It was Oct. 15, 2000-something, and Hayley Orrantia was trying to free herself from the clutches of a 25-foot spider.
"Just a heads-up, if you hear me squeal at all, it's because I'm currently eyeing this spider and trying to figure out how to kill it," she said in a recent phone interview.
"I'm actually terrified of spiders. It's like an unrealistic, irrational fear of spiders."
Arachnids notwithstanding, there's not much that intimidates Orrantia. This is an artist who has found success in two of the most difficult, cutthroat and exclusionary professions: music, first as a singer and a standout star on the first season of Simon Cowell's "The X Factor" on FOX, now as a touring performer; and as an actress, starring as Erica Goldberg, the oldest of three children in the lovingly dysfunctional Goldberg family on the ABC series of the same name.
As a member of the all-girl group Lakoda Rayne, Orrantia flexed her musical muscles in front of millions of people on television. While those mental pictures are not necessarily something Orrantia is hanging on her refrigerator these days, the show did put her in a position to pursue other endeavors.
"The Goldbergs" is based on the real-life story of creator Adam F. Goldberg. It centers on a teenage Adam (Sean Giambrone), who has a love for film and filmmaking - plus traditionally nerdy hobbies like "Star Wars," Nintendo, "Goonies"-like quests and Mel Brooks films.
Orrantia is his big sister, Erica, an '80s style-maven, Scott Baio admirer and aspiring professional singer. She tried college, but it didn't take - much to the chagrin of her "smother," Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey), and her father, the "moron"-chanting Murray (Jeff Garlin).
Erica often finds herself at odds with Bev, who's constantly looking for huggies and snuggles, and really likes to parm(esan) proteins.
Her best friend and bandmate is Lainey (AJ Michalka), who's also dating her brother, Barry (Troy Gentile). He's known around these parts by his rap name, "Big Tasty," and leads the JTP (Jenkintown Posse) in their Philadelphia suburb.
Also living with the family is Bev's father, Pops (George Segal), who adores his grandchildren and often showers them with support ... and money.
"The Goldbergs" is a self-described love letter to the 1980s - and a vivid, wonderful trip down memory lane for those who grew up in the era of E.T., Rubik's Cube, "Gleaming the Cube," Madonna and John Hughes (father of the Breakfast Club). Not only is it warmly sentimental, it's laugh-out loud funny. And, thanks to its meticulously detailed retelling of our favorite decade, the show has landed A-list guest stars including Rick Moranis ("Ghostbusters," "Spaceballs"), Charlie Sheen ("Young Guns," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"), Clancy Brown ("Highlander," "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension"), comedian "Weird" Al Yankovic, singer Rick Springfield, Chuck Norris and even Freddy Krueger himself, actor Robert Englund, who appears in this week's episode.
"We have a lot of really great people come on the show," Orrantia said. "And that's one of the more exciting things, for me be able to work with some actors that I've looked up to for a long time. They come on for like a week at a time and it's a lot of fun. We've had some great people."
Orrantia's Erica is both the voice of reason - walking Bev back from further embarrassment or talking Barry down from trying some life- (or at least reputation)-threatening stunt - and the biggest dreamer, hoping to one day become as big a star as Tiffany.
Read all about the actor and singer, and find out more about the original Goldberg, in this Q&A.
"The Goldbergs": Erica thinks all of her singing dreams are going to come true when she lands a job at the new karaoke bar in town. But when she's tasked with bringing in more customers, Erica regrets turning to Beverly for help. ... And, yes, that is Rick Springfield. (ABC photos by Ron Tom)
Q: So, when I set up this interview and they were telling me about your having to check production schedules, I was amused because you've come a long way since the first time I talked to you, which is when you were on "The X Factor." Now, certainly you don't remember talking to me, but I remember talking to you in that situation. I thought that maybe you started out as a singer and you sort of segued into acting. But, correct me if I'm wrong, you kind of started doing these things about the same time. Is that right?
Hayley Orrantia: Yes. I've actually been doing music for a long time, and then acting sort of fell into my lap in a funny way. "X Factor" was one of these things that my mom really encouraged the opportunity to go. We talked about it. But, yeah, for the most part, acting just fell into my lap, because of music. We thought that I needed some sort of platform, and I'm very happy that it ended up working out the way that it did, because, you know, now I get to do both things that I love - especially on the show; my character gets to sing and obviously I act. It's been really fun.
