It’s now February, the month of love and prognosticating marmots. Among all the other seasonally appropriate offerings you’ll find on TV and in theaters is Jason James’ Entanglement, a twisted yet comedic love story starring Thomas Middleditch and Jess Weixler. As Ben Layton, Middleditch is an unconventional lead—after five seasons of Silicon Valley, the latest of which debuts March 25, he’s got far more experience with tech bromances.
But, as Middleditch tells The A.V. Club, it’s really just a matter of working a different muscle. Ahead of Entanglement’s February 9 release, we talked to the actor-comedian about the challenges of starring in a rom-com, the potential obstacles the genre faces, social activism, T.J. Miller, and why his co-star (and Oscar nominee) Kumail Nanjiani is just so damn great at Twitter.
The A.V. Club: The last time we spoke with you, you said you were interested in taking on more dramatic projects. Is that what drew you to this particular movie?
TM: Yeah, in part. I am looking to perpetually challenge myself and in my existing body of work. And there’s no shortage of comedies with a plethora of dick jokes, so I felt like I had some room to explore something else and it’s not every day that a sort of surreal, trippy, dream-like love story comes over to me. So when I read the script I was like, “Oh, this is just straight-up weird. I like it.” Which is really the point of independent film, to play and experiment and try new things—otherwise what are you doing at that level? That budget level, that is.
AVC: This is a good jumping-off point for that challenge, because Entanglement is very dark and edgy for a rom-com, even one being billed as an “alternative romantic comedy.” How did you prepare for the role?
TM: Well, I think there’s plenty of people who can really do comedy—let’s call them, I know this might be revolutionary, but let’s call them comedians—that have little dark patches. I think for a lot of us, turning to comedy was a way of figuring out all that other stuff. So, in terms of preparation, I think you kind of just tap into some other things. You slow things down. You turn off the comedy mass brain: trying to always look for a joke or a heightening or any of that stuff. You kind of just make that side a little bit more quiet and play from the gut a little bit better.
AVC: What was the most difficult thing for you about filming the movie?
TM: For someone who primarily does comedy—it’s interesting when you do comedy, I feel like, I kind of mentioned it, there’s comedy mass. You can kind of analyze in between takes, be like, “Okay, was that good?” And you know it was good, if you sort of had the sensation of “was it funny or not.” Because I’ve been doing it for so long, I have that part. But it’s so funny, whenever I do anything even remotely dramatic, I second-guess absolutely everything. I have no idea what I’m doing. So after each take, I just have no idea if it was good or not. And I become a very needy person to be on film, requiring a tremendous amount of validation. And it’s also kind of scary, right, ’cause once you’re done filming, they go off and assemble it however they want. And you’re just like, “Did I do too much? Did I not do enough? Is it gonna come across as disingenuous? Oh god.” So I think the biggest challenge was just not believing that it’s possible from my face and brain. [Laughs.]
AVC: You have such great chemistry with your Silicon Valley co-stars, but that’s a group dynamic with various rhythms. Here, you’re mostly playing off one person, your co-lead Jess Weixler. What was that like, to work primarily with just one other person, and in a totally different kind of relationship than we’re used to seeing you in?
TM: It definitely helps that Jess is not only a great actress, but she’s just a really cool person to be around. She’s really sweet and deep, and she laughs at all my stupid jokes. She was great. And in a movie like this where it’s a lot more intimate and there’s a bit of a love story going on, you kind of have to suspend a little—the falling-for-each-other thing, that happens, and it’s not like you’re crossing any lines or anything, but you show up to work and you have to sort of look “gazingly” at one another. And of course, it’s all pretend, but for a month you get to really know someone, and it’s interesting. It’s kind of a different process. I’d never done a… well, I guess I shouldn’t give it away, but I’ve never done an intimate bedroom scene, let’s say—ever, in my acting. I’m always the nerdy dweeb. That doesn’t happen a lot for me, so that was kind of a trip. It’s embarrassing. It’s weird and it’s surreal and then, “Cut.” You move on. You got other stuff to shoot that day.
AVC: There’s some concern that in light of the cultural shift we’re seeing, thanks to the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, that Hollywood won’t be able to make romantic or sexy movies, whether they’re dramas or even just romantic comedies. What are your thoughts on the movements, and do you think they could impact these kinds of movies going forward?
TM: I definitely don’t think that intimate movies will stop getting made. That just won’t happen. Even if there is a slowdown, everything’s cyclical or comes in waves. I think the aspiration is that when they do, or even movies that aren’t romantic in nature, there’s a sense of professionalism where people don’t have to feel either intimidated or anxious.
