'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' Star Rachel Bloom Is Living Proof That Fangirling Is A Radical Act
If being a fan means passionately obsessing over something, devoting one's life to that thing, and making friends and family suffer through niche references thrown into casual conversation as if everyone should just know that Nicholas Flamel is the inventor of the Sorcerer's Stone, OK? then Rachel Bloom is a textbook fangirl."I’m still really catching up when it comes to sci-fi and comic books. But Harry Potter, Disney, musical theater — those are things I’ve been a fan of since I was really, really young,” she says when we meet, one 87-degree day in Sunland, California at the hidden Los Angeles gem known as Furst Castle. She’s coming in hot, literally, fresh off a full day at Disneyland with the cast of her Golden Globe-winning series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
"Let me break it down for you," she says, posing like a football coach running a play, as she begins to explain her whirlwind adventure that began with bunking with two cast-mates at Disney's Grand Californian hotel like a happy little family. A group of 10 of them, including Josh Chan himself (Vincent Rodriguez III, or “Vinnie” as she calls him) and Bloom’s onscreen BFF Donna Lynn Champlin, came together for the celebrity rite of passage: attending Disneyland with a personal tour guide and the right to cut every line in the park. (“It’s 10 people so you divvy it, but it’s still really expensive,” she warns of the primo experience.) The day was pretty much perfect, and “Vinnie” was able to get her crew into the exclusive secret restaurant inside Disneyland, Club 33. It’s the only place in the park that serves alcohol (she had a rye whiskey cocktail called a Ward 8 and a “playful white” wine) and somewhere she’s wanted to go for pretty much every one of the 31 years of her life.
If I had a billion dollars, I would start my own amusement park that had stories on the rides that were just for the rides, that you didn’t have to like know the movies.
“It’s this fancy restaurant in the middle of Disneyland. It’s very surreal,” she says as she slips on a pair of red peep toe wedges with the help of her stylist. Despite the fact that she’s gripping a doorway for balance, her eyes are like saucers at the mere memory of this special, magical Disney treat. “It’s fantastic.”
Like any true fan, she’s got a wealth of thoughts when it comes to the park. Disneyland fudge and Pixar Pier’s new pie-sized cookies? A+ in her book. The replacement of California Adventure’s Tower of Terror and California Screamin’ rollercoaster with a Guardians of the Galaxy-themed ride and The Incredicoaster, respectively? Also high marks, despite the fact that she was initially very skeptical that the powers-that-be decided to re-vamp the classic rides. (“Something that bugged me about Tower of Terror is that there was no ending. For all intents and purposes you would get off that ride and still be a ghost,” she reasons in hindsight.) But as much as Bloom loves these amusement parks, like a true fan, she’s got ideas about how she could make them even better. And what else would you expect from a woman whose bread and butter is literally creative critiques (of romantic comedy issues, but still)?
“The thing that generally bums me out, and I don’t see a way around this, is that every amusement park now is based around promoting properties of existing movies and TV shows,” she says with a pragmatic, measured tone — she knows full well that she’s a card-carrying member of the two biggest offenders. (Disney and Harry Potter both have their own magical, amusing Worlds.) “If I had a billion dollars, I would start my own amusement park that had stories on the rides that were just for the rides, that you didn’t have to like know the movies. That’s my like ultimate dream,” she says. In an alternate timeline, she might have actually been creating theme parks instead of skewering romantic comedies on Crazy Ex. “I used to want to be an imagineer at Disney,” she adds. “But I’m shit at physics.”
I’ve been privileged to learn that the more authentically I am myself, the more I’m rewarded for that.
She’s no imagineer, but it’s a bit of a rollercoaster hanging out with Bloom. Halfway through our chat, she invites me to follow her while her stylist gets her dressed up for a ‘70s-inspired look, which she’ll later wear while perching on a diving board hovering above the largest pool in L.A. County. In the blink of an eye, she’s gone from languid and overheated, attempting to beat the heat in front of what can only be described as a Beyoncé-level fan, to buzzing around the sitting room of the Moroccan-style castle, flipping through the clothing rack her stylist rounded up for her, and assuring me it’s fine that I’m along for the journey. (“You’ll get to see my real body,” she jokes, drawing out the last few words as dramatically as possible.)
