Elizabeth Reaser dates old boyfriends in new CBS series.
What if your future husband was a guy from your past, and finding him came with a deadline? That's the premise of The Ex List, a relationship dramedy premiering Oct. 3 that's based on a hit Israeli series. Elizabeth Reaser (last seen as Ava, Dr. Karev's patient-turned-lover on Grey's Anatomy) stars as the aptly named Bella Bloom, a florist who gets surprising news from a psychic. She's already dated "the one," and she's got a year to find him or she'll never marry.
Is he a longtime love, a one-night stand, a boy she had a crush on in kindergarten? In the premiere, the ex is a hypersensitive musician (Eric Balfour) she dumped on his birthday seven years earlier, now an angry punk rocker. You can guess how that works out.
"What I love about Bella is this unapologetic search to fall in love," says Reaser, who as a self-described "total buffoon when it comes to love and relationships," brings a lot of herself to the role, including the desire for romance. "In this day and age, if you're a successful and strong woman you're not supposed to want a man and you're just supposed to be cool about being alone all the time, and I don't feel that way. I want to be with someone. I love that the show is completely unapologetic in that quest to find love and find connection."
Like Bella, Reaser is single and 33, and finds dating difficult. "I'm no spring chicken and it's tough out there," she acknowledges, though at this point she has a clearer idea of what she wants and what she doesn't. While she won't discuss her current love life, she has "dated an actor or two," and puts humor and kindness at the top of her must list. "I don't have a type. I've never really had a type." Neither, apparently, does Bella: The exes "will all be very different and I think that's part of the fun of it," Reaser believes.
She admits to reconnecting with a few exes, "but not in a long time. I've tried. I pretty much adore all my exes. I've been really lucky. I would like to try and stay friends with them if I can." Bella's most recent ex boyfriend, a hunky commitment-phobe named Elliott (Mark Deklin), is still in the picture since they share a dog named Rufus. He'll be a recurring character. "It's a complicated relationship that Bella isn't over at all," Reaser reflects.
The Ex List also explores Bella's non-romantic relationships with friends and family.
There's her sister Daphne (Rachel Boston), who's planning her wedding, her male BFF of 15 years Augie (Adam Rothenberg), and Augie's girlfriend Vivian (Alexandra Breckenridge).
Reaser, the middle of two sisters she calls her best friends, loves being able to portray the sibling relationship on TV, and so does former American Dreams star Boston. "It's two women who aren't ruled by love but are looking for love and taking different paths--married life and single life, but they're sticking together no matter what," says the single actress, 26. 'I grew up in a small town in Tennessee so all the friends I grew up with are married. I'm so supportive and happy for them. I just feel like I'm on a different path."
Augie is not one of Bella's exes, but Reaser is glad that he—and Rothenberg—are around. "It's a complicated relationship. He's her best friend and they obviously love and adore each other and have some kind of chemistry. Maybe they have some history that was never acted upon," she muses, noting that Rothenberg "is an old friend of mine from New York. I adore him and he's a brilliant actor."
Rothenberg, who moved west to the show's Ocean Beach, California location when he was cast, is similarly intrigued by the platonic relationship. "I love the element of a man and a woman being friends and having that be the beginning and the end of the story," he says.
While he has "a beautiful girlfriend" and is "not digging any exes up," Rothenberg thinks "the ex search is a primal drive in all people. You go through the heat of a relationship and then you go through the doldrums of it and break up. And on that lonely night when you're ordering take-out you fantasize and you wonder how that went wrong and the heat builds up and you reconnect. In my experience it's been a Cliff Notes of why everything didn't work out in the first place. You realize why you broke up," he points out. "Instincts are always right. If they're an ex, there's a reason."
Breckenridge, 26, last seen as reporter Willa on Dirt, agrees—she says she'd never date an ex. "Once they're out, I've washed my hands. Usually there's a reason why they're exes, and I think that's kind of what happens with Bella. It's like walking into a glass door again. Usually you see it unless you're a complete moron. But that's what makes comedy."
All the Ex List women have movies coming up. Boston will appear in the romantic comedies Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (with Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner) and 500 Days of Summer (with Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Breckenridge stars in the Blair Underwood-directed indie film Bridge to Nowhere, playing a crack whore. And Reaser is in the cast of one of the most highly anticipated movies of the year, Twilight, as Esme Cullen. "I am a vampire, but a nice vampire," she says of the character. She'll also star with Joseph Fiennes, Mary Tyler Moore and good friend Justin Kirk in the indieAgainst the Current.
But she's just as thrilled about her TV series. "I can't believe that I'm getting to do this every week," Reaser raves. "TV is good to women and this show in particular where I'm not solving any crimes, I'm not treating anyone – I just get to fall in love and have fun with my friends."