On HBO’s Enlightened, Amy (Laura Dern) is falling hard for Dermot Mulroney’s Jeff, the cocky L.A. Times journalist who is helping her expose the corporate misdeeds going on at Abaddon. He is the professional whistleblower she hopes to become; she has a wide-eyed determination he admires. Vulture got ahold of Mulroney to talk about his turn on the show, what it was like to play Russell — and True American! — on New Girl, and his upcoming Julia Roberts reunion.
Tell me how you found yourself on Enlightened.
I, uh, imposed myself — that’s probably the best word — on Mike White at a party, believe it or not. Because I had seen the first season and I was loving it. Loved Laura, knew I was watching an actor in top form. Six weeks later, he’s offering me a part, so it worked out great.
How did you impose?
I just told him how much I liked it and floated a terrible concept of what I thought might happen on the second season. I had the balls to pitch an idea. Fortunately for Enlightened, my story line was never a consideration.
Now you have to tell me what you pitched.
No way, man. No way! It was not formal. I was just speculating. But, yeah, Mike nailed it.
There are a lot of ways to feel about Amy, who is heroic, tragic, awkward. When the show premiered, some people found her annoying, even —
You know, it seems to me that if you’re annoyed by her, you’re not enjoying it as much as you could be. It goes way beyond that. That one poster they had where she had the mascara running down her face and she looked like a maniac? I saw that and thought, I have to see this. For me, it’s really a guilty pleasure to watch someone so off the rails. I don’t think you’re watching the same show if you’re annoyed by her. How passive of you.
In this last week’s episode, your character Jeff brings her to a fund-raising event and she’s just so enamored of him and this world. It made me squirm, but it kind of turns Jeff on.
She has a lot of passion for the things that he does, too. They share that. That part is genuine. I think what he needs to, I guess, not notice, so they can move forward with their nefarious plans, is that she’s gone off the deep end. And you have to remember that Jeff has dealt with a lot of zealots in his life, and you got a glimpse of that at the party. Most of the people you saw on-camera, by the way, are actually connected with animal rights, PETA, all kinds of causes. Laurie David is in the scene. Jeff is used to that. He knows those people, and Amy, in a way, is just like another one of them. Somehow she goes beyond that zealotry, though.
At one point, Jeff boasts about having 30,000 Twitter followers, which gets Amy asking everyone to follow her. Have you ever considered joining?
I almost did once for a movie release. It wasn’t my temperature. From what I understand, I have been impostered on Twitter. Since I don’t have an official presence, people have taken advantage of it. It’s weird. It’s not a big deal in my life but, no, I don’t have a Twitter. In fact, if you’ve been tweeting with me, that’s someone else. [Laughs.]
I don’t know if you heard, but last week on New Girl, Nick and Jess kissed.
What’s that? No, I didn’t know that. That’s something.
Are you over Jess? Is that what I’m hearing?
I liked Jess and Russell! I guess it hurts a little bit. It stings. When I see her around the school when I’m dropping off my daughter, yeah, I gotta admit, it stings. I could not have a better time on that show. I would go back in a second, but they’ve made it pretty clear that Russell’s been phased out. [Laughs.] That’s how I saw it when I was like, Hey, when do you want me back? and they basically sort of had to wave me off. I think they were probably already thinking of this episode with the kiss. Let’s go with that version, where they had to clear Russell out of the story completely before it would be even believable that she’d be open enough to mess with that other guy Nick.
I think Russell could come back. They just cast yet another love interest for Nick. Jess is due.
You’re right. Maybe later on. Isn’t that how it usually goes? One of them could move out, I could come in.
What do you remember about filming True American?
This, I did hear. I heard they brought it back. I played only a small part in it, but I’m happy to know that it impacted [the show] enough to be brought back. I’m not on Twitter, but I don’t live in a cave, so I know that True American has become a national obsession.
It’s true. How much of that chaos was scripted?
It was like making a stew. Yeah, like making a stew with what you have left over from the refrigerator. They were literally making it up as we went along. It was chaos, but I guess part of the fun is people trying to figure out what the rules are. I can assure you they were still making them up when I was there.
Do you have a favorite drinking game?
No. [Laughs.] No.
You just finished shooting August: Osage County, which has a pretty stellar cast.
Yeah, we finished around Thanksgiving. Of course it was amazing, as you can imagine. I was just utterly happy to be there. I was paired with Juliette Lewis in one story and Abigail Breslin in the other. I hate to say it now, I never saw the play, but people are interested in [my character] Steve Heidebrecht, as it turns out.
He’s certainly not like Russell or Jeff. He’s got a pervy side.
There is that turn in the story. It’s a gray role — what they’d call a plum part.
Abigail is more grown up now, thank God.
The first day we were in an important scene and I was really blown away by her. Maybe I’m late getting on that train, but I got a close-up view on how she works and she’s fantastic.
Is this the scene where you get high together?
I was talking about another scene, but that’s certainly going to be in there. And it gets funky.
The movie also reunites you with Julia Roberts.
Yeah, wait for the famous dinner scene. I worked extensively with Julia. Having worked with her so much, I can speak for her, and she was thrilled to work again with me. We’re good pals, actually, and it was great collaborating with her and with [director] John Wells and everyone.
The movie’s not exactly for the My Best Friend’s Wedding fans, though.
I don’t think anyone will remember that after this. It won’t be a distraction.