When she gets a glimpse at her final look, she’s so in awe, she literally slams her hands down on the table as she leans into the mirror. “Oh fuck off. This is cool as shit,” she shouts at her stylist, who she says found the playful skirt she paired with her cheeky Stephen Sondheim shirt at the 2018 Tonys (or “Tone-Bones” in Bloom-speak). Before she continues our interview, and our serious discussion of the show’s treatment of women’s issues (including such topics as abortion, in one Paula-centric episode), Bloom pauses to snap a few selfies for the co-creator and showrunner of Crazy Ex, Aline Brosh-McKenna. “Aline, as you know, loves fashion and so I’m like her little dolly,” she says between selfie poses. Seconds later, we’re back to the societal ills placed upon women, sternly chatting about how the most uncomfortable outfit she ever wore on set wasn’t the full length cactus costume she wore in the literal desert sun, but the most hyper-feminine, glam look that Bloom’s Rebecca dons when she gets a full makeover — an outfit that serves as a full manifestation of the unrealistic beauty expectations society has of women. “I had long hair extensions and I had fake nails. I hate trying to get work done with fake nails. The extensions were hot on my neck. I was really bitchy that week,” she confides. “It made me feel locked in my own skin.”
It’s appropriate, in some ways, that we’re chatting in this wacky castle. Not only does it complete Bloom’s weekend full of magical locales, it’s a funky anomaly, an unlikely creation just north of L.A. proper, sitting atop its own hill, defiantly and determinately doing its own thing, much like her CW series. “I’ve been privileged to learn that the more authentically I am myself, the more I’m rewarded for that,” says the unrelenting musical theater fan. She’s the sort of person who spends more time listening to Sondheim than current Top 40, and who quite recently thought the nearly 10-year old Owl City song “Fireflies” was a “new song” — a fact playfully betrayed by Brosh-Mckenna during Crazy Ex's first ever San Diego Comic-Con panel on July 19. And though Bloom has to defend her passions often (her song-writing partner, Adam Schlesinger, apparently doesn't understand Harry Potter, like, at all), she notes that because she’s become more secure in herself as she's gotten older, the act of defending those passions "doesn't feel so dire” anymore.
It’s amazing that it’s on and that we’ve gotten to do four seasons of this weird fucking specific cult show.
Of course, that probably has something to do with the fact that musical theater, her least mainstream passion, is the one that allowed her to make a name for herself and garner fans of her own. By all rights, Crazy Ex should never have made it on a network for three seasons with its measly 600,000-ish viewers an episode. (The fact that CBS Television just upped the fourth and final season order to a full 18 episodes seems even more improbable.) And Bloom will be the first to tell you that: “It’s amazing that it’s on and that we’ve gotten to do four seasons of this weird fucking specific cult show. It’s insane.”
Throughout it all, the fans have stayed with this weird, fucking specific series and, especially, with Bloom. They’re the sort of people who, when faced with the option of commonly recognizable cosplay at San Diego Comic-Con, show up dressed as Broom Darrell and the Love Kernel Cactus anyway, knowing full well their painstakingly crafted getups won't turn many uninitiated heads. They’re also the sort of folks who, when Bloom stops promoting Season 4 in the middle of her Comic-Con panel to burst into a lengthy monologue about the “orgasm gap,” the need for better understanding of clitoral stimulation, and her desire for every human in the audience to do some research on the matter, erupt in hearty cheers, whistles, and whoops. (A moment, I guarantee, you will never encounter at any other Comic-Con event, in the future or the past.) This devotion to and understanding of her stark point of view doesn’t go unnoticed by Bloom. Not one bit.
Even if you’re like ‘f*ck awards shows,’ you can’t help but see value in it because everyone is talking about it all the time.
“[Our fans are] all smart, and they’re all people I can see as my friends. And they all have different backgrounds [and] sensibilities, but I feel a kinship with their souls,” she says with the same sincere brow furrowing that those very fans may recognize from every earnest moment on her series. Bloom loves that they understand the show’s weirder, harsher plot twists, like the episode in which Rebecca sleeps with her ex-boyfriend Greg’s father during a particularly dark moment. “I was like, people are going to be infuriated. And they actually weren’t,” she says. "They understood why it had to happen, and I was really impressed.”
