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.
No, I get it. It's a totally hard question. Like, I don't think I could answer that. But speaking of your acting, in the series, you do play Jaz, who is like the main role of the friendship duo. What was your favorite part about playing her? Were there moments that challenged you as an actress through that role?
Rachel: Yes, it was really fun to play Jaz. Like of course, you know, I wrote Jaz drawing from a lot of like my own life and I really wanted to showcase a lot of Filipino culture in the series because I haven't seen a lot of it, you know? And, so I was just so unashamed and just threw all of that in there, and drew from a lot of my own experiences like with my mother, with mental health, like some of those things are very, very true and, of course very dramatized in the show. But, I think the most challenging part with Jaz is like, it's so interesting because honestly she is a part of myself from the past, you know, and it's like this old version of me and like watching her now, like even for me, I'm seeing my own inner growth and the healing that I've done in the past few years. Um, so seeing her is so wild to me and seeing the growth that I've done. But, I think the most challenging part when I was playing her at that time was a lot of what she was going through with bipolar, with dealing with the struggles with the consequences of her actions with her friends and family, at that time was still a bit like fresh for me, you know? I remember like on set when we were filming, I think especially the scenes with her mother, that was definitely near and dear to my heart. But, I think it served to me as an actor when I was filming that because I was still so very close to it. I think that was probably the biggest challenge was trying to take care of myself while I was stepping into her character during those scenes that were a little bit tough or very like sensitive for me at the time.
Oh my gosh. Wow. So you've mentioned a lot, like throughout this interview about growth as an actress and growth as an artist. Especially, because this series was created in 2019, and now it's finally being premiered in 2022, at the Outfest Festival in LA. Well, first of all, I forgot to say congratulations on that. That's like really, really cool. How has this recognition and success made you feel like, what are you most proud of from creating this series?
Rachel: Oh, wow. It's made me feel very I mean, a lot of things. I feel a lot of things for sure. Like one, a little bit of relieved honestly. A little relieved that finally it's getting out there. We've worked on this for so long and it's been such a challenge because there was definitely moments. This was the longest post-production of my life, let me tell you. There were moments where I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, like, are we ever gonna like release this? Maybe we shouldn't, let's just give up and forget about it.’ Like all of those, moments that I think a lot of artists go through in the process. But I feel very relieved now that we're so close, it's gonna be out there and we're just gonna release the baby out into the world, so relieved. I feel excited for sure because it's a project that again is like one of my biggest projects that I've ever done and the most challenging. I'm really excited to finally just showcase that. I'm also very nervous to be honest, I think with anything that I create and like put out into the world is so nerve-wracking to me, because again, you don't know how people are gonna respond, but at the same time, it doesn't matter because I'm proud of it and I'm proud of my team and what we created, even in the midst of how challenging it was to do. I feel the most, most proud about, I think, even my relationship with Sheena, my co-creator, we have been through it in the past few years, like with our friendship, with our working relationship, with creating this show. Of course, it wasn't perfect, but like what we did together, that's what I'm most proud of for sure, because we saw it through and, and here it is, it's about to come out.
That's awesome. It's like you said before, when I asked you to describe yourself as an artist, you used the word empowering, and you can definitely see that, like perseverance in wanting to succeed throughout everything that you've told me so far, which is like really admirable.
But speaking of describing yourself as an empowered artist and making these films and web series that talk a lot about queer experiences and Asian American experiences, which is something that is not seen a lot in mainstream media and in the film industry, from what I understand is incredibly difficult to navigate and succeed in, especially with most actors and directors being predominantly straight, white, and male. So how, as being a queer Asian American woman, have you created your own path to break the boundaries set and how do you think you are contributing to the narrative that the LGBTQ + community and women of color are a force to be reckoned with in the film industry?
Rachel: Mm, wow. I love that question. I think for me just being queer, being Asian American and like being loud about it and being so proud, you know, and specifically to Brown, Asian American women, like for me, I'm Filipino, very proud. I think, largely in the industry, when we think of Asian Americans, it's very East Asian, you know, and it still kind of is. There's a lot of, there's still a lot of colorism and like systemic issues within the industry itself that I have been absolutely trying to break through and that's why I create shows like this. And that's why I center queer Brown Asians, Asian Americans, and talk about topics like mental health and the things that our culture usually sweeps under the rug, because we haven't seen it and because we need to, and it's time for us to see this kind of representation seen. So for me, in every single project and every single story that I create, I always try to center people who look like me, not just for myself but for the communities that I represent because I know how important it is to be seen, to be heard and feel validated. I think stories for me are the most powerful way to allow people to see who we really are as human beings. Sure, you can put on these labels of like we're queer and Asian and all of that, but we're still, we're human and just like the tagline for CRAZY, ‘We're just like you,’ you know, so yeah, for me, I think that's my entire focus and goal with everything that I do, that is like my mission in the storytelling because I think it's so important and I think for me creating this space is not just for myself. Creating these stories not just for myself, it's for the communities and to empower other artists and filmmakers like me who are queer and Asian American and Filipino to come into these spaces, and empower them to also do the same.
