Spoilers below for the Casual series finale.
When I get on the phone with Michaela Watkins and Tommy Dewey, the stars of the recently concluded Hulu series Casual, they are already in mid-conversation. “We haven’t seen each other in way too long,” Dewey explains. He’s shooting a movie in L.A. at the moment, and Watkins is in Toronto working on a YouTube Red series. But physical proximity aside, it doesn’t sound like there’s much distance between them.
Watkins volunteers that it’s Dewey’s birthday, and, during a sidebar about another show that Dewey co-wrote and co-developed, Now We’re Talking, she makes sure to note that he was nominated for a Writers Guild of America award for his work. On more than one occasion, their sentences and laughter overlap. When Dewey accidentally gets disconnected during our interview — not once, but twice — Watkins immediately senses it. They may have played co-dependent siblings Val and Alex on Casual for four seasons, but they act like brother and sister in real life, too. Just in a less dysfunctional sense.
During our nearly hour-long conversation, that closeness comes through as they talk about saying good-bye to Casual, what they think of the show’s time jump and the (slightly) advanced technology that’s sprinkled throughout season, and the scene that made them both break down in tears. Given the way Casual ends — with Alex leaving Los Angeles and Val’s close companionship for the first time — it’s also heartwarming to learn that after the show wrapped, Dewey and Watkins did the opposite. They actually became neighbors.
You said you haven’t talked to each other in a while. When did you shoot the last season?
Michaela Watkins: I think it was late April. And then, we cried a lot. And then, we were like, “Bye-eee.” Tommy was in France, I went to England and Norway, and now he’s shooting a movie back home and I’m here in Canada.
TD: And this is after being so sad that I bought a house, um, two blocks from Michaela’s.
Are you serious?
TD: Yeah, in L.A. But she hasn’t been here, so we haven’t gotten to hang out.
MW: The only solace I have is that when I do go back, I get to swim in his pool.
Let’s talk about the show. Before you got the scripts, did you know about the time jump? How did you feel about that?
TD: [Casual creator] Zander [Lehmann] spoiled it for me pretty early. I don’t think we knew what it was going to look like, nor did I know how they were going to pull tech through in this really interesting way. People seem to have forgotten that the show started as a commentary on tech and online dating. It’s obviously moved far away from that as we progressed, which is a good thing. I wasn’t crazy about doing a show that just riffed on tech — we’ve got Black Mirror for that — but it was cool that they bookended it with a nod to how tech influences our life.
MW: I don’t think I knew until I got the first script. I don’t know why I missed that conversation. I was probably on my phone. [Watkins and Dewey laugh.] But also, I can see why I wouldn’t know, because it didn’t really matter how much time had passed for my character. She dabbled in a few things, but nothing really happened. She sees the way her nearest and dearest have blossomed into these new people and new lives. And she’s like, “What the hell have I done? What am I doing?” I think that gestational three or four years of downtime was fruitful, if only because that’s how long it takes for some people, slow-moving people, glacial people, to decide to change their lives.
TD: I like glacial people. I’m writing a show now called Glacial People and they live above the Arctic Circle, but they have a great sense of humor.
MW: But nothing happens.
All the reviews will be like, “It’s too slow. Needs to pick up the pace.”
MW: And then Norway will be like: “Hit! No. 1! All the awards!”
Technology, as you mentioned, was more front and center in the first season. But it was still a thread that ran through the whole series. Of the things you were dealing with in the final season — the Alexa-like Ova, the driverless cars — which gadget was the hardest to imagine?
TD: They all felt pretty close. I know Zander and company went to great pains to talk to tech people. They wanted to at least say, “Could this happen in four years? I don’t need a guarantee, but am I being crazy to think Ova could be this omniscient?” They were assured that, no, these technologies are on the way. Driverless cars I’m totally onboard with. I don’t like the idea of someone just listening to me at all times. I’m a pass on Ova. PancakeBot [a 3-D food printer] already exists.
MW: The fallout of having virtual relationships was the one that was bone-chilling to me. That, and the pop-up ads. That made my skin feel real crawly and dead. I loved that story line because I just thought it was so creepy and sad and lonely. As if technology wasn’t lonely enough, the fact that you’re getting scammed by somebody taking all your personal information — that was just so creepy to me. But it’s probably a thing, right?
I was freaked out by the driverless cars.
MW: I’m so excited by that, I can’t even handle it. That’s the one technology I’m like, “Bring it.” But I do understand that if you’re a woman and it lets you out and there’s no human being to talk to — to say, “No, this is not my street. Don’t make me walk down these dark streets to get back to my street” — I can see where that would be really dangerous. But on the assumption that it works? Oh man, that’s such a game changer.
