way, and then when I did ADR for it, I had to — honest to god — I got an unpeeled banana and I put in my mouth doing ADR.
Aline: The sound guys were so happy.
John: They didn’t have Foley they could go through for that? Or have some sort of like sound effects library for that?
Aline: Everyone was like we don’t want to ask her. I’m like, don’t worry about it.
Rachel: [laughs] Oh, there’s this great — oh, the teamsters story.
Aline: Oh my god.
Rachel: Oh, there’s this great story about — real quick. This has nothing to do with anything. So the original Showtime pilot, the whole, just picture the CW pilot, but the whole scene, instead of like about to give him a hand job, I’m actively jerking him off. Like the whole conversation is like, “So what, this is a great party, this is a great party.”
And so we’re in the car on a location, we’re in the van on a location scout in West Covina.
Aline: We’re in the van with a bunch of — I mean, we’re with the line producer, and the department heads, and the teamsters driving.
Rachel: Yeah. And with our director, Marc. And I said to Marc, we were talking about the hand job scene. Very earnest question. I was like, hey, so should I spit into my hand? And he was like–
Rachel: He was like, “What are you talking about? What do you mean spit into your hand?” I was like, that’s how you give a hand job. And he was like, “No it isn’t.” And we had a whole argument in the car–
Aline: A whole argument.
Rachel: Of how to give a hand job. And we came to the conclusion that the way penises are, some people are like shaft tuggers, and other people — no, no, no, some people are, what is it?
Aline: Strokers and tuggers.
Rachel: Strokers and tuggers. Strokers and tuggers. Some people have excess skin where you don’t need…anyway.
Aline: So Rachel was about to turn to the teamster–
Rachel: This is for the scene. It’s really important.
Rachel: I need to know what Greg Serrano’s dick looks like. Like that’s really important.
Aline: They’re having a heated conversation. Rachel is about to turn to the teamster, who is the only other man in the van–
Rachel: And be like, “How do you like be jerked off?”
Aline: And she gets a text from our line producer saying, “You’re approaching actionable.”
Rachel: People have been sued for this. And we are saying it would have been the first time that an actress was sued by a teamster. [laughs] Anyways, so if you notice, I do not spit into my hand. Oh, no, you don’t know that. I don’t spit into my hand.
Aline: We’re going to try and put it up one day, because it’s a funny–
Rachel: It’s a great scene.
Aline: Quite funny scene with the actual hand job.
Rachel: And the sound effect of slapping. I don’t know where they got it. They wouldn’t tell us.
John: All right.
Aline: The CW scene is–
John: It’s a wet Shammy.
Aline: –amorous smooching. It’s amorous smooching.
Rachel: And at one point I’m like grabbing his nipples and stuff. I think I had my hand up his shirt.
Aline: Well, there was another thing, which was they finally start making out, and to do this scene, and our actor is so kind and respectful to Rachel that he’s not touching her boobs. And I turned to Marc, the director, I’m like there’s no way that anybody would be on a date with someone who looks like Rachel and the first thing they would do is get to the boobs. Like, you got to go tell him to touch her boobs.
Rachel: And I think you went up to Santino — this is obviously the show.
Aline: No, no, I didn’t. I told Marc. I said you got to go tell Santino that he needs to–
Rachel: Yeah, I think Marc was like, “Um, can you…can you touch her…touch her boobs?”
Aline: For the realism of the scene. Anyway.
John: Page 14. We are outside Beans’ house. Here’s a question for you, because I don’t honestly remember the pilot very well. So, Josh’s friends and Greg’s friends, are they all at this house? Did we meet them there?
Rachel: No. They are theoretically there. We just don’t–
John: We just don’t see them there. All right, so we’re at Beans’ house, front lawn, night. Rebecca and Paula walk out onto the front lawn. I’m sorry, we should say that Paula has tracked Rebecca down to this party.
Aline: By breaking into her computer.
John: Yes. And so that’s where we first learn that she is a hacker extraordinaire.
John: Rebecca and Paula walk out onto the front lawn.
Aline: Is this far enough from the house?
Rachel: What are you doing here?
