Both “You” and “The Haunting of Hill House” tap into psychological terror, why is that of interest to you?
I have to admit it’s not intentional at all. I was definitely auditioning for things that interested me, and it interested me in the way that it utilizes the genre to tell a really human and universal story about family and grief, but “Haunting” was my first job, so I wasn’t the most discerning at that point. But now, “You” interested me with the way it talks about the kind of horrors of being a young person on the internet today. These kinds of things affect everyone, but obviously that’s what the show is focused on. And I think it’s really been a warning sign to some people; I know people who have changed their passwords and re-manuevered their relationship with social media because of the show — really thinking about how much we’re putting our private lives into the hands of the public. And because I think it’s a really smart way to discuss this trope that we’ve romanticized so much — this idea of this man that Penn plays. We know these people, and they’re really hard to pluck out because they see themselves, and we see them, as the nice guys.
Joe has a tendency to narrate while Love is in action. How did you build out her world separate from his assumptions about her?
When Joe is speaking you can’t hear what everyone else is saying, but there’s still life there, so there was a lot of improv that we can’t appreciate fully because you’re only hearing his thoughts, but it’s definitely a really full relationship between her and her friends. They all really care for each other really deeply, and it’s fun because these characters have insane lives and come from such unique circumstances. It was really fun because these people didn’t have limitations. In LA, everybody is somehow tangentially related to the industry and everybody kind of is craving that lifestyle, and Love, specifically, is meant to be somebody who’s a little less interested in that, but she will admit that her friends are not. But she loves them for so much more.
Similarly, what did you need to do differently in your performance for scenes showing Love through Joe’s gaze, versus the ones where she’s alone?
I genuinely love private moments — that’s one of my favorite things to perform — because I know that as people we act so differently when we are on our own than when we are around other people. But I don’t try to subdue her or manipulate the performance in a way that suits his perspective. I think the most disturbing thing is when we’re seeing things that are genuinely not there: If we go back and look at it without the voiceover, we wouldn’t jump to these conclusions. And in this season you hear Joe editing himself even more than he was in the first season because he’s trying to better himself and trying to not only dig into his perspective but also stay away from these obsessive behaviors, and that’s influencing as well. But I don’t think I do things differently for this character than I would any other character. As an actor I don’t want to give into his perspective of this person because she is a person outside of him.
Playing off that theme of perception versus reality, how quickly will Love start to think Joe is not really who he pretends to be?
She sees that he’s unique, especially for Los Angeles, and I think she’s drawn to that very much. Experiencing something fresh — a new perspective — is something she’s drawn to; she’s somebody who’s interested in expanding her scope of the world. I think that she sees that he’s dealt with a lot in his life and that’s something she certainly can relate to. I think she sees him as being quite similar and relating in a lot of ways beyond any psychopathic behaviors she’s not aware of. But I do think she catches on and is pretty accommodating to a lot of his funny business because she knows he has a hard time asking for help and is very much a loner. But I don’t think she sees those qualities as necessarily bad or suspicious; I think she sees them as the product of somebody who’s deeply wounded by the world.
Does she relate to these things because she, too, has a dark side?
I think she’s immensely self-possessed and has a grace with which she moves through the world. I think she’s pretty accepting of the fact that life is not all rosy, and that makes her come off as if she has a deep calm about things — everything ends, everybody dies. But I think she has a lot of protective mechanisms, especially growing up in the family she did, in a public way, to be able to manufacture different behaviors in order to keep the people around her calm. She’s running a kitchen, she has a brother who has a lot of problems of his own, and so she has to manage a lot and there isn’t a space for her to break down or get upset about what’s going on in her life. But she definitely has a lot of pain, and we will see that in the show, for sure.
What was the biggest challenge of tapping into a complicated character like Love?
I think just California. I’m not an LA girl; I grew up in Philly. Being in California, understanding that there’s a different way of thinking, a different mentality — there are a lot of things that she either chooses to be a part of or not, but she is extremely aware of the environment she’s in and how she moves through it and what she likes and doesn’t like. And I think mapping that all out and understanding how she relates to this place that is personally foreign to me was [the challenge]. We shot there, so I got to know it a little bit, but there’s a difference between being born and bred.
The first season tells you what the tone of the show will be, but what new research did you have to do into Love’s world?
This is a woman who loves food, so embracing the culinary scene of Los Angeles — which is ginormous and finger-licking and fabulous. Getting in there and really eating my way through LA and enjoying lots of different foods from all different parts of the city on its own is a great way to start to understand what this woman loves so much about where she lives. But also, reading Joan Didion, who she also really loves and is referenced in the show, and understanding this more gloomy perspective, too: She really appreciates this story that is very, very sad but also very real.