I also think, you know, movements—Hollywood lives in its own insular bubble. We tend to think there’s a perpetual importance to things we say. I mean, we’re one of the few industries that televises multiple award ceremonies to pat ourselves on the back. [Laughs.] It’s crazy. So while we think everything we do is with the greatest importance, I think the rest of America sometimes rolls their eyes, and sometimes I side with them a little bit. I’m not specifically talking about #MeToo, but I would hesitate to guess that there’s a time limit for these various movements where people, even the people that are leaders in the movements, get kind of burnt out. ’Cause at one point you just wanna be like, “Well, talk about the movie you’re in as opposed to the statement.” But I do think it’s super important, as much as there’s growing pains with anything that’s brought into the spotlight, ’cause everybody has to adjust. Hopefully we get to the point where it’s good enough that we can move on. But I mean, it’s noisy at the start, and that’s just what kind of has to happen.
AVC: Well, the #MeToo movement did begin outside of Hollywood, and the goal of Time’s Up is to help survivors in other industries, especially those who aren’t nearly as influential.
TM: Oh, no, I didn’t mean to marginalize it and say it’s only us. I understand, and it should be a complete global movement.
I think this is my reaction to just watching every award ceremony lately, and it’s tricky. When everybody has something to say about it, it sometimes feels flippant, I suppose. My concerns come from making sure any movement feels protected and actual, as opposed to [someone thinking], “I say this because it’s very popular to say, and honestly, not saying it is negative points.” So I want to make sure—which is a very cynical way of looking at it, I understand that—but I just want to make sure that all the movements that are really just and worthwhile aren’t sort of dismissed as leftist nonsense.
AVC: You ended the fourth season of Silicon Valley knowing that you’d go into the new season without T.J. Miller. What was it like, shooting the show after his departure?
TM: I think by the end everybody knew that that was the right move. No one wants to be either on a show that they’re kind of ready to move on from, or around someone who’s on a show that they are ready to move on from. It just creates a bit of friction, and so I think it feels better and I bet everyone involved feels better. Yeah, so I think, to be honest, everybody involved is happier.
AVC: And was there any discussion on set about the assault allegations against him?
TM: People who know him, sure, we chat about it. But I think that’s the tricky thing with all this stuff. Speaking as a guy, as a man, as a male human, it’s kind of scary, with this fervor that’s surrounding it, where an allegation can just pop up and then it’s really incumbent upon you to fervently defend your character. I’m not gonna dive into what’s real or not. I’m just saying it’s a little bit scary. I mean, I thought the whole Aziz Ansari thing was kind of absurd. Like, there’s a difference between assault and just kind of strange sex. You don’t want to live in a world where it’s just so stiff that there’s no, I don’t know, something? I don’t know where I’m going with that, but I don’t really know enough about [the allegations against Miller] to comment on. Just don’t know about it, really. But it is tricky, you know. It’s weird. It’s like we live in a world where currently the climate, let’s say, is where a j’accuse will really turn your world upside down.
[At this point, the publicist cuts in to say that we have one minute left, then asks that we return to talking about the film.—ed.]
AVC: One of Entanglement’s themes, which is demonstrated with all this beautiful imagery of red strings running everywhere, is this sense of interconnectedness, that sometimes goes deeper than we’re even aware of. As Richard Hendricks, you definitely go all-in on social media. But your own online presence is limited to your Instagram account. Did you just find it necessary to kind of unplug?
TM: [Laughs.] Well, I do like Instagram ’cause I can make funny videos or just share some photos. I like it because in the comments sections you can kind of curate it, and if people are being jerks you can just—they go away. Facebook, I just deleted, because I just wasn’t using it and I don’t like the idea of having a platform that silently collects my data to be sold off to massive corporations. I can’t stand that. That really irks me. I also think it’s completely useless and the only purpose to have it is maybe to just have people from your past message you saying what’s going on lately, which to me is an actual chore. And also to put articles about fake nonsense, which I also think happens with Twitter. Twitter to me, is the noisiest, messiest, turned-up version of the internet. Where I just look at it and go, “Oh wow.” It’s just a bunch of people screaming at each other and making jokes or statements that conflict with everyone else. So it’s, like, not the personification, but the culmination of a loud internet, which I think is—it’s not for me. So I deleted it.
And I mean, I’m not as good at Twitter as Kumail [Nanjiani]. Kumail can sum up these cultural elements into something really funny. I can’t. I can do that maybe with a silly voice or a video, but that doesn’t play on Twitter. I could never really do that in 140 characters. So my contribution was pretty minimal, and then all I was doing was experiencing it, which I thought was kind of a weaponized, mechanized—you know with bots—and polarized amalgamation of what I thought were the grosser elements of the internet. So I think Twitter’s actually become… I mean, my honest opinion, I think Twitter is a detriment to society. I do. I think it’s all these sort of social media aggregate sources. They perpetuate polarization. They perpetuate misinformation. And they can be so easily manipulated. You don’t even know it’s being manipulated. I really do think it’s a bad thing. So down with Twitter. Hashtag. That’s the newest movement, man. And if it succeeds, that hashtag won’t even matter right?
AVC: So, once #DownWithTwitter gets enough retweets, the whole platform just self-destructs?
TM: Yes. Great. Great. Love it.
Entanglement is available in theaters, on demand, and digital HD on February 9.