That's a great answer. Oh my God, so this is kind of going into my next question. You've mentioned a lot about diversity and representation and how that matters to, so so so many people who don't fit that generic mold that a lot of the industry exclusively has on people. I noticed throughout the series that there. is a bunch of different cultures and foods, to character speaking different languages, to characters who are openly queer, of color and who have disabilities like Addie, who's in a wheelchair. Even off camera, I was stalking the Instagram, the crew consists of queer womxn and people of color. So why do you think representation matters both on and off camera? And what advice would you give to aspiring creatives who don't necessarily fit that mold that makes the industry so exclusive?
Rachel: Hmm. I think it's so important to have, you know again because when we talk about representation, it's mostly like what we see on screen, which is like, you know, the actors right, which is absolutely so important. But then we also need to take it a step further and remember that like, well then who's telling these stories? I've seen a lot of projects even recently, you know, we see BIPOC actors and faces on the screen, but behind it when you look into it, the writers, the producers, the directors, the team who made it happen are like mostly still white, cis men. And so I'm like, well that's the problem still. And we need to look at that and we need to change that because we have to allow queer, Asian American, BIPOC artists to tell our own stories. Like, allow us those opportunities to tell our own stories, because then you'll see how authentic it is when we are able to exercise our voice. I think you can also see that here in CRAZY, and that's what we really did. We made it our mission to like; we are gonna hire as many queer BIPOC filmmakers, cast, and crew all over as much as we can. Because we also wanted to show the industry like this can be done, you know? Cause a lot of the excuses in Hollywood are like, ‘Oh, well we couldn't find them,’ or ‘We don't know where they are,’ and ‘There's not enough talent,’ but we did it on this small, low budget scale. If we can do it, you guys can too, you know, like hire the people we hired. It was not hard at all. Um, so for me, that was a statement for sure, like that was very intentional on our part to showcase that it's possible to do that.
What advice would you give to aspiring creatives?
Rachel: Um, my advice to aspiring creatives trying to get into the industry or doing work like this is to know your voice, and then exercise your voice. Like, know what you wanna say like, who are you as an artist? And like, what is, what are your intentions? What do you wanna say? Because what you say, you, everyone has a voice, and it is important and we wanna hear it and we should hear it. So I think like, just letting go and releasing whatever fears you may have as an artist and just going for it and saying it and just step into your power.
Period. That's great advice. Just to wrap it all up and like looking towards the future, I know that this series is premiering in LA in July, which is super exciting. Um, are there any new projects that that you are excited for besides the series?
Rachel: Yes. Yes. Um, this is me like continuing to elevate. And my next few projects are focused on creating some really amazing feature films. One that I'm really excited about, which is called “‘Re-live’ A Tale of an American Island Cheerleader" with the amazing Emmy-nominated Rain Valdez, which we co-wrote together and we're also starring in. We have Rosario Dawson on board as an executive producer. And so that, this is a very fun queer rom-com movie but is still very centered on family and sisterhood, and queer joy too, so that is in the works right now. We're hoping to film sometime early next year, stay tuned for that movie. And then, also working on my own, another queer-- everything I do is queer-- another queer Asian American coming of age, a drama-comedy feature film that I plan to direct as well.
Oh my God. Yay. That's so exciting. Wow, you're a role model. I'm not gonna lie, that's crazy. Like seeing what you're doing for like Asian American women and really making it yours is so incredibly inspiring and I wish you all the best of luck with it.
Rachel: Oh, thank you so much. This was so great. Thank you. It was so nice to meet you and chat with you here. Yeah, thank you for having me.
Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to sit down and chat with me. It was really fun and I can't wait for the web series premiere next month. Um, do you have any final words or lasting thoughts you were like to leave the people who are reading/ watching?
Rachel: Um, watch CRAZY. If you're in LA, come through to Outfest, we're gonna premiere the entire series. There's six episodes. It's a lot of fun. It's very crazy, very queer, very Asian. So yeah, come out and support us, July 19th. And yeah, I hope you guys continue to take care of yourselves because it's so important, especially in everything that's going on in the world right now, especially here in America. I think prioritizing yourself is so, so, so important and making sure that you know, take that time to love and care on yourself.