Living With Yourself creator on surprise ending of Paul Rudd's clone comedy, Tom Brady cameo
'I wanted to leave them in a situation where they were inextricably tied together,' says Timothy Greenberg.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for season 1 of Living With Yourself.
The only thing better than Paul Rudd is… well, two Paul Rudds. And that doppel-dynamic is deliriously displayed in Living With Yourself, a Netflix comedy in which the Ant-Man star plays Miles, a sighing ad exec who’s going through the existential motions at work and at home with his wife, still-trying Kate (Aisling Bea). After visiting a mysterious spa (frequented by Tom Brady!) that offers the promise of a better him, Miles gets far more than he bargained for when he discovers that his clone has been introduced into the world, and in fact, he’s at home right now, with his wife. Oh, and he’s superior to him in every way. (The only reason that old Miles is still running around confused is because the procedure calls for the original person to be murdered and disposed of, but Miles’ process was botched.)
The first season ends with one of the year’s most unusual and intriguing relationship twists. When old Miles finds out that new Miles slept with Kate, old Miles races over to his apartment to kill him, which is fine with new Miles, who has been rejected by Kate. They fight each other, take a break to take an ax to a credenza, fight some more, and then old Miles almost smothers new Miles to death with a pillow. Realizing what he hath wrought, old Miles desperately revives new Miles with CPR — bringing Rudd closer to himself than ever before — and Kate arrives on the disorienting scene. New Miles announces that he will skip town, but Kate drops huge news on both of them: she’s pregnant — and there’s no DNA test to determine whose baby this is. While old Miles and Kate (who have been trying to have a baby) celebrate with a teary hug, new Miles watches from proudly from a distance. She then invites new Miles into the embrace, and the season ends on her nervous laugh, with a giant question hanging in the air: How the hell is this going to work?
Let’s discard all nearby breast milk and try not to violate Title 21 as we ask Living With Yourself creator Timothy Greenberg to break down that absurd and poignant finale, the trio’s final embrace, and the implications it carries for a potential second season, as well as how future Hall of Fame quarterback and most-certainly-a-clone Tom Brady wound up in the premiere.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did the idea for this clone show originate in your brain?
TIMOTHY GREENBERG: It came from a few different places. When I was a kid, I used to have this recurring nightmare where I’d be sitting at my dining room table and the doorbell would ring. And my grandfather would be next to me. And I’d suddenly be terrified. I tell them not to open the door and they‘d go open it and there’d be another me standing there. To this day, I have no idea of what the dream was about. It was the only recurring nightmare I’ve ever had. In a way, it gets down to the definition of “What am I, and how do I exist in this world?”
More practically, the reason that it came together is in my daily life, I would find myself questioning why I’m not always the person that I think I can or should be or sometimes am. Why am I one day a really great husband to my wife and another day really not? Why can’t we all just always be the best version of ourselves, whether it’s with our loved ones or in our lives? It’s an active question for me. At some point it occurred to me, “What if you could meet another version of yourself? Would that be a good thing? What might you learn from them? Can you model yourself after them or might it make you feel even worse about yourself?” That’s really where it came from: My whole life.
What was the biggest creative challenge for you and Paul in fleshing out and bringing this two distinct characters to life?
One thing we had to be clear about from the beginning was why they each were the way they were. What got Miles to that point? But what are the rules about new Miles? Why is he the way he is? Why is he better? Why is he so open to the world and not afraid? The logic of it is that even though he has the memories of his other self, those memories were implanted and he hasn’t himself lived through and suffered the pain of life, like Miles had. It’s the difference between remembering that something happened and really having the emotional attachment to the same degree — including all the bad things. Paul had his own ways to interpret what new Miles was like from his own life — times where he had been more like new Miles where he had been more cynical like Miles. And he understood that from early on, even before he fully agreed to do it. He and I would go through scripts reading them together and he would talk about things from his life to describe how he saw those characters. And they were great examples. I couldn’t have come up with anything better myself….
This is a different Paul Rudd than most people have usually seen. He’s done a lot of wonderful things in his career and I’ve always been a huge fan, but I do think that certainly by taking these two roles, [and] to some degree even playing original Miles, it’s not quite the character that we usually see from him. If anything, the actual Paul in real life and the Paul we’re used to seeing on screen is more new Miles. I also think that his range is incredible. He’s funny, he’s dramatic. There are moments where he’s a little scary. There are moments where it is ideally heartwarming or sad, and I think he brings all that range to it in a way that I really thank God we got him.
There’s much to explore with Miles and his lot in his disaffected life, and new Miles winds up reminding him what he has is special with Kate. Was there additional — and maybe even greater appeal — in delving into this concept of clone angst? New Miles misses what he never had. He even goes so far as to try to kill himself, and watching him struggle through the different ways to do it while making sure he looks presentable was amusing and poignant….