Q: It would seem that, like you said, because Erica gets to sing and perform and do different things on the show, it would seem that you get to utilize a lot of different skills - and that it would be right up your alley. In addition to that, though, if you can think back - I know you're in the sixth season - but if you could think back to the beginning, what else appealed to you about this role and about this series?
Hayley Orrantia: When I first read the script, I fell in love with the kind of comedy it was. All the people that work behind it ... I really value their sense of humor. And it was just a project that I knew I really wanted to work on, purely based on the content and the people I knew who were a part of it.
But then once I read the character that I'd be auditioning for, Erica, I really just - it made sense to me. I don't know if it's because I resonate with who she is as a person, or if it's the family dynamic, but, for some reason, I just read this script and I really felt like I knew the character already. And, I have to say, despite how many auditions I'd been on before, that was the first time I felt like it just made sense. It all kind of fell into place. And so, I had a lot of hope riding on booking this show, and I'm so thankful it worked out the way it did.
I can't believe it's been six years now. I mean, time just flies.
Q: You've had a lot of success at a young age. You mentioned that you consulted with your mom on doing "The X Factor." What sort of similarities are there between you and Erica? Obviously, Erica is looking for that big break. She's looking to make it as a singer. What was your trajectory to get to the point where you were on "The X Factor" and you were also on these projects that were seen by national audiences? What was your struggle like, and how is it similar to Erica's?
Hayley Orrantia: I would say similar enough; but Erica's family, I think at first, was a little hesitant for her starting a music career. But I was very opposite. My parents, once I, you know, showed them my genuine interest in wanting to do music, and then eventually acting, they've been so supportive.
So, I would say we're a little different in that way, but as far as, you know, just writing songs and figuring it out, and playing with your friends, as far as music goes, I feel like everyone's got to start somewhere. And I think Erica is looking - especially this season - to find ways to make music an actual career - not just a hobby. And that's something that I, you know, I have struggled with myself. I've always wanted to do music, and ideally music in a professional sense. And so, I remember like doing a ton of little festivals back home in Texas before I was able to do "X Factor," and eventually progress to doing different shows and then touring this past spring.
So, you gotta start somewhere. I think Erica is definitely at that starting point, trying to see if she can make this turn into something more than just something fun to do with her friends in the garage.
Q: A certain part of the show's dynamic and humor relies on the conflict between the parents and the kids, and we know that that's never going to cease to exist. But at the same time, it does seem like, in this season, that maybe some progress is being made - especially between Erica and Bev, as far as their relationship goes - and like you said, as far as Erica sort of becoming more responsible and becoming maybe a little bit more career-minded. Are we going to see some continued progression in these areas?
Hayley Orrantia: Yeah, I think so, too. You know, Erica's at that age where she constantly thinks she knows everything she needs to know about adulthood. But we consistently see her doing things where obviously she's not ready to be on her own. And I think, over the hopefully next few seasons, I know at least this one, you're going to be seeing a lot of Erica trying to stretch those boundaries and see what she can (do), and just learning young adulthood in general - on top of trying to figure out what she wants to do and hopefully making music work.
"The Goldbergs": Bev (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and Erica (Hayley Orrantia). (ABC photo by Ron Batzdorff)
Q: You mentioned that you couldn't believe that it's six seasons. It's interesting because, when your show started, a lot of people were saying the sitcom was dead; that it's a lost art. So, for you guys to still be around into six seasons - and still flourishing, still doing well in the ratings - and there's every indication that you're going to get at least a seventh season, if not more - what does that say about the cast, about the creative team, about your producers? What does that say about all of you and what you've been able to accomplish over these past five, six, seven years?
Hayley Orrantia: I would say that I haven't had a ton of experience working on other gigs, so I can really only speak to this one. But, from what I've heard through the grapevine about all other kinds of sets, it's very rare to have all the cast and crew and writers get along as well as we do. I mean, we feel like family. I can't name one person that works on our set, that involves 200 people, that I don't enjoy working with. And I think that that really is the key to a lot of it.
