SDCC 2017 Rebecca Sugar interview
Rewind and Pause interviewed Rebecca Sugar in this fifteen-minute interview. Here’s a sorta-transcript–not word for word, but basically what the questions are and how she answered, paraphrased.
Question: A lot of the show’s symbolism is inspired by Utena. Can you discuss that show’s influence?
Rebecca: When I was a teen, that show was an epiphany for me! It plays with the semiotics of gender and I was a bisexual teen relating to it in a way I’d never related to anything before. The show is beautiful and I love that she decides she wants to BE a prince after being saved by a prince. And it’s also funny. It’s so extreme that it’s funny, and that was a huge influence on me as well, that something could be so dramatic and so beautiful but also wacky. It’s so extreme that it’s powerful at the same time as being funny. I got to see the origins and see Guys and Dolls at the Takarazuka Theater when I visited Japan. Osamu Tezuka grew up in that town! You know, Princess Knight, which has everything to do with Utena. I got to see some of the roots there and it was a big influence. Amazing.
Question: Another influence, especially lately, you can draw comparisons between Steven’s miracles and Christ figures. Are you exploring this, and potentially modernizing that allegory, with different kinds of love?
Rebecca: We’re inspired by every voice that has ever spoken about peace. I think–I’ve been reading about Hillel the Elder and how he said “If I’m not for myself, then who will be for me?” The gentleness with which he approached everything is really inspiring to me. I think that I’m very influenced by my Jewish upbringing. I’m half Jewish and was raised Jewish. I’ve felt the feeling of belonging but not belonging. I’ve been moved by this incredible history and this wonderful community that I wanted to understand and be a part of. That’s all been a big influence on the show as well. It was all about growing up with my brother, and that was a big part of my life. There’s a lot of spiritualism in the show.
Question: I wanna ask you about the color symbolism? And I’d be remiss if I didn’t say thank you for showing our community on TV. About Steven: His Gem is pink, his shield is pink, his sword is pink, his shoes are pink! It subverts the tropes of a traditional male hero. Was that intentional?
Rebecca: Oh, it’s COMPLETELY intentional. Yeah, I think one of the things I wanted to do as I went into the show was address how intensely gendered shows for children are and dissolve that. That was my first goal. And I think it came in large part because as a little kid I always gravitated toward boys’ shows, and I felt extremely guilty about that. And I don’t think my child self should have had to feel bad, but I understood “this is not really for me.” So as we went into this, I wanted NO ONE to have to feel that. I wanted everyone who wanted to, to feel it was for them. Especially since it’s gender nonconforming as a show.
Question: Silly question: Peridot and Lapis are roommates. What do you think their biggest pet peeves are of each other? If they have any, I mean.
Rebecca: Gosh. I think Lapis is sort of both annoyed and comforted by Peridot’s infinite energy. I often thought of them like the sort of old cartoon idea of a small dog and a big sort of like doesn’t-really-care dog. With a small very very excited dog. I felt that that was a dynamic for them. So I think that that, like those characters, it’s annoying to Lapis but she doesn’t actually dislike it.
Question: Congrats on the Emmy nomination!
Rebecca: THANK YOU!
Question: I hope we get to see “It’s Over, Isn’t It?” and “Both of You” during the Emmys. How do you feel?
Rebecca: I’m so excited, and I’m so glad it’s that one. It was such a fun dream to make a musical episode. I always loved those, they’re always my favorite. I couldn’t wait to do ours. Everyone was firing on all cylinders for that episode. I got to do music with Jeff Liu and Ben Levin, and Aivi and Surasshu’s compositions for the finals were stunning, the backgrounds are incredible, the art is so beautiful, it’s Jeff Liu and Joe Johnston’s last board together, it was one of the last episodes I got to work on with Ian before he left to do his show, so it also has a special place in my heart, I remember seeing it come back and being in the edit bay watching it and my eyes were welling up because “this is it, this is everything I ever wanted.”
Question: Not to mention Deedee crushing it.
Rebecca: She’s amazing! And that was when she was doing Tommy! So we got her on a day she’d been doing shows all day, and she came and knocked that out.
Question: First take?
Rebecca: We did several, but all of those takes were amazing. I love writing songs for Deedee. And that one, it has some notes in it that I cannot hit. But I know Deedee can do it.
Question: Now when you write songs, you hear a lot of the demos you write on ukulele a lot, but you play other instruments. Do you find that you write differently depending on what instrument you’re writing for?
Rebecca: Yes! Oh, completely. I have my go-to ukulele chords. But I also like to write songs on the omnichord, which is like a synthetic harpsichord from the 80s. And it has a row of buttons, you hit a button and you get that chord. I can use it for experimentation for chords I might not have thought of. I got one off eBay, the OM-84, and it was a little buggy, it wouldn’t play right, would go out of tune, and I took it to get it looked at, and these incredibly corroded batteries fell out of it! With this cloud of red dust! So I can’t put batteries in it anymore. But I can plug it in and it still works.
Question: So for “Love Like You,” is it connected to any of the characters or any point of view, or was it more a one-off?
Rebecca: “Love Like You” is so unusual. It started as a point-of-view song for all Gems, and the thesis of the whole show, sort of toward Steven, and my own brother Steven, but because it was the credits, I wrote the song over three years in little pieces. I thought at the start that this is about an alien that’s looking at a human, who loves them, and the secret meaning of this is that they don’t have the capacity to feel this way. By the middle of it I was deep into the show and going through a real crisis of confidence, where I was like “why are people looking to me? It’s not right!” and these people were coming out of the woodwork to thank me for the show, people who had been able to speak to their families in these wonderful new ways, people who had become comfortable with themselves in these incredible ways that I had not been able to do! Where I was like “I’m so inspired by everyone! Why are they thanking me?” So the middle of the song I was sort of in that place. And about a year later, I realized the beginning was not what I had thought it was about at all. It’s not a secret meaning about an alien who doesn’t understand humans. It’s about the fact that I had always loved my brother and had these people who would love me unconditionally in my life, and because of my insecurity I had not been able to be there for them 100%, and I realized this was maybe one of the most human things I’d ever written, and I had written it by accident. So I got to conclude it. It was seriously written over 3 years.
Question: Recently we talked about how the show has been dramatic and full of conflict. It’s great but do you ever have concerns about taking the show–it’s a very positive show, so does the conflict have the potential to go too far, or do you like making it more challenging?
Rebecca: I’m excited to be more ambitious with the story, and the danger they’re experiencing also feels like a danger for us who are writing the show. Writing stories that are more ambitious and challenging. It feels necessary, because it’s about how love conquers all, but you can’t write that story without showing what comes up against that. I’m excited to explore the–you’re right, it’s scary to explore where hate comes from in a show about love. I want to–it’s a challenge to stay positive while exploring that. But that’s a challenge I experience in LIFE. And that’s a challenge we’re all experiencing right now. So it also feels like the time to explore that in myself and in the show.