EXCLUSIVE: Colleen Ballinger Reflects on 'Surreal' Journey From Miranda Sings to Netflix Leading Lady
By Leanne Aguilera
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From YouTube sensation to Netflix's newest leading lady!
Digital star Colleen Ballinger is opening up exclusively to ET about her new unabashedly quirky comedy series, Haters Back Off, and how the support of her online fandom has changed her life.
Back in 2008, when YouTube was becoming the go-to source for original online videos, Ballinger created her comically talentless, egotistical and outlandish alterego, Miranda Sings, to satirize the many videos featuring people singing badly, but who appear unaware of their lack of talent.
For nearly a decade, fans have watched home-schooled Miranda narcissistically clap back to her "haters" through the lens of her web cam with sass and an armor of over-applied red lipstick, as she attempts to sing her way to viral fame. Now it's time to reward longtime fans with a look at the character's backstory, family and life away from the keyboard.
"For the most part she has just contained to her bedroom with my face pressed up to the screen," Ballinger shared with ET. "So to take out her out in the real world and with everyday day people and see how they respond to he weirdness and how she responds to her hate, that's just something that I was really excited to share with the audience."
For those Netflix fans who are not already familiar with the world of Miranda Sings, Ballinger, who also serves as an executive producer on the series, has one suggestion before tuning in: "I think they should just go into it with an open mind," she said. "It's so different I think than what anyone else is expecting from the show."
The 29-year-old actress adds that Haters Back Off is just as much a family show, as it is a comedy. "It's a super fun, crazy family, but they're still relatable somehow. I think we all have a little crazy in us."
Ballinger has been imagining for the past eight years what Miranda's family would look and act like, and admitted that she "cried happy tears" the moment she realized her fans would finally see this formerly imaginary family come to life on screen.
"I can't tell you how magical it was the first time walking into that house," the Santa Barbara native said. "I was like, 'I'm in Mirada's house with her mother and her uncle -- who are people who have been living in my brain for eight years, like a crazy person -- and now they're in real life in front of me.' It was so surreal."
The Office alum Angela Kinsey plays Miranda's mom, Bethany, a meek woman who is more concerned with encouraging her daughter's delusions of grandeur, than paying the electric bill.
"[Angela] walked in an we improved together for her audition and then she walked out and we instantly were like, 'Okay! Obviously that's my mom,'" Ballinger recalled. "She's just incredible and now she's become one of my closest friends and just a like a mentor to me. It's been amazing."
Steve Little plays Miranda's uncle Jim who is relentlessly desperate for his niece to achieve her deluded destiny as a viral YouTube star. And, in a surprising twist for devoted Miranda Sings followers, Haters Back Off also introduces audiences to Miranda's previously unmentioned sister, Emily, played by newcomer Francesca Reale.
"A couple of years ago, we decided to add a sister for Miranda," she explained. "It was just so crazy to me because in my head, Miranda has always been an only child. So to add a sister was just such a strange thing for us to try and write, but it just fit perfectly to have that straight man in the family when there's all kind of wack-a-doos."
Ballinger describes her evolution from one of YouTube's top vloggers to full-fledged Netflix star to be an overwhelmingly rewarding, yet daunting experience.
"I've been doing YouTube for almost a decade and that's all I've ever known. I do everything myself. I film, edit, write, produce -- everything all on my own and that's what I'm used to, so to work on this Netflix show is a totally different experience," she said. "This are so many more possibilities when you have a team of really talented people working with you who are equally passionate about your project."
Speaking of passionate, thanks to Miranda Sings, Ballinger is currently at the helm of one of the Internet's most overzealous and adoring fandoms.
"I feel so lucky! They're amazing. I am obsessed with my viewers. My fans are my family. I love them so much," she proudly boasted. "I certainly know I would never be able to have any of this if it weren’t for them. This Netflix show, I know that the only reason this has happened is because they've supported me and they've been there for me for the years. It’s a success for me and an exciting thing, but it's also a success for them. It's just a much theirs as it is mine."
In addition to sharing happy moments in her videos, Ballinger has often shown her most vulnerable side to her viewers since the beginning of her YouTube career. "I've always been very open and very honest with my fans. I want them to know that I'm genuine, and I am who I am, and I'm not faking it for the camera," she said.
"I'll share something very happy or exciting in my life, like this show, but I also go through hard times too and I think that helps them feel closer to me feel like we can relate, you know?" Ballinger continued. "It wouldn’t be fair of me to say, 'I share my life with you, but I'm not going to share any of the bad stuff too.' Sometimes I go through hard things and I choose to share that with them because I think they deserve to hear it. They're my friends. They're my family."
All eight episodes of Haters Back Off are available to watch now on Netflix.