Signore e signori, here’s your penultimate Aziz-cap! As a special supplement to your regular recaps of Master of None, we’ve asked New York Magazine cover star Aziz Ansari to give us the behind-the-scenes breakdown of each episode, pieced together from multiple conversations over the past several months.
Episode 209: “Amarsi Un Po”
Ansari wrote and directed this supersize episode, a deep dive into Dev and Francesca’s relationship. The episode is named after the most sonically important song of the season, from Italian pop star Lucio Battisti, who’d never been licensed outside of Italy. The title means “to love each other a little bit.”
We start out with sweeping footage of the Manhattan skyline, indicating that this one will be more like a movie than even the rest of the very cinematic season. There’s a glimpse into a promo photo shoot for Best Food Friends with Bobby Cannavale’s Chef Jeff, but mostly we’re with Ansari’s Dev and Alessandra Mastronardi’s Francesca as they wander the city while her fiancé Pino (Riccardo Scamarcio) is off tending to his tile business. Over the course of a cute visit to CVS, miraculously snagging a table at a popular tapas restaurant, and fake fighting in Washington Square Park, we get a sense of their chemistry. Then comes Pino’s birthday party, where Alessandra sends Dev kissy-face-emoji texts while sitting next to her fiancé, and later, a beautiful trip to Storm King Art Center and a movie night that turns into an accidental sleepover. Alessandra opens up about her life — that she gave up her art-history studies after her mother died, that she’s dated Pino for ten years and he’s the only man she’s ever been with, that she longs for a life out of her small Italian village — and Dev still doesn’t make a move.
Alessandra’s trip is nearing an end, though, and when they see each other at Arnold’s DJ night, she’s grown cold. Any chance of a relationship seems finished when she asks if they can take the helicopter tour of Manhattan that Dev set up at the beginning of the episode. Dev confesses his love over helicopter headset, and Alessandra admits she’s been feeling the same but it’s complicated and she needs time. The helicopter pilot, of course, chimes in to let them know he could hear every word.
Writing a Double Episode
Ansari: That was probably the hardest one to write because of the length. The romantic story of the season has been that Francesca worked with me at the pasta shop and we’re just friends and she comes to New York and we kind of have this flirtation. She’s dating this guy Pino the whole time, but we have this romantic night together and at the end you can tell, Oh, fuck! I’m really sad that I can’t do anything about it. And then she gets engaged. She comes back and we start spending a lot of time together and it becomes a thing that, like, starts killing me. I fall in love with this woman, but she’s engaged, I don’t know what to do, she lives in Italy, blah, blah, blah.
At the beginning of [“Amarsi Un Po”], he goes in being like, “Oh we’re just friends now, it’ll be fine.” He has that blow-past-it attitude, but then they spend this extended, really intimate time together in New York and it becomes something else. I mean, New York is such an incredible place to fall in love with someone. If she didn’t come to New York and Pino wasn’t away for all that time and they didn’t have all this time together, who knows what would’ve happened? Their spending so much time together in New York is what caused it to become what it does.
I feel like a lot of people have been in this situation. You end up forming a connection with someone else when you’re in this lull in your relationship, and it’s a very gut-wrenching, emotional experience. If you’ve ever had a conversation with someone about an experience like that, it’s a very intense thing. I wanted this episode to capture that.
I spent a lot of time with Alessandra rehearsing and improvising together to get that dialogue right. A lot of times you have the script and it doesn’t sound quite natural, so we’ll just do the scene knowing the emotional beats and record it on my phone while we improvise and we’ll play it back and grab the best parts. It’s really helpful. I’ve read that a bunch of other people do that, too. Linklater does it, Stanley Kubrick did that. I’m as good as those guys! [Laughs.] No, I’m not. But it’s a very good technique.
