Lesley Arfin Talks "Love" and Asking Lena Dunham for Advice
On binge-watching her Judd Apatow-produced Netflix show, her husband's sex scenes, and why it's necessary to have haters.
Love is an ideal Netflix show. Created by Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin, and Paul Rust, the romance between Gus (Rust) and Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) burns so slowly that it may as well be happening in real time. But Arfin and Rust, who are married and who came up with the idea together (there is a lot of both in Mickey and Gus), are hoping that a series of small, honest, hilarious moments will, over time, add up to much more than your typical rom-com montage. (They’ll begin shooting a second season on Friday.) And Love is as lived-in and rumpled and embarrassing and charmingly messy as, well, love. Arfin, who was previously a writer on Girls (not to mention the editor of Missbehave), talked about her husband’s sex scenes and why it’s important to have haters after she binged the first season when it premiered over the weekend, just like the rest of us.
How are you? Do you have a feedback hangover from the weekend?
No! Not even. I’m so happy that people seem to like the show. But even if there’s backlash — my friend texted me the other day and she was like, ‘I’m overhearing people in the alleyway behind my house talk about Love.’
Is that the new subtweeting?
Talking about it in an alley? Yeah, that’s what the kids are calling it. It’s shorthand, but much longer. I was like, ‘What are they saying? Even if it’s bad, I don’t care.’ What would be worse is if nobody talked about it at all! I think if you don’t have haters, you’re doing it wrong!
The critics’ reviews, at least, are pretty positive.
Yeah, totally! And that’s awesome, too. I mean: that’s even better. [laughs] It’s cool when you make something, and people respond and identify with it. There’s nothing better. I do have like 30 unanswered texts.
I hope so! People are weird, and everybody wants everybody else to fail, or have a reason to hate somebody. I’m not a huge phone person anyway. So, whatever.
Funny that Love premiered the same weekend as the show you used to write on, Girls.
I consider them our sister show. Everybody there are still my closest friends. I ask Lena [Dunham] and Jenni [Konner] for advice all the time. Now I get to watch Girls once a week. And people can watch Love however they want.
I watched most of it while hungover.
That’s ideal. I watched every single one except the last one.
Why not the last one?
Because then it’s really over! Even though there’s another season. And especially watching it with Paul, there’s some stuff I never realized that just really hit so close to home for us. That is so meta.
So you two binged it together like everyone else?
We watched it together, alone, and with some friends who came over. But yeah, we just wanted to watch it on the big screen like the rest of the world. We’re proud of it. It’s kind of like when someone comes to your house for the first time, and you can see it through their eyes. Like: ‘Oh, I wonder what they think looks good or not?’
How did you feel about the pacing while watching it? It’s such a slow burn.
Part of our original idea for the show was we wanted to see what relationships were like when you cut into the montage. When you take that out, and you’re just in it. To do it as slowly and in real time as possible — it’s hard. I’ve never seen it before. As a person who’s in a relationship, I’m curious what that looks like. I’m interested in how unromantic it really is. I’m always interested in what’s beautiful about love, and what’s really ugly about it. We just wanted it to be a narrative out of a lot of small moments. Even if we didn’t have a two-season order from Netflix, that was always our approach. When we first had this idea, we wanted to do it as a movie. And when we told Judd about it, he was like, ‘I think it would be so great as a TV show.’ And he was right. He saw something we couldn’t see.
Have you gotten used to writing and being present for Paul’s sex scenes?
I think there was a time where I was like, ‘Um, should I be worried?’ And then I talked to Judd about it, who’s had a lot of experience with this [with his wife, actress Leslie Mann]. He was like, ‘Oh my god, it is the funniest thing, I love it.’
Paul’s character is an aspiring TV writer, but he’s not very good yet. There’s that awful scene on his one and only day in a writers’ room.
It’s so painful. Not that that doesn’t happen when I’m in the room on our show, but I’ve been in other writers’ rooms. No matter how many shows you’ve been on, when someone makes a joke in a writers’ room and no one laughs, a part of your soul dies. Especially with me — I’m not a natural collaborator when it comes to writing. Before I started working in TV, I just wrote on my own. The first time I got edited I was like, ‘Ugh. Oh my god.’ And now I’m like, ‘Thank god you’re making me sound like a better writer than I am.’ A great editor is kind of the same thing as a great showrunner.
You guys have stocked a lot of the secondary roles with comedians like Brett Gelman.
Some. But a lot of my friends who are just musicians or just natural performers are in there, too, like Binky Shapiro. I learned a lot about this from Judd. We didn’t want everybody to be so familiar, because then it gets to be a joke on a joke. Where it’s a show where a character like Gus is trying to make it in Hollywood, and all of these people who are well-known in Hollywood are pretending to be normal.
Some people have characterized Love as another show about awful people. While I don’t agree, does that upset you, knowing a lot of you and Paul are in these characters?
I think people are horrible. And I think people are beautiful. They’re both, all the time. This isn’t the story of the nerdy guy saving the crazy druggie girl. Everybody’s just trying to do their best; we just wanted to make it real.
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