Santino Fontana plays lovable self-loathing Greg Serrano on the CW’s critically acclaimed Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. The show is part-comedy/part-musical giving Fontana an opportunity to showcase his many talents. In addition to several starring roles on Broadway, you may recognize Fontana from one of many guest starring roles on television, including stints on The Good Wife, Nurse Jackie, and Royal Pains, among others. Most notably, Fontana voiced one of Disney’s most deceitful and evil villains as Prince Hans in 2013’s Frozen.
Talk Nerdy With Us had a chance to chat with Santino about the process of landing a spot on the most outrageous show of the fall. Read on to hear his thoughts on first encountering a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend script, his favorite scenes to shoot, and what’s ahead for Greg this season.
I love Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I adore it. I would love to hear about what your audition process was like.
I was doing a play in New York, I was doing Act One, which just aired on PBS actually, strangely enough. And I got a call saying there was an audition for something. I didn’t read the script, I just read the scene they wanted me to audition with and the description of the character and I was like “Oh, I’m not going to get this, they’re not going to cast me.” And because I was doing a show, it was 8 days a week, so you’re exhausted all the time, you want to conserve your energy. So I was like I don’t think I should do this, they’re going to cast somebody else. So I told my agent, “Nah, let’s wait.” And then they called back and the casting director really wanted to see me specifically, and I knew the casting director, so I went in. I went in and I kinda thought, “This is a waste of time.”
And then they gave a really interesting note. They said “Do it, but can you be more self-hating?” [laughs] Which is not something you hear often. Especially for a TV audition. Typically, for network television, they don’t want people to be more complicated, typically they want you to be less complicated. So I thought that was interesting. So they said “He’s a nice guy, but he’s rough around the edges, so you can make him a little more sarcastic,” which wasn’t really in the writing at the time. So I did that and I was like, “Oh that would actually be interesting.” And then I played the piano and sang something and I didn’t think anything of it. And then a couple of weeks later I met with the director, Marc Webb, who directed the Spider-Man movies and (500) Days of Summer and I’m a huge fan of his movies so I was like, “Ok, this is getting serious.” He also had me improvise a bit, which is really fun and you’re not asked to do that very often. He had me come back in and just improvise. He was like, “I just want you to improvise more, just keep going.” And we hit it off. Then I met with Rachel [Bloom] and Aline [Brosh McKenna], the two writers. And that was it. Then they called probably like a month later. And I got it!
Well, lucky us! When you did get to read a full script, what stood out to you about the writing?
Oh god. Well, I mean this show also has a very unique story because it was originally written for Showtime. So…the C-word [laughs] was in the first scene. And the last scene of the pilot, was about getting a…she was crying while giving oral sex. So that stuck out. And I was like, “This is insane!” [laughs].
For people who are familiar with Rachel Bloom’s YouTube videos, it’s less shocking that this was in the original script.
I mean I’ve done some crazy auditions where you’re asked to do some stuff and you’re like “This is scary,” but it’s usually dramatic. It’s very rare that you’re going to do something that’s that in your face in a comedic way, that’s not couched in anything that’s like being sweet. So, I was shocked by that. I was like “Who is this girl?”
Yeah. Rachel’s a very unique comedian. There aren’t too many people like her out there. I’ve been impressed and kinda surprised that the dirtier versions of some of the musical numbers have been released with the CW’s logo. I’ve been kind of amazed.
Yeah, it’s very interesting. I mean Rachel is…It’s kind of amazing what she’s managed to do. She’s amazing in that she not only with Aline conceived this idea but also wrote so many of the scripts and is writing all of the music and maintaining the show that she wants to make. Which is very unique and she’s never really kowtowed to anybody. And I’m sure a lot of people wanted her to change things to make it different. She never did. And she’s also in every scene so she’s always working. I see what her schedule is and it freaks me out. [laughs]. But it’s very exciting to see. I think she also has this very sweet, innocent, vulnerable thing within her that kind of sets her apart from the other comedians who can be in your face and be kinda blue comics. But they typically don’t have the…they can’t turn around and be really sweet and sing that West Covina song. It’s not gonna happen.
The music adds a really fun element to the show. What stands out is that so much of the comedy is part of the songs. The lyrics are hilarious.
Speaking of the songs, your background is actually in theatre, right?
Yeah. I’ve done…I’ve played many [laughs] I’ve played many sad husbands or sick patients on television. So I have a…Do you watch the show You’re the Worst?
So, Aya Cash, the female lead, we went to college together. We’ve known each other since we were 17. But she also..she and I play [laughing] we people who have this different strain of herpes and we’re passing it back and forth…and I almost died on an episode of A Gifted Man with Patrick Wilson a few years ago. So I’ve been in a lot of those TV shows where my wife is sick or my child, there’s been a lot of that. But this is my first series regular role.
And how are you liking it?
I like it. It’s so different. This has been a very busy year in a great way. I got married.
Thank you. I got married, and then I finished a play, and then I did the Tina Fey movie [Sisters], and then I sang with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Muppets, which is going to be on PBS in December. And then I shot this TV show with Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta called Shades of Blue which comes out in January, then I got married, and then I came out to LA to start shooting. So it’s been a whirlwind of stuff. What I really love the most is the people. Definitely. Aline is so smart. And Rachel. And all the writers. I like them.
So what’s been your favorite scene to film so far?
Oh, boy. Oh, I don’t know. I think I’m learning about TV stuff. You know, a play, for example, I was in Cinderella on Broadway for a year. So I did 400-something performances. And that’s not counting the months of rehearsal before you get in front of an audience. So you do those scenes hundreds and hundreds of times, so you know them so well. So many of these TV scenes, I’m surprised when I see it on TV, I’m like, “Oh right, I forgot we did that.” I don’t even remember what I did.
I think the most fun has been probably…oh, you know, there’s a scene coming up in the next episode, it’s a small scene, with Josh. We’re putting together a table for Valencia. It’s just the guys and for whatever reason it was a fun shooting day. We were spending the night overnight and we’ve all been drinking and we’re basically trying to tell him to get away from Valencia that she’s bad news, in funny awkward ways because we’re all exhausted. I think that was my favorite. But again, I don’t know even know which takes they’ll use. So…that’s [tonight] so I’m excited to see it.
This next question feels like a trick question now. I was going to ask you what you can tell us about what’s coming up with Greg. But now that you’ve said you don’t remember anything, it feels unfair to ask.
I know. It’s hard. But I remember the rough idea. What’s going to happen with Greg…you’re going to learn more about his family as we did last week with his father. And he’s going to start a relationship with somebody else and he’s going to have a dilemma with that.