Rachel Leyco: Premiering Web Series CRAZY at Outfest LA, Being an Multi-Hyphenate Creator, & Paving Way for the LGBTQ+ and AAPI Community in the Entertainment Industry
Interview by: Lauren Sanchez
PHOTO: Tony Moux
My name is Lauren and I'm sitting down with the talented Rachel Leyco to talk about acting filmmaking and her upcoming web series CRAZY. Well first of all, I just wanna say thank you for taking the time to sit down and talk with me with this interview. How has your day been so far?
Rachel: Thank you so much for having me. It's nice to see you and meet you. And uh, yeah, I've been, it's been good. It's been really hot here in LA, but, uh, trying to stay cool in the heat um, but yeah, it's been kind of a pun intended, crazy, rollercoaster you know, past few weeks just prepping for the premiere. But it's all fun.
Yay! So, for those who might not be familiar with you or your work, could you just tell us who you are and how you got into acting and filmmaking?
Rachel: Oh, wow. I can tell that, this could take for hours But, um, yeah. Hey, I'm Rachel Leyco. I'm a multi-hyphenate actor, filmmaker, writer, director, producer, all the things. I got into acting since, uh, very young. I did a lot of theater in Texas where I grew up and once we moved to California, my family and I decided to pursue acting professionally here in Hollywood. When I was pursuing it professionally, I was going out for roles that were really stereotypical, you know, especially for like Asian American women and it wasn't fun. And then I found a new passion and love for screenwriting when I took an elective during my undergrad and decided to go to film school. And then that's kind of how my journey started into filmmaking and writing and directing, and then just kind of doing it all now. That's what I've been doing for the past few years, and I love it.
That's awesome. So what word would you use? Like if you could choose a word to describe yourself as an artist, which word would you choose and why?
Rachel: Oh my goodness. A word. Wow. That's so good. Um, oh, wow. I think I would say the word that comes to me is empowering. I guess I would say because not, I guess, yeah, that's it. That's the word. Because a lot of the stories that I tell on characters that I write and everything that I find in my material is empowering. It doesn't matter what genre it is that I'm working on. I always try to strive to tell really empowering stories.
That's a great word. Um, so we're here to talk about CRAZY, your short web series that's premiering next month in LA, right at that Outfest Festival. That's so cool. Um, do you mind giving us a short summary of what the series entails?
Rachel: Absolutely, so CRAZY is a web series that follows two queer Asian American frenemies, who get caught up in these like romantic entanglements while battling mental illnesses and realize that they're more alike than they realize.
So what inspired the creation of the web series? Like what was the creative process like?
Rachel: So, we wrote this, me and my co-creator Sheena Midori Brevig, who's amazing as well. So, we were friends and I actually cast her in a short film that I was doing a while back. And then we just became friends from there and she was actually playing like my significant other, and then we became friends and we just started to really bond over being Asian American and dealing various like mental health issues and illnesses and problems that we were going through in our lives. And, you know, it's super taboo in our culture. And so once we started like, kind of bonding over that and, I had been wanting to create a web series for a really long time cause prior to that I had been doing a lot of short films, which is fun and great, but I really wanted to like challenge myself and kind of elevate my career and my skills. And so I was like, 'I really wanna do a web series.' And I was talking to her about that. And then she wanted to as well and so we kind of just were like, 'Oh, well maybe we should do something together.' And then we just kind of started brainstorming and the story came up really naturally because already, we had a really good friendship you know, it's like, okay, let's just do our brainstorm session and these characters just kind of like came to us.
The storyline came to us and it's very much inspired by our lives, individually, and like how they intersected together. Um, and yeah, so that's kind of how the series came about. And we wrote six episodes fairly quickly, probably in like a few months. And then just started to, you know, see what we could do with it and we did some fundraising. We did two crowdfunding campaigns, which is actually really interesting because I hadn't done that before the first. So, we crowdfunded on Seed&Spark, for just production. And then we filmed, filming was so wild, it was like shooting a very short feature film and we shot over the course of like two weekends. So we shot like one weekend, three days, and then took a break, which I'm really glad we did because it was a lot, especially on like a limited budget, you know, low budget shoots. It's fast-paced and there's a lot to do, and then we shot again on the next weekend. And then we had to crowdfund again for post-production.
Our strategy was really interesting, but it worked out, you know? Um, but yeah, that's kind of how the journey of the series started and then the pandemic happened and it delayed post-production because we had limited funds and also, you know, everyone was in crisis. And so we were like, you know what, let's just take some time off, like everybody, you know, it's okay. And then our editor had to like leave the country and so there was a long delay in post-production. It was only until like this year when we started to get back up and then, you know, got into Outfest which was amazing and fun.
Yeah. That's like, oh my God, that's a long journey. So that's like over what? Like, um, almost two and a half years?
Rachel: Yeah. We filmed it in 2019. And, so we premiered the pilot web series at Inside Out actually in Canada, but that was just the pilot. And then we were like, 'Okay, we really want to, we need to get the entire series out there. Like we need to finish this.' During the pandemic, we were just trying to you know, I, because our editor left the country we were like, ‘Okay, she did most of the part.’ And then Sheena and I had to kind of like take on the rest of post-production together, along with our amazing music composer and sound mixer and just putting all the last pieces together. Um, and yeah, I'm really glad that we can finally premiere the entire show.
Well, like I'm glad that now, after all the struggles it's finally like worth it, you know? So you mentioned before that you made short films before you made the web series, what do you think sets crazy apart from your other works? Have you seen yourself grown as an artist or, and as a filmmaker?
