How This Fleabag and Stranger Things Star Brings Toxic Men to Life

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Brett Gelman wasnt supposed to be in the best television show of the year.

A few years back, the actor got a call on a Wednesday from a producer who told him that if he wanted the part as Martinskeezy brother-in-law to Phoebe Waller-Bridges title character in Fleabaghe would have to be in London by the following Tuesday.

I had never been to London, Gelman tells me on this weeks episode of The Last Laugh podcast. So I was like, this is really going to have to be a piece of shit to justify me not going to London.

They sent him an early version of the pilot episode and luckily for Gelman, it was incredible. He says he barely skimmed the rest of the scripts before saying yes.

The role was originally written for a Scotsman, as opposed to an American, and Gelman is quick to admit he was not Waller-Bridges first choice for Martin. I think if youre getting a call with less than a week, someone was sacked, he says with a laugh.

For Gelman, the key to playing Martin is his overwhelming sense of betrayal by those closest to him. He is alone, he is in this failing marriage, he hates himself, hes an alcoholic, he knows that he is completely fucked up, the actor explains, adding that he sees Fleabag and Martin as the two most similar characters in this show.

They both are on the outside, they both use humor as a way to act out. And they both have this distinct sense of self-hatred, he says. But season two is about Fleabag rising out of that a bit and very much about Martin sinking into it more.

His simultaneously hilarious and disturbing performance in season two of Fleabag, which was nominated for 11 Emmy Awards this past month, is just one of many that have made Gelman an inescapable face, if not quite yet a household name. In the last five years alone, he has had regular or recurring roles on Adult Swims Eagleheart, FXs Married, Starzs Blunt Talk, Comedy Centrals Another Period, HBOs Camping and both Love and Stranger Things on Netflix.

In each case, Gelman has played different shades of toxic masculinity, in his words, a trait he has been forced to reckon with in himself. We talk about how he channels some of his darkest impulses into these toxic men, whether he thinks theres any chance of a Fleabag season three and a lot more, including how Kanye West helped inspire what he hopes will be his next comedy special.

Highlights from our conversation are below and you can listen to the whole thing right now by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts, the Himalaya app or wherever you listen to podcasts.

How he relates to a character like Martin from Fleabag

That lineIm not a bad guy, I just have a bad personalityI can relate to that. You feel sometimes, Can I change? Is it actually possible to change? I think this is a big theme of the show. Or am I just fucked? Do I just have this personality? Am I cursed? Was I born with this personality and theres no shaking this? I can relate to every aspect of Martin, besides the full-on aggression towards women.

On Phoebe Waller-Bridges process as creator of Fleabag

Shes immediately a person with a vision. You want to get all of her words word-perfect because its delicious writing. She rewrote a lot of my scenes in season two, five minutes before we shot them. Because we would show up and shed be like, This is shit. And I was like, Well, I think this is really brilliant. And then wed sit there and shed use me and a few others as a sounding board and then shed present the new script and youd be like, Oh, no, it is better.

How he describes the type of character hes often hired to play

Its all these different shades of toxic masculinity. I think that people like to cast me in those roles because I enjoy diving into flaws. I like to think that I humanize these guys and give them some empathy and make people scared that they might relate to certain aspects of them. I grew up loving actors who played these types of characters. I worshipped Danny DeVito when I was a kid. I loved John Larroquette on Night Court. When I got older, I loved Raging Bull. So its playing these really flawed, toxic men who are caught in this downward spiral. And there are certainly points in my life, maybe a point every day, where I dont necessarily go down the spiral, but I see it there. And its great to be able to exorcise that in my acting. I dont walk away from a day in those characters feeling worse, I feel better.

Would he be up for a third season of Fleabag?

Of course! I would do anything [Phoebe Waller-Bridge] asks me to do. Part of what makes her such an incredible artist is that shes very much in the moment about what she wants to do. So right now, she doesnt want to do another season. Could she change her mind? Absolutely. Could she not? Totally. I hope that she changes her mind. But if she doesnt, I hope that she makes something else and puts me in it. I would love to be a James Bond villain. Martins a pretty good audition for a super-villain in a franchise.

How Kanye West inspired his next big comedy special idea

Kanye West is very inspiring to me, despite whatever happened there [with Trump], which is a very complicated thing to discuss, which I am in no position to discuss. But I love him and I love his work and you hear about these Sunday Services that are going on. And I havent seen it, but it sounds amazing. And I was like, why dont we do Friday Night Shabbat Dinner? Not as a parody of that, but just inspired by that somewhat. Especially in light of the current situation in the world, where anti-Semitism is growingand yeah, sure, in L.A. its fine, but you go to a lot of places in the country or in the world and I am suddenly not white. And so, in the way that he seems to be doing a celebration of black culture and black music, I want to do a celebration of Jewish culture at these dinners. Celebrating Jewish culture through humor the way that Kanyes celebrating black culture through the music. My dream would be that Larry David and Richard Lewis would get in a gigantic argument at the table.

Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Star of the new film Brittany Runs a Marathon, Jillian Bell.

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