Hayley Orrantia On ‘The Goldbergs,’ Linda Ronstadt, ‘Friends’ And More
TV fans know actress Hayley Orrantia as Erica Goldberg, the older sister on the hit ABC sitcom, The Goldbergs. The season premiere this week marked the beginning of the show’s tenth season. So at 28, Orrantia has spent her entire adult life visiting living rooms as Erica Goldberg every Wednesday night.
But like so many artists, including her former The Goldbergs co-star and best friend, AJ Michalka (one half of the popular sister duo Aly & AJ), Orrantia is talented in multiple fields, with music being her first love.
In fact, she admits in our very open and compelling conversation she only joined The Goldbergs because people told her it would help her music career. “The whole reason I got into acting, and ultimately The Goldbergs, was because record labels told me I needed a platform, like a TV show, in order to gain an audience to promote music to,” she says. “So they pitched me the idea of like, ‘Be Hannah Montana, where you do the Disney show, you get the label and it’s all a thing.'”
A gifted multi-hyphenate, Orrantia has found ways of late to merge her two loves, such as performing in a stage version of Kinky Boots at the Hollywood Bowl and doing Broadway at the Bourbon Room in Hollywood.
But her own music is her true artistic calling. And she continues to not only explore her musical career, but show her artistic development, moving from her effective early country-tinged songs like “Find Yourself Somebody” to her newest single, the pop jam “Gasoline.”
I spoke at length with Orrantia about the new season of The Goldbergs, dreams of one day playing Linda Ronstadt in a biopic, her fandom of both Friends and How I Met Your Mother and her excitement at continuing to explore her musical voice.
Steve Balin: What was the last concert you saw?
Hayley Orrantia: The last show I saw was actually the other night. My friends, Aly & AJ opened for Ben Platt at the Hollywood Bowl, which was really cool to get to see them in that position. It was fun. I met AJ when she started working on The Goldbergs and just immediately hit it off. Her and her sister are just the best, and I’m loving their music. I obviously was a big fan when I was younger, but just loving all the new stuff they’re coming out with, been good.
Baltin: What’s so funny, I know them, know you, love The Goldbergs, did not even put that together.
Orrantia: Yeah. And we’ve stayed really good friends despite her not being on the show as much anymore, which I hate, but she and her sister are out on the road a lot. And, yeah, I’m always their biggest fan, I’m the one at the front with the sign and the shirt. Love them.
Baltin: Will we ever see a musical collaboration outside of the show?
Orrantia: Yeah, I would love that. I think it’s gonna depend on this new music that I roll out early next year, combined with whatever they’re doing at the time. But I would say I’m not opposed at all to that.
Baltin: Tell me about the new music rolling out, I know “Gasoline” just came out.
Orrantia: I’ve been transitioning into writing a lot of my own music here in L.A., just starting with me on piano rather than it being me flying to Nashville and co-writing with different people, which I still love doing. But since the pandemic, I really went back to my roots with it all. And it’s led me to this more pop-leaning direction, but still very singer-songwriter. And I guess, some country elements to it. It’s hard, ’cause I always hate putting a genre label on it, ’cause I always like to fluidly move through different ones.
Baltin: I went to see Chris Stapleton not long ago, amazing show. And there’s no genre. If you’re an artist, genre is meaningless. Back in the day, it was obviously used for marketing purposes. But now when you look at festival bills too, and playlists, no one cares about genre.
Orrantia: Yeah. And that’s the part that’s so frustrating about, I guess you would say the music industry, is feeling like you have to slap a label on it in order for people to know where to compartmentalize it. For me it’s very frustrating because I don’t like to mislead people by saying, “Oh, it’s this,” and then they hear it and they don’t feel like it’s that. People can listen and make their own conclusions. But I have this new single, “Gasoline.” I have a ballad version I’m releasing very soon that I love. I’m having fun playing with the idea of releasing a version of the song as the way that I wrote it, versus how we end up producing it. So that’s what this next single will be. And then, I might not be releasing any singles up until my EP would come out early next year and I don’t have a date yet. It’s still in the process, but I’m so excited about this wave of music for me, ’cause it’s just a little different than what I’ve been doing before.
