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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Santino Fontana on Leaving the Show, Greg’s Farewell, and the Show’s Moral Relativism

Spoilers ahead for Friday night’s episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

On tonight’s episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, shippers of “Grebecca” received a devastating piece of news involving the dysfunctional couple — Greg (Santino Fontana) is packing up and leaving West Covina to finally fulfill his dream of attending Emory University, but not before declaring his love for Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) in the middle of an airport terminal. As he powerfully croons to her in “It Was a Shit Show,” his final solo number: “We can’t undo, can’t make amends, dysfunction is our lingua franca. We can’t unscrew each other’s friends, we’re Jerry Springer, not Casablanca.” Sadly, despite Greg appearing later in the episode as a “memory spirit” in Rebecca’s apartment, he has indeed been written off the show as he makes his cross-country, life-changing move. Vulture caught up with Fontana to discuss Greg’s thoughtful farewell episode, his legacy, and if we can ever expect him back in West Covina.

How does it feel to be breaking the hearts of “Grebecca” fans nationwide, Santino?
[Laughs.] I think what [showrunner and co-creator] Aline [Brosh McKenna] did in terms of how Greg finally gets to go after what really makes him truly happy is fantastic. I was happy that I was able to come back this season and give him a great story that was in line with the show. It’s complicated, I don’t know how much you want to get into, but story-wise in terms of the show, I think it’s really great. It really stuck to who Greg is, and we all stuck to who Greg was, and I was able to help tell that story, which is ultimately my job.

Walk me through the decision-making process for you leaving the show. Did you want to pursue other endeavors outside of the CW?
I don’t even think of it as leaving the show, to be honest. The last time I spoke to Aline, she already had ideas of how we’d be able to check back in with Greg, although I don’t know if that can or will happen now. The CW was kind enough to give me a one-year contract on the show because of what I thought would be best for my family and my life. When the show moved to the CW I had a one-year contract, which was very rare and I was very blessed, and I never, ever in a million years thought they would let me do that. I love the show, I have a great time playing Greg, I have a great time with that family, and I miss that family even though I’m in constant contact with them all the time. So I don’t look at it as leaving the show.

What happened at the end of shooting last season was that there was a lot of time where we didn’t know if the show would be coming back. A lot of time. In that interim I had some opportunities both with films and theater and writing that presented themselves, and I had no idea what was going to happen. Also keep in mind, I didn’t know my future with the show regardless, and I didn’t know if the show would be coming back. So when we did get picked up, I was in a really tricky spot because I had a bunch of things that I already committed to and I couldn’t in good conscience back out of them. I didn’t feel like it made the most sense. It was a really tough decision and it had a lot to do with my family and my base in New York. It’s a tricky thing, but I feel really blessed and lucky that I was able to have the best of both worlds. I was able to maintain my life as it was before Crazy Ex, which involved doing movies and theater and other TV guest spots and other jobs and writing. I was able to also go back and play with my Crazy Ex family in a smaller capacity and that’s all great. I don’t view it as though I’m leaving. I view it as Greg’s story taken off where it’s taken off to, and him coming back is really up to the writers and fans. I view it as show business is a messy, complicated, confusing thing. [Laughs.] It’s not as clear-cut. It’s really a testament to the power of storytelling. We’re actors who are telling a great story, and I was thrilled to be in West Covina and thrilled to tell that story, and I hope I’m able to tell Greg’s story in different ways as we move forward. It’s tricky.

Is this indeed your last appearance? Will we be seeing you at all after this episode?
With the power of editing, who knows. This was the last scene for me. I was shooting a movie in New Mexico and I was able to come back and do the tap number. I got to do that in-between shooting, when we were moving locations in this film; we were able to work that out, which was great. Beyond that, I haven’t heard from the writers or my people, but I’ve been busy, too, so I don’t know if that means I’m gone. I’m assuming I won’t be back this season, but I don’t know, that’s really not to me to say, or in the future.

Why were you drawn to the role of Greg in the first place?
Initially I turned down the audition because I thought, Well, they’re not going to want me for this, this isn’t a thing, they’re going to cast Zach Levi. [Laughs.] This isn’t for me! The casting director, who’s a friend here in New York, reached out to me personally and was like, “Please come in. Let me tell you what I think they really want.” So I did come in, and I did a pretty generic every-day guy, a likeable guy, when reading the scene. The casting director was like, “Okay, great, but can you add in that he hates himself?” I thought, Yeah, great, that’s fun! It’s not often when you go in for a TV show that they ask you to play characters who hate themselves; it’s very unusual. I was like, Great! And then they asked me to improvise on the scene, which was very fun. And then I met with Aline and Rachel, and I was like, Why not? This sounds really fun. It’s been so long ago now since we shot the pilot. It’s been a long road with a lot of changes to the show. But that was what the initial draw was — it’s not very often you’re asked to play somebody who’s sitting on a deep self-hatred for the nation to watch. It’s not normal in a comedy. And the fact that there would be musical numbers. And I was a fan of Rachel and Aline’s work.

