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Childhood Pumpkin Trauma: An Interview with ‘Please Like Me’ Creator Josh Thomas

Childhood Pumpkin Trauma: An Interview with 'Please Like Me' Creator Josh Thomas

JOSE GALLEGOS: So,
just to let you know, before we start this interview, I’m going to try my
hardest not to bore you with the same questions you’ve heard over and over. But
my voice is very monotonous, so it might bore you in the process. But…yeah,
just fair warning.

JOSH THOMAS: I can really…I can really handle the same
questions. It’s not like a problem for me. That’s like a good day because it’s
like questions I already know the answer to.

JG: First things
first. I’m have a random question. As a fellow dog lover, I just gotta ask you:
Has John let fame get to his head, or have you sheltered him from the
spotlight?

JT: No, he’s been a real douchebag lately. No, I used to be
everything to him. Like he would never leave, like he would never ever leave.
Like he would always be next to me, like when I’m around the house, when I go
out, whatever. And now he thinks I’m involved too much, and he’s met too many
people. And now he realizes I’m not as good as he thought.

JG: Oh, so he’s
become a diva now.

JT: He’s just become like a teenager. He’s right here, just
ignoring me.

JG: Are you strictly
a dog lover, or do you like cats as well?

JT: No, I don’t like cats.

JG: You’re not a cat
person?

JT: I’m allergic. I’m allergic to them. And, you know, just
seems like quite masochistic to have a cat because they are not that friendly
to you. Why would you pick something that’s like not that into you? You could
have a dog that just loves you all the time. 

JG: Yeah, I have a
cat now, and she likes to bug me whenever she wants. It is a bit masochistic.

JT: Does she ever scratch you? The thing about cats is they
scratch you.

JG: They scratch you when
you scratch them for too long, or if you scratch them in the wrong place.

JT: It’s a bad thing to have a pet that hurts you.

JG: Yeah, she has her
loving moments…
 

JT: [laughs]

JG: There are other
times when she just needs to go away. But back to the show, since we haven’t
gotten to the show yet. Thomas Ward [who plays Tom] is a co-writer on some
episodes, so I guess he has some input on how his character is portrayed. Do
your parents or your friends, do they ever give you restrictions on how they’re
portrayed on the series?

JT: The actors? Or the…?

JG: No, your real
life parents, or your friends, if you ever portray them on the series. Do they tell
you what you can and can’t show on the show?

JT: I mean I always ask them. You know, I always ask them if
we are doing stuff that might be controversial. My mum and my dad both get
script approval. They get the highest level of script approval over the
networks, ‘cause we can’t write things about them that they don’t like. And Tom
is a part of the writing, so he’s sort of there. We were really careful with
Tom and me as well. Like, if we were basing something on like a date we’ve been
on or a relationship that we’ve had, or if the person could recognize
themselves in the story. Like, if there is like an ex boyfriend of mine, or
something, we’d be careful to hide things. We have people watching it and
knowing that it happened, like recognizing themselves, you know? That’s fair, I
guess. But when it comes to writing, me and Tom don’t give a shit. We’ll write
hardly anything about our lives. Yeah my dad gets [script approval]. No one
else gets script approval. My dad’s girlfriend…the character is not based on
her at all. Like, it is not based on her at all. There was like this wish or
people would think it was based on her. She has to sign a waiver, which
everyone is happy to do. 

JG: Do any of your
actors ever improvise on the set?

JT: They do a little bit. I don’t really like it. I don’t
really…sometimes we use a bit of it. In Episode 3 in Series 1, the dad farts,
and that was just cause David Roberts farted. And sometimes, I don’t know, some
days I just sort of like feel like everyone is being bit flat ‘cause it’s not a
good day, so I’ll improvise a little bit. But, I don’t know, we’ll improvise a
line into the scene, but we don’t usually use it. 

JG: Every single
episode has been directed by Matthew Saville. Is that just standard practice in
Australian TV to have one director, or is it just you who really likes working
with him?
 

JT: Matthew, I just really like him, you know? He’s just
really good at it. He’s got, like, he gives the show a good consistent style. I
think with him it’s fun to create something from beginning to end. We did the
first season with only 6 episodes, that worked out like that in the first
season. And then 10 episodes, I think most people would move and get 2
directors, maybe 3. But I didn’t want to. And he didn’t want to.

