“I don’t think anyone really knew what the show was going to be when we started,” Jane Levy shares as we sit down at Hugo’s in West Hollywood for an afternoon coffee.
This marks her first in-person interview since the pandemic, a milestone that we’ve all been keen to have this summer. For Levy, it’s a chance to reflect on the many milestones achieved since she left New York for Los Angeles.
Having studied at Stella Adler Studio of Acting, you might assume her move to LA was timed with an acting opportunity. “If I’m being honest, I moved to LA for a man I was dating,” Jane says with a half-grin.
Regardless of her reasoning, Levy caught immediate traction in Los Angeles. “I have a very annoying story,” Levy says with an almost guilty conscience. “I got my first leading role in a movie within a month of moving to Los Angeles.”
Her breakout role in Fede Álverez’s Evil Dead went on to earn over $97.5 million, which more than qualifies as a promising start to one’s LA journey. Before that film ever hit theaters, Levy was on set filming the Showtime series Shameless. “A week after moving to LA I got a recurring role on Shameless,” Levy recalls. “It was the first season and I didn’t really know what to expect.”
That series finished its eleven season run earlier this year, and Levy’s season one character Mandy Milkovich continued beyond her days of playing the role. “I got cast on (ABC’s) Suburgatory and I remember calling my agent thinking I can’t leave a project,” Levy shares. “My agent told me it was so normal, that’s just what people do when they get a lead role in a series.”
Levy grimaces thinking back on how she viewed her placement in Hollywood. “I was just so young and green in the industry, that I didn’t know.” What she does remember is not being able to absorb how only a handful of actors ever get to lead a series. “I was more on a rollercoaster ride of joy and euphoria and discovery.”
Following her time on Suburgatory, Levy expanded her credits with versatile roles on Hulu’s psychological horror series Castle Rock, Netflix’s Neo-noir thriller What/If, and Fede Alvarez’s horror feature Don’t Breathe.
Despite the constant stream of work, Levy never felt comfortable that her success would last. “In my career, I’ve often thought that I’d get fired the entire time while shooting, and I was convinced that the plug will be pulled at any minute,” Levy says. “Now I tell myself that I’m there for a reason, I got the part and I need to do my job because they want me for this.”
It’s with this mindset that Levy went into NBC’s Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist as number one on the call sheet. It’s unsurprising that she is as engaging and kind as Zoey Clarke. In its second season, the opportunity for Levy to have more dancing and singing numbers presented itself. “I’ve definitely learned new skills for the show,” Levy shares. “I’m actually taking singing lessons right now twice a week.”
Levy’s willingness to challenge herself and evolve in the industry is just another reason she wants to explore working in other areas. “I would love to direct,” Levy shares. “I know there is so much to learn before I do that but that’s on the list.”
It’s Levy’s competitive spirit, which she gained by playing soccer through high school and college, that helps her maintain a strong work ethic and high standard. “It takes a lot of stamina to get through the show and my history with soccer helped with that,” she says.
Similar to musical series like Glee and Smash, musical numbers on Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist need to be recorded, choreographed, blocked, rehearsed and ultimately filmed.
Fortunately, the cast boasts a number of musical alum, including Alex Newell of Glee fame, who offered Levy sage advice. “Asking Alex for advice is like asking a Lamborghini to give a Honda advice,” Levy laughs. “Something he would say to me was to smile when you’re recording songs, because that will make your voice sound better.”
The arduous shooting schedule often means there is little room for error during filming. Each episode is filmed within eight days, with six to nine musical numbers choreographed by Emmy-award winning choreographer Mandy Moore.
Moore’s directorial debut in season two featured a musical number during the Bay to Breakers marathon in San Francisco, which included 40-50 dancers, plus 150 extras. “During the musical numbers, I’m on my best game because a lot of them are one long take,” Levy shares. “We all exert so much energy to be able to perform each take, to hit each of our marks, that I can’t be the one to screw that up.”
The demands of the grueling filming schedule and the safety precautions that need to be in place for talent and crew working extreme hours have evolved in recent years. Notably, Levy recalled reading about Riverdale star K.J. Apa’s late-night car crash after a 16-hour work day.
That accident prompted a protest on the set of Riverdale, which led to studios evaluating the safety measures in place on productions. “The cast and crew are your product. If you’re going to view the demanding schedule as a way to make a profit, you have to protect your product.” She considers her thoughts for a moment, before adding, “I do think, however, the culture is changing in all industries.”
It was Levy’s co-star in the first season, Lauren Graham, who advocated for Levy to voice her concerns when they arise. “Lauren has some kind of clause in her contract, the Lorelai clause, because they overworked her so much,” Levy shares. “She was adamant that I stand up for myself, especially at times when I was nearly falling over from fatigue.”
When asking Levy about her work/life balance, she chuckles warmly. It’s near impossible for her to maintain some semblance of her identity because for eight months out of the year she’s in Vancouver filming Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. “I’m fortunate in that I’m young and I don’t have kids,” Levy says. “My heart goes out to people who balance raising a family with the type of work schedule we have.”
Levy remains hopeful that Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist will have a new home on a streaming platform, following NBC’s decision not to pick up a third season of the series. “I haven’t allowed myself to entertain the idea that we’re actually over,” Levy confesses. “There’s something inside me that truly believes we’re going to get picked up.”
One thing that is certain, is that the future remains bright for Levy as her range has only grown over the last two seasons. “Now that I’ve done Zoey’s, I think it’s time for me to do theater,” Levy reveals. “It’s something so foreign to me that it’s terrifying, and because it is, I feel I need to do it.”