Paul Rust on the Final Season of Netflix’s “Love”

Dropping the Mask

Mar 08, 2018 Web Exclusive
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Paul Rust is every bit the modern TV star, driving towards the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, as I speak to him the week before the release of the third and final season of Netflix original Love. The show is produced by Judd Apatow and created by Rust alongside his wife Lesley Arfin.

Love is an achingly funny depiction of dating and the woes of young adulthood. It's hilarious while cutting, exploring the problems of nasty co-workers, alcohol, drug and sex addictions, estranged parental relationships, and fall-outs with friends. In it, Rust plays Gus, an on-set teacher for child actors who dreams of writing for screen himself. He's an incessant people-pleaser and all-round "nice guy." His path crosses with Mickey, played by Gillian Jacobs, a radio-producer who is undeniably more straight-talking, adventurous, and cooler than Gus. The pair strike up an unlikely friendship.


Mickey is more obviously "troubled" than Gus, though she seeks help for her addictions, while, for a long time, Gus refuses to acknowledge his flaws. Gus' eagerness to please makes him irritating and needy; Mickey's alcohol problems and nonchalance make her fun and exciting. These oppositions bring out an audience's stereotypes as much as the characters'. The pair are near-opposites yet see something in each other that makes their lives richer. As they tell each other in the series finale, Mickey teaches Gus to "kick ass," while he teaches her to "kiss it."


After two seasons hesitating over the "will they, won't they?" line, Season 3 finally shows how Mickey and Gus plan to go on with the rest of their lives. Here, Rust explores the difficulties of presenting flawed characters, the trouble with happy endings, and what it is about Love that makes the show so addictive.


The third and final season will begin streaming in full on Netflix tonight/tomorrow morning (March 9) at midnight. Be warned, the ending of the series is discussed below, although the spoilers are somewhat vague.


Ellen Peirson-Hagger (Under the Radar): Hi Paul. How are you feeling about the third and final season of Love finally coming out?


Paul Rust: I'm just really, really excited for it to come out. We started 15 months ago, writing the season, shooting it, editing it, and after I've watched one episode 30 times, that's when I'm finally ready to be like, "Okay, let's get this out! Let's just see if people watch this!" I get sick of the sound of my own voice. It sounds corny, but the whole reason I do this is because I wanna share something with people and vibe on how they respond to it. The moment I've been waiting for is the moment it comes out and people get to see it.


The ending feels like a happy one. Was that always your intention?


Our approach was "Hey, let's try to come up with an ending that, for some people, could be a happy ending, and for some people it could be a dark ending." I don't know if we succeeded at that or not. But I've already heard different reactionspeople going "That was a happy ending!" or "That was kind of fucked up!" I think our main goal, setting out, in a very general way, was, "How can we have an ending that is based just on how you feel about the characters and the show to this point?" It can work one way or the other, which sounds a little wishy-washy and non-artistic, but that was the goal.


I think for me it is a happy ending. It's an interesting thing that happens when you watch a show or movie and you get invested in the characters: even if I don't necessarily agree with Mickey and Gus step by step, I want them both to get what they want! Even if that's not necessarily what I would want. I do think that Gus and Mickey, at that moment, get what they're after, and for that reason it's a happy ending and that makes me satisfied. 


I guess the trickiness of the ending comes down to the fact that both Mickey and Gus are flawed, in very different ways. Do you think one character is more likeable than the other?


We never wanted it to go too far into people thinking, "Oh this person is the one who is the problematic one in the relationship and is causing the problems, and this person is completely innocent." We've always tried to, apart from each season maybe favoring one person over the other in terms of showing a dark side or a light side, try to keep that balance going. We've even tried to do that within single scenes.


Gus' flaws might seem less abrasive than what Mickey's issues are, but there's something with Gus that I feeland this comes out of my own (and you can roll your eyes at this term), my own self-exploration about me and my shit that I've tried to work out about myself. There's something even more toxic about the person who does have stuff they need to work on, and pretends that they don't. Or pretends that they know more than the other person, and acts superior. I think that's more toxic than the person who's going, "Hey, I admit I am flawed and I am working on this." It's definitely wanting to make sure that that came across, but also just out of wanting to make sure that I wasn't writing a show where I'm writing big hero moments for myself. I couldn't make Gus the perfect person who always saves the day. 


How autobiographical is the show and your formulation of Gus' character?


It's really not that autobiographical. A lot of the time something will come out of me going, "Oh, I know I have the capacity to do this, but my better sense [says] not to, but what if I didn't have that?" Or "What if I had made this choice instead of that choice?" It is autobiographical on some level, of course. But even if I was writing about the wife of a coal miner in Appalachian Kentucky, it would end up being about me too. There's no way to avoid that. 


That means I feel able to tell you that I find Gus so irritating, and incredibly cringe-y and uncomfortable to watch. How much was that intended from the outset? 