JG: Would you ever
want to direct an episode yourself?

JT: I don’t really…like, I don’t really know anything about
filmmaking. I get involved, it’s my show, so I get in there. I see all the
edits. I get a say, but he’s more skilled. He’s done more television than me.
So, we really need him. 

JG: One of my
favorite aspects of the show is the opening theme song montage. Did you always
want it to be “I’ll Be Fine,” or were there other songs that you wanted for the
opening theme song?
 

JT: We couldn’t find anything, right. We were about to film,
we’re so close, and we still hadn’t found anything yet. And we somehow came
across that song in a new artist showcase find. And we’re just really happy. I
love it. I emailed it around to everyone in the office. Clairey Browne &
the Bangin’ Rackettes were down to do it.

JG: If – let’s just
create a hypothetical – if all music was royalty free, what songs would you
want to put on the show, ideally?
 

JT: [laughs] There’d be a lot of, like, Taylor Swift, and
Beyoncé, and Sia’s “Chandelier.” That should be in every episode. But then I
kinda like that the songs that we have used have all been like these kitsch
older songs, which I’ve always been a fan. They weren’t that much of a compromise,
which I really like. Maybe it’s better not being able to afford all songs.

JG: Yeah, ‘cause you
don’t want to overload the episodes with that much music, I guess.
 

JT: Yeah, no. It’s hard. I just want a really recognizable
sound. Just not being able to get it. You know? It’s really frustrating.

JG: And you focus a
lot on food. It’s in the titles of the episodes and sometimes it’s the
narrative catalysts. What made you fall in love with cooking?

JT: [laughs] My parents just sorta suck at it, to be honest.
And my friends were pretty good at it. My friends and I, we cooked when we were
teenagers. We used to cook together. Then I would cook for the family food. The
food my parents made was just so boring. They always get really offended when I
say it and act like it’s not true, but it is true. I don’t know, I just really
like it. It’s a good hobby, too. And we get to eat our food, you know what I
mean?

JG: Is there any food
that you just will not eat, or that you refuse to eat?

JT: Pumpkin.

JG: Pumpkin?

JT: Yeah, pumpkin is big in America. You put it in pies. You
just eat it, then. Like sweet potato pies, I don’t like sweet potato. I don’t
like any of the orange ones…carrots. I don’t like cooked carrots. I’d eat
anything else in the world.

JG: So pumpkin and
cooked carrots are two things you won’t eat?

JT: And sweet potato.

JG: Never really
heard of people not liking pumpkin.

JT: People [in America], people like pumpkin. It’s because I
had it when I was a kid. And I had to force eat it at dinner. And then I hated
it, but my mom was like, “You have to eat it if you want dessert,” which is,
like, the most important part of the day for me is dessert. So I would force it
down and literally gag. But childhood trauma. 

JG: Your mom forced
you to eat pumpkin?

JT: She would force me to eat my vegetables so I could have
desert. And desert was like really important to me when I was a child, and
everything. I was forcing down, and then I’d gag cause I just hated them, and
I’d work myself up. It was a dramatic, emotional fate, not wanting to eat my
vegetables and forcing them down as an 8-year-old, you know? And now, I have
childhood pumpkin trauma.

JG: Yeah, I can see
how that would have an effect.

JT: There are other vegetables I have come around to, like
beans, certainly like peas. I don’t know, just talking about vegetables that I
like. There’s salads.

JG: You like salads?

JT: I like salads. I like salads, I just don’t like mushy
vegetables.

JG: That makes sense.
Now another completely out of the blue question: In the episode “Truffled Mac
and Cheese,” all the characters are ordering a “Mexican pizza.” I just want to
know, what in the hell is a “Mexican pizza”?
 

JT: [laughs] You don’t do that in America? You have all the
pizza places. They all do like these fusion pizzas, and it’s supposed to be
like gourmet. I feel like they do it there. They’ll do like a pizza, like a
Mexican pizza will just have like refried beans on it and jalapenos and cheese.
It’s just Mexican pile toppings, you know? And then there is Thai pizza, or a
Tandoori chicken pizza. It’s disgusting. I don’t like it.