Was any tech supposed to be in the season and then got taken out?
MW: Not that I’m aware of. We almost had to throw that PancakeBot off a bridge.
Why? Was it not working?
MW: It took like ten minutes to work. [Pause.] Did we lose Tommy? I feel like we did. He’s never been this quiet in his whole life. Aww, poor Tommy. Yeah, the PancakeBot was really funny. When we were shooting that, we were just like, “That’s so cool. And then it took like —”
TD: Hey, guys. I’m back. Speaking of tech …
MW: Hi, we didn’t notice.
TD: Thank you for giving a long-winded answer while I tried to dial back in.
MW: She asked if there was any technology that was meant to be used that didn’t get used, and I said we almost threw that PancakeBot off a bridge because it took like ten minutes to make pancakes.
TD: Yes, that is the most inefficient machine in existence.
MW: It was like, “Here’s your cold pancake that looks like a dinosaur.”
After the driverless car drops off Val in the wrong location, it leads her to open the wine store. Do you think that’s a good decision for her?
MW: I do think that is a great decision for her. I’ve never really wanted anything that Val has had before. I’ve not wanted to trade my life with hers. I can say this is the first time that I’m jealous of the fact that she’s choosing a career where she gets to unplug from technology. I suppose inventory and all that kind of stuff has to be online, but she wants to go back to tactile feelings. There’s a scene that was cut that was all about her buying a couch. I’m sure it was riveting, but [pause] … Tommy, you still there?
Did we lose him?
MW: That’s wild. I just could tell. Isn’t that funny?
You can feel his absence.
MW: I can sense it. It’s like a twin, you know? I’m wondering if this is just what Tommy does when you’re not asking him the question.
TD: Hey, guys. I don’t know what is happening.
MW: I always know when you’ve dropped off. I’m like, “I feel like he’s not here.” And then I’m like: “… Tommy?” And then there’s silence. I’m like, “How do I sense his absence?” It’s so strange.
TD: That is special, thank you.
MW: Anyway, I was talking about opening the wine store. I’m jealous of how she’s giving up technology and going back to basics. Let’s sit around and drink wine and look each other in the eye. It’s been this funny dichotomy because I feel like the whole show is about technology, but here you have this one character that’s very much unplugged.
Tommy, I’m also curious about this: Do you think Alex really was in love with Rae? Or are his feelings mixed up with the fact that they have a daughter who he obviously cares a lot about?
MW: I love that question.
TD: I think his feelings are always a little mixed-up. Val points out that, you know, he likes to chase shiny objects. Whenever something seems difficult, he wants to control the situation in his favor. But actually, I think a particular kind of heartbreak is that he is in love with her. I think it’s going to be a true, unrequited love. That doesn’t mean he won’t fall out of love with her and find something that works better for him and fall in love again. But maybe I’m telling myself that as Tommy because that helps me play it.
There are a couple of scenes toward the end, one where Alex admits that he’s scared of moving away and being far away from Val —
TD: Whew. Yeah.
And then, the last scene where you two are standing in the empty house. I realize that you’re actors, but I couldn’t help but feel like some of the emotion in those scenes was coming from a real place. Can you talk about the scene where Alex says he’s afraid to be away from Val? How was that to shoot?
TD: We couldn’t actually read the scene without crying.
MW: We couldn’t even rehearse it or block it.
TD: You’re right that it dovetails with our experience of the show. It is personal. We’re mourning the loss of the show as actors who had the dream job, and also the end of a phase of a sibling relationship. Those emotions link up in that way and you certainly want to use them if they’re there. But also I think the writing in that last episode is so beautiful. We got to read the episode with all the executives there and we just started crying. We couldn’t even get through the damn table read!
MW: And then, we looked up and they were all crying, too.
TD: When it’s that rich, you want to leave it alone. I was like, “I don’t want to see this scene again until we shoot it.” Then we started the scene and it was a train wreck in the best way! It was so emotional.
MW: Tommy was so emotional out of the gate, which is hilarious because I read all the scripts ahead of time and I have all my emotions and feel everything. Then Tommy’s like, “I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know what’s going to happen!” Then he showed up to this scene a hot mess.
TD: [Laughs.] I really was. I had to take a break and get a protein bar.
MW: He cried himself into a migraine headache. Then I started to get a little lost in the scene because I suddenly was like, “I don’t know what my level of emotion should be in this. Am I the older sister being strong for him, or is it that we both have a breakdown?” It was so emotional, for the first time ever, we were just avoiding each other. Because, I don’t know, it’s almost embarrassing. Oh, this is too sad. We have a tendency to get so jokey with each other that we [thought it] would dissipate all the energy out of the scene if we start on a bit.