Fans, however, were thoroughly unimpressed when Crazy Ex was once again “snubbed” (a term she rejects and says only truly applies outside of massive awards shows, when someone is systematically excluded “like at a country club”) by Emmys voters in mid-July, garnering no nominations — even in the original song category, in which Bloom hoped the Season 3 song “Let’s Generalize About Men” might get its due. “[It’s] maybe one of the best songs we’ve ever done. So that was a bummer,” she admits, betraying the sliver of truth in her Emmys reaction on Twitter — a video in which she rages around her office screaming, “Why do we even do any of this?”
“I was upset. I did it based on me being upset. But I was also making fun of being upset because it is the most privileged thing ever to be upset that you’re not nominated for an Emmy. How privileged is that? I just thought it was like, you know we make such a big deal about this fucking awards show,” she says, this time, without an ounce of facetiousness. Bloom sees the behind-the-scenes campaigning process as an executive producer of Crazy Ex, and says that despite her best efforts, it makes it harder to be chill about the lack of a nomination. “You spend so much time talking about these Emmy campaigns, you end up putting a lot of stakes in it even when you don’t want to. I don’t want to see one fucking awards show as the be-all end-all for my series. However, it is talked about so much now, even if you’re like ‘fuck awards shows,’ you can’t help but see value in it because everyone is talking about it all the time.”
We showed that musicals have a place.
Awards or not, the promise that the series began with hasn’t changed and the series has never strayed from its original vision, at least not at its core. In fact, while Bloom staunchly avoids spilling any real spoilers for the final season, she does divulge that the ending is still the same as what she envisioned from Day One.
“It’s [about] what do we want the show to say, what do we want the emotions to be? So it’s less planned out than I think some people think,” she says. “A lot of stuff within the general emotional arcs has changed and grown, but we’ve stuck to the general arc of what the show is and the reason for it being four seasons. I still stand behind that.”
Bloom is less resolute about what comes after that final episode airs. On one hand, she is out there, pitching her next projects (a possible TV series based on her husband’s webseries about a contemporary mother of Christ, another series about young women living in New York in the early 1900s, and one could-be show that would serve as a vehicle for two of her best girlfriends). On the other hand, she seems to want nothing to do with her post-Crazy Ex existence — at least not yet.
She's almost literally got her hands tied when I broach the subject — a manicurist tapping away at her nails, while a hairstylist and makeup artist tinker with her face and coif. She appears somewhat frozen, not just because her glam squad has her held still as they all get to work, but also in the way she speaks about what comes next. "I have things I wanna create but once again, I’m kind of at the mercy of the people who will give me money to make things," she laments. When I ask if she'll ever take on another mega role (producer, actor, writer, songwriter) like she has on Crazy Ex for another, future series, she first responds resolutely: "Not on a network show ever again. I can’t." Within seconds, however, she swings the pendulum back; if it's someone "that we want to work with, then we’ll see."
I could see a world where we could revive and keep doing performances for the next 50 years.
She grips this neutral, in-between place tightly, attributing her uncertainty to the sheer amount of work that lies ahead — when we speak, the series hasn’t even begun pre-production, let alone actual filming. “For a lot of outsiders, it’s like, ‘Oh, are you getting sentimental?’ Maybe tomorrow I will because it’s our first table read, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. I’ll get sentimental when the work starts winding down,” she says. While she admits that the next step is scary — after all, making a musical comedy TV series was her main career goal, and she’s accomplished that already — she’s not quite ready to focus on the end, or even admit there is a real end in sight. “We’re probably going to do more touring after the show ends. Especially because it’s a musical, it’s kind of gonna peter out I think in a great way,” she says, adding that she and her close-knit cast could potentially continue touring for years to come. “I could see a world where we could revive and keep doing performances for the next 50 years.”
Before she leaves the confines of the castle itself, now fully primped for her outdoor shoot and ready to brave the blistering sun on the grounds, she is willing to share one final season wish about the legacy her implausible series will leave behind in the future, decades after she first rode that flying pretzel into the sky above West Covina. “[I hope] that we showed that musicals have a place,” she says, like a true musical theater fangirl. “Also that [the series] was groundbreaking in deconstructing the tropes that we’ve all bought into for a really long time. That’s really important to me.”
And it just so happens, that’s pretty important to everyone who fangirls over her, too.
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