Skylar Astin on Exploring 'Uncharted Territory' in 'Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist' Season 2
He sings, he dances and is reading for a good cause! Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist star Skylar Astin is teaming up with Hill's Pet Nutrition for NBC's Clear the Shelters pet adoption campaign by holding a virtual reading of A Home for Hilly, an illustrated eBook which follows the transformational journey of a shelter pup.
A proud pet dad himself to cat Annabelle, Astin's reading taking place Friday, August 21 at 3pm PST/6pm EST via his Instagram page (@skylarastin) will raise up to $10,000 for the fundraiser. In anticipation for the event, we caught up with the actor to discuss his role in Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist and more.
Below, he opens up about Season 2 of the NBC hit including when production will start back up, whether the love-triangle between Zoey (Jane Levy), his character Max and Simon (John Clarence Stewart) is through, what songs he'd like to perform and much more.
What drew you to Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist and the role of Max?
Skylar Astin: I think the thing that drew me most to this character [and project] was its originality. I've seen musicals done before and I've seen musicals done on television before, but there was an ethereal, magical, almost super element to this musical that made a difference. It was a different device for entering and exiting scenes, transitioning from scene work to song, and furthermore to dance.
Speaking of singing and dancing, was there a favorite routine or song that you performed in Season 1?
Well, ironically, something that I really enjoyed was something that I was not prepared for, and that was the "Pressure" song in Episode 8. In that song, my character doesn't know what's going on and [choreographer] Mandy Moore and her entire dance team thought it would be fun for Skylar to not know the choreography, either. So I'm genuinely trying to keep up with Jane [Levy] when she's doing that big board room scene.
That was the most fun day on set for me because I couldn't make a mistake, as much as I tried. I was supposed to not know what I was doing, so that provided like a lot of area for physical comedy, which I enjoyed. I know Jane and I looked fondly upon that day. Every song had its own challenges and its own rewards, but that one was particularly silly and fun.
You're quite experienced when it comes to musical projects with roles in the Pitch Perfect films and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. How did those jobs impact your approach to Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist?
Well, I definitely knew what to expect and had some experience in all areas, whether it was booth experience for vocal singing or what it takes to lip sync along to your own track, and what really makes that feel authentic. So I became somewhat of a performer resource on set, not to say that I knew better or more than anyone else, I just think the experience that I had in this specific medium was helpful. But I really just followed the lead of Austin [Winsberg], Mandy, and all of our creative team because we are telling a different story.
The way that we enter musical scenes, I always wanted to keep it cerebral in having all of the songs come from this really deep rooted place in musical theater and in this genre. It's always a rule that when you were compelled so much that you have nothing else to do, you sing, and when you can't sing any longer, you dance. That's when it's really earned and really genuine. But this show really reaches deep into the mind of that, more than anything else, because it is actually existing as some sort of a real world for Zoey. So it has to feel real even when it's performative.
Season 1 concluded with Zoey picking her friend Max over co-worker Simon as a romantic prospect. Will that stick or is there room for a continued love triangle?
I think with every bit of satisfaction and relief that you get from having Max and Zoey hook up in the final episode of Season 1, you still get a bunch of uncharted territory that we get to explore. There's so much more to do with Max and Zoey, and then Zoey herself, Max himself, and even Simon in relationship to everything. I think I actually kind of know where we're headed to some degree and I don't know if it gets any cleaner, but I will say it is not what Season 1 was.
You're not going to just expect her to be making up her mind between these two men for three or four seasons. Love is very vast and complicated, and has a lot to do with timing, and I think that we're really going to get into all of that. We're not shying away from how messy all that can be.
The show was renewed for Season 2 and it seems like you know a bit about the upcoming storylines. What can you tease about returning to production?
We are actually heading up there in a week. So it's not as far off as you're thinking. We're one of the first people to get back to production and getting up to Vancouver is going to be a little bit different this time around. We actually have to quarantine for two weeks and will be surveilled by the government. If we breach that agreement there is a ridiculous fine that would not only put Zoey's in jeopardy, but me ever being able to enter Canada again. So we'll be following the rules there and all for a good cause. We're realizing through this time that we have all this forced self reflection and realizing what matters. And something else that people are realizing is they may also have no shows to watch.
This is entertainment and I'm so proud to be a part of something that can actually distract. And for that reason, I don't believe we're doing any COVID storylines, nor would I really [want to]. I think there are certain shows out there that can't pretend it's not there, but I truly think that our show is an escape in many ways. There's enough drama going on in our world, so I'm just excited to get back into it and safely shoot Season 2.
When it comes to entertainment, what are you bingeing or enjoying on TV at the moment?
It took me a long time to watch The Last Dance documentary because I loved it so much, I wanted to almost save it for myself. So that was fun to just check out every Sunday, and then there are other shows that I just binged. Indian Matchmaking was a beautiful, lovely show and a great window into a world I didn't know. I loved Watchmen and I know I'm a little late on that, but this is the time to catch up on those things.
You're going to be reading A Home for Hilly in support of Hill's Pet Nutrition and NBC's annual Clear the Shelters campaign. How has your own relationship with your pet cat Annabelle inspired you to take part in this?
Well, growing up, my family fed my dog Hill's and I know that the impact quality nutrition can make in a pet's life because my dog actually had a very sensitive stomach and was very picky about what she would eat and loved Hill's Science Diet. After working with Hill's, I've come to realize that for more than 18 years they've supported shelter animals with the Food, Shelter & Love program.
What that really does is it ensures that they receive premium nutrition, both in the shelters and as they transition into their new home. And to celebrate Hill's support for shelter pets, I'm actually holding a virtual reading in which for every video view Hill's will donate up to $10,000 to the clearthesheltersfund.org. So not only am I going to be reading a book that I'm sure will have heart, humor, and emotion, it's also for a really good cause.
Speaking about heart and emotion, is there any overlap in the joy your cat and music bring to your life?
I know people dance around with their pets all the time, but I put on the Cats soundtrack and she does this dance, it's the weirdest thing. I'm sure I can put on any music and maybe she'll do the same thing, but there's something very mystical and majestical about that soundtrack. I start to move like a weirdo and we full on dance around the house. So I actually do think that there is something symbiotic between pets and music.
While Season 2 of Zoey's remains on the horizon, are there any songs you'd like Max to perform in the upcoming episodes?
Well, there are so many out there so I could really go on and on. I talked before about gender bending. I think that with cover songs, it's always repurposed immediately when a girl sings a guy's song or vice versa. And for that reason, I'd like to tackle some Adele or Amy Winehouse, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, any of that stuff. And I would like to see us potentially do a little bit more duets or group songs, or even an original song. I have written several throughout the quarantine and there are one or two that I think are perfect for Max.
I don't know if that'll happen in Season 2, but definitely in [a potential] Season 3 I think that there's an area to be explored. I know Mary [Steenburgen] writes music, and I know Alex [Newell] writes music. So I think it could be interesting to have certain characters sing their own songs.
Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, Season 2, TBA, NBC