9:30am PT by Jean Bentley
NBC Stars and BFFs Mae Whitman and Jane Levy on Supporting Women and Sharing a TV Premiere Date
Mae Whitman and Jane Levy have been friends for eight years — and it was love at first sight when the pals first locked eyes for and then shared an epic night out involving Mariah Carey karaoke with a Succession star. On Sunday, Feb. 16, the duo will share their first night of NBC programming together, with the third-season premiere of Whitman's drama Good Girls and the time slot debut of Levy's rookie musical Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist.
As season three of Good Girls begins, Whitman's Annie takes a new job as a valet to aid in her criminal enterprise with fellow moms Ruby (Retta) and Beth (Christina Hendricks). And in Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, computer programmer Zoey (Levy) learns to cope with her new power of hearing people's innermost feelings through song.
But not only do Whitman and Levy share a night on NBC, they also share a co-star (and close friend) — Lauren Graham, Whitman's Parenthood mom who plays Levy's boss on Zoey's.
The Hollywood Reporter hopped on the phone with the BFFs — fittingly, on Galentine's Day — and eavesdropped on their discussion of their friendship, their careers, an adventure at Georgia O'Keeffe's ghost ranch and Graham. Follow along with their discussion below (with a few extra prompts from THR).
Jane Levy: Why isn't the show called Bad Girls?
Mae Whitman: I know where this stems from, which is us being in New Mexico together going on a horseback ride at Georgia O'Keeffe's ghost ranch. When we stopped in a little store there, remember that lady that ran in and was like, "You look familiar" and then she left. And then she ran back in five seconds later, and went "you're on Bad Girls," and she screamed it so loud. So obviously you're not alone in this question of why is it not Bad Girls? I actually have sort of an answer for this. The whole concept is that we have all been told what's good and what that means. Just be good and you'll get everything you want. And I think these women are like, "OK, I've been good and yet I'm still backed into this corner where I can't take care of my family and I can't do anything for myself, and I have no power." And so I think it certainly was a play on what is good? Is it being true to yourself? Obviously we don't advocate, you know, robbing the store. I have to say that. In general, it's about what does that mean? And especially, I think, as females we're told to just be good. [The title is] questioning what does that mean actually, and what sort of construct are we supposed to be following? Yeah, ya didn't see that coming, did ya!
Levy: Wow, I ask a dumb Zach Galifianakis question and I get an eloquent, beautiful answer.
How did you become friends?
Whitman: I became friends with Jane's boyfriend. We got really tight pretty quick and started hanging out a lot. And I was always hearing about this mysterious Jane. I remember we went to the Dresden in Los Angeles, which is a cool weird bar and restaurant. I came around the corner and Jane was sitting in this giant booth with a big-ass shrimp cocktail right in front of her face. It was just these big, blue, clear eyes probing into my soul the second that we met, and I was so jolted and scared but also excited. And I don't remember much after that, but Jane does.
Levy: I remember sitting at our booth and someone brought up Frankenstein and Mae said something about it being written by Mary Shelley. And I didn't know that it was written by a woman. I thought Mae was so smart for knowing that fact. I was like, "Wow, she's so cool and she was so nice and confident." I also had seen her in movies and television shows as a kid. I was just so struck by how cool [she was] — and I hate to use the term down-to-earth, which is an unfortunate phrase that we use about people but she really is just such a real person. But beyond being a real person she's the most incredibly charming and generous person to be around. Then we went and we sang karaoke with Nick Braun and Mae sang Mariah Carey with Nick and then she asked me for my number and I was like [gasps].
Whitman: I hope you realize I don't have any friends —
Levy: Yeah right.
Whitman: I swear to god, Jane! For me to actively try to make a new friend that I actually want to schedule my time and go and try to build a thing with was definitely something I don't do. I don't really see a lot of people out there that I'm like, "I think there's something here" and definitely I wouldn't do something as nerdy as basically I'm on a date and I'm asking for their number. That's so weird but I just had this feeling about her. I always say being around Jane is like being in a river because there's no bullshit. You always have such a clarity, a level of honesty and seeing things for what they really are and no fear. She's the bravest person I know. She just guides you through things with this really fresh, clear, honest coolness, and it's invigorating and exciting and I truly noticed that right away and I just felt swept up by it. We planned a little girls date. Jane was like, come over and we'll bake — what was it, a muffin or something? Oh, cinnamon roll.
Levy: A cinnamon roll AND make lanyards.
Whitman: Yeah, Jane is an excellent landyard maker, I forgot! She ordered to her house like $2,000 worth of like, rubber lanyard [supplies]. She made these extremely complicated fourth-grade lanyards for everyone for a while. They were so sick. Mine broke. You should bust that out again. But anyway, so we were making a cinnamon roll. All I remember is that the cinnamon roll was disgusting and horrendous and we were like, let's go to a bar, and we went to a bar and got drunk. In my memory after that we hung out every day for the rest of our lives.
Levy: We did.
Because you're contemporaries at work, how has your friendship influenced your professional choices, if at all? Have you ever been up for the same role? Do you consult each other about projects that you want to take?
