Scott Michael Foster had a tough act to follow when he joined Crazy Ex-Girlfriend in the middle of its second season, replacing the departing Santino Fontana (Greg) in the ongoing love triangle of Rachel Bloom’s Rebecca Bunch. But Foster has shown surprising depths as wealthy, arrogant attorney Nathaniel, as he’s gone from despising Rebecca to actively pursuing her in the wake of her catastrophic breakup with Josh Chan.
We spoke to Foster, whom viewers might also recognize from his roles as Cappie in Greek and Hunt Whitmarsh in the first season of Halt and Catch Fire, about surviving the initial scorn of the show’s fan base, the musician he’d most like to parody, and the fellow cast member who cracks him up the most — and is co-starring in his new short film.
You’ve had an unusual experience compared to the rest of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s regular cast, in terms of joining the show late. Did you go through a standard audition process, or did they approach you directly?
No, it was a standard audition. I had read for the show during the pilot, so I was aware of the show beforehand. I obviously liked the show from the beginning, so I decided to read for it again. I went in, and I had a couple of scenes, and I had to do 16 bars of a song. After that it was just meeting with Rachel and [co-creator] Aline [Brosh McKenna], and things moved forward from there.
What character did you read for in the pilot?
I was originally auditioning for Greg.
Wow, that would have been so interesting.
Yeah. It would have been different!
A lot of fans were disappointed about Greg leaving, and in your first episode, the songwriting team even wrote a song about how people were probably not going to like you joining the show. Did you get a lot of blowback from fans on social media at first?
It’s funny, because in the beginning, they absolutely were like that — who is this new guy? But after a few episodes, when they started to see more of the character, see how they were writing him into the show, people started to warm up. So I’m thankful for that.
What do you think was the turning point?
Definitely after [the song] “Let’s Have Intercourse.” Nathaniel and Rebecca had that moment in the elevator where they connected over Harry Potter, and they have that kiss and everything. After that moment, I think people started feeling like, “OK, well, let’s see where they’re gonna take it.”
What is the process like in terms of shooting the show and shooting the songs? Do you get the songs ahead of the episode scripts to learn music and choreography, or does it all arrive at once?
At the beginning of this season, they’d been in the writer’s room since March or April, so they had the first half of the season really mapped out. By the time we started doing table reads for episodes one through three, we’d had plenty of time to rehearse and record the songs and do the dancing and all that before we have to film.
But now, halfway through, they’re sort of playing catch-up for the rest of the season. So sometimes, we’ll have a dance rehearsal the day before we have to perform, or we only get to hear a song two days before we have to shoot it. We record the song the day before, and then we shoot the next day. It gets a little tight towards the end. Rachel and I just did a number the other day, and we had a week of preparation for that, because the dancing was so specific and difficult. They kind of knew that was coming, and we had some time, but it’s not always like that.
Of all the musical sequences you’ve done, which has been the most challenging to shoot?
Without giving anything away, episodes nine and ten in this upcoming season were pretty challenging. I did musical theater in high school, and I learned how to tap-dance and do jazz and stuff like that, but this was difficult. The dance routine in episode ten is very specific. I can’t tell you what kind, because I think it would give it away, but it’s been the most challenging one so far.
Have you ever done musical theater at a professional level, other than in this show?
No. Not at all. In fact, when we did our For Your Consideration panel for the Emmys, we all sang and danced our different songs, and I had to do “Let’s Have Intercourse” in front of about 600 people in this auditorium in the Valley. I was like, “Oh my God, I haven’t sung on stage in at least 12 years. I need a glass of wine before I do this.” It was crazy, but it felt great.
Do you see yourself doing musical theater down the line?
I would like to do something on a professional level. It’s a lot of work, and it’s a lot of time, but I do want to do it at some point, you know? It would kick my ass into gear, to do something outside my comfort zone.
The songs parody a lot of different musicians — “Let’s Have Intercourse” is a riff on Ed Sheeran, for example. If you got the choice, what musician or musical genre would you most like to parody on the show?
You know, I’ve had that exact thought, and now I’m blanking on the one I chose! … I can’t think of any one example, but I do like Coldplay. I just saw Chris Martin in Vegas, and I loved it. He’s like 40-something years old, still bouncing around like he’s 20 on stage. So I think that would be fun to try; I’ve been a fan of his since middle school.
What about cast members you’d like to perform with? Aside from that full-cast “Where’s Rebecca Bunch?” number in the premiere, all of your songs so far have either been solo or with Rachel.
