A romantic comedy is nothing if you don’t want to see the leads get together—and while there are definitely parts of Netflix’s Love where it seems like the central couple should not be together, that would be a denial of the chemistry between stars Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust. Co-created by Rust with his wife, Lesley Arfin, and Judd Apatow, Love is now in its second season of patiently examining the budding romance and personal turmoil of Mickey (Jacobs) and Gus (Rust), two Los Angelenos whose obvious connection could lead to something beautiful or volatile (or some connection of both). The A.V. Club spoke to Jacobs and Rust about their characters’ attraction, the non-guarantee of fun on set translating to fun on screen, and a possible connection between Love and their appearances on the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast.
The A.V. Club: How would you say your rapport has evolved over the course of two seasons?
Gillian Jacobs: I think something that I really enjoyed about the second season is you really get to see Mickey and Gus enjoy each others’ company. Paul and I didn’t really know each other going into this show, so it’s been like us getting to know each other as the characters get to know each other, and so it’s a fun thing. He makes me laugh. I enjoy being around him. He’s a kind person. And I feel like even though it’s not a documentary, I think some part of that must bleed into the show, right?
Paul Rust: [Laughs.] We always thought it was beneficial that in season one, the characters were meeting each other for the first time, and it wasn’t this situation where we’re playing characters who have been in a relationship for three or four years or are married or whatever. We had the wind at our back just in terms of what was happening on screen and behind the camera.
It could’ve turned out really terrible, and I could’ve ended up being on a show with somebody I don’t care for. But Gillian’s awesome. She’s super, super bright, and it’s really amazing to hang out between takes. It’s good!
AVC: How do you know when it’s clicking?
PR: It’s basically you just want somebody who has some sort of emotional awareness of people. I think the show requires some sort of emotional intelligence, just because so much of the show is about what goes unsaid between two people. I think that helps a lot, somebody having some emotional depth. I’m not saying I do, but Gillian does.
GJ: I think that Paul is an incredibly thoughtful person who is sensitive to other people and cares deeply about other people. That’s the through-line of the show—that’s from Paul, Lesley, and Judd. You feel that sensitivity that they have to people. Because there are plenty of times on set when you’re getting along and having a great time, and then the thing itself doesn’t turn out to be that good. So I feel like this is a lucky combination—we genuinely get along, but also the writing is really great, and the directing is great, so it’s supporting that. It’s not just us having fun on set.
PR: Yeah, Cannonball Run II—you watch that, and it looks like they’re having a good time, but it’s not necessarily a masterpiece.
AVC: Gus and Mickey are fighting their feelings for one another as the second season opens. How did that affect the way you played the characters for the first couple episodes?
GJ: That’s the Mickey-and-Gus conundrum. They’re drawn together, yet they individually have a lot of issues, and when they come together, they also have issues. It’s the head-and-the-heart debate. So I think in the first few episodes, they’re trying to go with the head. That sounds dirty: They are intellectually recognizing that they should take it slow. But, as an audience, you want to feel like there’s a reason these two people are drawn together. I think it’s the good writing that allows you to see the tension.
PR: Yeah. That wasn’t a “yeah” in agreement to Gillian saying “good writing.” [Laughs.] More the “yeah” to—this is maybe presumptuous about other people’s relationships—but I would say 99 percent of the time, you’re probably attracted to the other person because it is repairing something that’s a little broken in yourself. When you’re getting into the relationship, whether that becomes an impediment or the rocket fuel, that’s the choice of the person who’s in it.
It was interesting when we shot the first episode of season two: Gillian was portraying Mickey in a way that was like, “Gus, you’re being an asshole right now. I asked for time off. And you’re intruding on my life.” I think Gillian having the instinct—whether it was Gillian, or it was Gillian as Mickey—of being like, “I think that was fucked up,” really ended up making those scenes really effective, because it wasn’t just the easy, “Oh, he’s such a charmer. He charmed me, and now we’re back together.” It ended up giving us a lot to work with in those first few episodes.
GJ: I remember someone said to me, “Beware of instant chemistry with people, because a lot of time it’s the recognition of something familiar,” and for people who have a habit of getting into unhealthy relationships, that’s usually a bad thing. They’re drawn to each other. They have that chemistry, and time will tell if proves to be a healthy or unhealthy thing.
AVC: On the topic of taking things slowly, there’s almost a real-time element to the early parts of the season. A single episode covers a single day, afternoon, or night in Gus and Mickey’s lives. How does that affect your approach when you’re shooting these episodes over a number of days? Do you have to remind yourself, “Oh, that was only a day ago in the world of the show?”
