Glencoe native Zoe Levin plays a cheerleader with a bad heart — literally and figuratively — in Fox’s new series “Red Band Society.” (Photo courtesy Fox)
On the surface, the cast of Fox’s coming-of-age dramedy, “Red Band Society,” is a collection of archetypes.
The Rebel. The New Guy. The Player. America’s Sweetheart. And don’t forget the obligatory Mean Girl, a persona Glencoe native Zoe Levin knows well.
“I always get cast as the mean girl,” said Levin, who moved to Los Angeles after graduating in 2012 from New Trier High School. “Maybe it’s something about my face? Maybe I have resting mean face?”
More likely it’s her prom queen good looks and serious acting chops —honed on many a Chicago theater stage —that have kept this 20-year-old actress gainfully employed as the popular girl with a sharp tongue and a knack for eye rolls. (See: Levin’s turn as Steve Carell’s snarky offspring in the 2013 film “The Way Way Back.”)
In “Red Band Society,” debuting at 8 p.m. Wednesday on WFLD-Channel 32, Levin plays Kara, a rhymes-with-witchy high school cheerleader who suffers from an enlarged heart. Oh, the irony. Kara’s condition lands her in the pediatric ward of an L.A. medical center, the unconventional setting for a series about teen angst.
This disparate group of kids have seemingly have little in common except for their life-threatening illnesses.
It’s like “The Breakfast Club” — in a hospital.
“That’s what I thought of when I read this script,” said Levin, who, along with her “Red Band” co-stars, visited several children’s hospitals this summer, including Chicago’s Lurie.
“The beauty of their friendship is it’s so unlikely,” she said about the colorful cast of characters. “Kara wouldn’t be caught dead with these people in high school. So it’s breaking down everyone’s walls … and how it’s so universal being a teenager.”
Levin took her first acting class at age 7 with Lookingglass Theatre Company, where she would later work with David Schwimmer in “Trust,” both the stage and big-screen versions.
At age 8, the student at Chicago’sAnshe Emet Day School started performing at the JCC (Jewish Community Center) in Skokie.
“My mom would drive me all the way to Skokie and all the way back to the city for a very long time,” said Levin, who grew up near Southport and Diversey until fifthgrade, when her family relocated to Glencoe.
“I was doing ice skating and gymnastics and all that fun stuff, but acting always spoke out to me,” said the daughter of two attorneys. “When I moved to Glencoe they had an amazing [theater] program in my middle school [Central]. That’s where I developed a passion for it.”
She landed her first professional gig as an eighthgrader in a play by Theatre Seven of Chicago.
“I played the mean girl, the queen bee,” she said.
During her senior year at New Trier, she portrayed another popular high schooler in a Steppenwolf for Young Adults production, “FML: How Carson McCullers Saved My Life.”
Levin wasn’t a cheerleader at New Trier; the school didn’t resurrect its cheerleading program until her senior year.
“All of my friends were on the dance team,” she said, adding that her alma mater — like any high school in America — had its share of mean girls.
The 2004 movie “Mean Girls” was set in her former neck of the woods, and it helped influence her portrayal of Kara in “Red Band Society.”
“Regina George (Rachel McAdams) is one of the characters I drew from,” Levin said. “She’s not a stupid mean girl. She’s not an airhead. And Kara is whip-smart. She’s almost too smart for her own good.
“She’s really fun to play,” Levin added. “Mean girls are mean for a reason. There’s a lot going on in their heads. I really love looking for the vulnerability in those characters.”