Netflix’s Love: Paul Rust On Building The Modern Romance

Netflix’s ultra-real rom-com Love returns for a second season, and we chat with its star and co-creator.

Love came in like a hurricane on Netflix last year, presenting an incredibly honest, raw take on what modern relationships can look like. The series, led by Paul Rust and Gillian Jacobs, digs into the many moments—both good and bad—that fill relationships. It might seem like the last thing that the world needs is another relationship sitcom or romantic comedy, but Love remarkably goes against the grain and becomes magnetic in the flawed-but-real relationship it presents between Gus and Mickey. 

Love’s second season doubles down on both its commitment to relationships as well as its flawed honesty, becoming an even more layered show in the process. On the cusp of its new season, we chatted with series co-creator and star, Paul Rust, about finding the authenticity in relationships, the importance of damaged characters, and writing non-existent theme songs for movies.

DEN OF GEEK: Love was one of my absolute favorite shows from last year due to just how real and honest of a relationship story it presented. What was your mission statement or goal going into this season? Did you know where you’d be going with things back when you ended the first season?

PAUL RUST: Yeah, what’s really fun about this show is sort of having short-term plans—and I realize that this sounds risky to not have longer long term plans—but the fun of writing the show is discovering things organically, much like you would in a relationship. You start initially realizing what’s working, but also what the most interesting material is. A lot of times what we’ll do before we start a season, whether it’s ten episodes—or in this case, twelve—we’ll write everything up until the last two before we start shooting, then once we’re shooting it’s fun to be like, “Okay, knowing all of this, how do we end the season?” So yeah, going into the second season I think the only thing that we really knew was that things feel best when the show is going for authenticity. That’s always the operating principle in the writing, shooting, editing. Just trying to make things feel as authentic and real as possible. 

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It’s funny you say that because I think the show does do a really good job at feeling like a relationship. These two seasons almost work better together as two very different halves of Mickey and Gus’ relationship. The show is great with having some dire moment arrive and then completely re-contextualizing it, like how relationships often feel.

That’s been the fun of talking to people who watch the show. It’s fun learning who’s side they take and why. When we’re working on the show we try very hard to make you—not necessarily agree with what each character is doing, but at least to understand it. So making sure that a situation is never tilted too far to one person’s side over the other. A lot of times people will leave an episode thinking, “Oh, they were both right and both wrong for different reasons.” I love that. 

Yeah, you guys do a really effective job at making it clear that neither Mickey nor Gus is the sole main character or the “right” one through all of this.

I think we knew from the very beginning of the show that Mickey was going to be the more troubled character. It was going to be really gross if I was playing someone totally scuff-free. The word “scuff” we use a lot. Like “how can we scuff this person up in this scene?” So things don’t feel too one-sided.

I also love that this season also puts the audience through some really complicated feelings watching Mickey and Gus together. Whenever they hook up it simultaneously feels like a triumph and a backslide. What’s your take on them and what do you think is the best thing for them?

Lately I’ve been thinking about in the second season—and in the first season, too—they see a red flag and they run towards it. It entices them. For me, that’s not only been my experience in my own relationships, but from seeing other people’s relationships, the high of meeting someone for the first time and getting such a great impulse, but it does sort of narrow your vision so you can’t see some of the issues that are there. Somebody said once that the show isn’t a “will they/won’t they” it’s a “should they/shouldn’t they.” For me, that is authentic. Most relationships probably start with people going, “Meh, it’s probably best not to be embarking in this relationship.” We do it though because our brains are wired to make babies or whatever. 

On the topic of authenticity, I love that this season really digs into Mickey’s therapy and her SLAA meetings. It opens up such a nice side of her character and Gillian really rises to the material. Were you excited to sort of dig deeper into all of that this year?

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Yeah, Gillian is such a tremendous actor and it’s really been fun watching her match the material and then go above and beyond it. As a writer and performer with her, that’s really such a fun thing to witness. Then in terms of the character and going deeper with her and all of her issues, that’s the thing that TV is really the best at—outside of a novel. I love movies, and I probably love movies more than TV, but the thing that you can’t do as well in a movie is expand a character in that way. With TV every episode is a new challenge to see how you can deepen the character. That’s on the forefront of my mind more than story, plot, or whatever. We just want you to understand these characters better.

On the topic of the supporting characters on the show, Birdie really gets a great showcase this year. You do a good dissection of her and people who rush into life decisions and don’t realize how poor they might be. What were you hoping to say this season with her?