Anyway, we started writing and I was just really into it. We were writing all these good scenes and it ended up being super long. We had a script that was, like, 40-something pages. I showed it to Alan and I said, “Hey man, I think this could be a double episode.” He read it and he was like, “Yeah, I think this is good and I don’t think there’s stuff here to cut. You should just add some more stuff and make it a double.” And then I asked Netflix if we could make it a double episode and they were like, “Yeah!”
I really wanted to capture the emotional roller coaster of these situations. If you tried to do it in one episode, it was just too short! That’s why we needed time to really ramp up the intensity. You really need to get this guy to a place of okay, this woman is engaged and she lives in Italy, and I want to risk this potentially horrible conversation. You have to see a lot of them together. You have to see these ups and downs. You have to see that moment in the club where she just goes quiet and you’re like, “What the fuck happened?” You have to see that confusion. There are moments when you’re in a situation where you’re just elated — when you’re dancing in the apartment in a blizzard and you’re the happiest you’ve ever been. And then, there are moments where you’re talking to your friend and you’re like, “What the fuck is happening?” And your friend’s like, “I don’t know, man! Just go ahead and do something.” There are moments where you’re at the dance club and you’re like, “Wait, fuck, I thought this person was all in. What’s going on?” There are so many different emotional moments to hit and that’s why it had to be an hour.
I really have to give Alessandra credit for all the time she gave me and how much work she put into it. She’s such an incredible actress. I think she made me raise my game and I was a lot better than I would be with someone else.
I just trusted her because I try to cast people who are good writers. The trick that I learned from Parks and Rec is that the way you create a fully rounded character is you use your actors and who they are to mold it, because no one’s a more fully rounded, three-dimensional person than the real person. When we’re improvising, I’m always like, “Come from a real place. Use your own ideas, opinions to inform what this character is saying.”
Alessandra knew this type of person who is from Italy, hasn’t really dated a lot of people, has been in one relationship for a long time, is really dedicated to her family, has maybe put her own dreams on hold for the good of the family. So it seemed like an interesting backstory to give her, that she had this whole other path in her life and then her mom passed away and she had to stay there. But Alessandra is also incredibly funny and charming, and a lot of those moments in the episode are little things that she said to me when we were just joking around in our real life.
When I was in London hanging out with Lena, that was where I auditioned Alessandra, and right away I was like, “Oh my God. I think this person is Francesca.” I wanted to get to know her a little before we cast her, so we got lunch and she said that curry people thing and I was like, “That’s really funny.” So that’s in the episode.
The pharmacy thing, she came to New York and we did a week of rehearsals and I was like, “When you first came to New York, what do you remember?” She said, “Well, I really was blown away by the pharmacies.” I was like, “What? Let’s go to a pharmacy right now and tell me.” [Laughs.] And she basically did what’s in the episode! She was like running around, picking up tiny bottles of Vaseline and talking about how they didn’t have anything like this in Italy.
One time, we were walking around together in Washington Square Park and we really did that thing where we yelled those things out and somebody did recognize me. That was based on some real antics.
That Chef Jeff photo shoot, that’s every photo shoot, man! “Why don’t you do this really humiliating goofy thing where you don’t look cool and you look stupid? You want to do that? You’re a comedian.”
Given what you learn about Chef Jeff later, it’s interesting that he keeps warning Dev to be careful with this girl he can tell Dev clearly likes. But in that moment, it’s just someone older telling him, “This is not going to end well for you.” What I hope Dev realizes, and what I hope I realize in my own life, is that no one has answers to any of this stuff. There are no answers. You watch what we do in these last few episodes and you watch things like [Ingmar Bergman’s] Scenes From a Marriage or [Michelangelo Antonioni’s] La Notte or … what is the [Yasujiro] Ozu movie? Early Spring! Everyone’s talking about this situation. It’s different because of the cultural context, because of the time period context, whatever, but ultimately the stories are about the same conundrum and nobody has an answer. You don’t watch any of those movies and go, “All right, I can understand the answer now. This is how I fix things in my own life.” There’s no clean way of saying, “This is what you do and everything will be okay.”
