When Scott Michael Foster joined the cast of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend last season as Nathaniel, the ruthless new boss at West Covina’s scrappiest law firm, his arrival was fêted in true Crazy Ex-Girlfriend style—with a song. “Who’s the new guy?” the other characters asked, taking note of his cartoonish handsomeness (“He’s suspiciously good-looking in ways that normal people are not”) and wondering just how long they could expect him to stick around.
Months later, they (and we) have an answer: Nathaniel is here to stay, and Foster, no longer the new guy, has been promoted to series regular for the already-underway Season 3. The actor, previously known for playing Leo on Chasing Life, Kristoff on Once Upon a Time, and Cappie on the ABC Family show Greek, has transitioned seamlessly into his new part as Rebecca’s love interest, a cutthroat lawyer whose cold-blooded façade hides a love of Harry Potter.
Slate spoke to Foster by phone about the pressures of performing in a musical, his new dynamic with sidekick George (Danny Jolles), and how his good looks became one of the show’s running jokes.
Let’s kick things off by talking about your new song, “I Go to the Zoo,” which aired on Friday night.
Well, Nathaniel is obviously bummed out because he invites Rebecca over for dinner and she’s a no-show, so he tries all the things that you might think would cheer you up, like going out, going to clubs, and meeting up with new ladies. And when all that fails, he does what he should have done all along and goes to the zoo.
What was going through your mind when you found out that you would be singing an entire R&B song that’s literally about going to the zoo?
Listen, I’m not surprised by anything on this show anymore. In Season 2, they told me I’d be singing this big ballroom song about having intercourse, and I was like, “All right, let’s do it.” It’s always a welcome challenge, but this one was exceptionally fun. We spent three days, at least part of three days, shooting this music video. No regrets.
You weren’t shooting at an actual zoo, were you?
We weren’t. There was some issue about distressing the animals that they were worried about, because we had to shoot at night, so we went to an arboretum instead.
Was there any artist in particular you were trying to channel in the video?
I mean, I’m obviously not gonna be able to do any kind of impression of Drake, but I think they were inspired by the look and the colors of “Hotline Bling.” Drake’s got some funny dance moves in that video, and I said, “I’d love to try some of those,” but obviously they didn’t use any of them, so I don’t think I did a very good job.
This was your second solo number for the show. The first one, as you mentioned, was “Let’s Have Intercourse,” and you’ve been involved in a few other songs, either as part of the ensemble or as a bystander. Which has been your favorite song so far?
They’re all unique in their own way. I do like doing the songs with other people because it feels like we’re in a big musical. “Man Nap” from last year was a lot of fun. I didn’t sing or anything but I did get to watch the guys sing at me while I was laying on the couch and they were being ’80s glam rock stars.
We have a couple more songs coming up that are just silly, to say the least. I’ve got a number with White Josh (David Hull) that’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s about two guys who may look perfect and chiselled, but they’re trying to explain to people in a club that they have problems, too.
Speaking of looking perfect and chiselled, there are a lot of jokes within the show about how handsome you are. Was that part of the casting call for Nathaniel? Like, “must be super handsome”?
It was more like: “Picture someone super WASP-y, educated, bit of an elitist.” Someone who held themselves in a high regard. It wasn’t like, “Seeking super handsome, drop-dead gorgeous person.” Then when this song [with White Josh] came up, I realized, “Oh, shit, now I’m gonna have to get in really good shape.”
Is it true that you originally auditioned for Greg, the role that ultimately went to Santino Fontana?
Yeah, for the pilot. I would say I wasn’t as strong as a singer as they wanted originally. But Aline Brosh McKenna, the showrunner, likes to tell people that I was too handsome. So I’ll take that explanation.
Nathaniel has gone from being kind of aloof and ruthless to finally admitting that he has feelings for Rebecca. Where does he go from here?
The end of Season 2 was sort of him realizing that he has emotions that his whole life his family had cut him off from. Meeting Rebecca and realizing that he has feelings has created this weird internal struggle for him. You see it in Episode 2 of this season when he’s talking to himself in the photo in his office, saying “I’m gonna get my old self back.”
I’ve been wondering about that photo, which basically shows you in a pool playing water polo. It’s so prominently displayed in Nathaniel’s office, and characters keep calling attention to it. Did you have to get in a pool just for that one shot?
My very first episode they told me they needed a photo of me playing water polo, and so I was like, “I’m gonna be shirtless. I better work out.” Then I told them I was finally ready for the water polo photo, and they told me they just needed a photo of my face to slap it on a water polo player’s body!
The magic of Photoshop.
Yep. Oddly enough, that guy does kinda look like me.
What has been your favorite nonmusical Nathaniel moment so far?
I love all the stuff that he does with George. Last season, when Nathaniel and George first meet—I mean, he cracks me up. The dynamic between them cracks me up. We joke about how it’s sort of a Gaston-LeFou relationship.
I’m a little surprised that you did not choose the scene where you poop your pants. I have to say, that was definitely a highlight for me.
You know, last season, I was sitting in the hair and makeup trailer, and someone came in and said very seriously, “Hey, [Aline Brosh McKenna] wants to talk to you in private.” And whenever someone says the showrunner wants to talk to you in private, the first thing an actor thinks is, “Oh my god, I’m fired.”
I went outside, and she told me that I’d been doing really great and that she just wanted to let me know that we were going to have a scene where I shit my pants. I was like, “That’s it?!”
She broke it to you gently.
I thought maybe they were killing me off. I was so relieved when she told me I’d just be shitting my pants. I wonder if it was a tactic so that I couldn’t be like, “No, I don’t wanna poop my pants” because I was just happy to keep my job. But that was a fun moment as well because I got to pretend like I shit myself.