Aline: You think you are so much better than me. Harvard, Yale… I’m just as smart as you, Miss SnootyShoes…
Rachel: What are you TALKING about?
Aline: I’m talking about Josh. Chan? Joooooosh Chaaaaaaan?
Rachel: What? What do you know about Josh?
Aline: Let’s see, well, I know he lives in town, which is weird because you told me you didn’t know anyone here. And clearly you know him, you checked his Facebook 63 TIMES today. And his Instagram, 18 times.
Rachel: Have you been going through my computer?
Aline: Yes. Yes, I have.
Rachel: I could have you fired.
Aline: You lied to me–
Rachel: Lied to you? I didn’t lie to you! No one shoved a bible under my hand when I met you in the office.
Aline: –and you lied because whoever this Josh Chan is, you’re OBSESSED with him–
Aline: You’re in love with him. Look at you. Look at those love eyeballs.
Rachel: Oh, “love eyeballs”, yeah.
Aline: You love him. You moved here for him. And you won’t admit it! Why?
Rachel: In love with him? That’s ridiculous. I barely know him. I dated him for a summer when I was 16. Okay, what are you saying? Let’s unpack it. You’re saying I uprooted my entire life, left behind a job that paid me…oh, there’s a typo. Paid me thousand dollars? I think $500,000 was it. Left behind a job that paid me $500,000. That’s right. For some random boy I haven’t seen in ten years who likes to skateboard and thinks “whatever” is two separate words? That makes no sense. Look, it’s simple.
Aline: Ten years?
Rachel: What happened was, I was in New York and I saw him and he made me feel all warm, like glitter was exploding inside me, and now I’m here. But I didn’t move here FOR him because that would be crazy. And I’m not crazy. Am I… crazy? Ohmygod. OhmyGod. Is that what I am?
Aline: Okay, stop. Stop it. Right now. You’re not crazy, you hear me? You’re in love. That’s different.
Rachel: I can’t be in love with him. That would mean I’m stupid.
Aline: You’re not stupid. You’re following your heart. That’s not stupid. You just shoulda told me, that’s all–
Rachel: No, no, I am, I’m stupid and emotional and irrational, I’m every rotten thing my mother says I am…
Aline: STOP IT. STOP IT RIGHT NOW. Don’t you ever talk like that about my friend again, you hear me?
Rachel: We’re… friends?
Aline: I’d be proud to be your friend. Now that I know the truth? What you did for love? The sacrifices? You’re brave. Wish I’d been that brave at your age. Look, I get it, it’s a secret. I won’t tell a soul. But I’m here now. You’re not alone anymore. We are going to win this, you hear me? We won’t let what happened to Justin and Selena happen to you, I promise.
Rachel: You don’t understand. It doesn’t matter anymore. Josh has a girlfriend. Yeah, A GIRLFRIEND. Also, I texted him 46 hours ago and haven’t heard ANYTHING. So clearly all he cares about is his girlfriend. And not about me.
Aline: His Facebook status is SINGLE. If he was into her, would it say that?
Rachel: That’s what I said!
Aline: So maybe he doesn’t realize his true feelings right now, but if we play this right, one day he will. One day it’s gonna hit him like a ton of bricks and when that happens, HE WILL TEXT.
John: At that exact moment, a miracle. A CHIME FROM REBECCA’S PHONE. A TEXT MESSAGE.
Rachel: Are you a witch?
John: AND NOW TIME SLOWS DOWN. Slowly, Rebecca picks up the phone. Reads. Flips it around to show Paula.
Aline: Wanna grab dinner? Smiley face.
Rachel: IS THERE REALLY A SMILEY FACE???
Aline: THERE’S A SMILEY FACE.
John: HOLY FUCKING SHIT. Rebecca and Paula are blown away. Rebecca begins to sing. A reprise. The West Covina song.
Aline: Oh, no, no, you don’t want to hear me sing.
John: So, and then we get to the song, my favorite of the song of the whole series. West Covina. California.
Rachel: Do you want to do Paula’s part? Do you know it?
John: Yes, I do. But no. I don’t have all the words here. So, this is the turning point.
