NEW YORK — When Broadway shut down during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, " Mean Girls" star, Reneé Rapp, figured she'd take the opportunity to return home in North Carolina and wait it out — thinking it would be only a few weeks. Weeks turned to months and when Broadway showed no sign of reopening soon, the now 21-year-old had to figure out what was next.
She recalls a conversation with her mom who said, 'What are you going to do with your life?′ And I was like, 'I'll get on it, Denise. Thank you,'" said Rapp in a recent Zoom interview.
Rapp's manager suggested she begin auditioning for film and TV. Prior to that, Rapp says she had only done a few self-tape auditions and describes them as "not cute." She read for the HBO Max series " The Sex Lives of College Girls," created by Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble, and was shocked to even get a call back. It debuts Thursday.
"I remember hearing they liked me and that I was 'pinned.' I had no idea what that meant. I thought it meant they had someone else and I was on the back burner." (It means you're liked by the casting director and production for a role, and they want you to hold filming dates on your schedule.)
Rapp got cast as one of the four leads in the series alongside Pauline Chalamet, Alyah Chanelle Scott and Amrit Kaur. They portray college freshmen at a fictional New England university who share a dorm suite. Rapp plays Leighton, a Manhattanite with family money, who is a legacy student. She presents herself as more worldly and sophisticated than her roommates, but she's also carrying secrets about herself that she's not ready to get out.
Getting the job meant Rapp had to officially leave her "Mean Girls" role of Regina George and ask producers including Tina Fey to let her out of her contract.
"I didn't think it would hit me as hard as it did. Getting that out from Tina and the team, I cried. It had been my whole life for an entire year," she said. (The show eventually decided not to reopen post-pandemic).
Rapp quickly tears up at the thought of how two formidable female producers in Hollywood, Fey and Kaling, took a chance on her for Broadway and television.
"They're both two of the coolest people I've ever met, two of the nicest people I've ever met, and two people who have truly taken such a huge swing at bat for me. I will never forget that."
Rapp has now moved out to Los Angeles. She's become especially close with co-star Chanelle Scott who also comes from musical theater.
"Every single day on set, we would leave and we would be like, 'Do we feel good about that? Did we feel good about what we did? No.' And it's truly just in our own heads. We're nervous. Also coming from a theater background, there's this lack of instant gratification that we now have through TV which is just like a different space to navigate. But it has been so nice doing it with her, and she's also just a great friend and she's destined for greatness," said Rapp. "I'm just ready to ride her coattails."
Rapp's musical dreams still loom large. She's been singing since she was young and has a passion for songwriting. She says when she's performing music she becomes "the best version" of herself. Her influences include Beyoncé, Frank Ocean, Elton John and Jazmine Sullivan.
"I (sing) pretty much every day just by nature of the thing. And I've been writing ever since I was a kid. I become a very different person when I'm writing music. I have zero anxiety when I'm doing it," she said.
She would love to continue acting but the perfect opportunity, says Rapp, would be to act and sing for TV or film.
"Through doing straight acting in a series, I definitely miss the musical aspect of my life. Like more than I imagined. But I also now know from not doing it for a year that it's something I have to be doing 24/7 and that's very affirming and also very scary because I'm like, 'OK, the stakes are high.' But I love acting and I definitely want to do it again. I know that I want to do it coupled with music."