Eric Schaeffer's new Starz show, Gravity (starring Krysten Ritter), follows a group of people who've tried (and failed) to kill themselves. It's a return to talk-therapy form for the director-writer-actor, who starred in and created Starved, a season-long FX dramedy about a support group for eating-disorder sufferers, and Showtime's docu-series I Can't Believe I'm Still Single, about Schaeffer's personal quest to find love. That show was prompted by a blog turned book deal with the same title, and Schaeffer suffered backlash for what many saw as degrading takes on women and his kinky lifestyle (he was in the running for Gawker's Douche of the Decade award). While he used to respond to these flames, now he says he's stopped engaging. (Sorry, commenters!) "I’m not into negative press or anything, it’s not fun or interesting to me, I think the whole gossip machine is boring." We spoke with Schaeffer recently about Gravity, making Internet enemies, and not playing the leading man for once.
Was Gravity, a show about a suicide support group, your idea?
Not fully. I got a call from a woman I had written for in the past, and she said she had an idea about a group of people who had tried to commit suicide but survived, like a Suicide for Dummies thing, which I thought was funny — in that dark, comedic way I found it interesting to me. I decided to get involved with the project and flesh it out and make it a viable show.
Your show Starved was also about a support group, so I figured this idea came from that.
The seed of the idea came from my co-creator, but it had no story arc, no other characters, so all that stuff had to be created. Then we imbued it with the tapestry of colorful characters and story lines, and then I produced and directed it, like I did with Starved.
You also act in it, but not as the romantic lead, which is a departure for you.
At this point, I’m only interested in doing stuff that I’m acting in. Starz said to me, “Hey, you’re always the lead guy in your movies and shows, would you be willing to play a different part this time?” And I said, “Ummmm, sure, that’d be fine.” I had initially thought I’d be playing the Robert character, who’s the lead, but I don’t know why they didn’t want me to be the lead. So I suggested I play the cop character, Miller. In terms of plot arc over the season, Miller’s just as integral as the two leads.
You’re usually playing the guy who gets the hot girl; in If Lucy Fell, Elle Macpherson falls in love with you, in Fall it was Amanda De Cadenet.
Yeah, I guess I always play the "leading man" in terms of the love interest, and for this it was somewhat off-center. But in a five-year series, there’s certainly room for Miller to get a girlfriend.
You like to draw on autobiographical themes for your work. Were you ever suicidal?
I never, so far, have been close to planning a suicide. I don’t have clinical depression, I think I’m in the realm of people who have some depression. And I used to drink and do a lot of drugs, and what comes with that is a predilection for edgier, dark thinking. When people think something’s sad, alcoholics think it’s the end of the world.
One of the group members in Gravity tries to kill himself because his penis is so small. Do you think people will draw a connection to you?
Emma, you’re an excellent crack journalist, but you’re not going to get my dick size out of me. I don’t have a three-inch dick, which I’m very grateful for. It’s a very normal and functional size, so, no, that was not one that was born out of personal experience. That was from my imagination.
A couple of years ago you incurred a lot of backlash for your Still Single book.
It’s all gone, it was short lived, it was a flurry, and it went away. I think people have that kind of reaction to my work because they’re terrified of their own humanity. People want to put themselves in boxes — I’m a straight man; I’m a straight woman; I’m a real lady; I’m not a slut — people don’t want to acknowledge that they have conflicting beliefs, that you could be a refined, sweet, moral woman, but still have thoughts about wanting to get thrown down and fucked by your boyfriend. Or a man can’t be a strong, virile guy and still have a fantasy about getting fucked by a hot chick with a strap-on. These thoughts freak people out, and all my work deals with that stuff and puts it out there.
So are you still single?
Sadly, I’m still on the search for the right girl.