John: And honestly, if it were not for this scene, she would probably go back to New York City, don’t you think? What’s your hunch about what would happen next to Rebecca Bunch if Paula had not shown up here?
Aline: I think she would lock herself in her apartment for a week and go on a very deep dark dive. And then, yeah, and then just leave all her shit in the apartment, close the door, and take a flight back.
Rachel: Yeah. Wow.
Aline: We haven’t talked about that. But I think you’re right.
Rachel: We never talked about that.
Aline: Yeah. I think you’re right. But Paula is the fuel. She’s the person who tells her that this is okay. And what we love about it is it’s the mothering that Rebecca wants and needs, but it’s so wrong. It’s not right.
John: It’s the wrong mother.
Aline: It’s the wrong advice.
Rachel: It’s interesting reading the scene because, so this is the September — so this is hybrid. This script right now, it’s a hybrid of the original scene we had and then improvs that we did when we actually filmed it, because this was the shooting script for when we redid some stuff for the CW pilot. But the Paula and Rebecca scene, we didn’t reshoot that. So, it’s interesting, like on page 15, where it’s like “that would be crazy and I’m not crazy. Am I crazy? Ohmygod. Ohmygod.”
Aline: Those were improvs that we then put back into the script so that the script reflects the shooting of what we shot.
Rachel: And originally we were going to — it was — I mean, obviously in the scene it’s even longer, because the way that we wrote, I realized that emotionally to get to Rebecca panicking, it actually has to be a longer–
Aline: Ramp up.
Rachel: –build up. Yeah. And so we use a lot of improv on set, but especially in really heartfelt emotional scenes, because it — I don’t know, sometimes when you’re on set you feel the trajectory of a scene in a way that you can’t when it’s just on the page.
John: So, you’re a writer who is on set, and you are on set as well. So, when those moments happen, is it while you’re running through that you feel it first? I’m not going to be able to actually get to this moment and we need to stop and pause. And we need to ramp up?
Aline: No, Rachel just does — I mean, Rachel is the team leader, obviously, for the comportment of the actors, because she’s the EP and it’s her show. And so Rachel doesn’t do the scenes the same way ever. She always does something a little bit different and she always adjusts the lines and she often adds improv. And it’s super effortless. I’ve never seen her say I’m doing this or think about it. It’s just like what comes out of her. Like one of the lines here, where she says, “I like to you? Nobody shoved a bible under my hand.” That was an improv.
And what’s great about it is it’s very much on script, but it’s also improv, if that makes any sense. It’s always the intention of the scene, but it’s the sort of wonderful filigrees. And it really has freed up the other actors to do that. And we’ve just gotten wonderful, wonderful moments.
But it also keeps it very live. If you watch our dailies, they’re very live. There’s always, if we don’t have something, I mean, I have the vantage point of looking at all of Rachel’s performances in the editing room, and what’s amazing is there are some actors where like they’re so consistent, and that’s great, because you have what you have. But Rachel does so much variety and gives us so much variety that we can often make big adjustments in the performance because what she does is so flexible.
Rachel: And the thing, I just want to add one thing, I think that’s the biggest thing I learned as an actor watching people audition for my show, it didn’t matter if they were loyal to the commas. It didn’t matter if they got all the beats and like these reversals. The only thing that mattered was do I buy it. Do I buy them saying these words? And do I buy that these words are coming from their mouth? And so that taught me a lot going into the role. Like that’s the most important thing is to feel like these words are coming out.
And it’s actually taught me a lot about being an actor because I co-wrote this pilot, I had an ownership over the words where it was like I — it was an ownership over the words where like they were my words. And I’ve realized that that is the way that I and all actors should approach every script, as if you wrote it, so that you have a real ownership of the material, and the emotions, and you’re not doing an impression of what you think the writers want, or what you think the directors want.
Aline: So you’re interpreting, yeah.
Rachel: Yeah. You’re interpreting and you’re changing.
John: You’re channeling.
Rachel: You’re channeling in a way that feels authentic to you. And that every actor on our show does that.
