Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd go deep on their new Apple TV+ comedy The Shrink Next Door
The duo headline The Shrink Next Door, a promising Apple TV+ eight-episode series that explores a bizarro, alarming, warped, boundary-busting, co-dependent relationship between therapist and patient. In the dark comedy — which is inspired by Joe Nocera's popular Wondery podcast of the same name — Ferrell stars as eccentric Ivy League-educated textile company boss Martin "Marty" Markowitz, who seeks therapy from charismatic Manhattan psychiatrist-to-the-stars Isaac "Ike" Herschkopf (played by Rudd) in the early '80s. Over the years, though, the (not-so-)good doctor infiltrates virtually every aspect of Marty's life and bank account, masterminding the fracture of his relationship with his sister, taking the reins of Marty's company, and even moving into his summer home in the Hamptons. Launching Nov. 12, The Shrink Next Door also stars Kathryn Hahn (as Marty's sister) and Casey Wilson (as Ike's wife), and is directed by Michael Showalter (The Big Sick). We invited stars/executive producers Rudd and Ferrell onto our virtual couch to ask them about expanding Shrink from podcast to TV, filming during the pandemic, meeting Marty in real life, and, sure, how Ron Burgundy and Brian Fantana would fare in therapy.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What compelled you to tackle — and maybe a better word is "unpack" — this story, which involves manipulation, boundary crossings, ethical violations, textile companies, Swiss bank accounts, and the Hamptons? It's like Marty was under Ike's trance for decades.
WILL FERRELL: First of all, full disclosure, I was not even remotely aware of the podcast until I got a call from [my agency] UTA saying, "There's a chance they want to turn this into a show. You've gotta listen to it." And the thing that intrigued me the most was the fact that you hear the premise of what the podcast is about and what has happened in broad strokes to a guy like Marty, and your initial reaction is, "Oh, that would never happen to me. There's no way I would fall under the spell of a therapist and give over my entire life to them." And then you start digging in and you see the death by a thousand cuts of, "Oh, no, I now see how that could happen to me." [Laughs]
It's so relatable in a way — obviously it has special meaning for anyone who has done any amount of therapy. When we talked to Marty about this, it was a perfect storm of someone in a vulnerable place who had never really sought this type of counsel before and decided to give it a shot, and got some really effective temporary relief right out of the gate and support in a way that he'd never felt and thought, "Let's keep going. I'm going to double down on this whole thing." And then it was the point of no return. So that whole kind of seduction of it at first, and then just the rapid ringing around the toilet bowl before you go down was the part that really jumped out to me.
PAUL RUDD: Same for me. The idea that these characters were real people — it was a real story — but they were also interesting people and an interesting story and [it was] a different kind of character for me to play. Also [it's] not such a crazy story that you can't believe it happened. It made me think of Brian Wilson and Eugene Landy when I heard the podcast. Just watching The Vow — you hear people that are in cults and when they get deprogrammed, they don't seem like crazy people. They just kind of get caught up in it. And I just think our brains are pretty malleable. It's easy to be convinced of something. We do things that seem crazy maybe in retrospect; certainly you look at what's happened politically, and people can be convinced of a lot of things. So it seemed to me that the micro story was a really interesting story. And the macro is: This can be applied to everything that's going on in the world right now.
How would sum up the Marty-Ike relationship that viewers will see unspool in all sorts of twisted and unexpected ways?
RUDD: They are two guys that need each other for different reasons. It's interesting because you hear the podcasts. and then there's the story between the real people, and then there's our story. And it's tough for me to really comment on the real one, because I only know the one that when we did. But it's certainly the same dynamic — and it's the podcast — and we got all the information from Marty and Joe. It's a friendship and a patient-and-doctor relationship that just got out of control. When, how and why — those answers are up for debate, but I do think that they are two guys who did need each other for different reasons.
