Skylar Astin has a song in his heart.
The “Pitch Perfect” and Broadway actor is currently captivating audiences as Max on “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist”. The musical dramedy follows Zoey Clarke (Jane Levy), a software developer who hears the innermost thoughts of people around her through song. Astin plays her boyfriend and former workmate. The show’s hook requires Astin to frequently belt out tunes in elaborate choreographed fashion.
“It’s a blast,” Skylar tells ET Canada. “I’m so fortunate that I get to do so much, and such different stuff, all at once. I love that our show is musical and also cerebral at the same time. Sometimes I can even be feeling something that I’m not fully articulating. That gives an actor such a great subtext and a different level to hit. It’s a very crafty show and I enjoy what they allow me to do.”
Max began last season crushing on Zoey. Of course, he would unknowingly divulge his secret feelings to her through singing. Even though the series’ writers could have milked the will-they-or-won’t-they romance, Zoey came clean to Max early on about her uncanny gift. The two consequently became an item.
“What I think that did was tell the audience, and to tell me, that Zoey really trusts and cares about Max. That was very informative in feeling that perhaps Max could be a viable choice for her romantically. So, while he was being patient waiting on how Zoey felt about him, he had his own things to conquer, understand and digest. But what that tells me, the actor, is that Zoey feels safe with him,” says Astin.
“They now have to face the challenge that every relationship faces, which is in timing,” he continues. “When people are in different places in their lives, in this case in a grief perspective with Zoey and with Max starting a new business venture, it’s how that will affect their growing vulnerabilities towards each other. If they are really meant to be and work it out together, I can trust that.”
Max and Zoey weren’t always a sure thing. For a while, it was Team Max versus Team Simon when a co-worker was in the mix. To make matters worse, Max and Simon (John Clarence Stewart) are friends, which makes this love triangle even more awkward.
“Simon and Max are both evolved men, who can try and compartmentalize,” Astin explains. “There are obvious moments of jealousy and being the bigger person in an adult situation. But they are only human, so that provides very natural tension. Whether it’s between Simon and Zoey, or if there’s ever a threat there from Simon, they keep it respectable.”
Every Max beat won’t revolve around Zoey. He previously quit his job and has been developing an app with Mo [Alex Newell]. The pair already resolved one work-related hiccup, but there’s still more to come. Astin says he’s loved exploring “the evolution of Mo and Max as friends, apart from their relationship with Zoey.”
“Now that they are in a full-business venture together, they are going to have their own obstacles and they are going to have their own wins together and celebrations,” notes Astin. “That innately bonds people. We are definitely going to see Mo and Max have their own vocabulary and things that make their relationship special.”
Last week’s episode featured Max performing a show-stopping medley of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” and “I’ll Make Love To You”. He quickly followed it up with a duet on “A Moment Like This” with Zoey.
Astin is particularly excited about a number in which Max lets loose about his father in an upcoming episode.
“We repurpose a song that is commonly known for being a little bit rockier, maybe even punkier,” Astin reveals. “We’ve made it lyrical. With choreographer Mandy Moore’s movement and Brad Crosbie, our camera operator’s camera work, we got a really beautiful oner out of it. Every song has a breakless take and for some of them, that’s all we do for that entire number.”
Another rumoured song unfolds during a boys’ night out in episode 10. Astin couldn’t go into too much detail on that ditty… and for good reason.
“I think it’s something showrunner Austin Winsberg maybe mentioned to me a while ago,” notes Astin.” If that’s what it is, I know who it involves. If you like, ‘Are You Going To Be My Girl’ and anytime John and I sing together, I know that we will be involved with more characters in a song. It won’t be a full duet. It might be a trio. It might even be a certain type of band that we are emulating. But truly I don’t know. That’s why this is such a great tease. It’s always subject to change and we haven’t started filming episode 8 at this moment, so 10 feels like a mile away.”
Two of Astin’s past “Playlist” performances — The Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker” and Shawn Mendes’ “If I Can’t Have You” — clearly illustrated Max’s distinct musical prowess. Max sang “Sucker” flawlessly, while “If I Can’t Have You” had a karaoke flavour. Both styles were intentional, and what Astin and the producers have coined “zoeality” and “reality.”
“There was a lot of discussion between me, Austin and Richie Keen, who directed episode 7 of season one,” says Astin. “That was the first time we were going to hear Max singing outside of what we internally call ‘zoeality.’ I was like, ‘Do you want me to sound bad? How does Max in real life sing when he’s at karaoke or in the shower? What does that sound like?’ I think we put it at a solid B+ on the scale. Richie would often prefer a B. I don’t escape the pitch, and I don’t fall flat or sharp because that wouldn’t be pleasing, unless we were deliberately doing that for comedy. It’s just charisma, smile, happiness and a pretty nice natural singing voice.”
Outside of “Playlist”, Astin recently appeared in “Secret Society of Second-Born Royals”. The Disney+ movie focused on an elite group of super-powered teenagers. Astin portrayed Professor James Morrow, who possessed the power to multiply himself. The narrative conjured up images of the X-Men and their institute, which suits Astin just fine. “I desperately want to be in a Marvel movie,” he admits.
“I have some great faith with Disney and Disney+ with ‘Secret Society’,” Astin reports. “I have heard talks for a sequel for that. I’m excited about all the Marvel stuff announced. I know ‘Fantastic Four’ is being directed by Jon Watts. I know that the character of Ben Grimm, who is the Thing, in the comics is Jewish. I always was interested in playing an unlikely superhero, or a hero like Shazam or Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool or even Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man. I think that’s a pocket I’d like to explore. And I’d like to train.”
He concludes: “I always liked the Robert Downey Jr. type of comedy within those Marvel movies. It’s a winning recipe. My brother is a huge super-fan. That’s a huge bucket list for me, not only to do what I was able to do with Secret Society, but to keep defining myself in the Marvel or DC space.”