“Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas” has arrived on The Roku Channel and, in typical “Zoey’s” fashion, it’ll make you laugh just as much as it’ll have you in your feels, if not more. And for Jane Levy, the feel-good nature of the film was particularly important.
“We’ve seen the painful stuff. You know, like I was thinking about the visiting of Mitch, and we’ve seen Zoey break down and have her dad comfort her many times,” Levy told TheWrap. “And I was sort of hoping that this time around, we can see hope that there’s a feel good future that it’s not always going to be so painful, you know?”
The film brings viewers into the Clarke family’s first Christmas without their beloved patriarch, Mitch (Peter Gallagher). For Zoey, the goal is to re-create the good times her father inspired with the holiday, in hopes of feeling close to him again.
And, now that Max (Skylar Astin) has Zoey’s power to hear heart songs as well, he learns exactly how important the holiday is to her when she begins singing “We Need a Little Christmas” to him — albeit a bit manically. For Levy though, that was the best number in the film, as it also helped her get in touch with her own Christmas-loving side.
“I don’t know what it is about me that I love zany Christmas songs, or at least performing them in a zany way,” Levy said. “It’s something very specific and truthful about who I am as a person, and I only discovered it through playing Zoey with ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’ [in season 1] and ‘We Need a Little Christmas.’ It brings me like such energy and joy. Also, I didn’t grow up watching Christmas movies. I’m like, not necessarily a Christmassy person. Or so I thought. Turns out maybe I love it, and I should move to the North Pole and be like the weird elf.”
You can check out our full conversation with Levy below.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Jane, I’m kind of obsessed with your performance in the series as a whole, but in “Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas” specifically. Because through the whole thing, Zoey’s got this manic energy and she’s kind of acting a little bit like an insane person. But it’s coming from this place of real hurt, and really wanting to recapture these memories, which seems like such a thin needle to thread. How did you balance that?
“I mean, I think that, first of all, that’s a very human thing to feel, you know, immense fear, and especially after suffering a huge loss and being afraid that it’s going to be painful. So thinking that controlling, and micromanaging, and organizing, and fixing it will make it so you don’t have to feel pain.
But I think we all know, as an audience member while we’re watching, which is what we see time and time again with Zoey, is that she’s like walking into this trap, eyes wide open, and we all know she’s going to fall. But she can’t help herself because she’s in pain. So I guess I just empathize so much with her experience that — I appreciate your words, it’s very nice. I hear what you’re saying about it being like a thin needle to thread, but for me, I just think it’s incredibly human.
And so, you know, Christmas is coming up. And we’ve seen her process with anticipating losing her father, then losing her father, the the aftermath of losing her father. And through all this, she has this magical ability that is teaching her this lesson time and time again. But she has to learn it again and again and again. That’s human, you know? We have to learn our lessons a couple of times before they stick.”
Well, she does get her father visiting her again, and you get this beautiful black and white moment with Peter Gallagher singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Tell me about filming that because it really was a hopeful, beautiful moment.
“I think that it wouldn’t be special, a holiday special, if you will, without Peter Gallagher. For me, always, the heart of this show has been the relationship between Zoey and her dad. And you know, she got this magical power at the same moment of his passing. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I personally feel that her father has given her all these abilities so that she can continue to live her life without him. So yeah, I mean, for me shooting with Peter have been some of the most special moments of the entire series. For sure.
I have to say, I also really enjoyed “Bad Blood.” I’m always amazed how people can play it straight, especially when you’re dancing and singing at them on a table.
“Trust me, I felt the same way. Mary Steenburgen, I think, gets the prize. She is able to freeze like no other.”
And that song specifically was a heart song that Max was able to hear, after getting the powers in the big season two cliffhanger. Now, he’s really breezing through it. He thinks he’s got it, and Zoey really has to be like, “Listen, you’re getting off easy here.” How was playing that dynamic with with Skylar Astin?
“I mean, it was pretty fun to have a little role reversal where you know, most of the time, the community around Zoey — the other cast members — are looking at her thinking ‘Come on, like, get it together, Zoey.’ And for me to be able to do that somebody else was pretty fun.
Also, I think it was playing on some pretty clever tropes, like, you know, cis, white men thinking that things should be a breeze, and are, and then having to be told that it’s a little bit more complicated than that. It’s, I think, ripe with comedy.
I just also love being able to work with Skylar, because we have so much fun together. And season one, we got to be dorks at SPRQ Point. But then the grief sort of took over, and we went our separate ways. And I started to date Simon, and then season two, most of our scenes were adversarial. And so then, for us to be able to be together and like a loving way was just really fun to be able to play.”
And you also get to sing together, finally.
“Yes, that was really fun. And also, like I said before, you know, we’ve seen so much of her grieving. I’m glad in this special we get to see a glimpse of a future in which yes, grief is going to always be there and and it will change shape. But you will be able to feel love again, and lightness, and delight. And so being able to have that with her boyfriend, I thought was a really nice thing to see.”
I also want to talk about the speed at which this came together. Because it was, for a movie, a very, very quick turnaround. Was it faster than working on the series? Or did you feel like you were in the groove? How did that go?
“Well, I am an anxious person by nature. And what I’ve realized is that the anticipation of going to shoot something is always the worst part. And without that, you sort of just have to do it, and there’s no time for worries or pressure or anxiety. So in a way, it was kind of easier than the series. I mean, I think also, we’ve had two years under our belts of knowing how each other works, what we need to be able to get what we have to do done.
But because it happened so fast — like I learned all these numbers and four days, I learned all these songs in four days, recorded all the songs in the same four days, had all my fittings, everything. I prepared for a movie in four days, which is crazy, especially because it was a musical. But because that’s all we were given, that’s all we were given and there was no other choice. So we just did it. And it was actually like, you know, it was definitely stressful at times.
I mean, you wouldn’t know it but, ‘We Need a Little Christmas/Just the Two of Us,’ we had that location for six hours and we had a whole scene to shoot. We shot it in record time — everything. And Austin [Winsberg] wrote it in record time. We finished this movie last month. We were in Vancouver until mid October, and now it’s coming out so it was a whirlwind but we definitely pulled it off. And I’m proud!”