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Paul Rust & Gillian Jacobs On The Challenges Of Relationships In 'Love' Season 2
The second season of Love, a shambling deconstruction of modern courtship among the Eastside creative class of L.A., was released on Netflix last week. While the first season pushed the cringe relationship comedy about as far as it could, season two eases up just a bit in order to dive into the upside of falling in love at exactly the wrong time in your life. While season one did everything it could to show you why Gus and Mickey, played by co-creator/actor Paul Rust and Gillian Jacobs, were a terrible fit for each other, season two pulled off the unexpected: it made you deeply care about them as a couple.
We got a chance to talk to Rust and Jacobs about the new season, the complexities of taking care of yourself while in a new relationship, and the catharsis of exorcising the ghosts of relationships past.
I don't know if anyone told you guys, but I was originally supposed to meet you at the Netflix junket, the last event of the day. But I was at a different panel that went too late, so I could hear you guys speaking... but I couldn't see you. I was on the outside.
Paul Rust: Yeah it was mentioned that you were hit by the blizzard. I hope you survived it. It wasn't like the Oregon Trail or something.
No cholera or dysentery. No dead oxen, not yet thankfully. But starting that same day, my girlfriend and I watched the entire second season in just a few installments. And I think I had nightmares for at least three days afterwards.
Gillian Jacobs: Oh no!
It was an all-encompassing sort of experience. On the plus side, I was very affected by it. But it was also very tough at times. I thought it was pretty impressive how it sparked such a reaction in me...but it was also a lot!
Paul Rust: You had streaming PTSD?
Something like that. And also like hopeless romantic PTSD.
Paul Rust: How did your girlfriend hold up?
Well, we had very different takes on it, especially the last third of the season. She thought that the relationship was a bad idea and it was really a crutch to Mickey, that things were going way too fast for her. While I thought that a lot of the worst things that happened toward the end of the season were because of the separation and because she didn't have Gus as a balance anymore, so she was slipping back into bad habits.
Paul Rust: I love hearing everyone's different takes on it. It's great.
I think the thing that we ended up arguing about, and I think this is a question that hung over the whole show for me from the first season onwards, is: do you feel like we're supposed to be rooting for them as a couple?
Gillian Jacobs: Hmm, I think that it's interesting because the show presents complicated situations and doesn't really give you an easy answer as to what's right and what's wrong. I think you're rooting for both of these people and they do have a deep connection that maybe no one but they understand. But it's really going to be up to them if they can individually work through their issues, and their issues together, and make it. So I don't know. I'm rooting for self-actualization, I guess that's what I'm rooting for.
Paul Rust: Exactly, I'm rooting for them to be happy. I think any time you write or act a character you should be trying to make it so that you just want the person to be happy, whatever that means.
From your own experiences, do you think that people are able to have that actualization in relationships? Or do they need to do work on their own first?
Gillian Jacobs: I definitely feel like I've been confronted with my own shortcomings and worked through some of them while in a relationships, and I also feel like periods of singledom taught me a lot about myself. I've seen just from myself someone saying, "This is something that you do that drives me crazy." And I was like, "OK, I can see that." And trying to work on it.
Paul Rust: I'm always a little reluctant to say like what I think love and relationships should be because it's not like we made this show in the sense that like we're authorities on this and we have the right answers. It's just as much me trying to figure out what the right thing is, too. And I think in a way the show has helped me with that, it's helped me understand I'm not a Dr. Phil, where I have the answer about what's wrong and right. If two people are in a relationship and if the relationship is a way to help them find things out about themselves or improve things about themselves, I don't think that's necessarily against nature. If we were supposed to figure things out on our own I assume we'd all be born on like separate planets. There's a reason we all have to share the space that we have here.
Right, and learn how to get along. How did your understandings of the characters evolve from season one?
Gillian Jacobs: Well, I feel like the writing just keeps giving more layers to Mickey, so I just sort of follow the story that Paul and the writers write. I think as it goes on you see Mickey trying to improve herself, but you also see her regressing in season two. But it's fun to watch her sort of step outside her comfort zone, which I think for her means actually admitting that she gives a fuck about things.
