Billy Epstein and Julie Kessler may not be stars yet, but they can sure attract an impressive array of famous faces. For the second season of their bitingly funny Hulu series Difficult People (premiering Tuesday, July 12), co-stars Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner packed the show with celebrity guests.
“Our characters are obsessed with pop culture, so as best as we can, it’s very important for us to have real celebrities and real TV shows that we’re referencing,” Klausner pointed out to EW.
The new season sees Eichner and Klausner’s alterego characters besmirching Lin-Manuel Miranda, buddying up with Julianne Moore, and ruthlessly bullying Nathan Lane.
“Next year we’re going to drag around the corpse of Jackie Gleason and maybe Fanny Brice. It’s going to be all dead people, because at this point we’ve run out of living people that we actually like,” Eichner quipped. “We’ll see — that’s a good sweeps stunt. Hulu will definitely be impressed with our ability to get the corpse of Fanny Brice on the show. You won’t see that on The Path!”
Before Eichner and Klausner got too carried away coming up with storylines involving Jackie Gleason’s dead body, they filled EW in on what it was like to work with the living superstars appearing on Difficult People season 2.
Julianne Moore shows up at the end of the second season, playing a “development executive who pretends to be a girl’s girl but really is this awful person,” Klausner says. As it turns out, the character is based on someone who works with a famous actor in real life.
“There are a lot of women who work in development who pretend to be a girl’s girl, like, ‘We’re BFFs, let’s have a slumber party,’ and in fact she’s just like a total Hollywood jerk,” Klausner said. “We wrote this role for her and she really just created the character and took it into this place. She has these affectations, and really plays a very specific show business person. It’s pretty amazing.”
Moore had a relationship with both Eichner and Klausner before her Difficult People guest spot. A few months back, the Oscar-winning actress went all out in her appearance on his hit Billy on the Street, which Eichner said was actually set up through direct messaging on Twitter.
“Julianne had been following me on Twitter, and she had done Julie’s podcast. I think she was a fan of mine and a fan of Julie,” Eichner explained. “I DMed her privately on Twitter to be on Billy on the Street — I didn’t go through a publicist or an agent or anything. I didn’t know if she’d ever get back to me, because although she was following me, I’d never met her and we didn’t really even tweet each other. But she got back to me within an hour and said that she was a big fan of the show and that she would do it.”
Apparently, Moore’s enthusiasm for working with Eichner and Klausner never abated — Klausner said that the actress had actually asked them to write her a part on Difficult People.
“Julianne Moore has only been super nice to me and Billy to the extent where we’re like, ‘Does she know our work?’” Klausner said, laughing. “She was like, ‘I want to do your show; write me a part.’ We thought, ‘Well, what do we want to have her do?’ One world is where she plays Julianne Moore, but you wanna watch her act.”
Both Klausner and Eichner used the same glowing phrase to describe working with Broadway great Nathan Lane: “A dream come true.” Lane appears as himself in the second episode of the season, in which he enters a screaming match with Billy and Julie after they convince him to stick his hand in a public toilet.
“If we have an opportunity to bully Nathan Lane, we’d be fools not to take it,” Klausner said.
Eichner added “It’s just an honor to be screamed at by Nathan Lane. And perhaps I’m carrying the screaming torch. I’m not saying I’m nearly as talented as he is, but I definitely come from the same school of comedy that Nathan Lane does.”
“I did make him laugh at one point when we were in the bathroom yelling at him!” Klausner recalled. “A lot of that was improvised, and during one of the takes I saw him laugh and I was way happier than I had ever been around the birth of a child or whatever other things people get weepy about, I don’t know.”
Working with Lane was just as monumental for Eichner, who described instantly idolizing him after seeing him in a Guys and Dolls revival as a kid.
“I just could not be a bigger fan of Nathan Lane,” Eichner gushed. “I grew up in New York and I went to a lot of Broadway shows with my parents as a kid, and Nathan is obviously a Broadway legend. I think the first time I saw him on stage was in the big revival of Guys and Dolls that he did back in ’92. I was a kid, like 13 years old I think, and he just became one of my heroes instantly and I just followed his career forever.”
Tina Fey also plays herself in the second season, popping up in the premiere to reveal her new job: the director of a Blacklist episode.
“The fact that I got to write that joke about James Spader wearing a 50-piece suit and [Fey] having to approve all the pieces, and that she actually said that, I have to say is kind of the highlight of my life,” said Klausner, who also writes for the series.
And yes, developing scenes for acclaimed comedy writer Fey is a pretty daunting task. “To have to go to her with something that you wrote that’s trying to be funny is like getting naked in front of a Playboy model,” Klausner said. “It’s very vulnerable!”
It seems that Lin-Manuel Miranda is everywhere these days, and that includes the second season of Difficult People! The Hamilton creator shows up during one of Eichner and Klausner’s favorite episodes of the show, which features their characters putting on a musical inspired by former President Jimmy Carter. To drum up an audience, Billy and Julie print flyers with a made-up quote from Miranda saying that their musical is better than Hamilton. An enraged Miranda confronts the pair on misquoting him.
