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'Love', Maybe: Netflix Explores The Cringe-Worthy Beginnings Of A Relationship


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Our guests, Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust, star in the new Netflix comedy series "Love" as two people who are trying to figure out if they want to start a relationship with each other. The series was co-created by Judd Apatow, Paul Rust and Rust's wife, Lesley Arfin, who also wrote for HBO's "Girls." Gillian Jacobs is perhaps best known for her role as Britta on the TV series "Community." She was also a guest star on "Girls." Paul Rust has written for "Arrested Development" and "Comedy Bang Bang." He's acted in several films, including "Inglourious Basterds" and "I Love You, Beth Cooper."

Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust spoke with FRESH AIR producer Ann Marie Baldonado. Let's start with a scene from "Love." Paul Rust plays Gus, a somewhat geeky aspiring TV writer. Gillian Jacobs plays Mickey, a producer for a self-help satellite radio show. She lives a somewhat wilder life than Gus does. Both of them have just gotten out of bad relationships. After a chance meeting, Mickey and Gus spend the day driving around Los Angeles getting to know each other. They stop at Gus's ex-girlfriend's house and pick up boxes of his stuff. Mickey is driving while Gus looks through his box of DVDs and Blu-rays. He soon starts throwing them out the window in disgust.


PAUL RUST: (As Gus) So I just keep believing in this lie that a relationship evolves and gets better and - why do I believe that? Where do these lies come from? And it's like, oh, I know - songs and books and, you know, movies. All these movies I've watched, they're not real. They're lies. They're lies like me and Natalie were lies, you know? It's like - what am I doing with these? "Pleasantville?" It's like, [expletive] you, "Pleasantville."

GILLIAN JACOBS: (As Mickey) Woah, yeah.

RUST: (As Gus) Oh, I shouldn't have...

JACOBS: (As Mickey) No, I like it. Do it again.

RUST: (As Gus) "Pretty Woman?" "Pretty Woman" is such a lie. Like, a prostitute wouldn't fall in love with you. She would just, like, steal your [expletive] and sell it for coke.

JACOBS: (As Mickey) Yeah, do it. Go get him, tiger.

RUST: (As Gus) Oh, my God, this feels - "Sweet Home Alabama." Lies. "What Women Want?" Lies. "When Harry Met Sally." Lies. "Homeland," season three?

JACOBS: (As Mickey) Very confusing.

RUST: (As Gus) Yeah, like she could ever just sneak into Iran. That's like - all these Blu-rays have been weighing me down. Get it out of my life.

ANN MARIE BALDONADO, BYLINE: Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust, welcome to FRESH AIR.

JACOBS: Thank you.

RUST: Thank you for having us.

BALDONADO: Now, in that scene, both characters are blaming what they've seen in pop culture for their bad luck in relationships. What kind of pop culture did you both watch when you were growing up that you feel influenced, at least early on, what you thought about adult relationships and love?

JACOBS: I watched a lot of Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant movies so maybe I was anticipating more witty banter than I've actually experienced in real life.

RUST: For me, early on I guess I watched just a lot of bad TV. You know, I would love to be able to say Cary Grant, but it was probably more like Tony Danza.


BALDONADO: Now, you really slow this story down - the two characters meeting and becoming involved in each other's lives. Judd Apatow, who's one of the executive producers on the show, has said it took five episodes to do what usually happened in the first five minutes of a pilot because you all found the details of that really fascinating. What is it that you wanted to make time for? What do you get by spreading it out over those 10 episodes?

RUST: Yeah, I think us knowing also that we sort of had these two seasons and 22 episodes ahead of us meant we had the luxury to slow it down. And, you know, I think maybe what was gained by that was sort of our feeling that usually when two people start a relationship, it's rarely easy, and a lot of times either somebody's still hung up about an ex or there's stuff going on at work that just makes it more difficult to be open and available to starting a relationship with somebody.

And it was just really exciting to see how patient we could be and to see how, oh, you could do an entire episode just about the agony of sending out a text at 9 a.m. and not hearing back from it until 8 p.m. (Laughter). So a lot of those sort of, like, missed connections and fumbling towards five seconds of happiness I think was appealing to us.

BALDONADO: Gus and Mickey go out on 10 of their first official date, and Gus takes Mickey to - I'm sorry, what is it? The Magic...

JACOBS: Castle.

RUST: The Magic Castle.

JACOBS: (Laughter).

BALDONADO: So it comes out that Gus is very interested in magic and Mickey is not. And that gets at something that I think is interesting about this show. Often people in college or in their 20s, they kind of use sensibility or the things that you're interested in - whether it's movies or music - as a way to sort of find partners. And I think one thing that happens with Mickey and Gus is they're kind of in different social spheres and they kind of think different things are interesting. So in this example, Gus is into magic and Mickey isn't.

JACOBS: Yeah, I think that in high school and college and in your early 20s, you really look to those signposts of taste as things that make a good match. And I've - certainly, for my own life -come to value much different things in people as I've gotten older and what makes them a good partner or a good friend.