Paul Rust: Yeah and I think that's partly the fun of working on something that's ongoing like a TV show. You make a choice because it feels right for the character, and you're right, it's not until a season or two later that you've maybe had some time away from the choice that you start even understanding like, oh why was that choice made? That was the fun of the episode where Gus meets Mickey's dad. Okay, we've created this character of Mickey and we've made a bunch of different choices for her and now she's meeting her dad, so what would her dad be like given what we know about her? And I think that's probably the most fun thing about writing is making choices and later trying to go back and figure out what it meant.
Daniel Stern was incredible in that episode.
Paul Rust: Oh yeah, fantastic
Gillian Jacobs: He was so great.
Paul Rust: And just a good guy too. The worry [Gillian] had was, "Oh man are we going to have spend six days with somebody who's a jerk?" And then within five minutes when they're like the loveliest person on Earth you can breathe a big sigh of relief of like, oh great—we're going to be hanging out with a good guy!
When the first season came out, I noticed a lot of reviews and descriptions of the show where it was described as an 'anti-romcom.' That it was leaning into the complications of a relationship while dissecting the cliches of the genre. And certainly the end of the season sort of crystallized that in a lot of ways. I'm wondering if whether that's something you've actively been seeking or whether that's missing some of what you're trying to say in the second season.
Paul Rust: Yeah, if the show was only a deconstruction of romantic-comedies, I think that'd be kind of narrow because it'd be like, "Wait you're wasting your breath and time thinking about something that somebody else made up?" It feels a little like a snake eating its own tail—maybe, I don't know if that's the best metaphor or simile.
It's much more the approach of trying to understand real relationships and real people and not necessarily funnel it through like romantic-comedies. I will say that the title of the show, Love, was coined by my wife Lesley Arfin, who co-created the show with me and Judd. Sometimes I do think it's sort of like an anti-romcom like it's a funny joke - like haha this relationship that's toxic is called love, but for me it's genuine and I feel like it's a sincere title. How about you Gillian?
Gillian Jacobs: Yeah I agree with you. I feel like the show takes a current approach to the pacing of how you normally see a relationship play out on TV or in a movie, so that's what maybe makes it seem like we're deconstructing it. But I think the show is much more about the characters themselves than it is about having a take on romcoms.
In the first season, I walked away feeling like I understood all of the reasons why they shouldn't be together as a couple. But after the second season, I walked away thinking of all the reasons that they really, really should be, and all of the good sides that they bring out of each other. I guess I was wondering how much of this was inspired by your own relationship Paul? And whether getting into these heavy stories about relationships brought up things from your own life for both you, and whether making the show was cathartic?
Paul Rust: When the show first came out it was sort of being presented as inspired or loosely based on me and Leslie's relationship. And we understood it's a good marketing hook, but we didn't necessarily believe it, because I feel like Leslie and I are much healthier people. We each have been in therapy for years and the reason we were able to do the show and sort of look at ourselves critically is because we have some distance from it and we're not necessarily those characters.
It's really more inspired by past relationships we've had or relationships we've seen our friends or loved ones we know have. As far as it being cathartic, I do think that it is, but it's not cathartic in the sense of like... we really try in the writers room to never have it be like, well for me personally, the catharsis isn't, "Hey I finally get to say how it really went and to take somebody down." The catharsis is more looking at, "Oh how did I mess up? What did I do wrong?" Every time I see a show where the ex gets the raw deal, I'm kind of like, "Eh, I don't think you're being really honest about how this relationship went down."
One major plotline this season revolves around the dynamic of Mickey's recovery, and how that affects both of them. Were either of you drawing from real life experiences for that?
Gillian Jacobs: Well I think all that stuff is very personal, but I also do think for me, learning more about all of these programs through working on the show was personally very enlightening and revelatory. So what you're talking about with feeling that catharsis, it didn't made me go back and reevaluate past circumstances or relationships in my own life. I personally have gotten a lot out of Mickey's journey with these various 12-step programs, and I felt like it's really help me come to a lot of understanding and closure in my own life. That's just the side benefit of getting to play this character.
Paul Rust: Yeah I appreciate that people who watch it, there might be a discovery for them, like, "Oh I didn't know that a program like that existed." I do appreciate that that might resonate with people who watch.
Well thank you guys for talking to me and doing this.
Paul Rust: Nice chatting man. Glad you were able to survive the winter.