Whitman: I get really, really upset and jealous and Jane has to come over and hold me like a baby and rock me to sleep every time we go out for the same part. [Both laugh.] No, I'm just kidding. Honestly, I really don't. It's funny, I forgot that we sort of are in that category together. I think when you get to know somebody so well you just see so much of them and you see the whole picture. I feel like we both have very specific and unique personalities, and I think what we bring to the table is so specifically different. Jane and I, I feel like we're an exact yin and yang. I feel like all the energy and spirit and athletic grace, all of that went to Jane and then I got whatever the tired part of yin and yang is. That's me.
Levy: Yeah right. Mae is the funniest person on the planet.
Whitman: Here we go.
Levy: You are a comedic genius. We definitely consult each other. I wouldn't be doing Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist if it weren't for Mae. We talk about parts, we send each other the scripts.
Whitman: We've also been known to both go into auditions and be like, "We are not right for this but my friend is actually the person for this." We've both done that.
Levy: Mae has been working in this business for so long and she's so good at it that she can really break down script and story and genre and what the experience is going to be like if you're working in this city or that city. She knows so much — so much so that she's actually directing this year on Good Girls, which is so exciting. I can't wait for her to do that and she's going to be so good at it. But she's a really great person to consult with because she is really good at this job and she knows so much of the ins and outs. So she was really helpful when I was deciding whether to do Zoey's or not. And I'm really, really glad that she encouraged me to do it, because she really did.
Whitman: I get overwhelmed very easily and I'm very sensitive so it's hard for me to make decisions and I have to talk things out a lot. One thing that really helps me a lot is the influence of my closest friends. I have these two people that are really, really close that know me so well that it's such a gift. I feel so grateful that I can fully put my life in their hands. I bring this up because one of the other people, basically the only other person, is Lauren Graham. She is somebody who I feel the same way about. I never would have done [certain projects] if it weren't for Lauren Graham. These are two women in my life who I can literally just put my decisions in their hands. And that, to me, feels like the greatest gift of the universe — when I'm just too fatigued or I can't see past my own perspective on something I can go to Jane and Lauren and be like, "Should I do this? What is this? Is this anything?" When you have friends who know you better than you know yourself, it's such a spiritual gift to be able to turn and get their perspective on things. Let alone projects, I couldn't decide what to have for breakfast without them.
Levy: Everyone's dream best friend is you, Mae Whitman, and everyone is jealous of me because I get to be your best friend, which makes me feel good. (Both laugh.) I'm obviously kidding. I feel so lucky that I met you and that I get to spend time with you. I'm not exaggerating any of my love for this person. You can probably tell by her acting even if you don't know Mae personally, I think part of the reason she's so good, her acting, is because she's just so — well, one, she's really really funny. There is nobody funnier. But she's so human, and to me that's the most important thing to be as an actor — to be able to allow the audience to associate with you and to remember that we're all human and that we're all the same and we suffer insecurities and moments of grace and the whole package. Mae is just so committed to being a real representative of humanity. It sounds cheesy but I just think that — and she's also just incredibly charming and lovely and being her friend is so great. She's this incredibly warm light of a person.
Whitman: Jane. I mean, look, I'm not gonna get into a little thing here, but I'm so appreciative that you would say that, blah, blah blah. But you know, to me, I feel the same way about Jane. What I noticed about Jane is that Jane is such a force. She's just the most beautiful girl on planet Earth. She looks like Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn. She's so elegant. She's so unbelievably, classically, deeply, beautiful. Everyone that meets her falls in love with her. Literally all of my friends are like "Jane, Jane." It's all about Jane. But I think there is something about your professionalism and your acting. To me, Jane, what you represent and what people see in you is that you are such a leader. Jane is somebody whose energy vibrates out of her in every single pore. There's this thing that's just so optimistic about her. I think it's why throughout all these different projects — she's done every kind of genre, everything you can do, she's got horrible, horrific horror, people's throats being ripped off. She's doing this beautiful, bright, optimistic musical. She's done extremely scandalous stuff.
Levy: Please. Blah, blah, blah.
Whitman: Stop it! You represent hope, I think, in humanity. To me, you're this leader. You're the one who brings everyone out of the darkness and even just by being there, you're so bright and you're so energetic and you're so ready to charge forward. She's a Capricorn, ladies, so we all know what that means. But you're so ready to just charge forward that I think people just want to follow you. If there's a way out in the horror movie, you're going to find it. If there's a bright light through the darkness you're going to find it. That's what I do. I basically just grab onto the back of your jacket and I'm shooting through life and knowing that if there's a light at the end of the tunnel, she's gonna find it.
Levy: I think that also we find ourselves with people who reflect ourselves back to ourselves. And when I hear you talk I hear you talking about yourself too.
who’s gonna tune in for the @zoeysplaylist / @nbcgoodgirls premiere viewing party on 2/16 when the stars align and you get a healthy dose of me, Lauren Graham and Jane Levy on the same network (zaddy nbc) one right after the other at nine and ten pm??? Shouldn’t we do a drinking game or something fun what are the kids doing these days k sound off lol
A post shared by mae margaret whitman (@mistergarf) on
Levy: And also on top of all of that, then she introduced me to Lauren Graham!