Well, I’m a big fan of Pete Gardner, who plays Darryl. We did “Man Nap” last year, but I didn’t get to sing with him. They basically sang at me, and I just sat there and enjoyed it. Pete’s hilarious.
I think it’d be fun to do a duet with any of the girls. I haven’t really worked with Gabrielle [Diaz] or Vella [Lovell] or Donna Lynne [Champlin] much. To do a song with one of them might be different and change things up. That’d be kind of exciting.
What’s your all-time favorite Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song? It can be one of yours, or someone else’s.
Oh, no. It’s so hard to pick. I mean, we just shot our 100th song. To pick one is like picking your favorite movie. The one that gets stuck in my head the most, obviously, is “West Covina,” from the pilot. That’s the one that’s forever stuck in everyone’s head. And this year, the one that’s getting stuck in everyone’s head is “Let’s Generalize About Men,” that Pointer Sisters number they did in episode one. And then, obviously, another great one that happened this year was Michael McMillian’s “Buzzing from the Bathroom.”
I loved that one.
When we did the table read for that, we could not stop laughing. He sang it at the table read, acapella, and it was so funny. We were dying. I was like, I don’t know how we’re going to get through shooting this thing.
Obviously, you’re a professional and you try not to break on set, but is there anybody who’s just really difficult to work with, because they crack you up too much?
Oh, Pete. 100 percent. And he only does it on my coverage. He’s not even on camera. It’s just like over his shoulder on my face, and he tries to make me break. I cannot hold it together. And he’ll be like “All right, all right, I won’t do it. I won’t do it anymore.” And then the next time, he’ll do it even bigger and more hilarious.
Any particularly memorable occasions?
There’s this line right before “Man Nap” starts, where he’s like, “Listen, napping is super manly. Bears nap for three months in a year. What’s manlier than a bear?” And I look at him, and I go, “A lion.” He had no line, no reaction — someone else starts talking, right? He wasn’t supposed to do anything.
But every time I said “a lion,” he looks at me like, “Oh, well, that’s a good point. Huh, I guess that’s pretty good!” [Laughs.] I was laughing so hard, like, dude, you gotta stop doing that. I can’t even get my line out with you doing that. You don’t have any lines! You’re not even supposed to do anything. Just stop. Just put a C-stand with a picture of your face there. That’s all I need. I can’t with you.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s audience skews pretty female, even though it has a lot of really great male characters. Do you have anything to say to men who might be on the fence about checking it out?
I mean, we’ve got hot ladies on our show, so there’s that. [Laughs.] I think we’ve been able to get away with some fantastic sexual references on our show. I don’t know how we get past standards sometimes, but, you know, it’s a funny, raunchy show. I enjoy it, and not just because I’m on it. It’s a great show. I think it’s got a little something for everybody.
You’ve appeared on a lot of other shows over the years. Is there anything in particular you might recommend to people who enjoy your performance on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and might want to see some of your earlier work?
I think Greek is still up on Netflix. There’s four seasons of that, so you can see me doing a lot of different things in that show, ‘cause we did 76 episodes. That was a fun show. And if you wanna see me in full ’80s glory, I did one season of Halt and Catch Fire. Basically, I played Nathaniel in the ’80s. I had to do the whole poufy hair thing and be clean-shaven. I looked very strange.
I know you can’t give too much away, but what can we expect from Nathaniel as the season goes on?
This season, his storyline is all about Rebecca and how she influences his life. You saw a spark between them in the elevator scene last year, and in these early episodes, he sort of starts warming up, doing nice things for her, and he likes that. He doesn’t ever follow his emotions, really, because his parents burned that out of him at a young age. So to have someone like Rebecca, who can make him feel things, that’s different and exciting for him. You’re going to see them explore that, and you’re going to see their relationship grow in different ways.
Any other projects in the pipeline?
I produced and starred in Wake the Riderless Horse, a short film that my buddy wrote and directed. We just submitted it to festivals. He and I decided we wanted to start making our own stuff instead of waiting around for other people to hire us.
What’s it about?
It’s sort of like It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s about a guy who’s an opioid addict, and he’s having sort of a trip on opioids, and he decides he might want to just end his own life. So he has his guardian angel come down and show him what life would be like without him there — it’s like a funeral, he basically has him listen to what his family and friends say about him after he’s gone. And Pete Gardner is the guardian angel.
Wow! That’s a pretty serious piece of work for two actors who met on a comedic show.
Pete actually adds a bit of levity to it. So hopefully, that will go to some festivals at some point in the future, and people will get to see it.