TV

Paul W. Downs And Meg Stalter Are The Real Power Couple Of ‘Hacks’

“This is a love story.”

That’s how Hacks co-creator Paul W. Downs describes the rollercoaster relationship of the show’s other comedic duo, talent agent Jimmy LuSaque and his laughably incompetent assistant, Kayla (Meg Stalter). The pair might play supporting characters to Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder’s odd-couple odyssey – one that sees a stand-up legend trying to hit the refresh button on her career with the help of a privileged millennial screenwriter – but after the show’s first season, their mismatched one-sided love affair became a huge hook for fans.

Downs, who’s put in work on shows like Broad City, plays the beleaguered, out-to-prove-himself manager trying to revive one client’s once-rising star appeal and save another’s from crashing before it’s even had the chance to get off the ground. Stalter, a fresh voice on the comedy scene who gained an impressive following on social media during lockdown a couple of years ago, serves as his over-confident airheaded assistant, a nepo-baby with no sense of boundaries spouting off a slew of inappropriate one-liners.

Their “love story” in season one included skipping work for “adult ballet recitals,” hip-pocketing clients, and booking the honeymoon suite for work trips. In season two, their unconventional boss-employee dynamic is the butt of even more jokes when HR gets called in and the pair’s work relationship descends to new lows.

Uproxx chatted with Downs and Stalter about their real-life friendship, improv-ing season two storylines, and sharing more screentime with Jean Smart.

We’ve made it to season two. Are you both sick of each other by now?

Meg Stalter: Never. I love Paul more than Kayla loves Jimmy.

Paul, watch out.

Paul W. Downs: Wow. I know. Well, I love Meg way more than Jimmy loves Kayla.

I think we all felt the kind of like, ‘will they won’t they’ of season one and yet when we get to season two, Barb from HR has been brought in. What’s up with that?

PD: Well, they’ve got to deal with the fallout from Vegas. What happens does not stay in Vegas when it comes to that shared hotel room. But it’s so funny that you say that about the ‘will they won’t they,’ because that’s absolutely what Kayla feels. She’s like, ‘The office is talking about it. It’s not just me.’ I’m like, ‘You’re feeling frustration, not sexual tension. I’m frustrated because you forgot my lunch.’

Or Jimmy’s frustrated because he can’t face his true feelings for her.

MS: You’ve been hired by Kayla to say this.

Kayla is this delusionally confident character. Meg, are you like that at all?

MS: I think I am. I’m not as delusional as Kayla. My love is pure. My friendships are normal. But I definitely think that … I was just telling Paul, ‘Don’t you think you have to be a little bit delusional to make it in Hollywood?’ Even an acting job, I feel like you have to be your number one fan to even go on an audition. You have to be like, ‘Yes, I believe in myself.’ I think a little bit of delusion is good and then a lot of delusion will ruin you.

PD: Meg has the perfect amount. Kayla has a little too much.

The season one finale used Kayla and Jimmy to flip the script a bit on #MeToo and what sexual harassment looks like in the office. Are we still expanding on that this season?

PD: Yeah, we never want to do anything in the show that’s just sort of a one-off that doesn’t have implications. Because we want the show to feel grounded and real, we always want to pay things off and follow things. In the same way that the email Ava sends in the end of season one wasn’t something we were just like, ‘Oh, this is just a cliff hanger.’ We were like, ‘No, there’s going to have real repercussions.’ And not only do those repercussions get explored at the beginning of the season –without spoiling things, they also continue to reverberate through the very last episode.

We have so much fun together. Meg and I love getting to play these characters and we’ve been so lucky that people have responded to this duo in the show that we just wanted to have more of them. Even though we knew we wanted to explore what happened in the hotel room and maybe use it as a means for Jimmy to potentially change the dynamic in the office, our feeling about the storyline had a lot to do with what Meg improvised. When [Jimmy says] ‘I’m emailing Barbara from HR’ and Meg in the bathroom of that hotel says, ‘Not Barbara!’ And so we were like, ‘Okay, Barbara needs to be somebody that kind of scares Kayla but at the same time is really funny,’ which is how we ended up with Martha Kelly. Martha Kelly felt like the person that Kayla was saying, ‘No! Not Barbara!’ to. That was Meg-improvised and we just followed it.

Meg, you’ve said you pitched an idea for more male models in Kayla’s scenes. I’ve yet to see one. Are there any other ideas you had for this season that haven’t happened that you’d like to confront Paul over now?

PD: Oh, god.

MS: [laughs] My two wishes are that number one, she has a lot of male model boyfriends and girlfriends coming in and out of the office. The other thing that I pitched before, which is too crazy, is that I come in one day and I have extensions down to my ankles. There’s not a storyline with it, I just think she has really long hair and she’s acting like it’s her own hair. Like, ‘What? Any questions?’

How are these characters going to grow this season? How will things change for them?

MS: I think that you definitely see a softer side [to Kayla]. I think that Jimmy and Kayla have some really sweet moments this season where you see that they really do care about each other. And it was some of the most fun stuff. I think that every time we watched a scene where we had a sweet moment, we were like, ‘Oh my God precious.’

PD: It’s like Deborah and Ava in this strange, twisted love affair. This is also a love story. Meg is so funny in the show, but there’s also these poignant moments. I mean, she’s such a good actor. It’s going to be fun for the audience to see her spread her wings and show off her range because she’s a genius. I’ll say it.

So Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder need to watch out?

PD: We’re throwing down the competition. Good luck girls. You aren’t the only power couple on the show.

Will there be any interaction between the two duos this season?

PD: You do see Jimmy and Kayla with Deborah and Ava in the final two episodes. Quite a bit.

MS: You’re going to be happy.

A big problem this season is Ava’s email and Jimmy spends a lot of time trying to fix the mistake she made in sending it. Have either of you ever had to get your agent to bail you out of a jam like that?

MS: I think that there’s been some begging about schedule stuff. But no, pretty much normal on my part.

PS: I know, the worst thing is maybe like CCing people instead of BCCing people. I’ve done some email faux pas in the past. I’ve never done anything like Ava though.

If you’re pulling any inspiration for season three from your own life you’ll need to get on that soon.

PD: I have to have a wild summer.

A hot boy summer, perhaps.

PD: Watch out world. Paul W. Downs is having a hot boy summer!

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