JG: [laughs] Yeah,
‘cause I’m Mexican myself and I’ve never heard of a Mexican pizza. The closest
thing that we have to a “Mexican pizza” is this place called La Pizza Loca,
which gives you a rectangular pizza and they are all cut into square slices.
It’s cheap. And we call it a “Mexican pizza.”

JT: Oh, ok so it’s just like a square pizza. No, this is
like Mexican fava beans. They’re not really Mexican, they are like Tex Mex, you
know? We don’t really have Mexican food, so we just have Tex Mex. Actually,
it’s becoming really cool now, having Mexican food. Fun times.

JG: Fun times,
indeed. Focusing on this season, you seem to focus a lot more on mental health
issues. What research did you do when you were writing characters like Arnold,
Ginger, and Hannah?

JT: We did a bit. We did quite a lot. There’s like a
research place here, and we talked to some psychiatrists and interviewed a few
people who have lived with mental illness, and just found out about their
experiences. I got my head around what it is. I’m kinda thinking things through
because my mom had bipolar and we didn’t really know what that was, you know
what I mean? We actually realized that we didn’t have any idea what that was. And
now I know, which is a really good thing. And that’s all the research we did…Oh,
and through my mom and my friends as well. I ended up finding out stuff about
pills. I asked them a lot of personal questions.

JG: Was there ever a
pressure to depict these characters in a particular way or in a particular
light?

JT: You mean from the network? They were all sort of based
on people I know that have disorders. Most of them ended up being really like
people I know who have bipolar, or depression, or anxiety disorder. The more
research we did, the more we found out that people usually don’t have one. They
have a few, like a menagerie. So even if you are diagnosed by a psychiatrist,
you can have anxiety disorder with hints of other things. It’s kinda like they
are all clashing. We found out through research that it obviously varies.
Mental health is so connected to a person’s personality. It’s about reacting
very differently, and there is no set way that someone with bipolar behaves.
Especially [Rose’s] manic episode. We have asked what people do during manic
episodes. She can just do anything she wanted. It becomes really hard because
you can make [the scene] ridiculous and hilarious, and it might be true to
life, but I just didn’t know if the viewer, who doesn’t know about bipolar
disorder, would just think that we were making fun of “crazy people.” So she
just buys a puppy, but she could have done anything. The psychiatrist told us
about this one Muslim lady who went on a sexcapade and had sex with 12 guys in
3 days, and she had never had sex before. People do really extreme things counter
to their personalities. But we could have had them do anything we want. I don’t
know how much the audience would have believed it, or how much of it would look
like “She’s crazy! Look what the crazy lady is doing!” 

JG: Yeah, it’s
definitely hard to balance that because you have so many people with so many
subjective perspectives. Some not knowing about mental illness or some knowing
a little bit more. So you have to create that fine balance.

JT:  Well people…you
get this thing where a person with bipolar is watching a character with
bipolar, and they think that character is actively different than them. And I’m
worried people will be like, “You did it wrong,” when everybody has a different
experience. So I [write the characters] in the middle. It’s just something I
was worried would happen. 

JG: Some of the
characters go through more extremes than others, obviously with Ginger’s
suicide. Was that a difficult plot line to write, or did you think it was an
important issue to bring up?

JT: You know how [Josh’s] mum had attempted suicide and I
felt like there needed to be someone who succeeds. It kinda answers the
question, “What if she succeeded?” It’s weird to say she succeeded. For me, the
characters do that. We found out about suicide in mental homes. That was really
a full on day of research. We found out how they could, how they would, how
some people would lead up to it. They don’t usually drop many hints. We found
out that often people who commit suicide they dress themselves really nice and
they do their make-up because they want to be found looking pretty, which I
just think is so dark. We did that with Ginger. In that final scene, she’s
doing her make-up and she’s dressed in white because that’s how she wants to be
found. But otherwise, you don’t really get any hints. There’s really no way of
knowing. We also found out that a lot of people, usually they’ll be really
happy and you’ll think, “Oh, wow! They are so happy and healthy, lately.” Then at
the hospital, they’ll let them go, or they’ll stop watching them so closely
because they are really happy. Once they have made the decision to kill
themselves, they get so relieved because that pressure is off and they’ll cheer
up as they lead to the suicide. It’s just really dark. The thing about Ginger
in the show is that she does go through a phase. It’s not really high, but
she’s in a good mood so you don’t know anything is coming. And then she just
does it. She uses the fact that everyone is gone as her chance. 