Personally, I don’t use emojis too much. I send that guy that sticks his tongue out and closes one eye. I think in [the episode], it’s just trying to convey that idea that you start reading into every little detail to see if it’s a sign that this person feels something for you. I don’t think you’re crazy if you get that kissy emoji and you start wondering what’s going on inside someone’s head. [Laughs.] Is it because she’s Italian? Are kissy emojis normal in her culture? That’s the kind of question he’s trying to figure out.
I think Dev is so infatuated with this woman that he really just wants to see her again and he’s looking to grasp at anything that gives him clarity in that situation, even when it’s ill-advised, like going to Pino’s birthday party. The guy who plays Pino, by the way, is like the Ryan Gosling of Italy. When people saw him in Modena, they definitely started to freak out a little bit, and it was in the newspapers and everything. You definitely got a sense that he’s a pretty big star in Italy.
We’re the first show that’s filmed there as far as I know. How did we get it? I think once you’re in the second season of a show, if you have a first season that was acclaimed — like we were lucky enough to have all of this nice critical acclaim behind us — they knew we would do a good job. It’s a beautiful place and at that time of the year it was just perfect.
It was a really scary scene to shoot because we had limited time and pretty much all of those moments are improvised. We only had one day and we had to run around from piece to piece. We came up with all of that stuff that day — me picking her up and carrying her across the whole thing, and her throwing the leaves on my head. I’d been there with Alessandra one day and I was just like, “Wow, this is really cool and I think it’ll just photograph amazingly.” And it all worked out.
It’s just that in season two, you know the show. You’re better at the show. You’re more confident. That Storm King thing, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do that [last season], to be like, “Let’s just shoot it super wide and see how it’ll play. I know it will.” By this one, I’d directed two episodes in season one [“Parents” and “Nashville”] and the two episodes in Italy. It feels like when I first did stand-up and I’m like, “Oh, I really like this. I want to get really, really good at this.” That’s how I feel about directing and writing. I’m just like, “Oh, I want to learn this and get really, really good at it.”
By the time you get to the blizzard, we were just trying to think of stuff that really ramps up the tension. We’re watching [Antonioni’s] L’Aveentura at Dev’s apartment, and — bzzz bzzz — you get an alert. There are no cars running, so she had to spend the night. It’s already been a very intense night with a lot of sexual tension, and then we’re arguing about who’s going to sleep in the bed, but then we both can’t sleep so we’re drinking wine and dancing late. I think the episode does a good job of capturing the agony of being in that situation. You’re sitting on the bed with them during a blizzard and you’re like, “What the fuck is going on? What’s happening here?” We’ve all been there. We’ve all been in that kind of moment.
Her wearing Arnold’s shirt as a nightgown, I was just trying to make this hellish for Dev in every way possible. [Laughs.] Where he’s just like, “What the fuck is going on?” I think everyone’s experienced that agony, where you have this amazing night with someone but for whatever reason you don’t know what’s going on. That outfit was just tightening the screws on the guy. And then we did the twisting. That song [Edoardo Vianello’s “Guarda Come Dondolo”] is a great song!
We really wanted to put [Dev] in that situation of, well, she’s engaged and this could blow up in your face. No matter how much you think, “Well, it’s clear this person has an interest in me,” there’s always part of you that’s like, “Maybe it’s all in my head.” The episode lives in that fear. The whole episode is about living in that moment where you’re swaying back and forth between “this person definitely loves me,” and “no, this person would laugh in my face.”
I don’t know if she’s leading him on so much. I think what happens is people get bored in their relationships, or they get a lull in their relationships, and when you meet someone new who’s charming and you’re having a good time with them, it’s hard not to enjoy being around them and wanting to hang out with them and flirt with them. People love to flirt! I think you’re just enjoying the flirtation without really considering other people’s feelings, whether it be the other person you’re flirting with or your partner. It’s very complicated, and it’s a thing that happens more often than people realize. You don’t really talk about it because it’s a little shady to be involved in something like that, but it happens to people all the time.