“He was so enthusiastic and really committed to it, and we were ad-libbing together,” Eichner said. “I’m in the scene with him, it’s only one scene, but it’s me and him going at it once he realizes I’m lying to people and saying the version of Hamilton I’m doing with Julie is better than his.”
Miranda was so committed to the guest spot, in fact, that he showed up to film it mere hours after having performed and won at the Grammy Awards.
“He was filming the Grammys the night before and came at 6 in the morning to do that with us,” Klausner said.
Luckily for Difficult People fans, Eichner has been friends with Miranda since the two of them were just starting out in comedy together.
“I’ve known Lin for 10 years, maybe more. We kind of came up together,” Eichner said. “He has a hip-hop-influenced improv comedy troupe, Freestyle Love Supreme, and he would perform in the same theaters where I had my live comedy shows called Creation Nation with Robin Lord Taylor. We would often cross paths and we became mutual friends and fans of each other’s shows.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda isn’t the only of Eichner’s good friends to appear this season — the comedian is also very close with Joel McHale, who plays a personal trainer with dubious motives named Felix.
“I just love Joel McHale. He’s one of my absolute favorite people that I’ve met in the crazy world of show business thus far, on-screen and off,” Eichner raved. “We were looking to cast this role, and we wanted someone who was really funny with a bit of an edge, and also someone who’d be able to improvise with us comfortably. I actually pitched Julie the idea of Joel, because I knew Joel was a fan of the show, and she loved the idea.”
Filming McHale’s episode wasn’t smooth sailing for Eichner. While on set, a Boar’s Head truck rammed into Eichner’s trailer while he was inside, leaving him bruised and shaken. Thankfully, McHale was around to comfortingly heckle Eichner immediately after the near-death experience.
“As soon as I got out I was emotionally shaken for a few hours because it was a very close call, and of course Joel was immediately cracking jokes about it,” Eichner said. “He was making fun of me for almost getting killed, and that’s Joel and I adore him.”
Luann de Lesseps and Sonja Morgan
Before she was writing and starring in Difficult People, Julie Klausner wrote recaps for the Real Housewives shows for Vulture. In this season of Difficult People, Klausner wasn’t just watching Real Housewives of New York City standouts Luann de Lesseps and Sonja Morgan on TV — she was working alongside them.
“It was completely surreal,” Klausner said of working with the duo. “They’re both lovely. Even in the history of my recapping, Luann’s always been my favorite housewife. I don’t think I’ve ever said anything nasty about her because even when she’s wrong you don’t hold it against her. You’re just like, ‘Oh, Luann.'”
Morgan and de Lesseps play themselves in a storyline with Andrea Martin, who portrays Julie’s mother Marilyn. According to Klausner, the story toys around with the ridiculous drama in Bravo shows, but getting “The Countess” herself to guest star on Difficult People was no drama at all.
“Luann had read in an interview that she was my favorite housewife and reached out to me and we had breakfast,” Klausner recalled. “I was like, ‘Well, we have to do something with you for the show,’ and she said ‘Absolutely, darling.’”
Nyle DiMarco has won America’s Next Top Model, Dancing With the Stars, and now Billy’s heart. The model and actor, who is deaf, plays a love interest for Eichner’s character in the second episode of the season, but unfortunately Billy can’t seem to communicate with him effectively.
“He just had a wonderful sense of humor and was really willing to go for it,” Eichner said. “He’s a really wonderful person, and incredibly easy to work with.”
When asked whether the story about a deaf crush or the casting of DiMarco came first, Klausner said that they wrote the script before he had been cast.
“We had him in mind because at the time he had done Top Model and we knew that there was a super hot deaf guy on the scene,” Klausner said. “But it did come from the idea of Billy dates a deaf guy and the deaf guy’s interpreter tries to cockblock him. So that was the story, and then we tried to get Nyle first, and we did.”
For a season filled with incredible stars, there is one that really stood out for Eichner’s mind. Rapper Method Man plays Billy and Julie’s manager in the new season, and his comedic talents not only wowed Eichner, but also Difficult People executive producer Amy Poehler.
“I was blown away by how funny he was,” Eichner said. “Amy Poehler was there the day he filmed, and we all were just raving about him and trying to figure out ways to add him into episodes, because he’s so funny.”
Method Man has acted in comedies before, such as 2001’s How High and more recently in Trainwreck and Keanu, but his sense of humor was an amazing surprise for Eichner.
“Perhaps I should’ve known this already because I feel like he’s done a fair amount of comedy, but I will plead ignorant to not knowing this before: Method Man is absolutely hilarious and has such a dry delivery,” Eichner said. “And he’s fully committed 100 percent to the comedy, even to the most obscure pop culture references that are very much in the Julie-Billy world that you would think may not be in Method Man’s world. He completely embraced it and absolutely loved it.”