JG: It was quite a
powerful scene and even when I watched it, I kept on thinking something
sinister about her just putting on her make-up when she was going to be alone…I’m
terrible at transitions, so I don’t know how to transition to these other
questions. In other interviews, you’ve always been asked about how much of this
show resembles your real life. You’ve said that it’s semi-autobiographical, or
it vaguely resembles your life. Are there some aspects of your life that you
just prefer to keep personal and not share or reference on the show?

JT: I mean, I really like sharing personal stories easily,
while other people tend to get really annoyed or embarrassed. The things I
don’t put in there are usually just ‘cause someone else is present in the story
and it’s really obvious. People that know me will know who the character is
from having the experience with him. And you’re not allowed to infringe on
their privacy that way. So you know, there are some people that are okay with
it, and there are some people that aren’t. We use as much of my life as we can.
The times that we make stuff up is just because in television you are using
stuff that happens in one day, or you’ve just got quite a lot of episodes. 16
episodes. And now with season 3, that’s 26 episodes, so I just haven’t done
that much stuff. And the characters, as well. There is this whole faction of
characters. There are lots of people that we have to create lives for.

JG: Is there any
episode that you consider your favorite out of the entire series?

JT: There are bits that I really like, there’s not like an
episode. I really like the last half of Episode 8 with Josh and Tom and Claire,
and they are acting on their friendship. I really liked that. I always wanted
to do more, just stories about friendship. It’s nice, but it’s a hard thing to
do. But friendship is just really lovely and not dramatic. And Episode 7, you
know, it’s the one where Josh and mum go on a hike. More than anything, it was
a triumph of managing a film shoot. It’s just a triumph for the line producer
because filming in a national park with a crew. You can only take 12 people in
a national park. We usually have 60, or something. I’m including me and Debra
[Lawrence], who plays my mum. We had to film that whole, almost the entire
episode with just 10 people, and people on the crew were doing three or four
jobs each. I was doing my own make-up. I’m kinda excited that we pulled that
off. And it looks like a really beautiful episode of television. Like, you
wouldn’t know what we went through.

JG: Yeah, it was a
really gorgeous episode and you guys made the most of that scenery. It was
lovely to see the mother-son bond kinda flourish even though it’s kinda an
“antagonistic, still I love you, but still I like my personal space”
relationship.

JT: Yeah, I mean, we really sold that. They needed
something. They needed to deal with their grief.

JG: Now I don’t want
to spoil anything for people who are going to read this interview, but I
thought that the ending of the finale was pitch-perfect. And that whole
dissolve of everybody either sleeping, or in the case of Tom, doing something
else, just kinda cemented everything that was going on. And this anxiety about
putting labels on whether we’re “boyfriends,” we’re “lovers, we’re “married,”
etc. Do you ever write with an end goal in mind, or is the ending just
something that gradually develops?
 

JT: Yeah, no we don’t. We’re barely at season 3 at the
moment, and the network wants the season outline. We have a page for every
episode, and then a page for 7, 8, 9, 10. All four episodes combined. We don’t
know. We hadn’t really decided whether or not Mae would say yes until we got
there. And we hadn’t decided whether Josh and Arnold would stay together until
we got there. I don’t really know how things are going to develop. 

JG: For season 3, are
you flashing forward, like you did with season 2, a couple of years?

JT: I don’t think so. I think it’s still too early in the
writing process. I think we’ll just continue on where we were ‘cause I think we
really finished season 2 with some questions. I just want to know what happens
the next day. I don’t think we’ll cut to the next day, but we’ll cut back to maybe
a few weeks after. We will flash forward.

JG: Can we at least
expect more naked boys, dancing, and food?

