HBO’s Run begins with a text to an ex and somersaults from there, landing somewhere between gleefully questionable judgment-land and a truly wild caper. Officially, the series is a romantic comedy thriller, but it’s also a reteaming of a creative-dynamic duo, Vicky Jones and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, after their Fleabag and Killing Eve successes. They co-executive produce (along with Kate Dennis), and the show pairs Domhnall Gleeson and Merritt Wever as two college exes (Billy and Ruby), who previously made a pact that it was alright to send a feeler text, and if the other responded, they’d drop their lives and meet at Grand Central Station and barrel across the U.S. together.
Sounds messy and complicated, right? Oh yes, very much so. Fortunately, Gleeson and Wever’s characters are complex creations as written by Jones, who has shown us on multiple occasions (including her work on Fleabag) that she adores crafting flawed characters. And speaking of women who enjoy embodying such flaws, Waller-Bridge features as a type of character that you’ve never seen her play before now. We spoke with Jones about this re-pairing of the minds, so to speak, along with the rambunctious ride taken by Billy and Ruby on their journey to unknown relationship frontiers.
A lot of people are going to start thinking about this show with this basic question: “Is it a good idea to text your ex?” So…. is it?
Oh, I mean…. [laughs]. It’s so interesting that the show goes back in time and explores revisiting people we remember and who knew each other well. I think there are questions to think about, like, “What if we’ve ended up with this person or that person, and where would I be now?” Or “are you more yourself with one person than another or a happier version of yourself?” And “can you revisit that?” And whether people are perfect for each other in an innate sense. We change over time, and who we found is context-in-time specific. So I don’t know, I’m interested in the question very much of, “Should we ever go back and knock on past doors, or should you just leave it and live in the moment?” Probably the last one.
This is no typical ex-texting, though. They kinda agreed to this, back in the day.
There’s a pact, yeah.
Do you know, in your mind, whose idea the pact was?
Ooh. I don’t know for sure, but future seasons might explore that. I suspected that it was the one who insisted upon breaking up. So it feels to me like it was something of a conciliatory gesture. Like, “Don’t worry, we just can’t be together now.” I feel like it was Ruby. She was the stronger one back then. She was the one who was doing so well, and flying in her studies, and so on. I think she felt like she didn’t need to be held down by a relationship, and I think that she lived to regret that very much. It probably came from her that they should separate with that pact, and for her heart and for her sanity, and that she needed to believe that.
Ruby has a great line: “Who does this?” I think a lot of people would want to do it but wouldn’t do it. Do you think people will have strong reactions to her actions?
Yeah, especially because of her home context, right? But I think that’s right. I think most people wouldn’t do that, and I feel like we do think about it, and we might feel guilty for thinking about it. That’s what drama’s for, to explore what happens to someone who does it. I don’t think she’s the sort of person who would do this either. She would never do this, and yet, she has, and I really wanted to investigate that. What happens to the people who would never do the extreme thing, and one day do, and what emotions does that create? And how does that affect their behavior, and how real can we make that feel? It’s kind-of a virtual reality, it’s an experiential watching experience.
We don’t want to spoil Ruby or Billy’s lives because you painstakingly unfold that as things go along. How difficult was it for you to put together those pieces? Like with Billy’s profession and how that factors into his decisions.
It took a really long time because we really wanted this to be complex, and the minute that you make a decision about them, there’s a judgment that comes with that. Before we find out that Billy’s being a life guru, he’s an idiot, and I really don’t want him to be [an idiot] at all. I think he isn’t in terms of the character that we’ve created, and Domhnall’s created, so beautiful. He’s an eloquent, thoughtful, emotional individual. He’s actually very good at talking to people about their lives, and he’s thought quite carefully, and he’s not mindless, but the act of him telling people how to think and how to be certainly can spiral. In finding the complexity in the character of Ruby, she has a life that is very domestic and good from the outside, but she’s incredibly unhappy and frustrated and has a huge inner life. It’s in finding the complexities as a woman, how she can love her home and yet walk away from it. And a man who can be very gregarious and be quite confident in his acts and other ways.
Mad Men‘s Rich Sommer does a bang-up job as Ruby’s husband, after playing a different type of husband on GLOW. How did he end up on this show?
Oh, we were so lucky. We couldn’t think of anyone else, and he wanted to do it, and it was one of those lovely parts of the casting project. Rich is just perfect, he’s so lovable at the same time that you can see that he might have an edge. You can see those connections as well. He’s wonderful, and we wanted it to be like, “Ruby, what you doing?” And at the same time, we didn’t want him to be an asshole because that would have made the whole thing more simple to judge and watch.
You can tell that he’s conflicted in so many layered ways, it’s unreal. Now when it comes to Phoebe’s character, god, that was funny. How did you decide what type of character she would play?
I think we both wanted her to play something that she actually hadn’t played before.
Well, you nailed that goal.
And this sort-of mysterious loner-in-the-woods character came about. This woman who has a very unexpected career but who’s also very grounded in other ways. You don’t really know what she wants at first. She’s quite interesting to watch because you’re not quite sure, and that unfolds in different ways, and Phoebe’s always open to collaborating.
With Fleabag, people talked about how it brought difficult or unlikable women to the forefront and dispensed with that issue. Do you feel like Run fits into that same theme with your writing?
Absolutely. I hope to explore that sense of writing characters who are flawed, and that’s more interesting to watch and understandable. I’ve talked a little bit before about writing about men and women in these situations, and how that blows up any biases you have and attitudes of misogyny and judgments about how a woman should and shouldn’t behave and what she should and shouldn’t say. And it’s very important to be conscious of that and to challenge that and have a female character who is incredibly flawed not only in actions but her behavior as well. You want the opportunity to create someone who is wild and complicated funny and flawed in all the best ways. And very human.
HBO’s ‘Run’ premieres on Sunday, April 12 at 10:30pm EST.