NEW YORK — By page two of the pilot script for NBC’s “ Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” Skylar Astin knew he wanted the role of Max Richman.
The NBC musical series, now airing season two on Tuesdays, stars Jane Levy as Zoey Clarke, a woman who realizes people’s inner-most feelings by elaborate song and dance numbers that only she can see. Astin’s Max is best friends with Zoey, and also in love with her.
Astin was just coming off the final season of The CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” also a musical series, where he took over in the final season as a love interest for Rachel Bloom’s character. He wasn’t looking for more of the same. Then came the enthusiastic pitches about “Zoey’s.”
“My agent, Jacob, and my manager, Mike, called me and said, ‘Hey, you’ve got an offer, You’re going to like it,” recalled Astin, who was speaking over Zoom from Vancouver while in quarantine before resuming production on “Zoey’s” after holiday break. “My manager — who especially during pilot season is a little jaded — he’s like, ‘I’m embarrassed to say this script made me cry.’”
Sure, the job might seem like a piece of cake for Astin, 33, who was in the original production of Broadway’s “Spring Awakening” and found stardom in the smash-hit films “Pitch Perfect” and “Pitch Perfect 2,” but he describes it more as “familiar.”
“I know what to expect. I know things change. I know the camera changes things. I know not to get my hopes up about a specific song or choreographer. I know how to conserve while filming one of these numbers and I know the kind of focus and intensity and energy it takes. And I’m always really careful about safety.”
Astin says he has two musical personalities on the series. There’s “Magical Max” who gives it his all when Zoey’s witnessing him belt out his true feelings. And then there’s Max as is, who isn’t quite as polished. He consciously sang to Zoey in season one in a flash mob and Astin says “we had to establish that he’s not tone deaf or else it would be very unpleasant for the viewer,” so he describes that version of Max’s musicality as “a good passing grade.”
The show’s creator, Austin Winsberg, summed it up in an email as “Skylar does his best to sound average or kind of flat, but as I’ve learned, even him performing at a 2 is better than me (or most people) are at a 10.”
Astin has a number of projects he’s working on in his downtime. He’s writing and recording an album he says has a Top 40 feel. Astin invested in a home studio while in quarantine at home in Los Angeles so he could record safely. “There’s one that sounds like a Sean Mendes song. There’s one that sounds like a male Taylor Swift song. I call it “Male-or Swift.” There’s one that my friends and family say is the best driving song they’ve ever heard. Another one has some falsetto in it that almost sounds like The Weeknd.
“I really invested in this and it’s been 100% independent.” He says he has seven or eight songs completed and will maybe add one or two more, but the goal is to release it this year. “I can’t hold onto it any longer. That will drive me crazy.”
Astin also co-wrote a Hanukkah holiday movie with Danny Jolles that he describes as, “my favourite thing I’ve ever written. It’s live-action, it’s clean, it would be rated PG and it made me cry writing it. It was such a pleasure.”
Alicia Rancilio, The Associated Press