I think with Birdie the thing that was the most fun to explore with that character and make her complex, is that the friend of the romantic lead in a romantic comedy a lot of the time is a person that can only be a cheerleader or finger-wagger to what the main character is doing. With Birdie we were just trying to give her her own life and dimensions outside of Mickey. The idea struck us—and this will happen a lot of the time—that you’ll make a decision in season one like her being Mickey’s roommate, so we’ll just say that she recently moved to America. So you make that decision and move on. Then you come back in a second season and you get to actually think about those details and explore them further. Those things end up opening so many possibilities for future stories.

That story she tells about the dead rabbit is so insane! Is that going to get revisited in any sense? I’m all for Birdie slowly becoming a serial killer on this show.

Yeah because of the things that they say about serial killers, right? That they mutilate animals when they’re younger before moving on. We have a writer on the show, Rebecca Addelman, who I asked to do some punch-up on that scene between Gus and Birdie and she turned that over. I remember reading it, laughing out loud, and deciding that it’s got to go in. It’s making me laugh and I’m a cold-hearted person.

You pull off a pretty wonderful shrooms episode. Was doing a big drug trip episode something you were eager to do in this show? How did this story come about?

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I think that came about because we were interested in putting Mickey into a situation where she’s newly sober and put in a position where she’s in charge and has responsibility. What we like to do sometimes in the writers room is go, “Okay, they’ve been together one month, two months now. What do you like to do two months into a relationship? What are your experiences?” Mushrooms seemed like a good fit here since it’s still a little early in the relationship and you’re worried about exposing something about yourself. We definitely tried—or at least the take on this was supposed to be to try doing something unexpected. I think most people would think that Gus would take mushrooms and flip out, so we kind of liked the idea of him doing them and going, “Hey, that was fun!” Which is typically something you can’t do on network. You can’t have somebody take hallucinogenic drugs and go, “That was fun!”

On the topic of how long these two have been in a relationship together, you guys do an episode towards the end of the season that crams 24 days of story into a single episode. Was that crazy, considering up until that point only about 3 to 4 weeks have passed over the course of the entire series? You have this very condensed timeline and then blow it up. Was there any hesitation with that at all?

Yeah! I get nervous about moving stuff along because since the first season Judd [Apatow] was really adamant about—it was sort of one of the top three decisions that we made early on—about going really slow. That was one of Judd’s major contributions to things. So I became obsessed with that. Even in season two, if we showed Gus and Mickey parking a car and then cut to them in the location, I’d be so obsessed and be all, “No! We have to show them getting into the room.” Just the idea of tracking every single moment became really, really fun. After a while I realized that this is impossible though. That’s why you cut stuff out, condense things, and don’t show everything. 

So surprisingly by the time we got to that time jumping episode, it didn’t make me anxious but actually got me really excited. I think the thing that sort of makes it work is that it’s about them being apart through that time. It doesn’t feel like you’re jumping over moments that you’d like to watch them share together. The writers are always trying to think how to shake things up structurally because when doing this thing—and I like it—but it’s very easy to have every episode be morning at the top and night when it ends. It’s a solid format, but the more we can play with it, the more fun it becomes for me.

Totally. As soon as that episode begins it feels very different and sort of wakes you up. One of my favorite touches from the show is the theme songs that you write for movies that don’t have one. I assume this is something that you actually do in real life?

It’s not! I wish it was! 

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Oh man! It seems very in character for you, and I mean that as the biggest of compliments.

It’s funny. I love watching movies. That’s like my favorite thing to do with friends. And I love playing music. So it’s great to just marry these two ideas together. I think it came about when we decided that we wanted Gus and his friends to be a big fan of movies and TV, but it’s really difficult doing that and making it active. So that really came out of us being like, “How can we have a bunch of people just hanging out, but it feeling active?” We’ve got some new ones in there this season! It’d also be a shame if I didn’t mention that Mike Cassady co-wrote all of those songs with me. We’re a part of a band “Don’t Stop Or We’ll Die” so we’ve been writing songs together for years. But Mike is the genius being those songs!

Lastly Paul, is there a particular moment from this season of the show that you’re especially proud of or looking forward for people to see?

Yeah, I like that this season lets you see more moments between Mickey and Gus where they’re not fighting and actually functioning well together. The most fun stuff to write and shoot is just the characters hanging out. As simple as that sounds, it’s the most pleasurable part of the show. In terms of my favorite moments, without spoiling anything, there’s a moment in an episode where Mickey asks Gus if she’s a bad person. She asks Gus to share his insecurities and she shares hers. They support each other in that moment of being vulnerable. 

I think it’s sort of rare in TV shows or movies to see people being vulnerable. That’s sort of scary to an audience. You’re watching something so you can identify with the characters. A lot of times people would rather identify with someone being strong, being the asshole, or coming into the room with the pithy one-liner. For me, the thing I like is having people identify with material that they might be scared to admit to. That’s the thing I’m most excited about with season two.

Love’s entire second season premieres March 10th on Netflix.

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