Renée Elise Goldsberry Talks The Magic Of ‘Girls5Eva’, Living Unapologetically & Working On Her Own Music

In Netflix series Girls5Eva the band gets back together — literally. The titular all-female pop group hit the skids back in the early aughts, but when a hip hop star samples their old hit song 20 years later, the women grab their second chance, leading to some questionable outfit choices and calamitous video shoots. As self-proclaimed band leader, Wickie Roy, Hamilton Tony-winner Renée Elise Goldsberry deadpans her way through deliberately terrible songs written by co-star Sara Bareilles, alongside Paula Pell and Busy Phillips. With the show in its third season, Goldsberry says it reminds us it’s never too late to chase our dreams.

DEADLINE: Tell me how you came to connect with Girls5Eva creator Meredith Scardino and executive producer Tina Fey. And what was your first impression of the script?

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RENÉE ELISE GOLDSBERRY: It was the middle of Covid. I was in this very room looking much younger and I had received an email that said a word I could not pronounce: Girls5eva. I had no idea what that was. But I read it, because I had nothing else to do. In the very beginning they had the lyrics to the one hit of this pop group and I just burst out laughing. And I was in. And it only got funnier. I think there was even a line in the pilot that got cut out where there’s a fight with Dawn [Bareilles] and Wickie says, “I’m the oldest and the fact that you don’t know that is just racist.” I just was like… my brain exploded. It’s so smart and so dense and so ridiculous at the same time. I was in, and it only really got better from that. I got to meet Meredith on a Zoom and Tina who I knew. It wasn’t a hard pitch.

DEADLINE: How did you know Tina Fey?

GOLDSBERRY: Randomly, Paula Pell, who I did not know at the time, wrote a movie called Sisters and it stars Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. You didn’t see me in it. [They] took me completely out of the movie. I love it. I get to talk about it all the time. It was the summer before I shot Hamilton. I did this movie and it was the first time I was on a set with brilliant comedians. They were all brilliant comedians. I’m used to being with a bunch of actors, or a bunch of singers, or a bunch of dancers, and I just fell in love. I just couldn’t believe how that brain works. It’s a writer’s mind — constantly inventing bits, whereas we might sing and do licks all day long, they just do bits all day long. And they’re brilliant at it, and it was wonderful. I had a great time and then I got cut out of it. Just because it was too long. That’s what they told me.

Renee Elise Goldsberry interview
From left: Busy Philipps, Sara Bareilles, Paula Pell and Goldsberry in Girls5Eva.

DEADLINE: I love Paula Pell as Gloria in this show. When she calls up a previous one-night stand and says, “Hi, it’s Gloria from sex.”

GOLDSBERRY: So casually, “Gloria from sex.”

DEADLINE: Was there a collaborative aspect to how you embodied Wickie Roy, or was it all on the page?

GOLDSBERRY: I had the great humbling experience of playing her on Zoom for a table read before getting to set because it was Covid. God, let’s hope there’s no video of it… It is absolutely on the page — the hair, makeup, those clothes, and those other women in that world — really, more than any other character I’ve ever played. I could be Angelica Schuyler sitting right here in a sweatshirt, but Wickie really comes to life with those words in her mouth and all of the style and trappings. There’s so much about who she is in the fact that she walks around in every single moment saying, “Look at me, dammit.” You’ll never see her not screaming, “Look at me, discover me, acknowledge me. Give me my rightful place in the atmosphere, please?” That is her whole thing. And it’s so different from me.

DEADLINE: Since she’s so different from you, I wonder if in your work on Broadway and on screen, you’ve met many Wickies in your life?

GOLDSBERRY: [Laughs] I’ll not say their names.

DEADLINE: I’ve always felt a little bit jealous of people like Wickie, because they just have not even a drop of self-doubt.

GOLDSBERRY: My appreciation for her would be different if she was 25 years younger, watching her, because there’s just something that is synonymous with being beautiful and talented and young. We’re more used to seeing it on young, beautiful, talented women. A sense of just kind of privileged, just authority, just a claiming of who they are in the world. But what seems to be threatened as you get older is that sense of power. And that’s why I feel encouraged and inspired and affirmed at watching a character [like Wickie] refuse to apologize for that. Even as she gets older, she refuses. And these little things that she does. Like, “I’m dating a man that’s much, much younger than me. And I’m doing what’s been done to me and I’m not apologizing for that.”

We see women apologizing all around us all of the time. I literally just said to my daughter the other day when she was playing tennis almost as badly as me, “If you apologize one more time for hitting a ball bad, I’m not going to feed you dessert,” because I was like, “I don’t care if you play well, but just don’t apologize.” We are so conditioned to apologize. And it only gets worse as we get older. And so, this character, no matter how bad her behavior is, the fact that she doesn’t apologize on some level gives license that I think we need.

Goldsberry with Lin-Manuel Miranda in <em>Hamilton</em>.
Goldsberry with Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton.

DEADLINE: The fact that these women aren’t in first flush of youth, that to me is the whole power of the show. And the show doesn’t harp on their ages either.

GOLDSBERRY: And can I tell you how, being in this season of my life, the reception of the show is healing to me? Here’s something we don’t do, much to my chagrin, and that is, when we do flashbacks, there’s no airbrushing. We just put the clothes on and go for it

DEADLINE: Doesn’t that feel SNL-esque to you? To put on the costume and play yourselves 20 years younger and ask the audience to just go with it?

GOLDSBERRY: Tina literally said, “We’re going to go SNL because we don’t have the budget.” She didn’t say it like that, she’s much classier than that. There’s no illusion when we go back to the ‘90s that this is really how we would have looked in the ‘90s. And the fact that the audience allows us to do all these jump cuts and flashbacks and these outfits and embraces it is really healing to me. At this age and stage of my life I’m still here, trying to take big swings and be ambitious. The success of it means more to me than, “Oh, the show’s doing well.” And also, just the fact that it’s embraced by people that are not just women of this age group.

DEADLINE: Tell me about performing the Girls5Eva songs. I love the idea of Sara Bareilles sitting down going, “OK, how do I make this really awful, but also brilliant?”

GOLDSBERRY: Unlike the Dawn character where you’re watching someone who is obviously a genius songwriter, try to learn how to write songs, with air quotes, with Wickie, you’re watching somebody that you know is a singer, sing. I sing obnoxiously on the show, but I am not trying to sing badly. My riff rolodex that I got to do in Season 2, if you think the riffs are corny and trite, it’s not because I wasn’t trying to make good ones. That’s just what I had in the moment.

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DEADLINE: You have your own album coming out too, right?

GOLDSBERRY: I have an album of original music that I wrote, and to get to have been writing it while I’m on a show with Sara Bareilles, watching her creative process has been a true gift to me. She’s just been a great sister to me in terms of her encouragement on the journey. And it’s not lost on me that any hesitation I might have in putting it out there, I really have to ignore it, because the part of me that plays Wickie is standing up.

It feels sometimes dangerous, unnecessarily dangerous, to ask for more every year I get older. And so, I believe god put this in my life, to not let me settle. And even if it wasn’t for Wickie and Girls5eva, everywhere I look I see women — Paula Pell, Busy Philipps, Sara Bareilles — but I mean everywhere else, JLO, Beyoncé, Dolly Parton. Everywhere I look, there are women that are not retiring. It’s like they’re saying, “My future will be even greater.”

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