Brett Gelman Interview
Brett Gelman plays “AJ” in FX’s new comedy, Married. We (along with a number of our press colleagues) spoke with the actor recently. Here is an edited version of that conversation.
How easy was it to get the chemistry between you guys on-screen and did you do anything special off the set to bond?
Well, I had known Jenny [Slate] and Judy [Greer] prior to starting the show. And Nat Faxon is the type of person that when you meet him, you feel like you’ve known him for 20 years; he’s just a very gregarious, very easy person to like. And we did hang out some, although people were really busy as well with, you know, Jenny’s movie was opening and Judy was promoting her book, so some of the social time was limited. But it’s such an awesome crew that a couple of minutes together socially was like hanging out for a couple of hours.
We’re all people who work really hard and take our work seriously, but also like to have a lot of fun. Andrew Gurland really created an environment that made everybody feel like you were very focused, but at the same time the focus was just a blast. Those are three very, very, very funny, very kind people that I work with and we just would crack each other up. It was great. It was super easy.
You have great comedic timing. Is it something that’s always been natural to you or have you had to work to hone it?
I think both. I think it’s something that you can’t really learn. It’s in you, but you also aren’t perfect at it, so I have bombed a lot, so it’s really like a lot of trial and error. When you time something out wrong, it hits you hard because nobody’s laughing. So no laughter and laughter are the two best teachers, I think, about timing.
Was there anything in the role that you added that wasn’t originally scripted for you?
We did improvise a little bit, but it’s very seldom because the script is so solid and then a lot of times Andrew would sometimes change certain lines on set to make them better to him. It was always great to me, but he would hear it and he was like, “No, no, it doesn’t sound right” and would have us rerun on set. But yeah, there are, I mean, I think in every episode, especially when I’m in the episodes a lot, there are things that I have provided that they creep in there. Like when I invite the prostitutes in and I tell them to be careful not to slip on my tears, that was mine. I’ll take credit for that one.
How much are you allowed to adlib or how much of the script are you allowed to play with and adlib? All of you have great comedic timing, all of you are extremely funny. That bit about telling strippers not to slip on your tears was hysterical. So how much of it is the writers and how much of it is you guys playing off each other?
I think the writing is so strong that it really starts with the writing, but Andrew kept a very fluid process in which we’d be doing the writing, but then he was not against if you felt inspired to add something in to add it in. And sometimes, like especially in those bar scenes were we’re just sitting at the table, we go on a lot of runs in there. With the scenes that are more dramatic, that would happen a bit less just because you really have to focus on what is emotionally going on and really make sure that you capture all of that. But in the bar scenes that are a little bit more informational, those would be much more improvised. Actually, Andrew encouraged those bar scenes so it felt very natural in the bar.
I love that your character is such a mess. Can you talk a little bit about playing a character like that and what you have coming up on the show?
Yes, well, he doesn’t get better till much later in the season. He stays a mess and gets messier. I mean, Andrew is so brilliant at really pulling very funny things out of human struggle and a lot of different situations get created that AJ makes happen that are just so out there and so screwed up, but that they never lose their humor. I don’t want to ruin anything, but everybody definitely gets mad at me a lot.
We’ve seen your character, “AJ,” interact with his ex and she has definitely moved on. Why do you think it’s so hard for “AJ”to move on and why do you think he’s stuck on this relationship?
Well, I think that “AJ,” I don’t think “AJ”got a divorce. I discussed this a lot with Andrew. “AJ”didn’t cheat on his wife; he didn’t do like an act that caused her to leave him. What caused her to leave him was that I think he was just very tuned out through all of his marriage, and that’s almost worse just because he wasn’t present, he wasn’t a present husband, he wasn’t a present father just because of his personality and the flaws of his personality. And he’s realizing that there are these flaws in his personality too late and she is this beacon of failure for him. That is really where the drugs and alcohol, the stuff is coming into play is kind of punishing himself for that mistake.
Also, you know, he’s not married to Regina [Hall’s character] at all anymore. I mean, that’s a major wife to lose. That’s a beautiful, incredible woman that is the woman of all women. So who wouldn’t just go and do a downward spiral after her leaving you?
Based on being in this show and your own relationships, and from those that are in your life, what in your opinion makes love last through all its ups and downs? I’m curious, because I feel like this show hits a lot of points that are very true, especially after you have kids. So what makes love last through all its ups and downs?
I think love needs to still be there, but whether it’s there, even if it’s there, it still needs to be worked on. It’s not magical and love doesn’t have to be happy all the time; love doesn’t have to be nice all the time, but love always has to be communicative. And I think that what really keeps “Russ” and “Lina” together is the fact that they communicate all the time with each other. They don’t really hold a lot back, they don’t really lie to each other. I mean, of course there are certain white lies that happen through the course of the show, but there’s nothing deceitful going on ever or any type of, they’re not holding back from each other. They’re open book to each other. And I think that is the most important thing to really keep a relationship lasting.
How did you come to be in this role – what was the audition like, were you able to find it difficult finding this character or did it come naturally to you?
I’d say both. Well, the audition, Andrew Gurland I met briefly a couple of times and then five years ago, he had watched me a bunch when I was performing a lot at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. And I think he specifically reached out to me to play this; he had me in mind, it was a blind audition. He definitely I think really wanted me to play the part.
I’ve been a mess at times in my life. Not to say that I’ve struggled with drugs and alcohol, but I’m a real Jew. I can be dark. But then I use that to be funny in my life and I think that’s what “AJ” does; he makes a lot of humor out of his darkness and I really connected to that.
But acting is not easy. I mean, Andrew is an incredible writer and with incredible writing it presents a lot of challenges that you really have to tackle and you really have to work really hard on. But that’s just so great, that type of challenge is so rewarding and fulfilling, especially when people like it.
Does the awkwardness happen from improv or is it just the amusing writing and the chemistry that you guys have together? Is that what creates the sort of natural and very honest awkwardness?
I think it starts with the writing and the chemistry, because the improv is very much organically borne out of what has already been set up, so none of us are really creating anything new on set that wasn’t there. So whatever we add in is very specific to what’s going on in the whole arc of the scene.
But at the same time, though, you improvise certain things and it really hits, and Andrew loves it, then you can go off on that. Then he can go off on that and start, as he was writing future episodes definitely would use some little thing that we improvised for inspiration to further flesh out the character. Andrew is very collaborative like that.
What TV shows do you like to watch?
Oh wow, there’s so many TV shows that I love. You know how everybody’s saying it’s the Golden Age, baby. I love Louie, I love Fargo, I’ve been watching The Strain. It really scares the shit out of me in an amazing way and is incredibly effective. I love Game of Thrones. And yes, I mean, those are really, probably my top right now. Well, you know, I love Fashion Police too. I watch Fashion Police. It’s a match for class. Watching Joan Rivers on there is a match of class in joke delivery.