It's funny. We were on set once, I think when we were shooting Season 2, and Season 1 had come out, and there were responses with people going like, "Ah Gus did this thing that really got under my skin, and I'm so irritated by him!" And Gillian and I were talking about it, and she went, "I'm sure you just wanna tell everybody 'Yes, I'm in on the joke!'"


I'd like to think I wouldn't be able to do this unless I had an awareness about it, and wouldn't it be worse if I didn't? If I was writing a character who was always virtuous, that, for me as an actor and a writer, that wouldn't be very fun to act or write, and as a viewer, I would have to assume it wouldn't be as interesting to watch. It's an interesting phenomenon that happens where people go, "These characters irritate me so much, and they drive me crazy, and I watched the show all in one day." I don't know how those two fit together, but they do, you know!


But maybe Love is so addictive because those flaws make the characters very human, and therefore very relatable. Do you see the show as reflecting reality in that way?


Presenting characters with flaws is always going to be a challenge. The challenge, for me, is that I'll watch something and the characters might be flawed and I go, "Oh the person who made this is misanthropic, they hate people. They hate humanity, they hate having to deal with other human beings in life, and they're expressing this by making characters who are really contemptible, or whatever." But then there are other people who make things and the characters are flawed, but I go, "Oh, the person who made this has such love and empathy for people that they're allowing themselves to be open with the idea that people can have flaws, and that's okay." It doesn't make them a good person or a bad person, or a person who should live, or die, it's just who people are.


I say this honestly: I really don't have any graspbecause it's hard for me to knowwhat comes across when people watch the show. My hope is that people would know that it comes out of a place that, for me, is a love for people. I know when I've watched stuff and somebody does something that I didn't necessarily like, but at the same time it brings me a lot of relief because I go "Oh, I'm not alone in my shittiness!" It can be heart-breaking sometimes when you watch a show where somebody does the right thing, because you're like, "Well I could never do that. I don't have the capacity to be that person, and now I just feel more alone because I'm not being reflected in that scene right now." It can be tough. I'll watch something and it bums me out, but then a week later I'll go, "Oh that's actually brought me so much peace because now I know that other people have these feelings too! Other people have experienced the feeling of jealousy, or toxic competitiveness"and that's important to remember.


What do you think Mickey and Gus bring out in each other to make their relationship work?


At the end of the second episode in Season 1, the one where they first meet and they spend the day together, Mickey says something to Gus like, "Hey, I've done some shit in my life, so you don't have to be embarrassed about anything." And I think for Gus, someone who's constantly in his head about "Ooh am I doing the right thing or the wrong thing? Am I pleasing this person? Am I not pleasing this person? Does this person like me, or do they not like me?" To be in the most important relationship you can be in, having your partner tell you, "Hey, just relax about that shit. I think you're cool. I like you. Don't worry about how I'm viewing you moment to moment." I think that's what Gus gets from Mickey, and, speaking candidly, that's what my wife, who I co-created the show with, gave to me when we first met. I would apologize all the time about something I was doing, and she'd go, "Just stop with this. I love you and you're not gonna do anything that's really gonna irrevocably damage that."


In terms of what Mickey gets out of Gusthat's a tougher one for me to say because I don't want it to seem like I'm narcissistically trying to say why my character is golden, or whatever. But I think for Mickey, it was maybe that it's okay to not feel cool in every moment. They're both trying to do their own thing which is telling people, "Hey, I'm a really nice guy," or "I'm a really cool girl," and I think when you can be in a relationship with somebody who can go, "You can turn that off, you don't have to wear that mask so tight," and you work together, that ends up being the thing that makes a relationship feel really intimate and special. It's like, "Oh I can finally drop this mask! We can have dinner and I don't have to be this person that I am for others."


Do you think Mickey and Gus realize what they give to each other?


There's a line in Season 2, where they're talking and Gus goes, "I like you, you push me a little closer to the edge," and Mickey goes, "Yeah, and you pull me back from it." And when you write lines like that or when you act them, there's always a bit of nervousness where you think, "Are we spelling it out too much?" And ultimately it's funny: with distance they end up becoming some of my favorite moments. When we first started working on the show, one of the things we were talking about a lot is that a lot of people are very self-aware of what their obstacles in their life are, and can actually talk about them fairly eloquently with their friends. There's a fear when you're writing and acting something about spelling something out too much, but at the same time, throughout life people are constantly stating what's happening in this moment. To do that, I think, is okay. Self-reflection is a very human thing, and people do that in relationships a lot. It's helpful for a TV show!


So Love is over. What are you working on next?


I'm writing something right now that I'm really excited about. I don't want to spill any beans and spoil anything. But it is different. With Love what was so fun and easy about writing it was the feeling that we were dealing with such a universal topic: how two people meet and start a romantic relationship. It's really easy to pull stories from your own life or stories from your friends' lives, or just things you've seen, because love is everywhere. The fun thing about what I'm working on now is the challenge of trying to have a new subject that is equally rich in people being able to relate to it, and also rich in the way that I have my own experiences with it. That's what's coming next.

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March 11th 2018

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March 12th 2018

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