Ecco, signore e signori! Behold, ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to the premiere of Aziz-caps! As a special supplement to your regularly scheduled recaps of Master of None, we’ve asked New York Magazine cover star Aziz Ansari to give us the behind-the-scenes breakdown of the making of each episode, pieced together from multiple conversations over the past several months.
Episode 2: “Le Nozze”
A little context. This episode is a continuation of an arc started in episode one, in which Dev has moved to the small town of Modena, Italy, to learn how to make pasta. (Which is actually what Aziz Ansari did in real life.) Eric Wareheim, who plays Dev’s “Big Bud” Arnold on the show, really did come to visit him, just like Arnold visits Dev. Wareheim will guest star in this Aziz-cap, too.
Aziz Ansari: Eric really did come to visit me. I told him, “Let’s hang out here and I’m sure some things will happen that we can put in the episode.” So we really did drive around just the two of us for a few weeks, and we got into some deep conversations about life and relationships. That’s where we got the idea of Arnold going to Tuscany and exploring the difficulty of going through a breakup when you’re a little older and have to really consider the ramifications of whether that person was supposed to be your person.
Eric Wareheim: Aziz and I became friends before we started working together on Master of None. I directed a couple teaser commercials for him and we just started traveling together and having fun and talking about girls and life and culture and everything that became our characters in the show, which are these really close friends and our two different sides. Like, I’m a little bit crazier. He’s a little bit more heavy and down to earth.
Aziz is so obsessed with realness. He was like, “Come to Modena. There are no Americans here. I’m making pasta. I’ll show you the craziest shit. We’ll drink Lambrusco.” No one in Modena knew who he was; he could walk around all day and no one would stop him. I just showed up there and he introduced me to his friends that he’d met and then we’d travel around these small towns taking photographs, seeing how the different scenes could go. When we vacationed in Formentera [a Spanish island just south of Ibiza] last year, we got scooters and looked so funny, a big guy and a little guy, that we were like, “We have to shoot that.” A lot of those travels, you could literally go through Instagram and be like, “This is where that came from.”
AA: We shot that [Kanye West] “Famous” video when Eric came to visit and we were in Sicily and Rome. People thought we were filming [Master of None], but we were just kind of running around and having some experiences we could write about. We also went to Noto [a town in Sicily], which is actually where stuff in [Michelangelo Antonioni’s] L’Avventura was filmed.
(Ansari for the rest of the Aziz-cap.)
Filming those two episodes in Modena was the happiest thing I’ve ever done. [Laughs.] I mean, to be running around Italy with your friends, filming the show — that was a dream. We were just drinking spritzes and espresso all the time. Modena is such a charming, amazing town, I couldn’t believe we were doing it. I couldn’t believe we pulled it off.
I directed the first two episodes, and it was just a little tricky because you’re shooting in Italy, so a lot of people and actors are only speaking in Italian. I obviously had people who could translate for me, but you want to speak directly as much as you can to people. Those times when I’m directing, acting, and everything were really hard, but it was such a fun challenge.
The people at Osteria Francescana, where Arnold surprises Dev for dinner, were so nice when I came to Modena. They knew me a little bit from friends of friends, people like [Momofuku impresario David] Chang and whoever our mutual friends were in New York. [Food writer] Faith Willinger had advised me to go to Modena to do this thing and she was friends with them, too. So they knew I was coming and were so ready to take care of me.
I didn’t want to bother them and film there, even though I knew it would be cool because they’d just been named the No. 1 restaurant in the world, and when we film in a restaurant it’s not an easy thing. It’s a whole ordeal, right? But one of my best friends in Modena was a guy who works there and he was like, “Oh man, we’re kind of bummed you’re not filming in Francescana.” And I was like, “We’d love to film there. We just didn’t want to bother you guys!” And he was like, “It’s not a bother. We can figure it out.” And I was like, “So when can we film?” — this was while we’re filming — and he’s like, “Well, you could film today.” And I was like, “Today?”
It’s one of those things where I pull aside Alan [Yang, Master of None’s co-creator] and I pull aside our first AD and our line producer and I’m like, “Uh, Francescana said we could film there but it has to be today.” And when you’re adjusting the schedule of a shoot like that it’s not a simple thing. So we rewrote all the stuff, we moved the scene into Francescana, and then somehow our amazing production just made it happen. We had a very limited window and Massimo [Bottura, the chef-owner] was like, “I’m just going to start making you guys food.” And they start pouring us wine. And someone on the crew is like, “No, we’ll just use grape juice for that.” And they’re like, “Fuck you! You’re not using grape juice! They’re gonna drink wine. You’re not going to film them drinking grape juice in our restaurant.” [Laughs.] And so all that food, all that stuff was all real.
So we’d film little bits and I’d take a couple bites and we’d change cameras or whatever and I’d be like, “All right, I’ve eaten so much of this stuff! I can’t eat anymore!” And I’d pass it along and some of the crew would start eating this food.
The best thing was that little Nicoló [Ambrosio, the little boy in episode one] was just running around, and I introduced him to Massimo. I said, “This is Nicoló. He’s the star of these episodes, and he loves food.” So one of Massimo’s signature dishes is called “the crispy part of the lasagna.” And the idea is that little kids in Emilio-Romagna, when they were kids, would eat lasagna, and their favorite part was the top part, the crispy part. He made a dish in such a way that it’s just the crispy part.