RUST: Yeah, and I remember a couple of years ago talking with a friend, and he was saying, you know, he didn't know if this woman he was seeing was right for him because they didn't like the same things. And I remember saying, like, what are you, in the 7th grade?


RUST: Like, it does seem like a weird reason to - I mean, certainly, shared sensibilities are nice, but, you know, somebody doesn't have to like "Three Amigos," (laughter), in order for me to like them. I mean, helps but...

BALDONADO: Now, Gus - Paul's character - works as an onset teacher for an hour-long drama about witches. It's called "Witchita." But he's an aspiring writer, too, and we actually get to see the inside of a writers' room, which to me is something very fascinating, the TV writers' room.

Now, you, Paul, have worked on TV shows like "Comedy Bang Bang," "Human Giant," even the Netflix season of "Arrested Development." Your wife, Lesley Arfin, wrote for "Girls," "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," and, I'm not sure if any of you wrote for shows like "Witchita," or, one-hour shows, but why did you want to feature that kind of writers' room as opposed to maybe a more comedy one?

RUST: I think because - yeah, none of us have worked in a drama writers' room. It sort of fascinated us to put it there. And maybe also there's something funny about seeing people care so deeply about an hour-long supernatural drama. That was funny to us. I mean, I always was curious what a writers' room is like for a drama because when you're in a writers' room for a comedy, you can make a joke and everybody laughs. And if everybody laughs, you know, oh, it's effective.

And I always wondered, like, what are writers' room for dramas like? Somebody's like, and then the son comes in and tells his dad he loves him. And then everybody in the room, their eyes fill up with tears. They're like, yeah, yeah, that's good. And then what if - what if the dad tells the son he loves him too? Then you just have a room of crying people (laughter), and then you know it's working. So yeah, and I think also we were already doing enough navel-gazing, you know, to have to make it a comedy writers' room, either. We can try to move it just two notches away and make it a supernatural drama.

GROSS: We're listening to the interview FRESH AIR producer Ann Marie Baldonado recorded with Paul Rust and Gillian Jacobs, who star in the new Netflix comedy series "Love." There's more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to the interview FRESH AIR producer Anne Marie Baldonado recorded with Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust, the stars of the new Netflix comedy series "Love."

BALDONADO: Now, Gillian, you started acting when you were a kid. Can you describe how you first got interested in it?

JACOBS: The school called my mother and told her that I didn't have any friends, and I was talking to myself on the playground during recess and suggested that she get me into an extra-curricular activity. And she said that I was a very overly dramatic child, and she thought I would enjoy acting. So she signed me up for my first acting class. And I just instantly fell in love with it. And from there on out tried to take as many classes and be in as many plays as I could in Pittsburgh, where I grew up.

BALDONADO: You wrote this wonderful piece for Lenny, which is the newsletter that's edited by Lena Dunham about growing up and getting into acting and then going to college for acting at Juilliard. You received there at Juilliard a classical training. And I was wondering if you could talk a little about that. What is classical training for acting? You use words like movement work and neutral mask work. Can you talk a little bit about that?

JACOBS: Sure, yes. At Juilliard, there's a heavy emphasis on classical theater. So we would do one Shakespeare play a year, a lot of classical theater. And also, there was a heavy, heavy emphasis on voice and speech work, things like movement classes, neutral mask work, yes, also character mask work, I have to add, took, like, a classical clowning program. (Laughter). It's a very...

BALDONADO: What is neutral mask work?

JACOBS: Everyone is given this mask that has the same blank expression on it. You do various movement exercises trying to communicate different things, but you don't have the benefit of having any kind of facial expressions. So it's really about, like, learning how to communicate through your whole body. There's a lot of that.

And then, you know, once you've graduated from neutral mask work, you're given a character mask which has an exaggerated expression or exaggerated facial features. And then you're supposed to let that inform a character and sort of build off of that. You know, you do things like go to the zoo and observe animals and then go into your acting class and act out scenes as those animals. I spent a lot of time pretending to drink imaginary beverages, all sorts of things.

BALDONADO: In that Lenny piece, you talk about how you had a hard time at Juilliard. And at one point, you tried to do a comedy piece. And you felt like it was the first time you got a good reaction from students, but you got completely discouraged by a teacher. What was the comedy piece and what was the reaction to it?

JACOBS: I think it was from a play by Christopher Durang. This was the first time that I got a really enthusiastic response from my classmates. They were really laughing. And, like, it was the first time they really seemed to respond to something that I had done, which was exciting for me. And then the teacher said well, you can clearly do that so never bring in a piece like that again. And it made me feel like being funny was unimportant or less important and that it wasn't valuable. And it wasn't really until, you know, years later out of college that I started to learn that that was important and it was a skill that I possessed and that it was something worth exploring.

BALDONADO: So many people know you from your role as Britta from "Community." I just wanted to play a short scene to remind us all of the series. This is from the third season. It's just a quick scene from the room where the study group meets. The group has just found out that Shirley is getting remarried to her ex-husband, and the rest of the group is skeptical.


DANNY PUDI: (As Abed Nadir) It's cool that Shirley are getting married again. There's a whole generation of viewers that didn't get to see the original.