FERRELL: And there are some elements of it that really mirror a love story in the classic sense, between two people who, at certain points in time, meant so much to each other. And then in a negative sense, as some relationships go, there was a terrible codependency there that was obviously pretty debilitating to one party more than the other. But if I would sum it up, it's kind of a combination of Thelma and Louise meet Butch and Sundance meet Turner and Hooch.
RUDD: With just a little sprinkling of the Sunshine Boys on top. Kind of like powdered sugar on top of the pancake.
FERRELL: Exactly. So between those four, you'll find the bullseye.
When you became interested in telling this story, did you know immediately which of you would be Ike and which would be Marty?
RUDD: We knew. When this came about, Showalter, Will, and I all went in on it together. And it was always with the intention that we were going to be playing the parts that were playing. That was part of the fun.
FERRELL: I don't think we ever had really much of a discussion other than that seemed like, for whatever reasons, the natural choices. I just totally pictured Paul as Ike — and vice versa. So it's funny; we didn't really even have a powwow of, "Hold on. Let's think out loud here. How would it work the other way?" We were just kinda like, "Oh, no, that seems like the right fit."
RUDD: I'm just having this thought now, Will, that maybe we should do this show again; next year we do kind of like a True West thing where we switch off and you play Ike and then I'll play Marty. [They laugh.]
FERRELL: Yeah, and Bonnie… [Ferrell suddenly drops off the call.]
RUDD: What? Hello? Maybe he fell in a hole? [Ferrell reconnects.] I think you were saying: Would Kathryn and Casey switch off, too?
FERRELL: They would switch off, too. That was my really funny joke.
RUDD: Ah, man! I knew it. By the way. I totally knew that's what you were going.
How did Marty feel about turning his very painful story into a dark comedy starring Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd?
FERRELL: We actually flew out to the Hamptons, to his actual house. He was nice enough to have Paul and I and Showalter spend the day with him and his sister. And then Joe Nocero joined us later for lunch. I think [Marty] was open to it, because frankly he was open [about] his story to Joe and the creation of the whole podcast. I remember at one point we just said kind of point blank, "This would be, for a lot of people, just very embarrassing to talk about. What allowed you to be so open about it?" And he just said, "I've been through so much that I just didn't care. I thought, 'What the heck? I'll tell my story? Why not?'" [Laughs] So when we sat down with him, he was just literally an open book and allowed us to have access to him whenever we needed to call him up again or send him an email. But there was never any, "Make sure you portray me in a certain way," or "Do this, or do that." He was just very open to answering any and every question that we had for him.
The Shrink Next Door has good comedy credibility not just in front of the camera — which includes you two, Kathyn, Casey, and Sarayu Blue [as one of Ike's patients] — but behind it, too. It's directed by Michael and written by [Veep/Succession producer] Georgia Pritchett. What was the common thread you were looking for in the mix of comedic people that you brought in?
FERRELL: I think everyone just had the shared vision of: This was all to be played very real. Even though at times [laughs], Paul and I'd be laughing, going, "God, these characters were so heightened in real life!" When you spend time with Marty, he's a real character himself. It's very heightened — the way he moves, the way he talks. But I think everyone that we wanted to cast and become part of this creative process [was] just on the same page that no matter how outlandish the circumstances might get, we were going to be deadly serious about portrayal. And then there's obviously elements in the storytelling that are deadly serious. So we wanted everyone to be able to — hopefully, and I put myself in the same category — handle the acting parts of it that needed to be executed.
You filmed this show during the pandemic. What challenges did that pose? I know that you were able to pull off some of the party scenes...
RUDD: I mean, it was a real challenge. For one thing, we moved the production from New York to L.A. We had more space. We were able to do more things in L.A., even though it's set in New York. We had to rewrite scenes. We did have some party scenes, but some of those party scenes were with hundreds of people that turned out to be about 25 people. And then it's just the protocols of testing and going through everything that we needed to go through to make sure that we can ensure everyone's health. It's tough. We had a lot of material — a lot of dialogue — and it's just another thing that made the day go by a little bit slower and a little bit more challenging. And we had to rewrite certain scenes so that we could tell the story while rethinking what something might look like. A Broadway theater can't be what it is originally in the script. We had to rethink that. There were certain examples like that.