Greg is such an interestingly calibrated character — I’ve had friends describe him as the voice of reason, an asshole, troubled, sarcastic, a good guy, you name it. How do you prefer to characterize him?
I love the way you described it. I had a great teacher who always told me, “You have to allow an audience their experience, and not tell them what to feel, but stay true to how you view humanity and how you see people, and people will see themselves in it and they’ll pull out different things.” I think it’s a big testament to the writing, and for them allowing me to put my spin on who the guy is. We all know people like Greg; I certainly do. He is all of those things. He is the voice of reason. He is the sane one for a while, until Rebecca comes to town and then he loses it a little, too. The thing I was always able to grab onto at the end of the day was that this is a young man who, whether it was self-sabotage or not, did the right thing and wanted to be there for his ill father. Anyone who thinks of other people first in that way, whether or not they have self-sabotaging tendencies, they’re ultimately a good guy. That’s what’s really at the core of Greg — he wants people to be happy, but he also wants them to face reality, and he can see that in other people more than he can see that in himself.

Those complexities also make Greg a very relatable character. I feel far more people have connected to him, as opposed to Josh, because of those multidimensional qualities.
I’m honored to have been able to add to that, and if I do continue to in the future, that remains to be seen. Remember, when we met this guy, he could’ve taken advantage of a girl who was a mess in a bedroom, and he didn’t. And that, again, connects to a guy who doesn’t go to college because he wants to make sure his father’s okay. That connects to a core of who that guy is. And I think that’s something we admire and we hope it’s how we would behave. And yeah, there’s a lot of mess in there, which of course is human. First of all, it’s really fun to play, and it also feels incredibly human. That’s what I think the audience remembers, and they know his intentions are actually good.

I have to say, it’s also tricky, though. The show is tricky because, in a great way, it’s playing with a moral relativism. Rebecca is an antihero of sorts. She came to another city to break up a relationship. That is not an admirable feat. So in order to keep her still the person that we want to like and follow, even though she does terrible things, is for everyone else to be as complicated as her. There is this tricky moral relativism to the show that I think is fascinating. It speaks to the power of the protagonist and how we’re able to forgive things because we’re following someone’s story. And when we look at other characters in the show and we complain about them or see them in a negative light, it’s also … there’s a huge projection going on that’s trying to avoid the cracks in her own character of the terrible things that she does. So complicated!

It’s true, and the show does a really wonderful job of deconstructing so many stereotypes, like mental illness, anxiety, and depression, even with Greg’s alcoholism. It’s a fresh take you don’t see on television too often.
Totally, and the fact that she’s a feminist but is also clearly going after a guy. There’s a feminist lens over the show. However, it’s very much trapped in an antifeminist world than we are used to, and we’re playing with that, which is really hard and tricky. I do agree though about the alcoholism story line and Greg dealing with it. You don’t see that often, which is great.

In Greg’s final solo, he sings about what a “shit show” he and Rebecca’s relationship was from day one. In your opinion, do you think the two could’ve worked out their differences and become a functional couple if Greg didn’t move?
I don’t know. I think that’s possible and still possible in the future. However, I don’t think it makes any sense for those two people, let alone anyone … she shouldn’t be with anyone. And I don’t think he should be with anyone right now, either. Frankly, I really don’t think anyone on the show should really be with anybody right now with the exception of maybe Darryl. And even that, to discover that you’re bisexual and jump into a serious relationship, I would say maybe you want to slow down. So, no, I don’t think in the immediate it makes any sense. It also speaks to Greg’s character that he kept going back for more even after she slept with a different person on their first date. He was a disappointed optimist. And the worst got to him with his alcoholism and he realized, “Oh, okay. I gotta find a new way here.” No, I don’t think it’s impossible, but you never know. I mean, who knows where she is going to end up?

You got two final numbers in the episode, the more somber “It Was a Shit Show,” and the very upbeat, tap friendly “We Tapped That Ass.” What has been your personal favorite song that you performed on the show?
I really had a great time shooting “We Tapped That Ass,” but I had a great time shooting all of them. It’s tricky because we’re doing a TV show on a seven-day shoot schedule so you want to have time. In terms of my experiences onstage, I was on a Broadway show with Donna Lynne Champlin and you spend weeks and weeks perfecting a musical number in a musical. And in rehearsals, you’re there sometimes six weeks perfecting how to make a scene work. So the fact that a song like “I Could If I Wanted To” was done in one take was terrifying and exciting but also like, Jesus Christ. [Laughs.] How am I going to do this? It was really calling on my theater background. But overall, anything that used a lot of different setups or angles, or had a production value idea that was heightened, were my favorite ones. And with the nature of television, you can’t do that with every song because there’s no time. So any song that had an overarching, high-concept idea, like “We Tapped That Ass,” “I Could If I Wanted To,” and “Settle for Me,” were all really fun and really exciting. The other ones were as well, but they just weren’t as exciting, understandably.

Have you given any thought to Greg’s future, and how you see him faring in Atlanta?
I leave that to the fans. You have to give an audience their experience, and I think what we know is he’s really been able to pull a lot of his life together, and he knows and he believes that his father is going to be okay. I still haven’t watched the episode because I have a really hard time watching myself, but a friend of mine was talking to me about when I say good-bye to the guys at the airport. Greg has that role of a caretaker, and he takes care of them in their good-byes. It’s not about him. He knows everyone’s going to be okay, God willing, he’s going to keep in touch with them and stay healthy, and he hopes they stay healthy, too. They all check in down the line, and probably within a week they’re emailing each other and figuring out who they’re going to become. I see nothing but good stuff ahead for Greg. I’m sure there will be setbacks, but he’s figured out a way to take care of the people he cares about and realize that he also has to take care of himself. And I hope he continues.

Santino Fontana on Leaving Crazy Ex-Girlfriend