When we were writing this episode, I asked people who are in my life, “Have you ever been in a situation like this?” And everyone was like, “Yeah, it sucks!” [Laughs.] It’s a messy thing that happens often, and it’s just what happens if you’re in a relationship and it’s getting dicey. If someone else comes into your life at the right moment, it can lead to one of these situations.
That’s a place called Good Room in Williamsburg, but they have a smaller room called Bad Room and it looked great on-camera. I loved being soaked in all red as we’re having an intense conversation. That was a fun scene. Alessandra was so good in that. It really made me raise my game.
That was also a really fun scene because it’s Arnold’s DJ night and Zach [Cowie], our music supervisor, and I had talked a lot about, what is Master of None’s New York sound? Obviously there’s all this Italian stuff this season, but for New York we both got obsessed with using Paradise Garage stuff. Paradise Garage was this famous club in New York and this famous DJ, Larry Levan, would spin all the records that we use in that scene.
We love Paradise Garage, and another guy, David Mancuso [founder of the legendary parties of the Loft]. We love that whole club scene. And I love all the music in that scene. We used “Dance Dance Dance,” by Marta Acuna, that’s produced by Patrick Adams; Frankie Knuckles’ “Your Love”; Mr. Fingers’ “Mystery of Love,” which Kanye sampled for “Fade.”
And the thing is, Pino, he’s a good guy. He’s just really into tiles. When Pino and Francesca have that fight, that scene was one of my favorite ones to direct because we did it all in one take. I’d been watching a lot of stuff like [Jean-Luc Godard’s] Contempt just to watch the camera movements and stuff when people fight. I love watching couples fight in movies, so that was my intent with that. And the whole thing was in Italian. He’s an incredible actor, and he and Alessandra really brought it in that scene.
As far as Pino goes, you don’t want to make him a caricature where he’s mean or anything. Pino hasn’t done anything wrong. He’s probably just been neglecting his relationship and probably not been in the best place, relationship-wise. And his fiancée has strayed a little bit and is having this emotional affair with this other dude.
The Helicopter Ride
This season, I just think of things in a totally different way than I did the first season. It’s like, “Just put as many crazy, interesting ideas as you can.” That scene in the helicopter, if we did it last year, we’d be like, “Oh yeah, they’ll sit in the apartment and have that conversation.” And I was just thinking, “Okay, where would be the craziest, most uncomfortable place for them to have that conversation? What if they were in a helicopter?” We wouldn’t have done it last season. You think, “I won’t beat that.” But you end up beating it. I always end up beating stuff that I did in the past. I feel like I evolve my technique and I can do it better or approach it in a different way or whatever.
That was actually the first scene Alessandra and I did when she auditioned. It wasn’t set in a helicopter at the time, but I was just like, “Okay, in this scene, you’ve been seeing someone, but we’ve been spending a lot of time together, and I’m going to confess my feelings for you.” So it was like, “Let’s just improvise this.” We did it and some of the dialogue from that ended up in the episode because she’s so good at playing it real.
Whenever you can do things practically, that’s always my preference, and when they were like, “You can really film the helicopter,” I was like, “Great!” Sound-wise, there’s a way to mic us up where you still have the real sound. That’s all real sound. And that’s Beck Bennett from SNL doing the ’copter guy’s voice. He did it in the sound booth later. But I just love his voice, and for some reason he sounds like he has the voice of a helicopter pilot. It was one of those things where I had it in there as a funny joke to cut the tension, and I was always like, “Let’s cut this.” I wasn’t sure if it was too jokey. But I liked how it played at the end and left it in.
At the end of [“Amarsi Un Po”], you hit a point where you realize, “Okay, now you know.” But nothing’s over. It’s just beginning! You still don’t know what’s going to happen to you. You feel like, “Okay, if I can just find out if this person has feelings, I’ll be in a better place.” Then you realize, “Oh, you’re not in a better place at all. Now you just have to go through another version of hell where you’re waiting to see if they’re going to leave this other person!”