Perhaps the most difficult aspect of creating a fictional onscreen romance is finding two leads who can create the magic of two idiots falling in love. Chemistry isn’t as easy to come by as many might think, and despite all the auditions, screen tests and past performances, you never really know you’ve got it until the cameras start rolling. With that in mind, it must have been nearly impossible to cast the two leads of “Love,” the Netflix original series from co-creator Judd Apatow about two glaringly opposite individuals who find themselves romantically entangled.
But this isn’t as simple as opposites attract. As anyone who’s sampled “Love” knows, the story of Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and Gus (Paul Rust) isn’t keen on showing audiences how two seemingly mismatched puzzle pieces can fit together like magic. If anything, it’s taking two totally separate puzzles and, against all odds, finding a way to combine them into something functional. Whether or not it holds together over time is up in the air, so finding not only the chemistry needed to sell such a relationship, but actually portraying the understanding and individuality needed to make us believe Mickey and Gus might not be written in the stars, seems like a Herculean task.
Yet when talking to Jacobs and Rust around a table with five or six other reporters, one would never guess the two felt any pressure at all. Their strong performances seem buoyed by their natural rapport with one another and easy banter with everyone else. As topics range from real-life relationship stories to finding love in L.A. and even the joy of delving into R-rated material, Jacobs and Rust remained lively, excited and connected. Whatever secrets they uncovered in onscreen chemistry, they seem to have transferred to their day-to-day lives.
Paul, I can really relate to the first episode. I’ve had a woman tell me I say, “I love you” too much, and it also revealed a bad relationship. So should one assume when a partner says that that they’re actually lashing out with their guilt?
PAUL RUST: I think when someone says that it’s usually a countdown ’til the relationship ends.
How did the idea come for the show? How did you team up together? And how is it autobiographical for various people involved?
PR: I co-created the show with my wife, Lesley Arfin and Judd [Apatow]. It started off as a movie, and we thought, “There is so much stuff to mine here. Let’s just take our time and be patient and do 10 episodes.” Lesley and I are certainly a jumping off point, but it quickly became [about] lots of Gus’s, lots of Mickeys in the world and we just sort of compiled all those stories into the relationship. And Gillian got involved because she’s fantastic. We wrote the part for her — with her in mind — and we were able to get her.
It’s an interesting thing in keeping them apart a lot. They’re not at all together in the first episode, and even after the first adventure together in the second episode they’re apart again. Was that something you wanted to do? And, for both of you, was that cool to get to really observe your characters separately and see what it’s like when they occasionally meet up?
GILLIAN JACOBS: I think it’s great in the show when you get the full context of these peoples’ lives. You meet them, you are intrigued by who they are and, as the season goes on, you really learn why they are the way they are. It was really interesting because I saw you on set as a writer far more than an actor for the first chunk of the season, and I had a lot of my scenes with Brett Gelman and Claudia O’Doherty and Kyle Kinane and all those people. I really didn’t see Gus’ side of the world until the very end of the season. I thought it was a really great way to go in depth with these characters.
PR: Yeah. It was. [laughs] Well said.
While you obviously give full context of their lives, you also give a real sense of isolation with them both. Do you think that’s specific to cities and places like LA? Or are you saying something universal about the way we live in 2016 and how hard it is to find those connections and keep them?
GJ: That was certainly my experience in Los Angeles when I first moved here. I first came to LA auditioning during pilot season. I didn’t really know anyone. The only people I’d meet were the girls I was up against at auditions. It wasn’t the friendliest bunch. I actually looked at an apartment at a place very similar to where Gus lives, and I found that to be depressing because this woman had lived in the apartment for so many years and rented out her second room to people every pilot season. One of the big selling points was that she had Oscar screeners, but they were all 15 years old, so they were all VHS tapes. [laughs]
PR: I got “The Accidental Tourist.” [laughs]
GJ: [laughs] “The Constant Gardener.” So I found [the show] very much [reflected my situation], and it wasn’t until I moved here and had a job and that gave me a structure to my life and I had friends– A lot of people I find who move to LA say you have to go and find the city. It doesn’t present itself to you in the same way that New York does for a lot of people. So I found that incredibly relatable; sometimes screaming and crying alone in your car — having meltdowns. I do think there is something that that [represents] sort of modern life as well. It’s not just Los Angeles.
