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In Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Donna Lynne Champlin plays a best friend, a wife, a mom, a lover. In Hell’s Kitchen, add to that list of credits: neighbor. My neighbor — writes Celine Havard.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend — “Paula Needs to Get Over Josh!”. Donna Lynne Champlin as Paula. Photo: Scott Everett White/The CW

As relatable, unconventional Paula, she’s winning the hearts of men and women all over the US, thanks in large part to her friendship with the leading lady (played by writer Rachel Bloom), which has turned out to be one of the most compelling relationships of the show. 

So, to recap, for those not following the CW show (and, BTW, where have you been?), CEG revolves around Rebecca Bunch, a top-notch NY lawyer who runs into her first love, Josh from summer camp, and decides to drop everything and follow him to West Covina, California. 

Add to that the unique conceit of characters spontaneously bursting into wacky, candid song and dance numbers, and you have a TV hit on your hands. 

“He took me on a road trip to the Eastern State Penitentiary, which is one of the most haunted places in the country” Donna Lynne Champlin

CH: What do you think of what Rebecca did; going to West Covina to pursue love? 

DL: It’s very Paula of me to say, but I applaud her. I think It takes a lot of gall, especially if your life is “successful.” And maybe this is part of why I got cast. I feel like it was an incredible moment of clarity and insight [that made Rebecca move]. Perhaps more stable and rational thinkers would have thought it through and not done it, but I think it’s fantastic. I have had people in my life that I have seen stuck in certain ways and some of them choose safety and some of them choose to change their life, and the people who chose to change their life ended up SO much happier. Maybe not necessarily richer, but happier and healthier. 

CH: So it was more the risk than the romance that you applaud? 

DL: I think romance is a risk. You risk your pride. You risk embarrassment. You risk humiliation. That’s what romance is. Romance is the guy who swoops in for a kiss, you know what I mean? The guy who nowadays even just holds a door open for you — it’s a romantic gesture. It’s a risk. 

CH: Did you think you were taking a risk when you met your husband Andy? 

DL: Sure! I think, honestly, people who don’t get scared when they get married don’t fully understand the commitment they’re making. And also with parenthood. I’ve had friends and they’re like: “Oh, I’m just so scared and I don’t know if I can do it.” I think the mere fact that you are asking yourself the question means that you will probably make a great parent! People who scare me are parents who will be like: “It’s going to be easy,” and: “I’m going to LOVE it,” and: “It’s going to make me a better person.” And I’ll be like: “Oh no no no.”

So it’s a big commitment, and I don’t take it lightly. And neither does my husband. We were both pretty much “divorce isn’t an option” kind of folks. Which is much easier to say when you’re in your 40s. Because you’re looking at the rest of the ride and you’re like: “Ah well, I got like maybe half of it left. So I’m good.” You’ve had 40 years of being unmarried. I mean, I was engaged before and I’m SO glad we did not get married. It was the worst idea. Don’t you hate when everyone comes up to you and is like: “When ya know ya know.” And I was like: “Oh no! I don’t know anything.” And I will say, with Andy. there was definitely a knowing. I knew in my heart. I think we both knew it was forever. 

CH: Did a lot of it come down to similar temperament and interests or did it feel like “chemistry”? 

DL: Quite honestly, it was the opposite. We are very, very different from each other. For us it was balance. He’s a very quiet guy. He’s very sort of rational. He’s a Capricorn. I’m an Aquarius. I’m out there and I’m like, bananas. I feel EVERYTHING so FULLY. And we’re good for each other because he’ll help me not fly off the handle about something. And I’ll nudge him and be like: “You’re actually allowed to be angry about that. It’s OK that you express that.”

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend — “When Will Josh Notice How Cool I Am?” Donna Lynne Champlin as Paula. Photo: Scott Everett White/The CW

CH: Is there anything wild either of you have gotten each other for Valentine’s Day? 

DL: I’ll tell you how I kinda could tell he was the one. It wasn’t Valentine’s Day, but it was my birthday. His birthday is January 19 and mine is January 21. So ever since we met we call it the birthday bacchanal and we take three days and we just birthday it up. We met in September and our first birthdays were the following January. I love Halloween. I love ghosts, metaphysics, and all that crazy kind of stuff. So he took me on a road trip to Philadelphia to the Eastern State Penitentiary, which is one of the most haunted places in the country. Nay, the world. We were walking around this freezing penitentiary. There’s a waiver you have to sign in case you get hurt. 

Then he took me to the Mutter Museum, which is the famous museum of medical oddities. Like the Elephant Man’s skeleton is there. And it’s fascinating. I mean it’s grotesque, but fascinating. He took me to those two places and I was like: “This is the guy!” You know why? Because I’m not a flowers gal. I don’t really care about jewelry. I’m not traditional. But I LOVE ghosts and haunted stuff and scientific weirdness. 

And I called my mother and I said: “Ma! Guess where this guy took me for my birthday? You’re never going to believe it. It was so awesome!” And she’s like (funny mom voice impression): “Did you go to the Rainbow Room? Did you go somewhere fancy? Did you go to a Broadway show?” And when I told her she was like … three second pause … “How romantic.” But it WAS! 

CH: If Andy had gone to West Covina, would you have followed him? 

DL: Absolutely! Again, I’m coming from a place later in life. You don’t care anymore what people think. You’ve accomplished a certain amount. You can fail and be miserable at something you DON’T want to do, so why on earth wouldn’t you do what you WANT to do? You’re worried about failing and being miserable? It’s actually illogical to do the thing that is “safe.” Even if it won’t make you happy, you could just as easily fail at that too. 

CH: So what would be your advice to young people on achieving success? 

DL: Figure out who you are. Which sounds very easy, but when you’re young I think it’s one of the hardest things to do. And know that once you know who you are, that could change, like, every day. So know who you are and then allow yourself to change and be OK with who you are every second. That’s number one. And number two, don’t try to be anybody else, because then you’re just a poor imitation. Be the best version of you that you can be. And then you’re guaranteed to be the best at something.
I’ve found it much easier to face rejection when I’ve walked into the room as myself. There’s a security in the foundation of knowing who you are and knowing that their decision has nothing to do with you.

This article was originally published in Issue 26 of W42ST Magazine in February 2017.

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