Rachel: Absolutely. I mean, even just watching the show now, you know, like I've watched so many times for edits, but even just watching that again, we filmed it in 2019, and there's still moments like, of course, I'm so proud of it, but there's moments where I kind of like cringe and I'm like, 'Oh my God, I could have done that so much better,' but, it goes to show how much I've grown even now as an artist and filmmaker. And it's the same thing when I look back at my short films and that's the reason I wanted to do the web series. As an artist, I, you know, you always wanna challenge yourself. The series is the biggest challenge I've ever done in my career so far.
A short film is kind of, you can do it in a weekend and for low budget and it feels like a one and done kind of thing, but a web series, you know, it's a show, it's a whole show. We tried to treat it as this mini legit television production, and we brought on like guest directors to shoot certain episodes. And, um, so that was really like a learning curve too. Like, we were learning as we went, you know? But I definitely have seen the growth in myself from my first short film to the web series to like now I'm working on feature films.
Yeah, cause I was lucky enough to be able to like screen some of the series and I think it's brilliant. Like even, if it's been three years ago and there are some parts that you still may be not happy with, I think it's pretty great. And I really liked how organic and natural it felt, like it wasn't like you were forcing us to try to like these characters, they were genuinely likable. You can understand the story and like where they're coming from an Asian, cultural, familial background, you know, and how they deal with their mental illness and set boundaries for the people that they're surrounding themselves with and themselves.
I really liked the little descriptions that are written throughout the series that like display the symptoms that each character like Lena and Jaz are exhibiting because of their mental illness. And especially in today's age while mental illness is still being more talked about and like it's more open, it's still stigmatized. Like for example, the relationship with Jaz and her mother and how her mother doesn't understand her mental illness with being bipolar. How did you go about incorporating such heavy topics into the series while creating a dialogue that accurately represents and brings awareness to mental illness?
Rachel: Wow. Well, first of all, thank you so much for saying that. I really appreciate it. Um wow, she said, brilliant. I'm gonna take that. But no, that's such a great question because that's definitely something that Sheena and I talked about because you know mental illness, mental health in general is, like you said, so stigmatized and very much not talked about in a lot of BIPOC cultures. And you know, we had firsthand experience with that. And so we were like, 'Okay, both of us are really big mental health advocates.' And we were like, 'How can we tell the story and how can we raise awareness on certain mental health topics without it being too heavy-handed? Without it being too in your face, like you said, and without forcing it on people. And so we're like well, comedy is one of the best ways to do that, you know? So we're like, we have to make it true and authentic, but then also lighthearted so people can ingest it better. You know there's this saying, I don't remember who said it, some artist said this, but you know, it's when people laugh, it's easier for them to kind of like take in information. We wanted this web series to be entertaining, but most of all, educational, you know what we called it, "edu-tainment", because we wanted to raise awareness and there's so many different types of misconceptions and misinterpretations and misunderstandings about certain mental illnesses and that it can look different with different people.
That's what we really strive to do in our writing. I think what I'm really proud of in this show is that we took a lot of time and care into writing these characters and storylines and making sure they were true and authentic, not only to like our own experiences but hopefully to others too, that they can also resonate, you know? I think that's one of, for me, again, like, so proud of what we did is it's very unique and very personal for sure, because we drew a lot of inspiration from our own lives. Of course, they're still very, very much dramatized in the show, but again, taking those personal stories and trying to make it universal.
Yeah. I understand that it's very authentic, you know, it's very like I said before, organic and easy for others to relate. Like I can relate myself to the series because I do have anxiety, I am Asian American, you know, so it was very like, ‘Wow. Okay. I can see myself within each of the characters,’ and I love that you got to add your own personal experiences into it because not only are you a creator of it, but you also directed, produced, wrote and started it, which is incredibly impressive, ambitious and it's so admirable to a lot of people who are in the entertainment industry and don't think that they can do it all, so how did you manage to do it all? And how has your love for both acting and filmmaking helped you in your creative process?
Rachel: I'm so glad you mentioned that because I have a lot of other, especially female and non-binary filmmakers, friends who wanna do it all. And, you know, we've talked a lot about this. They'll come to me and be like, people always tell me even for myself, I experienced it too, of like, ‘Oh, you gotta pick one lane,’ or like, ‘You're doing too much.’ But like, I just say ‘F that,’ you know, we could do whatever we want. And like, if you wanna do it all and you love it all, then do it. That's always just been my belief and trying to empower, especially women in the industry, to do that as well. And I think, for me when I was in film school, I felt empowered to do all the things because I was seeing like Issa Rae and Mindy Kaling at the time, they were coming up and I saw them doing it all. And I was like, ‘Well if they can do it, I could do it too.’
How has your love for both acting and directing right helped your creative processes?
Rachel: I think they go hand in hand because especially when I'm directing, it helps to have that acting background and then when I'm acting, it helps to have the directing background. Every single aspect of filmmaking, whether you're in front of the camera or behind it, they all inform each other. And you also have a greater appreciation for the craft and a greater understanding of it all. I went to film school and we had to literally take every position. Like, I had a class where I had to be like the sound boom operator, you know, and I'm like, ‘Oh my goodness, like, this is, this is wild. I, I, this is really difficult.’ I had a greater appreciation for the craft because I stepped into that role. So, I'm really grateful that I have been able to practice every single lane of filmmaking. And I think that has made me a better artist overall, and they all go hand in.
Yeah, for sure. But, if you had to choose between directing or acting, which would you rather do?
Rachel: Gosh, I get asked so many times. I think it really changes, it depends on like what's going on with my career at the time and how I feel, like I definitely go through periods where maybe acting is number one because there's a lot going on and I'm getting cast in things and whatever, so then that'll be my focus. But then there's other periods where maybe acting is a little bit slow and then I can really lean into and focus on my writing and directing and all of that, so it really depends for me.