John: So, to wrap up the discussion of character introductions, people we haven’t talked about here, Greg. We first meet him at the bar where he works, which becomes a standing set that you’re going to go back to a lot. What were the initial conversations about Greg and sort of what we need to know about him? Did you know what his plot function was going to be, or was he just this friend of Josh’s?
Aline: I mean, he is the guy who really knows what’s up very quickly. That’s basically his role in the pilot, was like he’s on to her very quickly. And he doesn’t care. And that’s the thing about dudes, like, some of them really like actively like women who are crazy. And men will say, “I like them crazy.” And Greg sees through her bullshit immediately, but is wildly attracted to it. And the crazier she is, the more into it he is. And because it allows her to reject him, and that’s what he wants ultimately.
He’s very comfortable in a space where he’s being rejected. Because the first thing he says to her is, “You’re beautiful, and you’re smart, and you’re not listening to me. So you’re obviously my type.” He knows right away that she doesn’t really — she’s so attracted to someone else 99% of the time, and so that was kind of the germ of his. But, again, because we saw so many people who read that scene so straight, that was the scene we were the most sick of in the auditions.
Rachel: Yeah. And I remember watching, because we cast a lot of our main cast out of New York. And so we were watching tapes. And I remember Santino’s audition came up. And before even watching it I was like, oh great, another white guy. Wonderful. I was just tired of white guys.
Aline: And she called me and said, yeah, I mean, he really took — he didn’t think he was going to get the part. He thought that we were going to cast some super uber beefcakey guy to play the part. So he kind of didn’t give a shit, and he came in and he did one audition on scene, and then he did one super riffy thing. And the riffy thing is what we used.
And then we had a funny thing. We sat down with Marc Webb when we were kind of down towards the end. And I hate to sell out Marc when I tell this story, but let’s just say Marc has insight into this character. And he gave us a couple of really great lines. I think the thing of like “you’re beautiful, and you’re smart, and you’re not paying attention to me” came from Marc.
Rachel: Well, that’s what happened. So we cast Santino, and part of the reason we cast him was he made these big choices with these lines. And he was actively like, “You from around here?” He really made these big, bold choices that felt fresh and unique and brought another depth, brought another dimension to Greg’s character.
And so I remember we’d already cast Santino. We were doing a final pass before the table read, and Marc happened to come by your house to hang out. And I was like, “Marc, I feel like we need to add — we need to add some sauce to this scene.” And Marc and I improvised together for like a couple minutes. And that’s where we got “You’re pretty, smart, and ignoring me. You’re obviously my type. Are you looking for an eight-year-old or an alcoholic? Because that’s what we got here.”
Marc really brought this doting bitterness.
Aline: Doting bitterness.
Rachel: Doting bitterness. In just improvising with him. So, yeah.
John: So the quality of Greg, that he’s like a grumpy old man who’s only 30, that’s–
Aline: That’s a combination of what the part was intended to be, what Santino brought to it, and that little germ of Marc that we got. But really no one is better at — if you guys don’t know, Santino who plays Greg is Hans from Frozen. And he’s really good at conveying sort of an arched eyebrow. Always.
Rachel: He plays high status. That’s his thing is to play high status, which was interesting because ultimately his character for most of the show is low status in that he’s on a leash by his dick when it comes to Rebecca, but doesn’t like that he’s on a leash by his dick.
Aline: So every line he’s ever said to Rebecca in the entire series, the parenthetical under it would be “you’re an idiot.” But he loves her, but he’s constantly telling her, “You’re an idiot,” which is how he shows love.
John: With future episodes, you talked a little bit about Rebecca’s dad, but can you give me an example of another character who had to be introduced over the course of the series who we first meet over the course of an episode, how do you get a beat on a character and then how do you communicate what that is supposed to be to casting so you get a sense of who that person is coming in?
I’m trying to think, over the course of the series, people you have introduced–
Aline: So like we have Trent, we have a character of Trent. And Trent is this guy that Rebecca doesn’t remember from college, but he remembers her really well, and he’s very in love with her. And the germ of that came about because we were bringing in this person who was like he’s Rebecca to Rebecca, and she thinks he’s horrible and creepy. And she doesn’t recognize her behavior in him.
