‘Love’ stars break down Netflix romantic comedy’s first season

On Friday, Netflix dropped the first season of Love, which I enjoyed a whole lot. Before it premiered, I published my interview with co-creator Judd Apatow, and now that many people have had a chance to watch all 10 episodes, here’s a more spoiler-filled conversation with co-creator and star Paul Rust and his co-star Gillian Jacobs, where they talk about the “land rush” to land Jacobs when Community was canceled the first time, how the show tried to achieve a balance between the dysfunction of its two main characters, what it was like for Jacobs and Rust to do sex scenes while Rust’s wife, Love‘s third creator Lesley Arfin, was watching, and more. This will also be a good place for everyone to talk about their thoughts on the season, Mickey and Gus, the awesomeness of Bertie, and everything else, coming up just as soon as I like seeing a guy pull a necktie out of a magazine…

Gillian, when you were doing Girls, at what point did Judd give you the sense he wanted to use you in something else?

Gillian Jacobs: I think pretty early on. I think I had maybe shot a day or two, but not very far into Girls when I had my first meeting with Judd about this project. It was very shortly after Community had been canceled by NBC, the first time we were canceled. You know our long journey.

And Paul, because Communitywound up going to Yahoo, was there any concern that she might not have been available?

Paul Rust: I think that might have been a concern, but within a day or two of finding out that Community wasn’t going to be on NBC, I think there was a land rush on Gillian Jacobs, and we rushed to it and we were able to snag her.

Gillian Jacobs: It worked out, I think, also because they ended up writing most of the season before we started shooting Community on Yahoo.

Paul, here’s your opportunity to say nice things about your costar. Why did you get involved in the land rush?

Paul Rust: When we were writing it, we had Gillian in mind. So it was this great turn of events when she was on Girls and Judd called up and was like, “Hey I’m thinking we could get Gillian.” I was like, “Amazing. That’s perfect.” And for me, the reason we had Gillian in mind was I feel like a lot of times on her resume, she plays characters who are more damaged, but the thing that I always admired about her execution of those characters was that there was no judgment. It wasn’t like she was standing outside of the character and being like, “I’m not this person.” It’s true fidelity and authenticity to the character. And we caught it in spades on this show.

Let the record reflect Gillian is looking very bashful right now. But let’s talk a little bit about your approach to that, because Mickey isa damaged character, she’s a self-destructive character and a destructive character to the people around her often. How do you find the, not necessarily relatability, but the “I don’t hate this woman and I’m not going to stop watching”-ability of it?

Gillian Jacobs: Well, she wants a lot of things, which I feel like are very relatable. She wants love; she wants to figure her life out; she wants to do better. I think we meet her at a point in her life where she doesn’t want things to continue on in the way they have been, but she can’t stop herself sometime. She’s her own worst enemy. And I think we’ve all been our own worst enemy. The fact that she’s struggling, but she wants more, I think that’s what people can relate to about her, because I wasn’t born a perfect human being.

Are there moments when you’re looking at things Mickey does in the scripts and you needed to have a conversation with Paul and the other writers?

Gillian Jacobs: Selfishly as an actor, I think those are the most fun. It’s really fun to scream on top of a roof and jump into a pool. The more chaos she’s causing on the show, the more fun selfishly it is for me as an actor. And you just have to have a belief in the writing that they are crafting the show and the character in such a way that you’re not going to lose people entirely, but that when you start at a little place with a character, you only have someplace to build. So I respected that that they were not pulling any punches with her.

Paul, this is your show; you were going to be in it. And Gillian is great, but did you have to have any kind of a chemistry test, just to make sure that you worked together?

Paul Rust: No. There was no chemistry test, no auditioning, but we did have a pretty extensive rehearsal period before we started shooting. And that was really great because we were able to find a vibe. But I feel like we found it pretty quickly, and Gillian is a great improviser as well. So we were riffing on stuff and we had somebody off to the side taking down the notes during the rehearsal, so that became very helpful then when we started shooting.

And you not only have to do a lot of interaction, but both with each other and with other partners, there’s some fairly explicit sexuality in this. For either of you, what was the adjustment period of that like, both with each other and with some of the other actors?

Gillian Jacobs: It’s a really funny thing to be body part to body part with another human being in a room full of people holding cameras and boom mics. So there’s definitely some strange awkward moments that occur, but I felt like it was handled so respectfully on set that you get over that. But it was also really great that we had such wonderful actors as directors for a lot of the episodes. So you’re being directed through a sex scene like that by John Slattery or Steve Buscemi or Michael Showalter, people like that, so I also felt like that added a level of comfort of, “They’ve been in this position themselves.”

Maybe not that exact position.

Gillian Jacobs: Well, let’s go back through their body of work.

Paul Rust: If you can have Steve Buscemi looking over your shoulder during a love scene, that’s what you want.

One of the things I find so interesting about the Magic Castle episode is that it doesn’t go well, but it’s not like either of them is entirely to blame. She wants one thing. He wants another thing. In putting together that episode, how important is that to have as the start of their relationship?

