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That's what friends are for: 'Fleishman in Trouble' dissects the value of relationships

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Lizzy Caplan who plays “Libby Epstein” and Adam Brody who plays “Seth Morris” talk to the Journal’s Bruce Miller about acting in the new FX show "Fleishman Is In Trouble" coming to Hulu on Nov. 17th.

Actress Lizzy Caplan says she has three friends she texts multiple times a day.

“We’ve known each other since we were born,” she adds. “It’s weird,” but it’s her version of close friendship.

In “Fleishman is in Trouble,” she plays one-third of a friendship triangle called on to help after Fleishman's wife disappears following their divorce. Jesse Eisenberg plays the divorced physician. Adam Brody is their single friend, wary of the landmines of marriage. The three talk frequently, proving to be a sounding board for the one in trouble.

In reality, Brody says, he’s jealous of the threesome. “I have a lot of friends, but I don’t overextend,” he says. “I would love a tight, long-lasting threesome. I would even love a tight best friend for a long time. But I’ve got my wife…and your wife is your best friend.”

Caplan’s spouse has childhood friends, “but it’s like they talk to each other and then there are periods of time when they don’t talk to each other as much.”

Through the friendship, Caplan’s character charts the highs and lows of marriage. Her Libby is a men’s magazine writer who longs for a marquee writing assignment. Instead, she’s the one who follows Fleishman’s troubled life.

With narration, she tells us what’s happening to him, his wife, their children and their friends.

“She learns as well as they do,” Caplan says. “It was tricky to wrap my head around before we started shooting. This is her take on everything that’s happened, but it’s in the future from what you’re seeing. She’s looking back and there’s hindsight, but she’s still learning. It was like tying my brain up in pretzels. It feels like it’s its own thing.”

Brody says the narration makes the series. “Even the genre feels so novelistic. She’s like a male writer examining his life in middle age. What I love is how literary the show feels. If you took out that voiceover, it wouldn’t have the same feeling.”

Writing what you know

Based on Tammy Brodesser-Akner’s best-selling novel, “Fleishman is in Trouble” has parallels to her life (she, too, was a magazine writer) but isn’t autobiographical.

“I thought of writing the story as an article about a sort of cultural change in dating,” she says. “But my GQ editor did not like the idea and so I wrote it as a novel.”

Brodesser-Akner wasn’t sure it would even get read. “When I was writing this, I felt, no way would it get greenlit. You do a lot of things in the shadows.”

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“Fleishman” got published, hit the best-seller list and was sold as a limited series with Brodesser-Akner attached as showrunner and writer.

“It’s been a long time with the story,” she says. “It’s been seven years since I sat down and wrote the first sentence and it’s almost like I feel it was written today.”

Libby is probably closer to her biographically than the other characters but “in any work of fiction, all the characters are the author.”

Friends are key

Many of the situations, Brodesser-Akner says, came from listening to friends about their troubles.

“Since the publication of the book, they’ll tell me they know the person that this is about. I’ve asked them who that is…and I’ve never met the person. ‘Anna Karenina’ says all happy marriages are the same, unhappy marriages are different. I actually think that’s wrong. I think all divorces are the same.”

Brodesser-Akner has already written a second book – it’ll be released next year. Meanwhile, she’s “expected back at my very nice job at the New York Times.”

Something to relate to

While Brodesser-Akner says everything is a derivative of everything else (“except the Garden of Eden”), Brody says his character’s traits are “easy to identify with.

“A lot of the questions he’s asking about marriage are questions most people ask a decade earlier,” he says. “He’s feeling his age, which I am, too.”

In the series, Brody’s character makes a big decision and, because it comes in his new-found middle age, there’s a sense that he’s giving up something. “From your 20s on,” he says, “you have all the anxiety that comes with that. You’re still clinging to some of your freedom from your 20s.”

Saying goodbye

Because “Fleishman” conjured so many moments for the actors, it was difficult for them to say goodbye.

“I just finished recording the narration for the final episode,” Caplan says, “and I’m very sad it’s over. It seemed like a mountain of work and I didn’t know how it was going to get done. But now that I’m finished saying those words, I’m genuinely bummed about it.”

“Fleishman” may not be framed as her character’s story, “but it’s so much her arc as well. I didn’t know if it was going to work but, from what I’ve seen, I feel like it really did.”

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