There is a deep, fascinating mystery to Billy Magnussen’s performance in HBO Max’s technology satire, Made for Love. After a year of audience lockdown and isolation, the comedy hits on something incredibly specific and seemingly otherworldly about how we vocalize (and don’t vocalize) our need to connect. It’s a comedy that feels tailor made for a world on the brink of adjusting back to normal.
Billy Magnussen is an actor who always goes for broke in roles that could have been one-note. He breathes such dangerous vibrancy into performances like Ingrid Goes West and Netflix’s Maniac. On the surface, Magnussen’s Byron Gogol is a hot douchebag with a Patrick Bateman edge. He looks great in a suit and his hair is coiffed within an inch of its life. In Made for Love, however, he doesn’t play it safe, and he delivers a nuanced, sad portrayal of a lost boy. He never knew how to love somebody and is terrified of the mysteries and grey areas of love.
The combination of commentary and comedy was a big draw for Magnussen. In our conversation, he was interested in exploring the pratfalls and humors of connection.
“In the industry and in storytelling, there are many ways to approach this topic. I think Made for Love uses sci-fi and comedy as a smokescreen to circumvent to a story of love and control and the balance of a relationship. I think it uses those distractions very well so we can talk about what it is to be a partner and where boundaries are and where people live emotionally with each other. Love is a crazy, effed up thing. There are no rules. Everything’s fair in love and war, and I think Made for Love uses that tactic well.”
Byron is a man who feels affected by how people perceive him. Presentations to his board are important to him. He is the face of his own company and is willing to put his own marriage on the line for the sake of selling things. At this point in the season, we haven’t been totally filled in on Byron’s past or how his relationships have influenced his marriage to Cristin Miliotti’s Hazel, but the result is a man who has feels he needs to act a certain way and he behaves in a toxic fashion.
“Byron is the personification of toxic masculinity. He is everything that society tells a man that he needs to be. He has to have the right clothes and the right wife. He has to be dominant. The best part of the script, to me, was when you realize Byron is a scared boy. Byron wants love. He wants to connect and he wants to feel things.”
That scared boy is seen in glimpses throughout the season, but most pointedly in a flashback to when Hazel throws Byron a birthday party. When he arrives home, he is tentative and obviously unsure of how he should behave when he sees a table stacked with presents and his mug plastered on a piñata. He has never felt that true love feeling, and be is nervous to trust Hazel with a fragile moment. Despite Byron’s actions, you feel for him.
“It’s good to play the opposite. I hear mentors say that a lot, but then you realize that people laugh when they’re scared. They cry when they are happy. It’s not black and white in our lives and there are so many different emotions in one thought. That is the joy and the fun in acting. I always try to go back to a teacher of mine and I think of Of Mice and Men. George has to shoot Lennie because he killed the wife. You can’t play that scene crying because Lennie will turn around.”
Magnussen went on to speak about how he hopes audiences see their own behavior in the actions of Byron and Hazel.
“I hope people watch this show and say to themselves, ‘Oh, I do a version of this.’ It happens so many times in relationships where someone says they want more flowers around the house. It’s not about the flowers and you aren’t really connecting to the person. You’re doing an act rather than truly listening to the person and what they actually need. I think it’s a great tool.”
Since Made for Love is about connection and communication, Magnussen briefly touched upon how we need to connect in all aspects of our lives, including when we talk about art (“Made for Love is about connection,'” he said. “They are trying to listen to one another. We are avoiding debate or disagreement.”). Byron Gogol wants to make the world better for his wife, even if he doesn’t know how to do it. He is willing to try. But don’t expect Magnussen to follow in Byron’s footsteps entirely. He won’t be building his own cube any time soon.
“I’m not a virtual guy. To tell the truth, I think I’d rather have a plane ticket.”
Made for Love is streaming now on HBO Max. The limited series concludes its season on April 15.