Paul Rust, Star of Netflix's 'Love,' Has Some Relationship Advice For You

On his new tv show, Paul Rust‘s whole shtick consists of a painfully awkward demeanor and complete lack of confidence. But behind the bumbling lies the mind of a comedic genius. Well, at least that’s what we learned after getting off the phone with him. The LA-based comedian is the star (alongside Community‘s Gillian Jacobs) of the new, much-hyped Netflix show Love, which you may have been binge-watching all weekend after it dropped on Friday. As if acting on the show wasn’t enough, Rust also serves as writer, producer, and creator, alongside his wife, writer Lesley Arfin, and comedy king Judd Apatow.

Rust may have the face of a disarming sales clerk who helps old women cross the street, but don’t be fooled—he’s well on his way to becoming one of Hollywood’s most elite comedians. Besides Love, he’s also staging a Pee-wee Herman revival next month on Netflix, and he may be the winner of the “most awkward date of all time” award. Trust us, it’s bad. We talked to him about all that, what it’s like working with Netflix, the OG Awkward King Michael Cera, and even got some good old-fashioned advice on love.

Paul Rust as Gus in ‘Love.’

How did the show come together? You created it and you’re involved in every aspect of it so this is your baby, basically.

Well, it began because my wife Leslie and I presented an idea to Judd, which was originally a movie idea, based on a relationship that is similar to Gus and Mickey on the show. Judd really took to the relationship and thought it was a good dynamic. He said the thing he was worried about was that it would be difficult to be able to fully mine everything in this relationship in a two-hour movie and he’d always had an idea for a TV show where you follow a relationship from the beginning and how it forms.

The three of us all started working on writing it as a pilot. It was all out of the impulse to really want to be able to explore a relationship slowly. In a movie a lot of the times, the most interesting stuff—the complications about getting together—is kind of breezed over in a little three-minute montage. We were all really creatively excited about the idea of not having to break our necks at the 90-minute mark, then have them break up so they can get back together in 20 minutes.

It’s also nice to be able to do it on a streaming service, I’d imagine. What was it like doing a show for Netflix as opposed to doing one for a regular television network?

I think the main way it’s different is the trust that they have in the creator. It gives the creator a lot of freedom to be able to make the choices they want. They’re basically the nice, loving, supportive parents everybody always wanted. [Laughs] It’s sort of like knowing that whatever we’re doing, they’re going to be at least appreciative of [our effort].

They sound like the best parents. On the show, you’re playing a very gawky, white guy. Do you think you’re going to take away some of the market from Michael Cera?

That’s funny because Michael and I worked together on the fourth season of Arrested Development. We wrote together. I think there’s no threat of that just because—and this is not false modesty—I think that Michael Cera is one hundred times more talented than me. I think Michael is a genius and when I watch him act, it really astounds me. I watch his stuff and I think, “Oh, I wish I could be as good as Michael Cera.” So, there’s no threat there. He’s the king.

How awkward are you compared to your character on the show?

Well, the glasses I wear on the show are the glasses I wear in real life. I’d like to think that I’m not as awkward, but we’ll be in the writer’s room sometimes and people will go, “Gus is such a huge wuss,” and I’ll be like, “Well, he has his reasons.” It’s more interesting and funnier to play the bad parts of yourself. If I was making something that was a five-and-a-half-hour advertisement about all the things that I think are great about me, I don’t think it would be a very interesting show.

You get to act out your worst qualities all the time?

Well, that’s at least the benefit of having gone on bad dates and having bad experiences with relationships. It could have just ended as something that makes me cringe or feel bad, but at least now I can use it in the show.

“If I was making something that was a five-and-a-half-hour advertisement about all the things that I think are great about me, I don’t think it would be a very interesting show.”

If you had to pick one of your worst dates ever that helped you create this character, what would it be?

Back in college, which is where a lot of terrible experiences occur, I remember asking a girl out on a first date for Valentine’s Day, which is too big of a move. No one needs to go out for the first time on Valentine’s Day. I think she sensed that it was sort of too much or too fast, so she tried to make a joke out of it. She was like, “What if we dressed like we were going to a prom?” A date in air quotes is never a good date. Like, an ironic date. It’s just not a good sign. Of course, it ended horribly where we said goodbye and I left. Five minutes later I came back and knocked on the door and was like, “So, what do you think this is? Why didn’t this work?” If I had any shred of dignity, I would’ve got in my car and just driven away and not looked back. Not circle back and try to get answers. It was just a bad move.

You were actually in full prom gear?

I went to a Goodwill and found a fake suit. She found a fake prom dress. It was terrible. We ate really bad vegan food. It definitely goes in the category of a bad date.

Paul Rust as Gus with co-star Iris Apatow, who plays the star of a teen witch show called “Witchita.” Points for puns.

That makes me cringe just hearing about it. Going back to the show, do you like writing or acting more? Or is it a mix of both?

They’re kind of different muscles. Writing is about being isolated and that can either be a good thing or a bad thing. When you’re acting, that’s sort of like being with people and collaborating. I think I probably prefer acting just because it’s more fun getting to be with people and goof around. We improvise on the show and a lot of my friends who I’ve met at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade are improvisers and they act on the show.

Writing is like the glass of wine you have alone at night. Acting is when you hang out and drink with people. Maybe that’s why writers are always single because we sit alone at home all the time.

[Laughs] Yeah, we’ve all been there.

Gus in a rare joyous moment.

You mentioned that a lot of the show is improvised. Do you have any favorite moments that weren’t scripted?

It’s not necessarily funny, but there’s an episode where we’re getting into an argument and she says something like, “You’re just pissed off at me because you wanted me to have a certain reaction and I didn’t and you’re mad.” I just liked that a lot. Also, there’s a line where I call her crazy and she goes, “Crazy is what guys call girls when they know that they’re right.” Those are the things that really excite me when someone improvises like that. That just means they’re in the mind of the character.

What advice would you give people who are kind of striking out and need tips on falling in love with someone? Asking for a friend.

In my experiences, it doesn’t ever hurt to be vulnerable and sincere in the things you want. It gets even messier in the 21st century with technology that allows you to build up an image of yourself. Someone can just go on your Facebook page and be like, “This person is really cool.” It sets the situation up where eventually you have to be vulnerable and you can’t look 100% cool. There doesn’t need to be so much of a premium on, “Hey, I’m hot shit. You’ve gotta get with me.” It doesn’t make a relationship—well, maybe in the beginning. In the long term, I think a little vulnerability goes a long way.

All photos courtesy of Susan Hanover/Netflix. 

Stay tuned to Milk for more self-deprecating romance.

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