Casual? That’s an understatement. Sure, the Hulu series debuted last October with a sitcom-friendly premise: Divorced mom Valerie (Michaela Watkins) grabs her precocious teen daughter Laura (Tara Lynne Barr) and moves in with her troubled horndog brother Alex (Tommy Dewey). But the first season spiraled into a fascinating, funny, and sensitive portrait of deeply dysfunctional, desperate humans. Credit the cast for playing their parts in various states of emotional, mental, and physical undress. They’re game for anything – and that’s without booze!
FIRST ROUND: Dark & Stormy for Watkins, IPA for Dewey, Bulleit Rye for Barr, and IPA for EW
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Michaela, you’ve worked on a lot of TV shows. What’s different about working on a streaming series?
MICHAELA WATKINS: There are fewer cooks in the kitchen. People are shooting a little more guerrilla-style, as opposed to having nine suits behind them going, “Let’s make sure we hit this so that we can target this demo.”
TOMMY DEWEY: Hulu is just getting into the scripted game, and they’re really gung-ho about it. It’s “Saw the dailies! They’re awesome!” and not “We’ve been doing this for 70 years, let’s do 15 pilots and kill most of them.”
TARA LYNNE BARR: They feel like fans.
WATKINS: Their notes are to make the show better, not to protect their brand. Their brand is: Whatever it is they’re doing, they’re doing it really well. We’re not The Path. I don’t think you’ll find a lot of cross-sections between our style and their style, and same with Mindy Project or 11/22/63. It’s not like, when they color correct, they hit one button, and it’s the “Hulu Sheen.” Everything is so distinct.
Do you feel like people found your show in season 1?
WATKINS: My dad couldn’t, even with help. My stepmother tried, and she couldn’t find it. They got their neighbors involved. Listen, I was not in a hurry for him to see it. I have sex scenes.
BARR: I think there’s a word-of-mouth quality. A word-of-tweet. A tweet-of-mouth quality.
DEWEY: There’s something about putting a denser library out there. Now we’ll have a second season. People will think, “Okay! Now I’ll watch!”
Casual is the first Hulu show nominated for a Golden Globe. Was that a validation?
DEWEY: We thought we were over in a little corner of the world, next to the recycling plant. Literally that’s where our stages are.
WATKINS: Right next to an incinerator.
DEWEY: There’s a car-crushing device.
BARR: It smelled like ripe garbage, almost at all times.
DEWEY: [In a British accent] “The wind’s blowing south today, guv’nor! No smell!”
WATKINS: [Also British]”Carry on, then! Keep destroying evidence from that five-car pileup!”
DEWEY: “We’re gonna have to shoot that orgasm again, there was a car crash!”
WATKINS: There was a fire.
DEWEY: Someone did, for insurance purposes, burn down a plant…
WATKINS: …across the street. If you want meth, donuts, check cashing, or a car to be junked, you come to our set.
SECOND ROUND: Dark & Stormy for Watkins, IPA for Dewey, Bulleit Rye for Barr, and IPA for EW
Your characters are family, roommates, friends. Sometimes they betray one another. How did you build your chemistry?
DEWEY: This is where [executive producer] Jason Reitman’s genius comes into play.
WATKINS: We were gonna read through the scripts, and then he and [Casual creator Zander Lehmann] left us alone in the room. We were just sort of sniffing each other’s butts, and by the time they came back to the room, I was like, “This is gonna be a great little job!
BARR: A fun little science experiment!
WATKINS: Nobody was a nitwit, twit, diva, or overly earnest. I love this lady, I love this guy, hilarious, cool, not some dumb idiot…
BARR: I want that on my résumé: “Not some dumb idiot.”
What was the most intense scene to film from season 1?
WATKINS: The Thanksgiving one.
BARR: That was an emotional marathon. Michaela had to keep it at 11 the whole time, and she was generous enough to keep it there for our coverage, which I thought was really really nice of you, and not necessary.
DEWEY: I felt like you were at a nine on mine.
WATKINS: I don’t think you could handle an 11.
DEWEY: If you look into my eyes with 11, I combust!
WATKINS: I felt crazy. I mostly do comedy. Tommy and me, we come from comedy backgrounds. [To Tara] You do both.
WATKINS: And now I see why dramatic actors are cuckoo! [Laughs] It starts to permeate your mental state a little bit.
There’s a lot of sex on the show. What’s the preparation like for those scenes?
DEWEY: This show is really honest. There’s a metaphor there, being laid bare.
BARR: It’s never exploitative.
DEWEY: We have this really wonderful, respectful crew.
WATKINS: They all face the wall when you change between takes.
BARR: You’re like,“You can look if you want!”
WATKINS: Porn is a slippery slope. You start out in pasties, and after a while you’re free-nippin’ it.
THIRD ROUND: Water for Watkins, IPA for Dewey, Bulleit Rye for Barr, and IPA for EW
What’s new in season 2 (premiering June 7)?
WATKINS: We’ve been doing a lot of women directors. It’s been awesome. Lynn Shelton. Marielle Heller, who did Diary of a Teenage Girl. Karyn Kusama. The biggest name in our show is probably Vincent Kartheiser.
BARR: This season, we go from each other’s cheerleaders to each other’s mentors to each other’s detractors.
DEWEY: There’s a sliver of optimism in following strivers. And despite their suicide attempts and stuff, they wake up seeking their joy. They may be completely depressed, but they’re moving in a direction – often a wrong direction! – but they’re trying to find fulfillment. None of these characters is a defeatist. No one’s given up.
WATKINS: I saw Paul McCartney in concert one time. I thought, “Ugh, I bet he’s gonna play all Wings, and all that crap.” Whatever. There were a few tickets and I went. Huge Beatles fan. The way it started, there was this long orchestration, this orchestral intro, these carnival characters who started to walk in. I’m going somewhere with this! The acrobat, the juggler. They were moving across the stage. The orchestral music was becoming a little more esoteric, stranger. And then the images started getting crazier, the music started building. At that point, you’re just like, “Wow, this is a very long intro. I’m in! I don’t know what f—ing song this is gonna be, but I’m in! I’m in!” All of a sudden, all these lights went up and blinded the audience, and then…
BARR: And then they all left?
DEWEY: “Mr. McCartney has pneumonia.”
WATKINS: And then this sheet fell. And the lights go bright. And then you hear, “HELP! I need SOMEBODY! HELP!” Cut to me screaming, throwing my panties at the f—ing stage, going “AHHHHH!” And that’s what I feel like season 2 is. It’s a slow, quiet, gentle thing. It builds, it builds, it builds – and by episode 6, all f—ing hell breaks loose, and you’re on a ride.
Could season 2 be the end for these characters?
WATKINS: It ties a lot up in an interesting way. And it leaves a lot open. I got depressed when I read the last episode. Very.
DEWEY: I got upset too.
BARR: I also got upset.
DEWEY: No you didn’t, Tara!
WATKINS: Tara didn’t care. She went shopping.