Just months after Krysta Rodriguez and Peter Westervelt — a director of photography in the film industry — started dating in New York, Rodriguez had to move back to L.A. to undergo chemotherapy treatments and a mastectomy. Wanting to make sure his new girlfriend knew she could count on him, Westervelt moved cross-country with Rodriguez (and in with her parents!), shaved his head in solidarity and has even come around to sharing kale juice with the former Smash and current Spring Awakening star. Over assorted straight-from-the-farm juices at an artisanal grocery store in Chelsea, Rodriguez and Westervelt reminisce about the white van where they had their first date, how they made it through Rodriguez’s intensive surgery and treatments and why they feel cancer was — in a very roundabout way — a great start to their relationship.
You two met on the film "My Bakery in Brooklyn," but how exactly did that happen?
Krysta Rodriguez: He was a [production assistant], and I was an actor on the film. My dressing room door didn't lock and so I went up to him and said, "Well, the least important thing on everyone's list is that my door is not working." He thought that was funny, so when he came in to fix it, we automatically had a rapport...
Peter Westervelt: But it was really all about a white van.
KR: Okay, I think I need to tell this story now because you’re ruining it. He drove the [transportation] van for all the actors from the set. We had been getting very close, and there was a time when I was going to have about five days off of work and we weren't going to see each other. We had exchanged phone numbers to do work stuff, so I said, "I'm going to be gone for five days and you're not going to see me, if you want to change that…"
That's ballsy! What did you say to that, Peter?
PW: I had to play it very slow, because if I was wrong I wouldn't have had a job the next day.
Is it common for the film crew to hook up with actors?
KR: I asked him that question as well: "How often have you done this?"
PW: Once or twice a film. [Laughs.] No, it's not been my experience, but we were on a lower-budget movie, and everything was a little bit more loose.
KR: [On big films] you're not getting very close to giant movie stars, but we got very close. I had also just been diagnosed with cancer about two weeks before. I wasn't telling anybody on the job, but when we got close, he was the first person I told.
PW: It was a great way that I found out.
KR: I had to take pills at certain times and I forgot them while I was on set. When I asked him if he could go get them out of my bag, he said, "Are you dying?" And I said, "Sort of…" It was very uncomfortable, but he handled it like a pro.
PW: And that's why we're together.
KR: Yes, because you can never recover from something so awkward, so we just decided to date. I did have to be very clear with him, though, that I was interested; otherwise, he could get in trouble. So after I said, "If you want to fix that…" He called me and said, "I just dropped a bunch of people off with the van. I'm coming by to pick you up." I got in the van and we drove around the city. That was our first date.
You were becoming friends with Krysta, but did you believe she was interested, Peter?
PW: No. I remember talking to my friends and telling them that if I didn't have pre-established ideas of what our positions were, I'd think this girl was into me, but actors lie for a living.
KR: He was distrustful of me. I was flirting with him, but I didn't know if it was coming through until one day he was in my dressing room and I had all these weird foods [around] because I was on this diet after my diagnosis. He was like, "What are you eating?" And I said, "Oh it's this kale something-or-other," and he said, "Well, I guess we'll never be able to go on a date because I don't know where I would take you."
PW: As I take a sip from my kale juice.
KR: Right! Now we're at kale juice, but that tipped me off that he could be interested…[so I just had to confirm I was].
Peter, how did you feel about knowing Krysta's diagnosis before you started dating?
PW: I was like, "You'll be fine." My family has a history of breast cancer; my mother had it.
KR: He literally said, "Breast cancer's the easiest." I was very nervous. He was telling his friends that he had to be sure that this girl really likes [him] and I was telling my friends that "I have to tell this guy that he's either going to have to casually date the girl with cancer or like really date the girl." I didn't know what the girl with cancer meant to this guy.
PW: We both thought the other person was making a very big drop in their standards because of the situation. I was like, "She's only dating me because she knows she can't do better right now," and she was like, "He's only dating me because he feels bad."
KR: We fixed that [misconception] pretty early on.
Krysta, did it feel completely comfortable to have Peter there through all of your cancer treatments?
KR: Yeah. That's sort of been the unique experience of this. Things accelerated in a different way than they normally would have, and that was really nice. He wasn't skittish about all the stuff that we had to dive right into. I told him I was going to be in L.A. for a while to do Spring Awakening, chemo and my surgery, so he came there. In a normal situation you'd be asking yourself, "Is this too soon? Are we ready? Blah blah blah…" The first time he met my parents he moved into our house. We were staying with my parents in L.A., so this wasn't like, "Come meet my parents at dinner," but he jumped right in. After two months of dating we started traveling together. We went on a "chemomoon" — our last vacation before my first chemo — to Paris and Barcelona. We kept a sense of humor about the whole situation. He shaved his head when I shaved my head.
PW: My friends also shaved their heads.
KR: Yeah, all his roommates shaved their heads. It was really sweet.
Cancer kind of sounds like it was a relationship blessing in big, big disguise.
KR: Honestly, everybody should start with something this big. It was really nice for us to have this huge life event that weeded out all the junk. Now we know how each other handles crises, and it won't be a surprise.
Peter, how did you help Krysta get through all of that?
PW: Honestly, I just tried to be happy. I know that's kind of ridiculous, but I just tried to make sure that she was in a good mood. I tried to come up with little things. I made a design for her: a smiley face with an X over one eye [which represented] a boob missing.
KR: It was our emblem. We had shirts made, and I wore them for all my treatments. He's really good at making things fun. He doesn't meet my level of panic. I had my surgery in June and the recovery was going to be very long and arduous. He loves the Harry Potter movies and I hadn't seen them all, so it was his idea to watch one movie every week to mark the time past my surgery. We went through all eight of the movies to get me through eight weeks of recovery. It gave us something to look forward to every week. Then at the end we went to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida. It was a really good bench marker for us to know that we were getting farther away from it.
That’s such a good idea!
KR: He keeps it light, but he's also there. He's a presence that is always there and will be there for me. It's one thing to be the person you bring in for comic relief, but he also slept on the couch next to me during my recovery. He's not just there for jokes.
Peter, is Spring Awakening the first time that you’d seen Krysta perform onstage?
PW: I got to see her do a show at 54 Below. Is that the name of the place? But, the first real thing I saw was Spring Awakening, and boy have I seen Spring Awakening.
KR: He’s seen it ten times now. ... I’ve got to introduce him to everything musical theatre. ... I’m the first actress he’s ever dated, and he’s the first non-actor I’ve ever dated.
PW: It’s terrifying for me.
KR: But the reason you don’t date actors is because their predictability at work is all over the place and their job takes them everywhere. It's the same thing for him. He just finished a movie where his schedule was completely opposite of mine, and we saw each other for five minutes a day.
You guys need like a chill year after this!
KR: We wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves.