Reneé Rapp Tells Mindy Kaling About the Switch from Mean Girl to College Girl
Reneé Rapp doesn’t waste time. The North Carolina-born actor’s cult following first cohered after her 2018 Jimmy Awards win—for those not in the know, that’s the National High School Musical Theatre Awards. From there, it didn’t take Rapp long to make her way to Broadway, where she made her official on-stage debut as Regina George in Tina Fey’s Tony Award-nominated musical adaptation of Mean Girls. Though Rapp’s time as queen bee was cut short by the pandemic, she quickly became the darling of yet another titan of comedy. Last winter, Mindy Kaling cast the 21-year-old actor in her upcoming HBOMax show The Sex Lives of College Girls—out tomorrow, November 18th. To celebrate the premiere, Rapp and Kaling hopped on the phone to chat about their first encounter, being funny on camera, and doing what the cool girls are doing.—ZACH SCHIFFMAN
MINDY KALING: Reneé!
RENEÉ RAPP: Hi! How are you?
KALING: I’m so good. I can’t believe we have to wait another few weeks for the show to come out. It feels interminable.
RAPP: I know, but it’s going by so quickly.
KALING: We were so excited when you auditioned for the show. We were like, “Isn’t she rich and busy in New York City? How is she reading for this part?” Obviously, you have a really successful career in theatre, but what did you learn from making that jump from stage to screen so early in your career?
RAPP: That’s very nice. I’ve learned that I know absolutely nothing. When I was in Mean Girls, and now, in College Girls, I felt like a lost fish just trying to do what all the cool kids are doing, and sometimes being lucky enough to hit the mark. The biggest difference between the two is how intimate the theatre is. Film is so different because, when you’re on set, even if a joke lands, no one is going to laugh, because nobody wants to mess up a take.
KALING: It’s so hard. The Office was also a single-camera comedy, and we would have these long scenes with Steve Carell and we could not laugh. We just had to sit in the scene and be horrified by him. Your character is similar, in that you say a lot of things that people might take issue with. It must be hard to make those big swings and just get nothing but stone silence from the cast and crew because everyone’s trying not to break.
RAPP: Yeah, It’s wild. I’m sure it feels strange on your end too. You must be wondering, “Are they pulling this off? Is it landing?”
KALING: We feel so removed. I remember sitting there with David Gordon Green, so far away from you guys, with our masks and shields on. Normally, if I’m doing a show, I’m sitting right next door. I come in between takes, sometimes with notes, sometimes just to chat and gossip. I think what was challenging for you guys on this project was this hyper-professional demeanor on set. We couldn’t have those casual, intimate moments where you’re gathering and getting to know people.
RAPP: That’s what everybody kept telling me. They were like, “Wait until you film something outside of the pandemic. You can’t imagine how different it is.” It definitely felt professional, but it was nice because I had to be super on my game.
KALING: The pandemic shut down your Broadway debut, right? How long had you been in Mean Girls when it shut down?
RAPP: About six months.
MINDY KALING: Oh my god. You were 18 when that happened, right?
KALING: When I was 18, I took even the tiniest faltering in my ambitions or career extremely hard. I couldn’t see the longevity or potential of my career. How does that affect you?
RAPP: It was so weird. The first night I performed, I was petrified. I was like, “I’m going to spontaneously combust.” A couple weeks into the pandemic, when I figured out that we were not going back to Broadway anytime soon, I got on the phone with my mom. I was super upset, and was like, “I don’t know what to do. I have no idea who I am.” My mom was like, “You have four or five months to figure out what you’re gonna do. So figure it out, and make a plan.”
KALING: I love how decisive your mom is. That’s very helpful to have, I think.
RAPP: It’s helpful, but it’s also scary. I’m not a-sure-of-myself kind of person, but she is. She’s a Sagittarius and it’s so intimidating. She knows it all.
KALING: It’s so funny, that Sagittarius trait. My daughter’s the same. She was born knowing everything. Like, how? She’s three. I know you are gonna be asked this question daily until you die, but how is your character from College Girls similar to Regina George? And how is she different?
RAPP: They’re similar in a lot of emotional undertone ways. Both Leighton and Regina want to be liked so desperately. They are both unwilling to get out of their own way to figure out who they actually are, and just want everybody to like them and to embody this stereotypical ideal. The most obvious difference is, with Regina, I did the same story for two hours every night. Leighton is character formed over six months and 10 episodes, and because of the nature of TV, you see a lot more of her. I grew with her in those six months—Leighton has no idea what she’s doing, and Reneé also has no idea what she’s doing. We’re very similar in that realm.
KALING: How do you view yourself comedically?
RAPP: A mess. I literally view myself comedically as a mess. I always loved comedy growing up, I didn’t watch a lot of drama. I was always more of a sitcom person, but it never felt like something that I could do. I always thought that my dad is hilarious, but I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older that he’s actually not funny. He’s just a very intense person with very dry humor. I think I’m similar, in that I don’t have as much of a filter as I would like to, and people sometimes find that funny. For me, it’s just anxiety and a dream—like I’m spiraling. But, I guess it reads as funny.
KALING: Well, you make them laugh. I think you are extremely different from the characters you play. We don’t, like, vacation together or anything, but what I’ve noticed about you is that you take on these characters who are really high status and judgmental, but you’re this rollicking, giggly, really warm person. You don’t take yourself too seriously, but because you are very beautiful and have blonde hair, you’re suited for certain kinds of roles. I think that’s very rare. I don’t think a lot of actors that look like you are pushed towards comedy. They’re told, “Just go audition for Mad Men or whatever.” I love that you do this. It’s great.
RAPP: Aw, thanks. It’s fun!
KALING: You recently posted a picture of yourself as, like, a two-year-old. To Interview‘s readers, Reneé is, like, the best social media follow. She’s actually normal, but she’s good at funny TikTok shit. When you were growing up, who did you think was funny?
RAPP: To be honest, I’m a really bad Gen Zer, because I didn’t get Netflix or any streaming services until the pandemic. I was always a die hard cable person. I didn’t watch a lot of TV, but to be honest, my comedic icons were all the Real Housewives. I only watched The Real Housewives and Sex and The City growing up.
KALING: So, Carrie and Lisa Vanderpump?
RAPP: Yes! Literally anyone on The Real Housewives of Atlanta or Beverly Hills. It doesn’t get better than Kathy Hilton, and that’s a hill I’m gonna die on. They’re enigmas, and that makes them comedy legends to me. So effing funny.
KALING: I thought you might say, I don’t know, Tina Fey or Melissa McCarthy. I love that you’re like, “Kathy Hilton.” Wait, so since I follow you on social media, I see that you are friends with everybody on Broadway. Were you very social before the pandemic? Is that how you know everyone?
RAPP: To be honest, in my mind, I’m not a very social person. There’s a group of us young kids who, for whatever reason, have all worked together early on in our careers. We are a little group. We’re all in the same position of not knowing who we are yet, but playing characters who often have so much life experience, or confidence. It’s kind of a support group—we’re all a little bit miserable, and confused, but very lucky. We make each other better.
KALING: That’s amazing. So, Reneé, what do you wanna do next? Obviously, I want you to do College Girls until you turn 50, but other than that, what else do you want to do? Do you have music coming down the pipeline? Do you wanna be a Real Housewife?
RAPP: I’m dying to be on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen. But after this, I want my move to be music. Hopefully, this will lead to that. I have my fingers and toes crossed. It’s the only area in my life where I don’t have much anxiety, so that would be nice.
KALING: Nothing would make me happier than going to the Hollywood Bowl to see Reneé Rapp.