When speaking with Donna Lynne Champlin, it’s easy to see how the role of Rebecca Bunch’s supportive best friend, Paula Proctor fits her like a glove. She is easy to talk with and very personable. Champlin is a theater trained actress who studied at Carnegie Mellon University and has appeared on Broadway in such shows as James Joyce’s The Dead, By Jeeves, Hollywood Arms, Sweeney Todd and Billy Elliott The Musical and in television and film.
Donna Lynne enjoys and appreciates being a part of the Crazy Ex Girlfriend cast and it shows in her performance. She is very pleased and happy to be able to reach a million people audience through the show. Read below to find out what else we talked about.
What was your audition like for Paula?
“It was very straightforward. My agent got a breakdown and he was shocked as to how similar Paula was to me as a person. He called casting and said ‘What do you think about Donna Lynne? This sounds great.’ I came in, did the audition and got a callback.
Rachel and Aline were there. Rachel actually read with me. I feel we had kind of a kinship. We had this instant chemistry. I had seen her work on You Tube. And she had seen a lot of my work on stage. I was aware of how familiar she was of my work and we kind of had this instant rapport, and I think we both were already huge fans of each other professionally.
I guess the only thing unusual about the Crazy Ex Girlfriend process for me was how easy it was. And I don’t mean easy like (pitches voice) ‘I booked that role lickedy-split’.’ But easy because everyone was so confident and everyone was so happy. Sometimes you walk into an audition room and you can feel tension, you can feel stress and you don’t know what’s going on and you don’t know why there’s stress (laughs). As an actor, you’re reading the room, you’re reading the people. You test this psychic net. But every time I walked into that room, it was like a party.
Every time I had an audition, I would call my agent and say ‘I honestly don’t know if I booked this or not.’ But I swear to God, this was the best time I ever had at an audition. I loved the people and I wished them the best and I feel like I did the best that I could. Because they created a space for me to feel comfortable and to feel funny. Even if I hadn’t booked the job, that is what I remember most. Every single audition I had for it was happy and stress-free and joyous. It was like a little mini party in my life and I loved it.”
I’m glad you had that audition experience and it work out for you, the show and the network. It helped you to put your best foot forward to become Paula and you are Paula. I can’t imagine anyone else playing Paula.
“(Laughs) I have to be honest at the final callback, outside the audition room there’s a sign-in sheet and everyone signs in. If you look at that sheet you can see who else is up for your part. I have to say that I was so thrilled to see the kinds of women who were in for Paula. None of us looked alike, we were different types, we had different body sizes. But the thing in my opinion that connected all these women was just a really great unique, hilarious view of the world.
You work in New York long enough you know everybody, you become friends with everybody, with your competition because you know, you’re the last people standing (laughs). I called my agent and I said ‘You know what, I was looking at this callback list and I swear to God, I would be so happy if I booked this job because I have such respect for all of these actresses.’
There are so few roles that these actresses are allowed to do. Because we’re not Size 2, we’re not cute as a button (laughs), we’re not under twenty-five. There’s such a limit of roles for women like this. I take pride that I represent that demographic on television which is the normal looking, average woman. If you look at television going back, the men had that. You had King of Queens, Ray Romano. If you look back the last fifteen, twenty years and even beyond, the men have always had that, the average Joe, the average looking guy. Look at Cheers, look at Seinfeld, look at Taxi, look at Fraser. You’ve got normal looking working men and one woman, maybe two and then all these knock-out bombshells.
The thing that Crazy Ex Girlfriend is doing like with Darryl, who is coming out as bi-sexual, Josh, who happens to be Asian and especially with Paula is that they’re allowing me to be who I am and look the way I do without commenting on it. There’s no line like ‘I’m going to be late for my Weight Watcher’s meeting.’ My character has sex, my character eats donuts (laughs). And there’s no comment, there’s no ‘I better hit the treadmill later.’ I literally feel like on any other show the writers would have felt some social pressure to qualify my weight or my age or my marriage. What I really like about Crazy Ex Girlfriend is Paula is never judged for being what she is, she’s only judged for what she does, which is very idealistic.”
Would you like if there was an entire musical Crazy Ex Girlfriend episode?
“Absolutely, 100%. And I think that idea has been tossed around. There’s a lot of cool songs that would be terrifying but not to our actors because we are just stocked full of musical theater nerds that the idea of that is just so exciting. So I would love that, that would be thrilling.”
