Casual episode 9: Tommy Dewey, Marielle Heller talk The Lake
Every week the cast and crew of Hulu’s dark comedy Casual will be taking EW behind the scenes: For each episode, one member will be recapping and sharing their thoughts on what went down in addition to walking us through the ins-and-outs of the show. But this week, we have two! Tommy Dewey (Alex) and director Marielle Heller (she also directed The Diary of a Teenage Girl) have been friends for 15 years and decided to talk about episode 9, “The Lake,” over an email exchange. Listen in…
MARIELLE HELLER: I love that the s— really starts hitting the fan in this episode. It made it a really juicy episode to direct. There is so much tension from the fact that the consequences of these big life choices are starting to catch up to each and every character. Laura has chosen to pursue her feelings for Spencer over Aubrey, and she has to deal with the consequences of that choice. Val has chosen her romance with Jack over her loyalty to Alex, and is so conflicted about that choice, and Alex has chosen to re-explore this old relationship with Sarah over his professional career, which immediately feels like a really bad decision. Why is it so fun to watch you make bad decisions, Tommy?
I really enjoyed the structure of this episode: That our three main people are off on their own adventures, just flailing about, making questionable choices, and needing desperately to talk to each other about it, but they can’t quite reach out. At least not until it’s too late.
It was very satisfying directing that final scene where you are so down from having signed the Snooger buy-out, and you come home to find Sarah having redecorated your living room. Finding a way to reveal that and have it play on your face was one of the great joys of this episode. What did you think when you saw that furniture?
Okay and now the burning question — how happy were you that I didn’t have to direct you in a naked sex scene? We’ve been friends for 15 years. Would that have been awkward or what?
TOMMY DEWEY: I couldn’t be more thankful that you didn’t have to direct me with my clothes off. I’m confident our friendship would have survived, but we might have needed professional help. Alternatively, I am beyond happy that you arrived at Casual for episode 9. As you mentioned, the chickens are coming home to roost for these characters, and the emotions that Alex tries so desperately to keep buried are starting to surface. Having an old friend guide me through some pretty complicated stuff was a unique privilege… we also had a blast at lunch, regaling cast and crew with stories from our younger days, including the one about you saving my life in London when a one-eyed man rushed me with a broken bottle.
You’re spot-on regarding the need for our central trio to connect and deal with unresolved issues, and I love how you infused this episode with a sense of inevitability that they will collide soon. How did you approach establishing cohesiveness, when our stories were so separate on the page?
And I love the re-furnishing of the house. You and the production team hit just the right note there — it was perfectly bad, without being too over-the-top. (I was legitimately bothered when I first saw the transformed room.)
You also directed episode 10. How is shooting a mini-movie three-quarters of the way through a television season different than shooting a feature?
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HELLER: I was so pleased that I got to direct two episodes in a row, because it felt more like doing a movie. Having longer arcs to track with the characters, and getting to build tension over two episodes was really great. The two episodes also function together: There are clear beginnings, middles, and ends to each of your storylines that get set up in episode 9 and end in episode 10. In many ways, there was an insular quality to these two episodes, and that was very satisfying for me as a director. As for keeping you three as characters cohesive amidst your separation, I feel like that was more on your shoulders as actors. You are all so connected as a cast, I think you were all tracking each other in pretty astute ways. It’s a joy to watch a cast who has so much respect for each other and likes working together as much as you guys do.
I wonder what the cast and crew thought about our trips down memory lane. I feel like for the first few days, we kept it really professional on set. Most people probably didn’t even know that we knew each other and had a long history. Then somewhere around day 3, at lunch we started telling stories about our days in London watching the World Cup, loudly recalling our 15-year-old inside jokes, and then it was all over. Our professionalism was out the window. But, that guy with a broken bottle who robbed us was no joke! And I really did save your life, or at least saved you from getting arrested. These things must be noted.
Getting serious though, it was really special for me to get to witness and be a part of this show because of our personal relationship. We have watched each other struggle through the business for so many years — through huge disappointments and near misses. And this show feels like the perfect fit for you. You’re so good in this part, the writers are so great, and the whole environment is a joy. And it felt like this great celebration of both of our separate successes to get to work together in this capacity. How lucky are we?
DEWEY: We actors really appreciate getting to work with directors over a two week/two episode span. On other half-hour shows (many of them, like Casual, get five shooting days per episode), I often feel as though I’m just getting to know a director, and then they’re gone. By giving each director two episodes, Casual maintains a consistency and flow that is crucial to a serialized show. Nowhere was this more important than it was in your episodes. I won’t spoil episode 10 here, but I’m glad you held on to the baton for it…
I’ll disagree with you on one item: To the cast and crew, you were the epitome of professionalism, and I got a real kick out of watching you run a set. (That said, I’ve apologized to everyone for the hour or two we spent doubled over laughing.) As for you and me, we’re lucky as hell. It’s been a bumpy ride, but some things are worth the wait — I’m blown away by the work you’ve done in recent years, and can’t wait for what’s to come. Suffice it to say, I’m already scheming for us to end up on the same set again soon. And, before we sign off here, I think it’s important to give that London cabbie some credit for our escape from peril.