I mean, weirdly, it’s something I can connect to. This is a really crazy thing to say, but I have maybe a mental disorder that makes me feel like I’m not totally sure that I am who I think I am? [Laughs] So if somebody walked in here right now and could prove to me that I am actually a clone version of Tim Greenberg, I can absolutely answer what that would feel like — the terror of that and the horror and the sadness is just something that I find really compelling and that I can very much imagine. It’s been done before in different ways, the movie Moon did that a bit, and I’m sure many other things. A lot of us can connect with it some reason, I’m not quite sure why. Maybe it has something to do with the way our brains construct the notion of self, which is in some ways as Buddhism tells us is like an artificial construct — but practical so that you know not to cut off your own hand. I can just really connect to that. And I think that it’s a very powerful thing.
I know that you are a Jets fan. Why did you pursue Tom Brady for that cameo? And were you throwing around several names?
There was only one name ever. We had some other names for if Tom Brady says no, and they were not nearly as good. But there’s nobody like Tom Brady. When I wrote the thing four and a half years ago, Tom Brady was 37 years old, had just come off winning his fourth Super Bowl. Because of that, he was the model of perfection. You just couldn’t think of anybody that’s more perfect. How could he possibly be still performing at that level? At his age, it was unheard of. And just the way he looks. He looks impossibly perfect; he looks like he’s a clone. The only possible explanation — I still halfway believe this — is that he’s a clone.
And then by the time we film the damned thing, especially as a Jets fan, it’s four years later, he’s won two more damn Super Bowls! We had to wait to film him because he was off winning his sixth Super Bowl at age 41! So he became even more perfect for the part since I had first written him in. And when I explained that to him, his entire response was just to hold up his hand in like a fist bump, like, “Yeah, I did.” [Laughs]. That was a pretty good response. There’s no explanation for how he does it. Don’t give me that TB12 stuff. He’s definitely cloning himself or something. And I’m not trying to imply that he’s using PEDs or something because I don’t think he is. He’s so damn perfect that guy, in every aspect of his life. It had to be Tom Brady.
The interesting wrinkle to that story, of course, is… with what went down with [Patriots owner] Robert Kraft [who] got busted in a massage parlor that is identical to the one that we were doing. Once that happened — Paul texted me or I texted him and we were like, “Oh my God, can you believe this? There’s no way Brady’s doing it now.” And then eventually he agreed. And I don’t know why. [Laughs] I don’t know if people won’t make the connection, maybe nobody cares anymore. [UPDATE: Brady has denied any correlation.] But he did it. So we didn’t ask him why. But I’m glad he did because he was great and I can’t think of anybody that would’ve been better for that.
Were you also nervous that he might not want to do it after Deflategate because this scene also contains a subtle dig at the lengths he’ll go to gain an advantage?
When I wrote it, that was exactly my intention… I think it was right after Deflategate. And then in his fifth Super Bowl against Atlanta where he almost singlehandedly came back from what was it like, 25 points? That actually turned me from “I hate Tom Brady, no matter what!” to “You know what? This guy is the best there ever was.”… Now I don’t hate him, I just hate the Patriots. And I hate the fact that they beat us all the time, but I perfectly respect him.
Did you get a sense why he did this cameo? Was he a big Paul Rudd fan?
I honestly don’t know. I have no idea other than I guess he thought it would be fun, but I didn’t want to ask. [Laughs]
What was harder to choreograph: Paul Rudd fighting himself and giving himself mouth-to-mouth or the dance routine to Rick James’ “Give it to Me”?
The fight was much harder — just technically. And we did a lot of different versions of writing. The dance, as far as I was concerned, was easy in that that we’d hired a wonderful choreographer [Jenni Shore]. She, along with Aisling and Paul, all worked on it together. We talked with Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the directors, about what we wanted out of the dance and what it meant and what style of dancing to these two characters would have. Everybody brought their different ideas to it and we wanted to make it work for Paul and Aisling. And if I was going to have any directors to do a big dance number at the end, I mean, you want the directors of Little Miss Sunshine.
[The fight scene] took a long time to shoot. What I first wrote was a very simple one-third of a paragraph that just described what happens, but not really the actual actions. Then when John and Val came on, they’re like, “You know, we actually have to film this, which means you need to write the fight scene.” We rewrote it a few times and for a long time new Miles lived in a townhouse where his bedroom was up some stairs — I had written it across two floors. And when we eventually found a location, I had to rewrite it again.
Once we had the basic notion on paper, then we brought on the Kuperman brothers [Jeff and Rick] who looked a lot like Paul. They were dancers and stunt coordinators and acrobats themselves. We described to them that we wanted it to be a fight between two people who physically, they’re perfectly matched, so what would that be like? And also, they’re not very good at fighting, so what would that be like? They took what I had written and did more with it and choreographed it further [with] a lot of really nice elements, like where they kick each other and fly back. And then we wove it all back together into the plan. So there was all that before we even rolled. The filming of it was at least four days long. It was just slow and technical, and sometimes it was stunts and sometimes it was waiting a long time for the VFX people to do their thing. And intermixed with all that was a lot of performance and a little bit of comedy. It was a lot.
You end the season on a surprising and almost-sentimental twist. How did you arrive at the idea of the three of them raising this baby together as your final image of the season?