So he goes up to little Nicoló and he’s like, “What’s your favorite part of lasagna?” And Nicoló goes, “Oh, the soft part.” And Massimo’s like, “Get the fuck out of here! What do you mean, the soft part? You like the top part! You like the crispy part!” And Nicoló’s like, “No, I prefer the soft part.” So Massimo just started making dishes and bringing them out to Nicoló, who’s in the back by the kitchen. Little Nicoló ate like the whole Francescana tasting menu, just standing outside on the street holding bowls and gobbling up whenever Massimo put in front of him. And whenever I’d go out there in between takes, he was just going nuts! The kid is so funny. Like, Massimo goes up to him and is like, “Is this tagliatelle better than your mom’s?” Nicoló’s like, “Yeah, yeah!” And then he goes over to his mom and his mom’s like, “Is it good?” And he’s like, “It’s not as good as yours. But it’s good.”
This episode was really inspired a lot by stuff that happened on the trip Eric and I took. I’d been to Tuscany a few times and thought it would be cool to show this wedding in Pienza and have us on scooters. We were just trying to capture the visuals of the fun of that area.
Most helpful of all was, we were riding around in Sicily driving in these pretty tiny roads, and of course we got lucky enough to get stuck in an alley. And people are endlessly asking me what’s real and what really happened, and that thing of getting stuck in a car is exactly what happened to us in real life. We were driving around, we see this tight little alley, and I’m navigating, like, “Yeah, it says we’re supposed to go through there,” and then we’re like, “I don’t know.” And just like in this show, this truck barrels through, so we’re like, “Okay, we’ll be fine.” And we got stuck. Luckily it wasn’t too hard to get out. But it was very similar to the show and people were honking at us.
There’s a picture on my Instagram of us stuck, and that’s what I kept showing to the production people, like “It’s got to be like this.” And it was one of the hardest scenes to direct and one of the hardest scenes to create. Because finding an alley like that, getting a car stuck inside it, and making it look like that was a tricky thing to pull off. I kept showing that picture, being like, “This really happened. If what we film is not as funny as what really happened, we’ve failed.” But when we screened it and it got a huge laugh, it was a big sigh of relief for me. I was really happy with it. That was one of my favorite sequences.
The one thing we exaggerated was that the real car was a Volvo and in the show it’s a Fiat. And actually, when Eric got into the Fiat he was too big to fit in and drive. So they had to remove the seat and he’s really sitting on a makeshift fake seat. So now we have proof that Eric cannot sit inside a Fiat and have his legs be in a place to properly use the pedals. He can’t do it! It was very ridiculous.
When Eric and I were actually in Italy, we had a lot of conversations about how when you’re in close relationships at the age where we’re at, there are so many more stakes and it’s really scary. When you go through a breakup at this age, it’s a really tricky ordeal because you have the same thoughts those characters have when things end. In Eric’s, or Arnold’s case, it’s someone from 11 years ago, and in Dev’s case someone a little more recently, but it’s a scary thing to not have that connection with someone anymore. You have bouts of loneliness, and I guess in both those characters’ cases, they were broken up with, but you worry whether you’ll ever have anything like that again. Because you remember when you were really happy with the person, and the idea that you won’t have that again in your life is something that crosses your head. [Laughs.] It’s a dark, scary idea. That’s what that episode is about.
With Dev and Rachel, they’re in that period you go through after a breakup when you’re figuring out how much you want to stay in communication with this person that you were once deeply in love with, and may be still deeply in love with. That’s a weird period and that’s the period we’re trying to show. The end of episode two is Dev deciding to tell Rachel, “Yeah, us joking and flirting on text isn’t helping me move on.”
Way before we were writing this episode, we knew of this guy who looked like Eric. He’d done some commercials, and some people were like, “This guy has Eric’s look,” and we’d joked about that guy. Then during writing we were like, “What if Eric goes to the wedding of his ex-girlfriend and the guy looks just like Eric?” And then we were like, “Oh shit, we need to get the guy to play him!” — the guy, Barak Hardley, ended up doing the role and he was really good.
One thing that’s cool is that during that ending scene, it started raining, like, really hard, and we couldn’t film. And then our production designer was like, “Oh, this is like in La Notte [an Antonioni film] when they have the party outside and it starts raining and people just run in the pool.” And I was like, “Oh shit!” And we looked at each other and were like, “Yeah, we should have everybody jump in the pool!” So we just came up with that and then we’re like, “See which background people would want to jump in the pool.” And all these people were like, “We’ll jump! We’ll jump!”
We did that on the fly, but it was cool because it actually was raining and it helped us come up with this thing that was totally improvised because of the weather. It wound up being such a great ending beat for the whole thing.
I was definitely sad. Living there and then filming there, like I said, was one of the most fun, magical things I’ve ever done in my life. I really cannot believe it was something I was fortunate enough to do. But we were excited to get back to New York. What’s great is that episode ends with that Clash of the Cupcakes thing. [Dev gets offered a job hosting a reality-competition cupcake-baking show.]
We built that whole [Clash of the Cupcakes set]. Our team did such a great job, and what’s amazing is you can go to them with the craziest idea, like, “What if there’s a cupcake that rises up and I walk out of it?” And they’re like, “Okay, cool.” And you show up a couple of weeks later and there’s a giant cupcake moving up and down! That episode ends with such a great energy. So by the time that episode ends, you’re propelled to see what happens with this guy when he goes back to New York.