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Interview With Stephen Merchant

Stuart

HBO

Which scenes were you most excited to write?

Stephen Merchant

There were certain things that we were keeping our powder dry about during Season 1; Stuart never made out or had sex with a girl. In the film, we wanted to see him succeed with girls in that regard because we felt like that would be fun and different. While we were writing, we had cards up on the wall with things that we wanted. One of them just said, "the funniest sex scene ever." That was going to be a key part of it.

When you step out of sex, it's quite a naturally funny thing. You and this person are slightly masquerading as being great lovers. Often you know a person very well by the time you're in a relationship and having sex with them. You've seen them in their worst moments, feeling miserable or sick. Yet in the bedroom, you have to forget all that and playact being two sexy people. It just seemed really funny to us that we see Stuart in that role. In a sense, it was funnier that he was having sex with Jessica, because you were going to see these two people that you knew -- and that you hopefully liked, by that point -- have to go through this very funny, slightly odd, awkward thing.

HBO

Did Stuart ever consider Jessica to be an option before?

Stephen Merchant

The backstory in our minds was that the girl who previously occupied the guesthouse is the bride in Season 1's wedding episode. So when that girl moved out, Jessica moved in. Stuart probably hit on Jessica subtly on Day 1. He helped her move her things, but only the light bags -- nothing too heavy. She was very clear that she wasn't interested in him, so he quickly gave up and they slid into this friendly banter. That was the point at which we joined the series, the idea that they were quite confortable with each other.

In this special, we wanted to take that to the next natural stage, and have them realize that they are actually already sharing their lives with each other. She's always been more mature than him romantically, so he had to grow up enough for her to consider him seriously.

HBO

Did Stuart realize his immaturity before Jessica levels with him?

Stephen Merchant

I think he was moving in that direction. Sometimes you can feel things about yourself, but they aren't confirmed until someone else vocalizes them. We liked the idea that Jessica was being very honest, and that it was hard for her to be blunt like that. It was a lesson that Stuart needed to hear and probably confirmed things that he felt about himself, which is why he sulked and made her move out. Then he's forced to consider what she said, and it dawns on him that he has to accept that she's right.
We were also trying to slightly subvert a lot of romantic comedies where it's the other way around and the guy says he's not interested. It seemed more interesting somehow that she's sort of in charge in that situation.

HBO

Do you subscribe to Stuart's percentages theory?

Stephen Merchant

To a degree. I that it's a realistic version of something we all come to realize as we get older and more mature: that the person we're with is not an angel. I think that the truth is people do have a percentage; it's just that they aren't aware of it when they're happy; relationships fall apart because the percentages are unbalanced. I think there's something very sweet about Jessica and Stuart having the honesty to say the truth to one another. Somehow I find that more sexy.

HBO

In the rom-com tradition, the film would end after Stuart and Jessica get together initially.

Stephen Merchant

Exactly. Even at the end, we wanted it to feel hopeful and optimistic. I think they will stay together. But the song I chose there has the lyric, "There's a long way to go," because I think that's true. It's not over. That scene was trying to be slightly playful with the idea of the Hollywood romantic comedy. The reality is, when a couple kisses in the rain at the end of a rom-com, the rest of their lives are ahead of them.

Obviously the great Mike Nichols just died and 'The Graduate' is a beautifully romantic film in many ways, but it ends on that ambiguous note of the two of them on the bus. That's a great subversion of the classic rom-com tradition. The stuff with Jessica and Stuart floating in the pool, not quite sure where their lives are going, was directly inspired by 'The Graduate.'

HBO

What did you envision in a woman who was right for Wade?

Stephen Merchant

We did have a deleted scene where you see Wade trying to hit on a waitress with techniques that he picked up from Kives and Stuart. What's obvious is that Wade was never comfortable with the "Stuart approach" to picking up girls. We wanted to give him some happiness because he went through a tough time in the first season. It just seemed lovely to us that he'd find someone who was romantic and shared his outlook on the world.

HBO

What did Allison Tolman bring to the role?

Stephen Merchant

I wasn't familiar with Alison beforehand; We just saw her on an audition tape and we thought, "This girl's brilliant." She's so funny and warm. You have just an immediate affection for her as soon as the camera hits her. You can sense that her and Wade are going to be OK.

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