Once we got a few takes in, I realized that I need that. Because it’s the joking around I’m going to miss. It’s the brotherly/sisterly relationship, it’s the familiarity, it’s that shorthand. I just look at Tommy’s face and we both start laughing because we clock something on the set that makes us laugh. So I felt in this scene that I needed to connect while we were shooting. At one point, we sat down on the couch and started laughing. And then we hit the scene and I was a fuckin’ mess. I was inconsolable and couldn’t come back. And Tommy was like, “We’re not on me. I’m done.” No, I’m kidding.
TD: I was eating a sandwich.
MW: It was just so funny that I had to have that thing that we do.
TD: Which was adorable. I can unequivocally say that was the most fulfilling day of work I’ve had and I’ve been doing this for 18 years now. It was an incredibly fulfilling day.
MW: I felt like the script just earned it.
TD: It’s the act of saying the words that open the floodgates. It’s just saying the words “I don’t want to go somewhere you’re not,” which I can hardly say on this phone interview with you.
That last one where we’re standing on the threshold of the house, that is emotional because we had never seen that house without all the furniture and knickknacks in it. That’s the experience of leaving a physical space, which I personally hate. When my parents sold my childhood home out from under me, I was like, “I can’t get back home before that!” And they’re like, “Sorry, kid. I mean, you’re not paying the mortgage.” I was devastated. That’s somewhere else on the emotional spectrum that also pulls at your heart. Also, just fun fact, that is the last scene we shot. We closed the door behind us knowing that we were one take closer to the end of the series. Then, finally, we’re standing on the other side of the door and we hear [executive producer] Jason Reitman. Right, Michaela?
MW: Yeah, Michael Weaver was directing, but he added one more shot that [Jason] would say action for. We heard Jason say “cut” — now I’m getting emotional — he said it so softly and we all just died. The crew and everybody just stood in the middle of that empty room and all hugged each other.
Do you ultimately feel like it’s good for Alex and Val to live apart?
MW: I think it’s bittersweet. It’s really good, but it’s like a breakup where you have a long-distance relationship or you go to college or whatever. It’s just like, “I love you, but I have to go be me now.” You know?
TD: I think it is the right thing, but I don’t like it. [Laughs.] You know, the upside of tech, some would argue is that it’s this great connector. But I just don’t think there’s any replacing physical proximity. I feel that with my family. I live a long way away from them — there’s no amount of FaceTiming that can cure that. I think that’s interesting and I’m glad the show explores it, the literal physical proximity to your loved ones in addition to co-dependency and all the other messy intertwining between these two siblings. We played with a physical distance in this thing. [To Watkins] Should I live in your house or should I live in my house down the street?
MW: I’m about to find out when I land in his pool in five weeks.
I really like that you bought a house near her.
TD: I really do, too! You know who lives two blocks the other way? Creator of the show Zander Lehmann.
Are you serious?
MW: Yeah. We’re within four blocks of each other.
Did you choose that location for that reason?
MW: Yeah. [Laughs.]
TD: Listen, I lived in Venice Beach for a very long time. I opened my search because there were better houses available in the Los Feliz/Silver Lake area.
MW: I was the first in that neighborhood, and then Zander, and then we got Tommy.
TD: It certainly contributed to the decision. I’m very excited about it. And then Michaela left the country for two months.
It sounds like you expect to be very much in each other’s lives even though the show is over.
TD: I certainly hope so.
MW: I recently visited Tommy’s childhood home, where he grew up. I went on the Alabama tour when I was there.
TD: This was actually a great coping mechanism. A few weeks after we wrapped, Michaela was doing a movie with one of our Casual directors, Lynn Shelton, in Alabama. I was going to visit my parents anyway, so I flew home a little early and gave Michaela a tour of the town and took her to my parents’ house. It was a really nice thing. Here’s the trick — how long do we have to wait before someone lets us work together again?
That was my next question.
TD: I’ll do it tomorrow.
MW: Yeah, me too.
TD: You have to do a little scheming because they’ll be like, “Didn’t you guys just play brother and sister?”
MW: Well, we know we can write well together, too, so we’ll probably be doing some of that at some point.
I certainly would like to see you work together again.
TD: Well, thank you.
MW: Would you like us to be superheroes?
Actually, no. I’m tired of superheroes.
MW: Me neither.
Unless that was your idea, then I’m all for it.
TD: Like low-key dramedy superheroes. Not working too hard. You know, just here in Los Feliz.
This interview has been edited and condensed.