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June 9, 2017
Interview: Lucas Neff on Starring in ‘I Love You Both’, Bad Dates, and Art That Makes Him Happy
Courtesy Magnolia Pictures

Boy meets girl, boy meets girl’s brother, boy dates girl and her brother. As far as romantic comedies go, I Love You Both is certainly one of the most refreshing takes on the genre in recent years, written by real life siblings Doug and Kristin Archibald who also play onscreen fraternal twins Krystal and Donny, the film plays with the concept of breaking up codependent relationships. Their mutual love interest is played by Lucas Neff, best known for his breakthrough performance in the critically acclaimed sitcom Raising Hope. In I Love You Both, Neff plays Andy, a guy who seems unsure of what he wants, but who’s not unaware of the power he has over those who are attracted to him. Considering Neff has such a warm screen presence, it’s a joy to see what he does with a character who isn’t always likable, and it’s even more delightful to see the kind of chemistry he develops with his co-stars.

Besides I Love You Both, Neff is currently starring in the ABC series Downward Dog where he plays Jason, the ex-boyfriend of leading lady Nan (Allison Tolman) who lives with her philosophizing dog Martin. Both projects are perfect showcases for Neff’s unique kind of humor and his knack for naturalistic comedic timing. I spoke to him about playing Andy, what TV shows he’s obsessed with, and some acting experiments he would like to try out.

Why did you want to play Andy?

Honestly it was meeting and talking to Doug and Kristin, sometimes it’s hard to tell how things will translate from the page to the screen, but when we read the script together for the first time they immediately established the attitude of behavior for the actors, where everything was going to be very understated and relaxed. They wanted things to feel simple and human, sadly in this day and age there are less opportunities to be in a relaxed movie where people behave like humans, without falling into mumblecore. It’s always exciting and refreshing with something whose whole emphasis is on being human.

Did you develop different secrets and backstories with each of the siblings’ characters?

The funny thing is oftentimes you’ll do a lot of prep work and then you get there on the day and none of it works. A lot of the best parts of Andy happened on set in the moment between us. Acting for me isn’t about the homework, instead it feels good in the moment, between the characters, when you see two actors who are listening and responding to each other, you can almost see that string between them, to me that’s the life of a film. I’m a David Lynch fan, so I don’t think you need to know, as much as you need to believe in the truthfulness of the moment that’s occurring on camera. So the short answer is I didn’t have a shit ton of Andy secrets.

So let’s go on a detour for a second, Twin Peaks is back! How excited are you?

It’s been 25 years in the making! (Laughs)

We had two decades for crazy theories.

Agent Dale Cooper is everything that’s great about America.

Speaking of that, on Twitter you are very vocal about your beliefs, does your work help you escape all the bullshit we’re dealing with under the current administration?

One hundred percent! Just in general art for me is a place for joy and release, so it’s absolutely an escape for me. It’s also an escape for the people who watch it, you can be in a corner of the universe where everything feels easier and smaller. Things are written in lowercase letters, it’s essential for me to continue on that path.

Other than Twin Peaks what art have you been using as a refuge?

Yeah, it’s funny because I was talking about this with some people, I was watching Frasier the other day and all of their problems are so small. They’re like (in an affected accent) “oh no, this chair doesn’t go with the rest of my apartment”, and how fucking miraculous it is to have this problem instead of “oh my God we’re all going to die from climate change”. I started watching Insecure for the same reason, although there is more sadness and drama in that universe, but in a lot of way it’s about friendships so it feels relaxed. Being in universes where things feel at ease and the problems seem surmountable is everything to me right now.

You’re an extremely likable guy, it’s so easy to root for you, so I was conflicted because Andy is kind of a jerk. Was playing someone like that refreshing?

He’s a fucking sociopath in a lot of ways (laughs) but yeah, I really enjoy playing anything as long as I can sort of understand it. What’s frustrating is having to play something you really don’t understand, where you feel your comprehension of the breadth of humanity still fails to encompass whatever that part is supposed to be. It’s fun to play different things as long as it’s in a place where it feels like human behavior. It’s nice to play an asshole every now and then, cause I’m definitely an asshole in real life (laughs).