And so he was very much — one of the things is most of the characters were conceived by Rachel and I in the pilot process. And then a lot of the other characters were conceived as the writer’s room developed. And Trent, being super weird and awkward, and wearing turtlenecks that he tucks into his pants, like anybody who’s been in a writer’s room knows he is room bait. So writing Trent was something that everybody in the room got very excited about and pitched in a lot of stuff about.
And then so we had this very weird guy, and we actually didn’t have the scene ready for casting, so we wrote a scene before we even had it in the script, and we sent it out. And then this — we saw a bunch of a people who were funny, and then we saw this guy Paul Welsh. It’s the hardest I think the writer’s room saw me laugh the entire — I wish we could put up his audition. I literally fell out of a chair.
Rachel: We can.
Aline: We should put it up. I laughed so hard. And he improvised things, like there was a line of like, “Do you want to watch a movie?” And then he said, “Do you like Tarantino? I don’t.” And I will tell you that we have enough Trent material from like the two days that he works to cut that episode 15 different ways, all of them hilarious.
John: It struck me as a crucial character, becomes he comes in in such a weird off angle. So, it’s a character who she’s found him on Facebook and claimed that he’s the boyfriend, never having met him. And then suddenly he shows up.
Aline: Right. And he knows her and he’s love in with her. And then there were other characters, like we always knew we had to do her mother. Her mother speaks in the pilot, but doesn’t have a role. So we always knew that was coming down the pike. And then Tovah is a more traditional, she’s a Broadway actor, and she’s a singer, and so we wrote this really specific thing. And she had to be Jewish. And so we looked for an actress who really was Jewish and who brought that to the part. And she looks a shocking amount like Rachel.
So Trent is sort of a room funny, but the part of the mother is a big deal. We spent a ton of time on that. That was a very important episode, because you see her incoming from the pilot, and if you’re a fan of the show and watching the show, you understand that Rebecca’s mother is the Bundt cake in which she was formed. And so–
John: There’s an Aline Brosh McKenna metaphor there.
Aline: There you go.
John: I was waiting for one.
Aline: There you go. So, it was really, that was a very important role. That was extremely important.
Rachel: But I just remembered, I mean I feel like, you’re talking about introducing a character, finding like what are the most important things of a character, it just — it’s like getting more and more specific. And so it’s like, well, what’s that one line in the first draft, it’s like what’s that one line that says everything that you need to know about them. And then we’ll get the actor in. And then we’ll get even more specific ideas.
And so then the dialogue will get even more specific. And with Tovah, there’s this final scene where she and Rebecca are yelling at each other in a mall, and Naomi Bunch says, “I want you to survive. Survival. Survival.” And that’s based on Tovah. Like that’s — we had these scenes written, and then I had an hour long conversation with Tovah on the phone where she talks a lot about the history of the Jewish people, and the state sponsored Pogroms, you know, of the Russian government. And her whole thing is like that’s why Jewish mothers are the way they are. It’s survival, survival, survival.
And we just wrote that in. Like what a great, she just kind of gave that to us.
Female Audience Member: Hi, so I’m a really big fan of the show, and you mentioned that Josh was initially supposed to be Asian, but you didn’t know what Asian specifically. And I’m Filipino and a lot of the jokes are insanely accurate. So I just wanted to know like–
Aline: So he was written to be Josh Chan.
Rachel: No, Josh Chang.
Aline: Josh Chang. And we saw Asian dudes of every description. And we always knew that whatever nationality he actually turned out to be, we would adjust it for that. And so Vinnie is Filipino and we liked the contrast of the name, so instead of doing the more Spanish sounding name, we were looking for a — so Chang doesn’t exist in the Philippines, but Chan is a name that some Chinese descent Filipinos have. So we changed it to Chan.
And then we just wrote to Vinnie and we have an amazing writer on staff named Rene Gube who plays Father Brah.
Rachel: Who plays Father Brah.