FERRELL: Either every day or every other day, Paul and I would look at each other, and between the workload and the intensity of the material times and wearing our masks, taking them off, being cognizant of all the protocols, we were just like, "Oh, we are never going to forget this work experience and the time and place where we were." It added a whole extra layer, as you can imagine to what we had to do.
Did you have to update the ending, based on recent events in the real-life story?
RUDD: Well, when we started, we knew that there were certain things that were being decided as far as the fate of some of these characters that were put on hold because of COVID. We were very aware while we were shooting that we might be hearing what [the] repercussions of everything are, what's going to happen — and eventually we did, but it came pretty late in our shooting. Honestly, we weren't really thinking about it too much. We had so much to do with just kind of telling the story, we said, "All right, well, eventually we're going to know what's going to happen." And then we found out — everything went down near the end of production. We talked about it, but we didn't dwell on it, weirdly.
FERRELL: No. I guess the final episode is where it would have changed things the most. But I think they'll figure out a way to comment on what eventually happened between the two.
What was the detail in Marty's real-life story that made you say, "This is out of control" — and maybe we'll get to see that scene in the show? I lean to Marty having to type Ike's novels. Or Ike taking over the textile company. Or maybe Marty having to keep his food in the bedroom and not being allowed to use the kitchen...
RUDD: Boy, when you really lay them all out like that...
FERRELL: I know! I'm still amazed that Ike just brazenly put his name on the mailbox of the Hamptons house.
RUDD: That's the one that popped into my head too! [Laughs]
FERRELL: But he kind of hedged, covered all bases by, "Yeah, I'm going to give all appearances that this is my house, but it's going to be Ike Stevens, not Herschkopf." [Stevens was an alias that Herschkopf used for his role as "President" of Markowitz's textile company.] That's always just a phenomenal one to me.
RUDD: There's something very simple in that, that you think, "Really?" That's startling if you think about it. But knowing what is acceptable and allowed in a patient-and-therapist relationship, there's unorthodox methods — and then there's becoming a business partner. [Laughs] And there's moving in. There's so many things that just jump over the line of acceptable behavior, that each one is still just startling to me.
What do you think Ike would say if he watched this show?
RUDD: Oooh. Yeah. I don't know. I mean, I've thought about it a little bit, but I don't think about it too much, you know? I was always aware of while we were shooting it that we didn't really hear [the other] person's side of this.
FERRELL: Marty really kept very detailed records of all their interactions for the most part. But it's true, we don't necessarily know — we got to watch some of the home movies, so we got to see some of Ike's personality in that, a little bit. I don't think there'll be any reason that he'll want to watch it. But maybe the narcissism in him will not allow him not to watch it in a way. I don't know if he'd be like, "Well, that actually, that one part, I did do that." I don't know if he'd ever cop to any of the behavior.
RUDD: I'd imagine he has a different perspective on things.
Which iconic character of yours would you most like to eavesdrop in on a therapy session with a qualified professional?
RUDD: Well, I'm having a tough time remembering what the hell I've done! [They laugh.]
FERRELL: I feel like I've played a lot of people who would refuse to go to therapy. I would say it would be fun to watch Ron Burgundy and Brian Fantana in a joint therapy session.
RUDD: Yeah! Like a couples' therapist!
FERRELL: They think two buddies can go do therapy together.
RUDD: Do you think they would even understand what was going on?
FERRELL: No. And they would think it's like a massage. They would request a female therapist.
RUDD: "Do we get robes for this?"
FERRELL: Ron would probably say, "Hold on — let me ask the questions."
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