I wanted to leave them in a situation where they were inextricably tied together. Why do they have to stay together? One measure of a good story is if one character could just walk off and be okay, then the stakes are not built correctly. So for most of the story, it’s that both new Miles and Miles want the same life, and neither is just willing to walk off — although New Miles almost does, but he realizes that’s not what he wants. So at the end here, once new Miles realizes he’s not going to be with Kate, what else can keep them together? Well, what’s even a step up from your wife? It’s now your child! So the fact that they all now feel legitimately and correctly that they are a parent to this child to come really ties them together more inextricably than ever before. I just love that notion. I also think it’s about: “How do we manage our better and worst selves in a marriage or with our families or in our life?” Now they’re stuck with it. [Laughs] There’s been the better and worse version of Miles throughout the story to this point. Now this marriage and this family is going to be stuck with the better and worse version of Miles, and what’s that going to be like? There’s a heightening of the stakes in that way.
Did you consider at any point in the writing process killing new Miles or did that maybe ruin the prospects of the second season, which might have been How to Get Away With Clone Murder?
I wasn’t worried about a second season in that way. The question is: Is either version of Miles willing to kill the other? Which is another way of saying: are they willing to kill themselves? My answer early on was that, while they might get very close, they were not willing to go that far. That’s not to say that it’s not worth considering, but I just felt like that wasn’t who they were.
It’s not. And that act might be like killing a part of yourself that you can’t deny, even if it’s latent.
Not to be too meta about it, but there is that line in where Miles is working on his play and new Miles has written in that lead [character] kills the other. And he says, “He would never do that!” And new Miles says, “Why?” He says, “Because he’s me!” To some extent that’s true for these characters. I’m not saying these characters are me because they’re not, but I can relate to a character who might almost want to kill oneself but ultimately really never would. I have a harder time relating to a character who would go all the way because that’s just not who I am.
After Kate reveals she’s pregnant and she welcomes new Miles into the hug, she laughs nervously and looks overwhelmed, like, “What am I doing? Am I sure about this?” Have you figured out the full ramifications of inviting new Miles into this untraditional family? After all, as she says, it is a “monumentally confusing time.”
I certainly haven’t figured out all the ramifications if there were a future season. I think we’ve set up a potentially interesting dramatic question of: What would that be like? And I think we can see on Kate’s face that it would be very challenging [laughs], and the thing that they’ve wished for, is it what they really want? I mean, [Bea’s] performance there is fantastic. It’s also exactly what we wanted. And if I recall correctly, we dropped the music out before we cut to black. So you’re left there in silence and you kinda hear her give that nervous laugh. And that’s very, very intentional. We’ve just experienced this really wonderful, heartwarming moment. They’re having a baby! They all come and hug, and then we have just a moment of undercutting it where we say, “Well, hold on a second! Is that really going to work out?” and then go to credits. [Laughs] That is exactly what I wanted to do — a big satisfying, lovely ending, “Aww, it’s so sweet!” and then “Hold on a second. How is this gonna work?” Oh, welp, too late, it’s over!
Are they now the most unconventional — and please forgive me for using this word — throuple?
I guess if we’re talking about reality, they would be the most unconventional throuple. I have friends who have all kinds of iterations of throuples and quadruples and whatever you call it, different ways of rearing children and different parental groups. So there’s actually a lot of interesting stuff to write. Although, I don’t think that’s primarily what it’s about. But you’re right. This is going to be some kind of bizarre throuple moving forward.
Is it possible that there is a test or a marker on the clone DNA that only the spa guys know about and we could eventually find out whose baby this is? Or do you like the idea that we will just never know?
Who knows, maybe scientifically you could tell. If you wanted to check Kate’s ovulation cycle, you could probably figure out who’s more likely to be the dad or not. But I much, much, much prefer the idea that you don’t ever know. There was some conversation that maybe we don’t do that, and I was utterly adamant about keeping it that way because I just think that’s kind of the whole point, you know? So I don’t think they will ever know. Personally, I don’t think it matters. I have friends who, whether they adopt or the parents was a sperm donor or an egg donor, I don’t think it matters at all. I think the kid is your kid regardless of the genes. But I do like the idea that they can’t really argue that point. They all have equal claim, no matter what. So in that way, it’s a very equal share.
That may be another way of me just asking the question I really want to: can we see more of the spa guys?
I can’t say for sure what the story would be, but in my mind — and this was from very early on — the spa guys [Rob Yang’s Youngsu and James Seoul’s Jung-Ho], not both of them so much, but Youngsu, the one [with] the daughter, he’s got a very, very big backstory and story line that I would love to get into. That’s why we cast Rob Yang. We saw a few things, but his work on Succession season 1, I only saw his couple of scenes, where his character turns from this geeky tech guy into a real badass. That kind of depth was why we cast him and we barely used him this season. When you revisit him in episode 4 and you get a sense of, “Oh, he’s got this whole other life,” that we see just a hint of that. But we were very, very clear we needed somebody in that role who can carry a much bigger part in the future because we intend for that part to be much bigger. Whether or not that actually happens, I don’t know. But that is my hope. I have some ideas around that character and scenes that I would love to do because I’m super excited about it. We’ll see. Maybe a spinoff. [Laughs]
Living With Yourself