What was your favorite scene/episode to film? Has any of the show’s songs stuck in your head?
“I have to say that’s a really tough call for favorite scene. Looking back, my favorite day of shooting was the day of Episode 4 when Paula was taking over the office. It was me, it was Michael McMillan, Stephanie Ware. It was a Saturday shoot so it was half the crew and all we did all day was like little montages of examples of Paula taking over the office. So we did like the Mad Men glass, we did the breaking of the gun, we did the collecting of the cellphones and the fighting in the chair. It was just one of the craziest, wackiest most hilarious days of my life. Because it was such a collection of fun people and we were all just allowed to view the set as a playground. And we all just came up with just the craziest things, and I guess I look back on that as my favorite day because it just kind of felt like they let us lose on a playground and said ‘Have fun (laughs).’
You ever hear a song that you can’t get out of your head? Two songs stand out. One is the Bi song. For over all quality and punch, I think Rachel’s ‘Stupid Bitch’ song is kind of extraordinary because she’s riding the line of the topic of depression and possibly suicide a little bit. And the fact that she was able to theatrically and comically delve into that whole emotional pool without commenting on it or castrating it is truly remarkable to me. That to me is craftsmanship of such a high level, writing-wise, composing-wise and production-wise.
I don’t want to get all After school Special about it but one of the most difficult things about being depressed and feeling suicidal is feeling all alone and that no one understands you. And the fact that Rachel has not only allowed Rebecca Bunch to go there but that Rachel has fully admitted that behind that song was her own personal struggle with depression, I would dare to say that she actually saved a couple of lives with that song.”
Thoughts on a possible Paula/Rebecca body switch dream sequence?
“Anything is possible. I think it would be hilarious. Of course with the story that we’re telling that would have to be a bridge to where we’re going. I’m not in the writer’s room and not privy to Rebecca and Paula’s story but I’m open to it.”
What do you like best about working with the cast of Crazy Ex Girlfriend?
“I like how supportive and generous everyone is. At this stage either the Broadway or television stage, everyone has to be at a certain level of excellence but doesn’t necessarily have to be kind and generous (laughs). What’s great about going into work everyday is that I know that I’m walking into a safe environment, I know that I’m walking into a happy environment. I know that if I have an idea, even if nothing comes from it, that it’s going to be listened to. When we’re shooting a scene and I come up with improvising, I know someone will catch the ball. It’s common to have one bad apple in the bunch and we just don’t have it. Everyone in this cast, crew and company is kind, generous and supportive. I’ve been in this business a long time and that’s extremely rare. Their talent and intelligence is a given, but their kindness and generosity is above and beyond.”
What character do you wish Paula shared more scenes with?
“Valencia for sure. Gabrielle and I had one scene this whole season. We hardly spoke with each other but we just had so much fun the whole day (laughs). I think there’s more than meets the eye between Paula and Valencia. And I just selfishly want to hang out with Gabrielle more because I love her and I think she’s awesome.
The episode that aired was the first time me, Vincent and Pete were all in a scene together and I absolutely loved that. I work with Pete a lot, we’re in the office together. But I don’t get to work with Vincent as much and I really don’t get to work with Santino really at all. I would really love to work with them more. And Vella too. I think Heather needs to babysit for Paula.”
Do you think Kim Gifford be friends with Paula Proctor?
“I did a website series with Santino actually called Submissions Only and the character on that webseries was named Kim Gifford. The short answer, not at first but then yes. I think they’re two very strong, opinionated women who are kind of hiding a very gooey soft center (laughs). At first they might clash but once they would get to know each other, they would be very good friends. They would bond and it’d would be them against the world.”
What are your final thoughts for the upcoming season of Crazy Ex Girlfriend?
“When I think again to Season 2 because I’m a musician I think of the music that I want to see. But because we are in such good hands in that writer’s room whatever way they take our stories, they will be great. No one has any concerns about that writer’s room. I think I’d like to be surprised (laughs). I would love that all musical episode we talked about. I would love a live episode and an operetta because I think we can do it. I know we are classically trained. I think that would be fun. Santino, Vella, Rachel and I are all sort of concert level pianoists . I would love to see an eight hand piano number. Rachel and I are great tap dancers. So for me, I kind of get excited for the possibility of the musical numbers. Because for me that’s like Christmas.
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