Megan McLachlan speaks with Dollface executive producer Stephanie Laing about the heightened surrealism of the show, killing Joey Lawrence, and what the series says about relationships.
After being dumped by her boyfriend, Jules (Kat Dennings) boards a bus being driven by a literal cat lady (played by Beth Grant with a cat’s face). It’s this early moment in the Hulu series Dollface, from creator Jordan Weiss, when you realize you’re watching a series unlike a lot of shows on TV.
But it’s not just the surrealism that makes this show unique. It’s also the topic about how people often become absorbed in their relationships, neglecting the friendships they made along the way. It’s hard to recall a TV show or film that tackles this subject, but Dollface does so in a fun, fresh way.
I had a chance to chat with Dollface executive producer and director Stephanie Laing about Jules’s imaginative sequences, why the show feels like “dessert”, and what she has to say about the “female stereotypes” on the series.
Awards Daily: The show includes surreal dream sequences of what’s going on in Jules’s head. What was the creative decision behind this? Was this always there in Jules’s head or a manifestation that takes place because of the breakup?
Stephanie Laing: That’s such a good question. We haven’t completely defined if it’s always been there, since we just come in on the breakup with the series. When I read the first episode that Jordan [Weiss] wrote and created, Jules meeting the cat lady is five pages in and I was like, ‘Oh my god. I’m so into this. I want to be part of this project.’ For us, it’s always been heightened reality, but it’s not driving the plot. It was really just important for us to keep it a little vague, so we’re not really defining if it’s happening in her head or if it’s always been there. It’s open to interpretation, which I love. I think it’s fun for people to decide. I also love that we made the decision to slip into it, so it feels surprising. You don’t know that the tables are going to break apart [at brunch].
AD: Speaking of the talking cat, in the form of Beth Grant. What does the cat represent? Toward the end of the series, Jules sees Beth in human form and says ‘I’ve seen you before.’ I didn’t know if that had a deeper meaning
SL: Yeah, I think it’s again open to interpretation. For all of us, as women and maybe for some men, the fear of turning into an old cat lady. A little scary. For me, it’s about confronting yourself and getting to know yourself. I think through the course of this series, it’s really what Jules is finding: herself. That’s what she represents to me. I think again, it’s so important for us to keep it open to interpretation, because Jordan may answer that question completely differently.
AD: Jules is a character that doesn’t know who she is. It’s so clear. I really like that, because I think there are a lot of people out there like that. She works for Woöm, a Goop-like company, which is kind of the complete opposite of her. Why do you think she stays there? Is she complacent?
SL: I think it’s more of your point: She doesn’t really know herself. It’s interesting for us to tell this story as it progresses, where Jules goes in her career. We meet her in a place where she’s very stuck and doesn’t know herself and has forgotten what’s important, obviously friendships, but we’ve always described this show as a platonic romantic comedy between friends and also between yourself. It’s really interesting to explore where her work takes her for sure. The show is a celebration of friendships and the quirkiness of that, and also as Jordan always says, the rules of how to be a friend or how to be girl, poking fun at it. None of those are true. A lot of it is what we place on ourselves. We always describe the show as ‘dessert.’
AD: I like that!
SL: Even the color palette and the way it’s shot. All of it is meant to be really happy. With the heightened reality stuff, we want it to be surprising and we want you to connect with these girls and really start to get to know them. I think we really did that. They’re all different characters.
AD: Her relationship with Jeremy is interesting, because we never see them together other than that brunch scene where they break up. Do you imagine that the relationship was always bad or maybe in her head it was good?
SL: I think that it wasn’t bad or good. It probably started off great, and they spent so many years together that they started to grow apart and notice differences. As you grow as an individual, some relationships don’t fit you or suit you anymore. I feel like that’s more likely what happened in their relationship. Jeremy is not a complete jerk. I mean, he is in a way, but we’re very careful as to not paint people as complete assholes and the same with women. We were really careful not to make everyone feel, and I hate this word, ‘bitchy.’
AD: The show nearly kills Joey Lawrence. How did this come about and how did you get him to do this?
SL: (Laughs.) I directed four episodes this season and this one was the second one I directed. We were just so lucky to get Joey. He was so wonderful to work with and so game. He was like, ‘Yeah, all right. Electrocute me.’ That’s what I love about the scripts, that Jordan and the writers have written, it’s surprising. Why is Madison (Brenda Song) afraid of magic? Her face in that episode. Priceless. One of my favorite moments.
AD: What do you think of some of the negative feedback on the show, that it demonstrates stereotypes about women?
SL: We just tried to stay away from the critics because everyone has an opinion, but I think at the end of the day the fans have the final say. If you go on Twitter, women really love the show, and they feel like they relate to these women. I think that’s what’s important, to stay focused on that. Everyone’s going to point fingers and say there’s a stereotype here and there and everywhere, but the truth is that this is just a show celebrating friendships. It’s whimsical and fun. We just try to be very careful not to label anybody. If someone is watching it and saying they feel like it’s a stereotype, then it’s probably more of a reflection on that person’s life than the show. We didn’t create stereotypes. Jordan created four very fun characters that the cast brings to life and delivers in every way.
AD: Why do you think Jules let herself move away from her friends in a relationship? Especially since Brenda Song’s character has a relationship on the show, but she doesn’t disappear from her friends. What do you think the show says about that?
SL: I think it goes back to finding yourself. Sometimes you find yourself in a relationship and it consumes you and takes over your life. Then you end up giving more of yourself to that relationship and getting less out of it. Jules has really been into being more there for Jeremy than he was for her, and as a result, she fell into his routine and his life. Even the apartment they share, if you look closely, it’s all his stuff. For me, I’m sure I’m one of those people guilty of pulling away from friends, I think it just comes down to really getting to know yourself and not losing yourself in someone else. We haven’t really explored that on TV or in films. I think it’s so common and so easy to get caught up in someone else’s life and being there for them as opposed to making sure you are still yourself and you’re still growing as a human. If we want to get really deep about it, it’s probably why a lot of relationships end. One person grows and the other one doesn’t, or one person has been supporting someone for a long time, not necessarily financially, but supporting them in a lot of ways and you lose yourself. What happens one day when you wake up and you truly know you’re lost? That’s hard to come back from.
AD: It’s also interesting, too, that this show talks about making friends in your ’30s. Getting back into that. There are apps supporting finding friends, and it does become harder as you get older.
SL: Oh my god, right?
AD: I’d love to see her keep these friends, but explore finding friends on her own, with more similar interests.
SL: It’s also a case of finding the right people in your friend group who are going to support what’s important to you and lift you up when you need lifting, and you do the same for them. I think that’s another really good message from the series, how important that is, to have your cheerleaders with you as you go through life. It was so fantastic to pitch [this show] with Margot [Robbie], Kat [Dennings], and Jordan, the four of us pitching this comedy about female relationships. It’s been so rewarding to work all of them and the cast and bring this thing to life.
Dollface is streaming on Hulu.