Baltin: Are there artists that really inspire you in the way that they were able to just move fluidly from genre to genre?
Orrantia: Yeah. One that I can’t believe it took me this long to really look into her story, but since I watched this documentary, I’m so moved by Linda Ronstadt’s story and how she’s transitioned from so many different genres seamlessly. And even when people would say like, “Why are you suddenly taking this on? That seems very bizarre.” And then she just knocks it out of the park, ’cause she just went with her gut on what it was that she felt like. I think she kept saying something like, “I just need to do it, I physically have to do it or I will be in pain.” And so, I love that, and I totally agreed with the majority of things that she felt and experienced in her journey, it seemed like through this documentary. And so she’s one recently that I’ve really grown fond of, how she handled her career.
Baltin: It’s funny, because as you think about it, her Eighties standards albums actually paved the way in a way for Rod Stewart in The Great American Songbook. Even a little bit for what Lady Gaga did with Tony Bennett.
Orrantia: Absolutely. But that’s the thing, even Lady Gaga. There’s very talented singers, and when you’re that creative, you can just shift gears into whatever you’re really clicking in with at the time. And it might be hard for audiences to get on board with it. But as long as you’re being authentic to yourself and what you feel like you really need to be doing in the moment, there’s gonna be people that love it, there’s gonna be people that hate it, but you can’t go wrong at the end of the day if you’re listening to yourself, I guess.
Baltin: So will we ever hear you do an album of standards?
Orrantia: I’m not opposed to anything. If you would’ve told me 10 years ago where I would be both musically and now in film and TV, I would not have believed you. I’m not closing myself off to any opportunity.
Baltin: I’ve gotten a chance to talk with Aly & AJ quite a bit. I think when you step away from something, you have a different appreciation for it. So do you feel like right now you’re just enjoying it more when you see friends who do enjoy it more? Does that also inspire you?
Orrantia: Oh my gosh, I was sitting in the audience at Hollywood Bowl, no joke, crying, ’cause I felt like a proud mom. I live a little vicariously through my friends who are these insanely talented artists, and whenever one of them gets a little win, it’s like I get to celebrate with them. Because this industry is hard, and it is a bunch of ups and downs. I love being able to celebrate alongside because that keeps giving me the hope of like, “Okay, I just need to stick with what I’m doing and stop letting it be about, how do I sell records? Or how do I be bigger than it is?” At the end of the day, I love making music, I love making scripted film and television, and I’m just gonna keep my head on and keep doing that. And if it works out, then it works out, but I want to get back to doing it because I love the actual art of it.
Baltin: When you have success in multiple tiers, it does take a little bit of pressure off. And you’re on the tenth season of The Goldbergs. But do you feel like music is allowed to be a little bit more of a creative outlet for you, because you have success in film and TV?
Orrantia: I will say yes, there is. I’m very aware of that fact, but the hard part when we’re pulling back the curtain for me is, music was always the thing, it was always the reason for everything. The whole reason I got into acting, and ultimately The Goldbergs, was because record labels told me I needed a platform, like a TV show, in order to gain an audience to promote music to. So they pitched me the idea of like, “Be Hannah Montana, where you do the Disney show, you get the label and it’s all a thing.” And so that’s the whole reason I got into acting. The ironic part being that I get very down on myself and very frustrated when I feel like things aren’t moving in the way of for music, the way that it does with acting, and the fact that I landed this show and who would have ever thought we’d be a decade in? So for me, it’s tough, ’cause yes, I know that I’ve got that sort of fallback with The Goldbergs and I love doing it, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I don’t enjoy it. But it is the catch-22 for me of like, okay, but wanting to do music and wanting that to really be the focus. There’s bad days of being like, “Man, I wish I could channel more of my time and energy into that.” The Goldbergs does take up a lot of time. It’s a balance. But I think once The Goldbergs does end, whenever that may be, we don’t even know yet. Then I’ll hopefully be able to take some more time to really drive focus on the music and see what it does, and then just go from there.
Baltin: The character of Adam Goldberg just graduated high school. Any idea how long the show will last?