Paul Rust: My wife Lesley wrote that episode in particular, and I think for her, as well as everybody on the writing staff and everybody involved with the show, a story is just so much more interesting if you can feel like, “I see that person’s point of view, and I see that person’s point of view.” That’s like what I really like about our show: you’re not just locked into one point of view and one person’s side of the story, because as we all know in relationships each person can have their own Rashomon telling how things went down. And I like that episode for that same reason.

Gillian Jacobs: It’s like those moments where you’re in a fight in a relationship: you’re like, “All I want to do is not be in this fight anymore, but I can’t see my way out of it,” whether it’s like pride or stubbornness or just a lack of understanding of another person’s point of view. I felt like they go into that date wanting it to go well, and it doesn’t.

Paul Rust: Well, that line in there where Gillian goes, “You’re just mad because I didn’t have the reaction you wanted,” that was entirely improvised by Gillian. And when I hear that in the episode, I go, “Right on, somebody is sticking up and just saying like you’re being a dick right now. I know you like to think you’re a nice guy, but you’re not here.”

Mickey probably has more problems that she’s dealing with over the course of the season than Gus. Gus is not perfect or anything, but how did you figure out what you wanted the balance to be so it’s not just the saintly nerd with the hot mess?

Paul Rust: Exactly. Our concern was that we didn’t want it to be just the message, “If only this girl could realize how great this guy is for her, because he such a perfect person.” For me when I watch something that was made by a creator, and their character looks flawless, that’s like when somebody tells you a story where they said that they were awesome and you’re like, “I bet that wasn’t the case. I bet you pissed some people off.” The interesting thing was, half of the season we’re building Mickey as this person who’s problematic, and then on the back half of the season it sort of switches, and you have empathy for the situation she is in, and then with Gus you start going, “Well, there’s a lot of hostility here that he’s working through.”

When we got to the scene where Gus is allowed in the writers room, I had to basically hide behind the couch for the duration of it.

Paul Rust: Oh, that’s nice to hear. It’s so tough when you’re making something you don’t know necessarily what the effect is but it’s nice to hear something like that.

I made a note when the two of you kiss in the gas station parking lot in the finale: “This is not healthy.” She has just been to the sex addicts meeting, and now she’s doing this.

Gillian Jacobs: Yeah. It’s a great, confusing, murky moment, which I feel like is the wonderful complexity of this show. And yeah, it’s not like that triumphant end of a rom-com moment to end the season on.

Paul Rust: It was interesting on the set and in the writers room, the myriad of different reactions people had. Either it was like, “Oh, it’s very romantic because she’s finally being vulnerable and Gus is attaching to that,” or it’s, “This is a person who said, ‘I need space and he didn’t give it to her, so it’s also fucked up.” So if you can do both of those things, you’ve succeeded?

Where did the idea come from of Gus and his friends composing their own theme songs for movies?

Paul Rust: I have movie club viewings with my friends and stuff. We don’t do the theme song. That was a way to make it active and stuff, because otherwise it would just be…

Gillian Jacobs: Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Paul Rust: Yeah. And then I cowrote that with Mike Cassidy, who is a piano player in a band I’m in. We just went back to the old rehearsal space and cooked up some songs.

Gillian, you spend the bulk of the first two episodes in a one-piece, and then you show up later at the party in sweats, and Briga (Heelan) is made up to about a 15. How much input did you have into the styling and the make up and everything else?

Gillian Jacobs: You know, it was exactly what I was talking about. I was starting the character at a low point, so she has this bender of taking the Ambien and going to the club. And especially for episode 2, I’ve got mascara smeared under my face; I don’t have any concealer on. It was definitely an unvain moment for me as an actor and for the character. And then as the season goes on, you see her get a little bit more put together, but the number of costume fittings to come up with that combination of the bathing suit under jeans, you would not believe the hours spent and the hundreds of outfits put together to capture that right moment of the Ambien haze confused. She’s trying to impress her ex-boyfriend but it comes out really strangely. I spent a good long amount of time in that outfit.

Paul Rust: I hope that ignites a fashion trend that on the street we’ll be seeing people in a one-piece and jeans.

Getting back to not only the sex scenes, but the relationship in general, what’s it like playing this character with Paul while Paul’s wife is both there and a creator of the show?

Gillian Jacobs: Oh boy, it’s what you dream of. (laughs) I’ve had a not quite as intense version of this experience. I did this movie called Life Partners with Adam Brody, who’s playing my boyfriend, and his now real-life wife Leighton Meester was playing my best friend. So I’ve been down this road before of being on set with the person’s real life partner as you’re engaging with them. But they were both so lovely, Paul and Lesley, and never made me feel uncomfortable or didn’t accentuate the awkwardness of the situation. So thankfully it was relatively painless, but it’s a really strange thing. It’s an odd part of my job.

Paul, what kind of note is Lesley giving you when you finish up some of these?

Paul Rust: She’s like, “Can you bring some of that at home?” No, Lesley’s actually really cool about it, and understands about checking any sort of feelings at the door and just being like, “This is work and we’re doing work.”

What did everybody else think of Love?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com