JT: [laughs] Yeah, I’m pretty confident in that. [laughs]
There’ll be naked boys. It’s like, Keegan [Joyce] who plays Arnold, in a text
message yesterday. I was writing a scene and I texted him, “How do you feel
about nudity?” [laughs] And he said he was fine with it. So that’s good.
[laughs] That’s good news. You want to change [the show] enough. New things are
happening. There are a million good things about the show, and that’s how you
create drama. But then, you don’t want to want to change it too much ‘cause
that’s what people like. 

JG: Since I’m running
out of time, I just wanted to ask you some more random questions that have
nothing to do with the show, just to get more of your personality. What’s your
favorite one hit wonder song?
 

JT: Um…why don’t I know the answer to this? I’ll ask my
boyfriend… What’s my favorite one hit wonder song?…He doesn’t know the
answer. I thought he would know.

JG: We can go onto a
different question. What’s your favorite guilty pleasure movie?

JT: My favorite movie is Hairspray,
but I don’t think it’s a guilty pleasure. It’s just a really good movie.

JG: The John Waters’
one?

JT: The musical. I feel like some people like it like a
guilty pleasure, but I don’t think so.

JG: Are you a Cyndi
Lauper fan or more of a Madonna fan?

JT: I really suck at pop culture. I don’t know anything. I
just don’t care about Cyndi Lauper or Madonna. I just don’t care. Like if they
were here I’d be like, “Hey, Cyndi! Hey, Madonna! What’s up?” I just don’t give
a shit. My boyfriend would explode. He would just explode if Madonna would be
there. But I don’t care. I mean, I really like “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,”
that’s a fun song 

JG: What’s your
favorite cuss word?

JT: My favorite cuss word is “cunt,” but I’m not allowed to
say it in America. In Australia it’s sorta okay, but it’s like the most
offensive word, but it’s nowhere near what it is in America. And there’s no
feminist subtext. I use it all the time, even on the set, and the crew won’t
say anything, they’ll just be really shocked for like 2 days. 

JG: What’s the worst
pickup line that you’ve heard or that someone has used on you?

JT: Who uses pickup lines? You mean like “Did you fall from
heaven, ‘cause you’re an angel, something?”

JG: There are people
who use pickup lines. I once got an entire line of poetry in a message.

JT: [laughs] No one is sending me poetry. What are you
doing? [laughs] Oh you mean on like Grindr. People always say, like, “Wanna get
your cock sucked?” Some people open with that. Or…I can’t remember… I suck at
these questions. I’m failing. I’m failing your questions.

JG: It’s alright. “Do
you want your cock sucked” is an interesting pickup line.

JT: Well on Grindr there are worse things than that. People
just say awful things. Just awful, graphic things.  Really offensive. 

JG: Now just one last
question about the show. Is there anything that you are just dying to do, like
a musical episode, a road trip episode, or an episode where everyone wears
silly hats?
 

JT: [laughs] Yeah, there’s lots of things that I want to do,
but now I’ll have to do a musical episode because we’re not allowed to. We’re
trying to be realistic. I’ll have to stretch to work it into realism ‘cause I
just want everyone to wear sparkles and dance around for an episode so badly.
There’s a few overseas episodes I want to do, but we just can’t afford it. I
want Josh and dad to go to Thailand. And I want to do something in America with
you guys, for an episode. But not this season. You know what I want to do? I
want to do a few episodes where we flash back to high school. I want to do a
few episodes in a row where it’s just Josh, Tom, and Claire in high school. You
know, going through the parents’ divorce, Aunt Peg would be alive, and Uncle
Walter – ‘cause she mentioned – would be alive. I want to do 3 episodes like
that.

JG: Now would you at
least have an episode of a flashback where Josh is dressed up as Eminem?
 

JT: [laughs] Yeah, Josh dressed like Eminem and they’re in
high school. I just want to do like…I don’t know, maybe I shouldn’t have told
you ‘cause I think we’ll do it one day and just have three episodes in high
school and we don’t really explain it. Then we go forward.

JG: It’s cool, it
will give some readers something to look forward to. Just want to thank you for
this interview and I love the show so much. I cannot wait for season 3.

JT: Thanks so much! Have a nice day, or evening. Whatever
time.

JG: It’s 4 o’ clock
over here.

JT: Oh, it’s fine. Okay, thank you! 

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