DONALD GLOVER: (As Troy Barnes) Let's hope it's more of a Bale than a Kilmer situation.

CHEVY CHASE: (As Pierce Hawthorne) Second weddings are OK, I guess. If I had to rank them, I'd go fourth, seventh, second, fifth, first, third, sixth. No wait, first then fifth.

PUDI: (As Abed Nadir) Got it - fourth, seventh, second, first, fifth, third, sixth.

JACOBS: (As Britta Perry) When's our culture going to outgrow this wedding thing?

ALISON BRIE: (As Annie Edison) You're anti-wedding now?

JOEL MCHALE: (As Jeff Winger) No, she's just pro-anti.

JACOBS: (As Britta Perry) No to everything you both said. Weddings are like little girls tea parties except the women are the stuffed animals, the men are making them talk and they're not drinking tea, they're drinking antiquated gender roles.

MCHALE: (As Jeff Winger) Somebody tell Britta what an analogy is.

JACOBS: (As Britta Perry) I know what it is. It's, like, a thought with another thought's hat on.

BALDONADO: That's a scene from the third season of "Community." You've said that "Community" was like graduate school for you, that you had to unlearn some of your dramatic training. What are some examples of that?

JACOBS: There were very technical aspects about comedy that I really felt like I had to learn, like, you know, the timing of how you deliver a line makes or breaks if it's funny or not. I had a sense of that, but I didn't always feel like I had a mastery of it when I started. So I would sometimes get very nervous when I write a script and I felt like they'd given me something that I wasn't quite sure if I could pull it off, things like that. And then I sort of realized that I really enjoyed physical comedy, so making bolder choices in that way.

But, I learned so much from sitting around that table. You know, Donald Glover is one of the most naturally funny people I've ever met in my life. You know, Jim Rash, Ken Jeong, Joel - you know, I could go down everyone and list you things I've learned from them. But I really felt like the first couple of seasons, I was just sort of - I would read it in the script and then I'd watch how they delivered a line and what they did to make it funny and sort of try to apply that to myself.

BALDONADO: You're already moving forward with the second season of "Love." Did you always have an idea of where you wanted it to go over the two seasons? Did you already kind of have it mapped out?

RUST: I mean, I think we had it mapped out in very broad strokes. I think the thing we realized once we started writing the first season is just getting a lot of joy about seeing how patient we could be. And so anytime that we would start sort of accelerating the storytelling or the progress of Mickey and Gus's relationship, we would ask ourselves sort of can we go slower? You know, as Judd has said, the part of the romantic comedy that people most like is the falling for each other and the getting together. So we're just trying I think in a way that people do in real life and their own relationships try to relish and cherish the initial moments of connection.

And then yeah, as far as - when we brought Gillian in, you know, we did write the part for her in mind. And it was so exciting when Judd called up and said hey, I think Gillian's going to be available. And it was a dream come true getting to have Gillian 'cause I am such a fan of hers and the work she's done. But it was funny, when she came into the - it wasn't the first time we met, but it was definitely the first time you came to the writers' room to hang out with us.

JACOBS: Oh, God.

RUST: We had a very Gus and Mickey moment where she walked in the writers' room holding a coffee. And then I went in to hug her and I knocked the coffee out of her hand and it spilled everywhere on the floor.


RUST: And then we both turned out to the writers and like this is the show. This is it.


BALDONADO: Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust, thank you so much.

JACOBS: Thank You.

RUST: Thank You.

GROSS: Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust star in the series "Love." All 10 episodes of the first season can be found on Netflix. They're currently shooting season two. Paul Rust co-wrote the new Pee-wee Herman film that will premiere on Netflix this Friday. Gillian Jacobs stars in Mike Birbiglia's new movie don't think twice, which premiered at South by Southwest last night. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we hear some great music. A new Broadway revival of the 1963 musical "She Loves Me" opens this week. I'll talk with Sheldon Harnick, who wrote the lyrics, and also wrote the lyrics for "Fiddler On The Roof," which is also back on Broadway. Scott Ellis will also be with us. He directed the revival of "She Loves Me" and also directed a 1993 revival of the show. We'll close with the title song from Ellis' 1993 revival. I'm Terry Gross.


BOYD GAINES: (As Georg Nowack, singing) She loves me. And to my amazement, I love it, knowing that she loves me. She loves me - true, she doesn't show it. How could she when she doesn't know it? Yesterday, she loathed me, but now today she likes me. And tomorrow, tomorrow - oh, my teeth ache from the urge to... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ann Marie Baldonado is an interview contributor and long-time producer at Fresh Air with Terry Gross. She is currently Fresh Air's Director of Talent Development. She got her start in radio in 1997 as a production assistant at WHYY and joined Fresh Air in 1998. For over 20 years, she has focused on the show's TV and film interviews. She became a contributing interviewer in 2015, talking with comedians, actors, directors and musicians like Ali Wong, Kumail Nanjiani, John Cho and Jeff Tweedy. In 2020, Baldonado hosted the limited-run podcast Parent Trapped, about the struggles of parenting during the pandemic. She talked to Julie Andrews about encouraging creativity in your kids, and comedian W. Kamau Bell about what to watch with them.