Whitman: Oh here we go, this is what we're always talking about. Lauren Frickin' Graham.
Levy: And you were willing to share her?
Whitman: I know. It was hard. Let's not act like the transition was flawless. We're on the text thread and they're like, "OMG should we get our sushi" and I'm like, "that sounds cool guys, save a bite for me." But really everyone's been extremely sensitive to my needs and every time I'm feeling insecure they shower me with everything that I could possibly need. So I'm hanging in there, you know?
Levy: On a professional level she is such a fun actress to work with. She is an incredible comedian and improviser. She's a veteran, she knows this genre more than anybody on and off camera. She's saying the lines and then once she's given permission to have freedom with the language, improvisation — I even heard a rumor that Larry David was in love with her and I understand why! She's really really really fun to work with. She's so smart and she tells me everything that I'm supposed do with my life.
Whitman: She's very caretakey. She's so obsessed with making sure that you're OK that it consumes her at night, she, like, tosses and turns because when we have a big day of filming, or if we're not treated right in some capacity anywhere. When we're dealing with something she literally will not get sleep and I'll wake up to like 50 text messages about how I can handle it or what I could say or what could be helpful or beneficial ideas. She's so dedicated to the cause of making sure that the people that she loves are OK and are not only OK but thriving and then on top of this, she's this insanely unbelievably talented artist. I worked with her for years on Parenthood in a really dramatic situation and the second that she gets emotional I start weeping. It's just, like, a thing that we have and vice versa. It literally happened at dinner with us the other day. Jane saw it. It was really embarrassing. There's just something in there that's so powerful. Not to mention she's written a bunch of New York Times best-sellers in different categories and scripts and movies and all these things. She's just killing it in every category at the same time as she's also doing her other job of making sure everyone in her life is happy. It's this unbelievable strength and elegance that I've never seen before.
By the way, what you don't know about Jane is that she's a secret monster dancer. Like, killer, intense Zumba master, like, terrifying, her feet barely touch the ground, floating across the thing, and it's really scary. [To me] they'll be like, "We need you to stand up on this ledge," and I'm like, "Is there a stunt double? Is there a stunt coordinator? Are you going to build me a step to get up there?" I have no physical energy and Jane just can go and go and go. And so to me, it was helpful for me knowing that Lauren was there to just be your friend. When you're out of town and you don't have anybody [there] and you're working such long hours and you're killing yourself to make sure that it's right and it's full of exuberant life and brightness and also having to record and dance and all this stuff. It was nice to know that she would have Lauren up there, too, because it's just nice to have somebody on your side and to have dinner with and to talk to you about things.
Levy: Lauren worked many years on a TV show in which she was in almost every scene. The TV schedule can be really grueling, especially if you are the actor who is in almost everything. She was always there to give me advice and support and how to manage this new role that I have as the lead of a TV show and I don't know how I would have done the show without her, truthfully.
Whitman: If we could do a project, what would you want us to be? What would the script be?
Levy: I don't know what the script would be yet. I'm still brainstorming. I want us to be in uniform, you know that. I want us to be park rangers or police officers or fighter pilots, or we work in a sanitation plant. There would have to be a fantastical element too, like we'd find some sort of magical stone or something.
Whitman: Yeah, I think there must be some kind of mystery or intrigue involved where we're just doing our jobs, we have our uniforms on, and then we discover something and then there's a mystery.
What is it like for both of you to have shows premiering on the same night on the same network?
Whitman: Jane, you go. I can't. I'm so overwhelmed with emotion.
Levy: It just makes me feel like the universe — I don't know. It makes me think about things greater than us. Like how our friendship was meant to be.
Whitman: To me, Zoey's is what I want to feel. It's what I want to do every night. That kind of stuff saves the world because it gives people hope. It inspires people, it makes them feel good in a time where we're all feeling pretty bad. And to be able to do this together, it's like a joke. Even when there was a vague idea of, "Oh, she'll be on the same network." We were like, "Wow, that's amazing. We can go to the upfront together." And then it was literally the same night — it made me feel like for the first time in a long time actually settled in. As actors it's really hard to ever stop and feel your feet on the ground and go, "I am so lucky I have this job. I'm so grateful. I'm here, I'm doing exactly what I want to do with the people that I want to do it with." It's so easy to get insecure and panic about the next job and this and that, but I think it was really a gift.
Peter Krause took a picture for me the other day, they were taking down a billboard and putting one up of our two different shows. He came out of the office building at the exact moment that I'm the only one that's up from my billboard, and Jane is the one that's right next to me. So it's literally us two on the billboard together at the exact moment and it's so mind-blowing. It's almost comical at this point. Definitely the universe is whispering little sweet nothings in our ear what it does stuff like that.
The Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist premiere will re-air at 8 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16, followed by the debut of episode two at 9 p.m. and Good Girls' third-season premiere at 10 p.m. on NBC.