Superstore‘s Ben Feldman was on set, directing the March 26 episode of NBC’s No. 1 comedy, when news broke that his leading lady, America Ferrera, would be leaving the show at the end of its current fifth season.
“[It] was a full day on location, so we were outside on the [Universal] backlot,” Feldman tells TVLine. “We had nine pages to shoot, which is a lot to get through, and we were chasing daylight.
“In the midst of all of this, we had a table read in the middle of lunch, so we didn’t even have a break,” he recalls. “And then on top of that, it was the day that America’s announcement went public, so I was watching the crew learn in real time and start to freak out about what’s to come.”
Feldman, who plays Jonah Simms, Cloud 9 associate and boyfriend of Ferrera’s Amy Sosa, already knew about his co-star’s imminent departure before it was disclosed in a joint announcement by NBC. “I knew before the [rest of the cast], only because my episode was coming up to direct and [America] didn’t want to upstage or get in the way of [it],” he says. “It was actually really nice of her. She said, ‘I want you to know first so that you’re not dealing with this while you’re stressing about actually putting together and running a show.'”
He goes on to say that he wasn’t “terribly surprised” by her choice to move on. “We’ve been doing this for a while [and] America has a lot going on, so I don’t think anybody was like, ‘Oh my God! She’s leaving!?’ But I think, timing wise, I was a little surprised. I think we all were. She was, too.”
As far as Feldman knows, Ferrera’s decision was made late into production on Season 5. As a result, “The writers were scrambling to reverse course, or at least guide the show in a specific direction,” he says. “They were not writing [towards her exit] in the beginning [of the season]. Fortunately, there were certain elements of what they’ve been building towards that aligned in kind of a lateral way with what they ultimately ended up [doing], so it wasn’t like they suddenly had to rewrite or change everything. In fact, in sort of a coincidental way, some things kind of really worked out for us.”
Feldman also notes that Ferrera’s departure is in no way contentious. “We all have a tremendously healthy relationship,” he maintains. “I watched NBC and Universal and everybody stand and clap for her at the last table read. Everybody loves America.”
Even now, weeks later, Feldman says that “it’s difficult” to accept that Ferrera won’t be a part of Superstore anymore — more so as a fan of the show than as her co-star. “It’s sad to think about it [as it applies to Jonah and Amy], not when I think about [it] as Ben and America,” he explains. “You know, this is a job. Everybody’s doing a job and people show up to work and people leave work and whatever… I’m [still] going to be texting America about kids stuff in two months and in two years. But when I think about the two characters… it’s a little melancholy and kind of sad [because it’s the] end to that romance — or, potentially, just a new version of that romance. It’s an end to watching them together, which is a sad thing.”