Aline: And he’s one of our staff writers. And he’s Filipino. And so we got so much of our specifics from Rene. I mean, about, you know, just Dinuguan, but also calling your aunt, Aunt [Ah-Tay] and we got so many specifics from him. It was a real, I have to say, real lesson for us in terms of like as we said a lot, we tend to write really specifically, so we were really specific about the bisexual thing. And we were really specific about the Filipino thing. And we really wanted it to be accurate.
And that’s something that I’ve done in my career with workplace stuff, where I’ve always done a ton of research because I want the people in that workplace to be like, “Oh my god, totally.” And with the Filipino thing we just did the same thing where we like drilled down. And now we have a whole company of the Chan Fan Bam. We have a whole company of Filipino actors. And Amy Hill, who is Filipino, but plays the mom.
Rachel: But it just, I mean, I think that situation especially with Rene giving us these specifics we otherwise never would have had just proves why diversity kind of starts — one of the places it starts is in the writer’s room because you don’t want to create like a false character and then just work it out in casting it.
Aline: Yeah, I mean, we had Vinnie. And Vinnie gave us also some things. And when the writers started, they all came in and had lunch with the writer’s room. And he and Rene right away had all these things. But the fact that his sisters are named Jayma and Jastenity, we wouldn’t have known that that’s a thing, where like they name the–
Female Audience Member: All the random Jay names. I was like, yes, dude, yeah.
Rachel: Like the made up names.
Aline: No matter in depth we would have done our research, we never would have gotten things that — so, one of the things I would say, I don’t know if you’re a writer, but being diverse is not a — you’re not asking people to hire you or consider you because they’re nice and they want to change the world. That’s a qualification. You know, that’s an experience of the world that most people don’t have. That’s something that’s great to have in the writer’s room people who are older and younger and female and male and gay and straight and bi and trans and, you know, from the Midwest. You’re looking for a wide variety of people.
That’s the best writing is going to come from — no, I’m not kidding. The best writing is going to come from a room where not everybody is from the same background. And so, I mean, we even like have a writer from Ohio. We have a writer who–
Rachel: The Midwest being the most diverse.
Aline: Who spent part of her life in South Africa. I mean, you’re drawing on life experiences, so for us it’s like it’s a benefit and a qualification to find people who have had diverse life experiences, because you’re trying to write about a world that has a diversity of experiences in it. And there’s even little things, like sometimes we’ll stipulate the character should be overweight, because otherwise they won’t bring you someone who is, you know. So, we kind of try and stipulate that.
But, you know, I would say I think it’s a huge qualification and asset to have an unusual background.
Female Audience Member: Oh, thank you.
Aline: You know, the thing I will say, it’s funny, because sometimes people say, you know, you discovered Rachel or whatever. Rachel was doing amazing work. It was just a matter of time. I mean, what she was doing so brilliant, and so funny, and so amazing. I just maybe sped up the process by a little bit, because what she was doing was such standout work.
And I have to say every day that we work on this show, it’s like such a privilege to work with somebody who is so smart, wise beyond her years, the kindest person. She’s so beloved on the show. But so sensible. I mean, we’ve been in stressful — when we started, Rachel was 26 years old. And as you guys have heard, I’m the old lady on the hill. I’ve seen it all.
And we’ve been in some situations which were very weird and stressful, where people said really weird things and acted in a strange way. And she’s just like so mature and so sensible, in addition to being so incredibly talented in sort of like a visionary way. You know, I feel like in a lot of ways she discovered me. I feel like I got a chance to do this and play in this sandbox that I never would have gotten to play in otherwise.
John: Aw. That’s a nice way to leave it tonight. So, Aline, Rachel, thank you so much for being on this.
Aline: Thank you, John.
Rachel: Thank you, John August.
John: And thank you guys. Thank you.
- The Writers Guild Foundation
- Aline Brosh McKenna on episodes 60, 76, 100, 101, 119, 123, 124 152, 161, 175, 180, 200, 219, 231 and 242
- Rachel Bloom and on IMDb and YouTube
- Aline and Rachel on Scriptnotes, 175: Twelve Days of Scriptnotes
- Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on CWTV.com
- Follow along at johnaugust.com/crazy or on Weekend Read
- West Covina from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
- Outro by Matthew Chilelli (send us yours!)