Brett Gelman Talks the “Darkness of Life”, Drawing from Personal Experiences, and Breaking Away from the Rigidity of “Jokes” on the Set of FX’s MARRIED

     July 15, 2014


They shoot really quickly on the set of Married.  The use of practical locations and natural lights naturally lends itself to a super quick turn around.  As such when the actors aren’t filming a scene, they’re usually rehearsing for whatever brief amount of time they have until the next set-up is ready.  On the day of my set visit for the upcoming series, co-star Brett Gelman (Go On) was especially busy in the midst of shooting his climactic moments on the show.  Gelman co-stars as AJ, a recently divorced lawyer, whose life slowly starts to unravel in a whirlwind of drugs and alcohol.  Have I mentioned yet that Married is a comedy?

Gelman was too busy during filming to speak with me on location; but a week later, the gregarious character-actor was more than kind to hop on the phone and chat with myself and a couple other journalists about his time on Married, breaking away from the rigidity of jokes and finding the comedy in the darkest of moments.  For the full interview, hit the jump.

married-brett-gelman-nat-faxonQuestion: What can you tell us about your character?

BRETT GELMAN: [I play] AJ, a successful entertainment lawyer who has been divorced fairly recently and because of that divorce, it has caused him to spiral out of control and indulge in a lot of different substances and sexual adventures that always end [poorly]. He’s chasing pleasure but the pleasure just leaves him empty. He’s best friends with Nat Saxon and Jenny Slate and we’re constantly giving Nat’s character — in the midst of our own problems — advice on how to deal with his. I’m the wild beast of the show. We’re all tornadoes but I’m the biggest one. You don’t want to get too close to [me] but it’s fun to watch me spin out of control.

What drew you to this project after Go On?

GELMAN: I really loved the script. I loved the characters and I felt that Andrew Gurland had a really specific vision. It seemed really personal to me. I saw that I would get to play a character with a lot of problems but who was still rooted in the confines of reality. Also I knew that Nat Faxon and Judy Greer by that time had signed on and I’d been a huge fan of their work too. It was just a killer cast. So I had to join.

There’s some dark material here. How do you balance playing that dark material while still retaining the comedic tone?

married-nat-faxon-brett-gelmanGELMAN: I feel that the characters mean well at the end of the day. They’re not doing anything because they’re trying to hurt people. Comedy is about flaws anyway… There’s a lot of humor in the dark areas of life and Andrew really knows how to zero in on that. I’m not someone who shies away from darkness being funny. I think that life is very dark at times and there are things that are very funny about that. To me that’s our relief from the darkness of life — the fact that it’s so messed up, there’s something funny about it. We have to laugh at how hard life can be and how screwed up we can be at times… It’s a really freeing process when you’re not hitting the jokes too hard. It’s more the situation it’s coming out of. A lot of the situations because of my character’s addiction really lend itself to me making a lot of very bad decisions that are very funny. I’m an obvious example of how everyone is spiraling out of control on the show and just trying to live life the best they can without destroying themselves. I can really go for a big laugh in the midst of all these big mistakes I’m making. What the show is doing — is it’s taking classic television show archetypes and putting them on their ear to show a different side and take on it.

What real life experiences did you draw from to play your character?

married-jenny-slate-brett-gelmanGELMAN: I’ve definitely had my hard partying moments. I’ve definitely had the long stretches of time in my personal life where I’ve felt an intense loneliness and a desperation to feel something real and to have something that truly meant something in my life. I’m not a stranger to depression and desperation. I can be kind of tortured but I do like to have a lot of fun. I won’t say it was easy to get into but it was definitely easy to immediately identify with AJ — unfortunately for me.

Did your approach to the character change at all over the course of shooting ten episodes?

GELMAN: It was always a balance. What I like about working on this show is there was no right answer ever walking onto the set. There was no this is the joke and this is how it’s done. It was ‘Here’s the scene. There’s a ton of ways we could do it. Which way is the best way?’ So as we went along, my courage to explore grew. That’s what Andrew really encourages. Nat, Judy and Jenny are really fearless as well. I just went for more and more depth with [AJ]. But then at the same time you don’t want to be too heavy handed with it because it’s always a balance between how much he is stepping into his own misery and how much is he avoiding it. That was always the big question of each scene. That got easier to figure out as we went along, but never easier to play.

Were there any storylines that ended up being your favorite?

married-judy-greer-nat-faxonGELMAN: There’s a great bit where I convince Nat to come to my old house, which my family and I haven’t lived in since the divorce and I order two prostitutes just to hang out. There’s just so much great, crazy stuff that I got to play.

What was the balance between improvisation and staying with the script?

GELMAN: It’s a great script. I never felt like ‘Oh — this should be improvised. This has got to be fixed.’ I think that Andrew works in a really free way. We mostly stuck to the script but sometimes we did go off of it. It was always just trying to find the most truthful way to do the scene. Andrew doesn’t like to have it sound like writing so if something was coming off that way we would mess with it.  Sometimes we would improvise and then go back to the script. It was always a really random fluid way of working. There weren’t any rules but I wouldn’t also say there was a ton of improvisation just because the script was so amazing. Andrew, even more than improvising, would be writing on set sometimes — changing certain lines and figuring out what works better after hearing us say them. 

You’ve played a ton of supporting characters. Do you find it liberating that your able to play the eccentric ‘tornado’ as you said? Does being a supporting character allow that?

GELMAN: I think these characters could be the main characters too but I do think the supporting character will always lend itself to being — especially the ones I play — a little bit more flamboyant than the person whose story your following. I’m usually the guy who you simultaneously wish you were and glad you’re not… Andrew really wrote to who we all were. He really locked in to certain sides of all of us. And while this is coming from his own life in a lot of ways, he also was locking into who we are as people and he did that immediately. He’s the best.

married-nat-faxon-judy-greerHow similar do you find the show to Andrew’s other films (Mail Order Bride & The Virginity Hit)?

GELMAN: I think Andrew’s always going for a very real core and I think that the show hits that. The humor comes out of how insane the situation is rather than caring about jokes. He’s not about jokes. He’s about the comedy of the ugliness of life.

Is that tough as a comedian — not going for the jokes?

GELMAN: No – I mean I’m an actor. I’ve always been an actor. I’ve always approached all my comedy as an actor. I don’t really care about jokes either. I tire of jokes. Even the people who do great jokes, [it’s] always coming out of a very real place. Woody Allen — nobody has been a better joke teller than him — and even in his great films, it’s always coming out of the character. If you don’t have that, jokes are just empty and I think that people rely too much on jokes these days. It’s nice to be part of something that is breaking away from that.

Married premieres this Thursday at 10PM on FX.


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