GJ: The most challenging part of it—which is a very boring thing to people not in the business—is the continuity of it. Hair, makeup, wardrobe. That’s the hard part when you’re not taking any gaps in time. Emotionally, it’s really helpful, because you know exactly what moment you’re coming from and what you’re going to. For me, I find it’s easier to track where my character would be on the show, because time isn’t really passing.
PR: When it does take place in one day, it is limiting yourself to not doing huge arcs within the episode. It’s probably easier if an episode goes over multiple days. You can go like, “Somebody could have a bigger point A to point B,” but when it’s one day, it’s a practice in restraint, because if somebody had a huge breakthrough within one day, you maybe only get one of those every three years. [Laughs.] That’s the thing we talk about in the writers room a lot: We have to keep in mind that if something big happens in an episode, that might be the person’s story of that year. I think we do maybe one or two of those a season. That’s the thing you have to be mindful about: If somebody was talking about their last three weeks to their friend, they’d go, “Wow, you’ve been through 10 episodes of television!” [Laughs.]
AVC: What do you have to be mindful of when you’re covering so much chronological ground in a story, like when Gus goes off to Atlanta for a few weeks?
PR: What was that like for you, Gillian, when you were acting that? It was a big change of pace.
GJ: I thought it was interesting, because it allowed you to tell a different sort of story, getting more of a bird’s-eye view—Mickey and her sobriety and her relationship to the 12-step program. It was nice to see that in more of a montage. I felt like it gave us different storytelling devices. What do you think, Paul?
PR: That was a challenge for me in that when we first started writing the show, Judd was really instructive and big on having things move slowly. That’s a credit to him, and I almost became obsessed with that to the point where I was like, “Oh, okay, then if we’re doing that, I want to see what happened between them walking from the car into the house, and I almost became too micromanaging: “Let’s see every single moment that transpires between these two people together.” The challenge of [“Liberty Down”] was letting go of that and being like, “Okay, you could go over three weeks of time,” and it’s okay. It did help that it was long distance, so it didn’t seem like we were skipping over “what’s their sixth date like?”
AVC: Gillian, in terms of Mickey’s sobriety, what do you think “sobriety” means to her? And what is she striving for in season two?
GJ: I think Mickey still wants to do things on her own terms to a large degree. That’s the part of her that’s in conflict with the programs that she’s in, because as much as she does get out of them, she does want to say, “I can pick and choose a bit.” And that’s also why she puts herself in risky situations. Like, probably not a great idea to spend the night with three people who are high on ’shrooms. If she had posed that as a question in a meeting—“I’m thinking about doing this”—she would know in her gut what the answer was. But she’s still impulsive. She’s still very concerned with what other people think of her—I think that makes her make these decisions that might not be the best.
So I don’t know over the long run if she’s going to be more at peace with letting go of some things in her life or really working the steps with her sponsor. Because she’s also in multiple programs, so she’s at a different point with each of them. Which is a lot to juggle for the show. It’s not a clear-cut answer, but I like that, because it’s a very honest depiction, and one I hadn’t really seen in a lot of TV or movies before.
AVC: Let’s finish up with a very nerdy Comedy Bang! Bang!-related question: When Mickey mentions in “Housesitting” that she wouldn’t mind marrying an older rich man, is that an allusion to Gillian’s relationships with Garry Marshall and Alan Thicke on the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast?
GJ: [Laughs.] I never even thought about that.
PR: But I like that that was deep in our subconscious. It could’ve been that she was talking about Garry Marshall or Alan Thicke or—
GJ: “Chunky Soup Bubble Man” or whatever my latest paramour was.
I love how much Comedy Bang! Bang! fans love Comedy Bang! Bang! It’s cool that we accidentally created a TV show that has a strong Comedy Bang! Bang! connection and undercurrent.
PR: Gillian’s and my tastes in comedy definitely run in the Comedy Bang! Bang! vein of weirdo, absurdist, bizarre comedy. That’s definitely more my wheelhouse than observational, human comedy. So Gillian and I have talked before about how it’s funny that we like Dr. Steve Brule, but we’re doing this Hal Ashby-type comedy.
GJ: We really get to cut loose when we do Comedy Bang! Bang! together.
PR: Scott Aukerman and Judd Apatow are two people who I owe a lot to, and it’s always great to work with Scott whenever I can.