If you enjoy coming into work every day, and you enjoy the kind of work that we're doing - so, in our case, the sense of humor and the characters and the situational things - I feel like that all plays a big part in how well the project turns out. And so, I have to credit it to not only the writers being absolutely incredible, but I think it says a lot about our dynamic on set, and the energy that we share every day.
And you know, inviting all these really incredible new-to-us guest stars on the show, it's just a welcoming environment that I feel like really - it just welcomes a lot of creativity, and we're open to a lot of people's different talents and sense of humor.
I don't know. It's a great place to work and I think that plays a big role in why people enjoy watching it.
Q: What can you tell me about a particular visit that we're going to see from Mr. Freddy Krueger?
Hayley Orrantia: I didn't get to work with him personally, because there's a lot of scenes he does with Sean and Wendi. But I was so excited when they told us that he was going to be coming to set and doing his own Freddy Krueger again. From what I saw on the set, there's this really cool set design that they're doing and he kind of shows up in a nightmare of Beverly's at some point.
And they did it in a really creative way, and I'm really glad that he said yes to the role, because he really didn't have to, you know? I mean, there's the whole thing where people say you're not allowed to even take pictures of him in costume, so it's kind of surprising that he came to set just to do this role and a couple scenes with us. But, there's like a really creepy corn maze that we had; there's Beverly's bedroom - master bedroom - has kind of been decorated to look like the walls are coming apart.
It's going to be a really fun, creepy, Halloween episode for the show, and I'm excited to see how it turned out.
Q: It sounds like the set is amazing. The experience is amazing. Obviously, you know, it pays such great tribute to the '80s - and we know that a lot of this stems from Adam's own family experiences, his childhood. What can you tell me about Adam? What is he like in real life?
Hayley Orrantia: Adam Goldberg? (Laughs) He is - and I think he would be fine with me admitting this - just a genuine nerd! He's got floor-to-ceiling shelves all over his office that are filled with '80s-related movies, toys, action figures, puzzles, books. I mean, he's obsessed with the '80s, and obsessed with a lot of those characters and movies that he grew up loving and watching. And that's why, I think, the show is so authentically '80s is he's so dedicated to making it that way. And being true to that era, and all that it is - even down to the very specific details.
He's very, very detail-oriented, so there's a lot of times that, on the show, whether we're doing a flashback to one of his home videos and remaking one of them, it's, you know, the colors of everything need to be exact - the way that it was in the home video.
Being that particular, I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I think that, at the end of the day, it's his work of art, and he's staying true to all of that. And I think that's what makes it so interesting and more fun for people to watch who grew up in that time, because they're like, "Oh my God, I remember that! And that's exactly how it looked and felt."
And I think he does a really great job of being our fearless leader on our set, because we look to him to know if it's authentically '80s.
We have a really great time. I don't get to see him all that much, because he's in the writer's room most of the time. But he's a really fun guy.
Erica (Hayley Orrantia) and best friend Lainey (AJ Michalka) on "The Goldbergs" season five episode "Let's Val Kilmer This Car." (ABC photo by Richard Cartwright)
Q: The '80s has been in vogue a lot in past years for different things, different trends and fads and whatnot. When I've seen you guys at Comic-Con and other places like that, you're dressed like you would be dressed in 2018. But you get to wear a lot of cool clothes. You get to have a lot of cool props on set. Have you actually "borrowed" anything for your own personal use from the series?
Hayley Orrantia: I did at first, because there's a lot of high-waisted pants and shorts and tops that are in right now. And I think that, when I first started the show, I was like, "Hey, is there any chance you've got an extra one of these lying around that I could borrow?"
But I actually don't end up taking a ton of stuff from the show. A lot of times we just reuse them for the next season, anyway. But there is a couple of things. I definitely, in my own personal life, have taken a loving to scrunchies. I have one in right now. I'm a big scrunchies fan. (Laughs)
It's funny, because I'm sure people see me out and about in a scrunchy all the time, and they're like, "Oh. She like, actually, you know, lives in the '80s most of the time!"
ABC's "The Goldbergs" stars Hayley Orrantia as Erica Goldberg, Sean Giambrone as Adam Goldberg, Wendi McLendon-Covey as Beverly Goldberg, Troy Gentile as Barry Goldberg, George Segal as Pops, and Jeff Garlin as Murray Goldberg. (ABC photo by Craig Sjodin)