PR: And Los Angeles, too, it’s particularly tough. I feel like other cities, say New York, you can meet somebody. You can hit it off. “Hey, let’s get a cab, and we’ll make out in the cab.” In LA, it’s like, we’ll go to our separate cars and drive. I hope parking is okay on my street. I’ve had parking restrictions entirely blow [a relationship]. [laughs] “It’s too tough. I’m not gonna park.” [laughs]
GJ: I lived in West Hollywood and my friend called it the Fortress of Solitude because it was so hard to park anywhere near my apartment that no one would come hang out with me.
Gillian, you’ve been in some R-rated and raunchy material before. Is it fun to be the R-rated and raunchy character?
GJ: Oh, that’s interesting. Yeah! It feels kind of naughty when you’re swearing on set and you know it’s gonna make it in unbleeped on the show. We got a few swear words on the Yahoo season of “Community,” but it felt really transgressive. This was like taking it to a whole other level. You know, for me, I’m a very boring person in my real life so I got to act out misbehaving fantasies with Mickey. It was really fun.
Paul, I have a question about writing with Judd. During the process, you said he was a mentor or sorts. I was wondering what lessons you learned from him about writing comedy, and about what aspects of comedy you might have clashed over while writing the show.
PR: In a weird way, I felt the mentoring began when I was in college and saw “Freaks and Geeks.” I had a friend who taped it off Fox Family. So we had tapes of “Freaks and Geeks.” I was in college, and I was writing at that point and watching that show and seeing this perfect mix of: If you write about your own experiences, that will be interesting enough. That set me on this course to begin with. It just so happened that a few years later I got to meet Judd. There weren’t any clashes because, partly why Judd wanted to do this, was I think we’re of similar personalities and types and have similar experiences. So it was very easy to agree on.
What are your biggest similarities while writing?
PR: We wrote the fifth episode together where I go on a date. All we did was we sat down and we had a list of every possible thing that’s ever gone wrong with us.
PR: It was, yeah.
You mention that you and your wife served as a starting-off point. Can you talk about your own love story and how much is there in that? Is this character loosely based on your wife?
PR: It started off, like, this is gonna be us. A day into the writer’s room it was like, “Oh, this is not us.” It has to take different directions, and if we just try and transcribe what’s going on in our lives, that’s boring. It’s been a dream. I love my wife. [laughs] This might be a surprise. It’s such a thrill in a relationship to be able to collaborate creatively. It’s very romantic, and I like it.
Did you find you both remembered things differently when you went back?
PR: Not so much between us, but it’s funny to be in the writers’ room and people will be like, “Well, Gus is just a people-pleasing pussy,” and I’m like, “Not really! He’s got his reasons.”
We’ve seen other shows where people worked in the industry, but this tries to show the mundane side of it and not the glamorous side of it. Was that interesting for both of you to depict? This is not “Entourage.”
PR: Too bad. I wish it was. I wish it was like “Entourage.” I would get to have a happy ending. [laughs]
How did you choose those careers they both have and the positions they’d be?
PR: We thought it was interesting that in the entertainment industry there are so many nooks and crannies of people who have jobs and you don’t get to see the student teacher on set and the person who’s the program manager at a satellite radio station. I think the big key that we had was, so often in Hollywood with behind the scenes stuff, people are cigar chomping and telling it how it is. And in my experience, it’s usually very kind people trying to do the right thing. We tried to capture that as best as possible.
What to you, in terms of comedy shows, what are the new fields to explore in terms of modern relationships? What has “Love” done and what is left to do?
GJ: I was gonna say love in space, but I think we’ve seen that for decades. I think like Judd said, the great thing about this model and Netflix is you can take your time with this show. Probably for a network pilot, the entire season would have happened in the first episode. So the freedom to really stretch it out, to see those near misses and miscommunications and have a period of time when they’re not connecting. I thought that was unique to the show and was a real appeal to me.
PR: Four of our episodes would have easily been done in a montage in a movie and the exciting thing about doing a format like this is taking our time.
“Love” Season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.