Did you draw inspiration from bad dates to play Andy?

Oh yeah, I have a million. I’ve had every version of a bad date you can have. The thing that makes a bad date the worst is when you’re truly, sincerely vulnerable and they reject you. The second you really expose yourself and show your feelings and realize you’ve made an enormous mistake. I think the feeling of this movie is we see people who desperately want to announce their feelings but are so afraid that exposing themselves and becoming vulnerable will be the worst decision they can make.

Courtesy Magnolia Pictures

Your mom is a theatre maker and you also trained for the stage, are there any characters like Macbeth maybe who feel daunting?

I played Hamlet a long time ago and it was one of the most enriching experiences of my life, there’s some parts and plays, Shakespeare wrote a lot of them, that you fail at forever and for as many times as you do it. But each of those moments of failure is unique and they teach you something about yourself and the human experience. I relish the opportunity to fail in an interesting way.

I’ve seen one episode of Downward Dog and Martin is so cute and wise, but can you give me some insight about where your character in the show is headed to? But first, what’s Martin’s real name?

He’s Ned the dog. We’re both from Chicago, so there’s a deep Chicago bond between the two of us. The odd thing about Downward Dog is that it’s a serialized network sitcom which means the action from episode one is remembered in episode two, and the actions of episodes one and two are remembered in episode three, and you don’t often get the opportunity to play arcs in network sitcoms. It is really cool to be in a show where the writers are ambitious and are challenging themselves to make something that feels like a 22 minute advertising friendly show, but also feels filmic and grounded. As far as my character, Jason starts lost and happily adrift, but in his desire to get closer to Nan played by the ineffable Allison Tolman, he has to begin to become more of an adult. Every character in the series is trying to find a path to better adulthood. That dog is cute, am I right?

He’s so smart too.

I know right? He has so many interesting thoughts to share.

I read the premise of The Last Duck, and I loved the idea of the actors exchanging characters in every performance. If Doug and Kristin could do that in I Love You Both, what do you think they would discover about each other’s character?

That was part of the reason why I wanted it to be done in the play, I wanted to see what the actors learned from playing the other part and how it changed the experience of them. Also seeing someone play a part you’re also playing makes for an interesting dynamic where there’s competition and education, so it keeps changing the play, if you’re doing it right it should keep informing the performances. I think anybody would be blown away to experience life as Kristin Archibald, she’s like a galactic unicorn of unknown proportions, she’s one of the weirdest, loveliest people I’ve ever met. Her character is the film is very much like her, so I can only imagine Doug would have a crazier experience than Kristin would. The whole movie is about how close they are already, so this would bring them even closer and make it even harder for them to gain their own independence. If the characters got even closer they would be too co-dependent.

Can you dream up a few scenarios of famous actors in movies playing each other’s characters?

That’s tough. The thing that would be most interesting is picking an immense performance, something revelatory like Streetcar and you have Brando and Vivien Leigh, and if you switched them around and had Vivian play Stanley...I don’t think a lot of people would be into it, but I would be! You have genius actors playing all of these parts but you can see them find the humanity in such inescapably different ways that you would see that world in a light you never would’ve imagined otherwise. In terms of movies they don’t make movies now that are ensemble dramas, everybody has a cape on, it makes everything feel more interchangeable.

Can you imagine Burton and Taylor in Woolf too?

Oh yeah! I would kill to see that! You have to pick a movie where the two performances are so in stone as the performances. You know they would bring the same level of specificity, brain and love. It would be a great education process, I’d also love to see Dr. Strangelove and I wouldn’t mind seeing Peter Sellers playing all the other characters in the movie too.

I Love You Both is in theaters today. It’s also available on iTunes and Amazon. Downward Dog airs Thursdays on ABC at 8/7C. It’s also available on ABC on Demand and Hulu.

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Written by: Jose Solis
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