Orrantia: He actually just graduated high school, so he’s entering college. The interesting thing about our show and how they work around it, is from the very beginning they’ve said, “Oh, it was 1980-something.” So the way our producers have pitched it is, technically memories in our mind happen where it’s like, “I think that was ’84, maybe it was ’86, whatever.” They want the audience to feel like this could have happened this year, it could have happened that year, but there is still a chronological thing that we’re following. So they leave it with a big question mark. All I know is we have Season 10, they did not announce it as the final season, that doesn’t mean it won’t be. But they have also played with the idea of doing a Season 11, which is wild. And yeah, we’re just feeling out what this new chapter of the show is gonna feel like because there are a lot of changes this year, as I’m sure you know, and just feeling out how audiences are reacting to it.
Baltin: Do you feel like on this new season you’ve gotten to grow and change?
Orrantia: Definitely. We’re in our fifth episode of shooting I think 22 this year. And I already can tell that my mindset’s very different in this as well. There’s a lot to challenge my character with because she’s becoming a new mom, she’s just lost her father. There’s a lot to unpack there. So trying to juggle that with also keeping the light-hearted nature of the fact that it’s a sitcom, is its own challenge. But I’ve been feeling myself getting a little more involved in the digging for the writers and producers to be like, “Okay, where’s the arch of it? Let’s map it out a little more.” Rather than, in previous years I was hired as an actor, I would come to work, I do my job. And now that I, outside of Goldbergs, am starting to get into producing scripted content, I feel myself getting a little more invested in the show because I care about it. We’re in our tenth season, and as a fan of sitcoms who have gone this long, as rare as it may be, I recognize where audience members and fans of the show are gonna find something is missing. And so, I feel myself not only challenging myself from an acting standpoint for the character, but just being on set and wanting this show to be as good as it can possibly be.
Baltin: What’s your favorite long-running sitcom of all time?
Orrantia: Obviously I feel like everyone says this, I really did love Friends. There’s something magical about that cast, that combination of people, and also the relatability of that demographic growing up in friend groups like that. Outside of that, I don’t know. I can’t think of all of the shows right now. My favorite sitcom that my fiance and I go back and watch all the time, but I think they went nine years, was How I Met Your Mother. I loved that show. I just thought they used so many unique devices that you don’t see in sitcoms, for being a multi-cam, but also taking on elements of being a single-cam. That’s probably one of my favorites.
Baltin: Amazing show. I was a huge fan. Although they did blow the ending.
Orrantia: That’s the part about being on a show like this, where there’s so much pressure on the writers and the producers to make whatever the ending is going to be of this feel like a perfect bow on top. But there’s always gonna be people who have expectations for what it should be and then you’re gonna disappoint some. But, yeah, I’m just hopeful that we can, whenever that time does come, that we can end it in a way that pleases the most people, if that makes sense.
Baltin: Who was your favorite character on How I Met Your Mother? Who’s the one you identified with the most?
Orrantia: Who I identify with the most might be Robin. But at the same time, I think Jason [Segel’s] character is so funny. That’s the thing about Friends and How I Met Your Mother, they had really good actors who can really do comedy. They just get it, versus, an actor who can come on and say the lines, like “I’m being funny.” It feels like it sticks to you more.
Baltin: Do you have a favorite film?
Orrantia: It’s tough. It spans so many different things. I do love this film, it’s an indie movie. Maybe it wouldn’t be considered indie, but it’s called Comet.It’s starring Emmy Rossum and Justin Long. I love Comet. I feel like no one knows it when I bring it up, and it is by far one of my favorite movies. I love things like that, and I’m sure if I were to try to dip my toe into writing something, it would come out more in that vein. But as far as producing things, I want to be able to tell stories of strong women in particular. I love autobiography, so I’d love to do a movie where even if I get to play, whether it’s a Linda Ronstadt, I’ve been hearing that a lot lately, people are like, “You should do a Linda Ronstadt biopic.” Or, one in particular I always get compared to a lot is Leah Remini. And I’m like, “Well, do I want to do a biopic telling her story through Scientology and that experience?” I like the idea of telling those sort of stories. I also have my own stories, I probably should get writing. But, strong female leads ideally.