Netflix’s Living With Yourself culminates in a fight. The eight-episode series stars Paul Rudd as both a slumped-shoulders sad sack named Miles, who unwittingly agrees to an experimental cloning process, and the clone — referred to as “New Miles” in the show’s promotional material — who results from said process. The original Miles goes along with the procedure because he’s looking for a reboot; his advertising career’s stalled, his once-lovely marriage has gone anemic, that awful play he’s been tinkering with is just idling in a Word doc. And when New Miles arrives, he’s everything that his beaten-down counterpart used to be: creative at work, attentive at home, and just generally more pleasant to be around. New Miles means no harm at first but, this being a doppelganger story and all, he and the original Miles were destined to be at each other’s throats — literally. It’s a conflict that Living With Yourself creator and writer Timothy Greenberg was happy to save until the finale.
“You always kind of know they’re probably gonna fight at some point. Like anything, you want it to be inevitable but unexpected,” Greenberg says. “I think the reasons why they’re fighting now and how it comes to be are, hopefully, unexpected and much richer than they would have been had they had a fight at the beginning.”
When the two versions of Miles do finally come to blows, it’s after a full season’s worth of one-upsmanship. The original Miles needs New Miles’s enthusiasm and wholesome ideas to secure a promotion at work; when the clone goes AWOL ahead of a major presentation, though, the genuine article suddenly has to fill in for his replacement. New Miles has a tryst with the original Miles’s wife, Kate (played by Aisling Bea), and nearly woos her away completely, but the copy doesn’t really compare; he simply isn’t the person Kate fell in love with. All of the resentments and feelings of inadequacy between the two Mileses fuel their fight scene at the very end of the season — a carefully choreographed mess of wrestling, pillow-fighting, twinning, and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation that immediately stands out as an accomplished feat of filmmaking.
“These things like the mouth-to-mouth, and then the vomiting after that,” says Jonathan Dayton, who co-directed all eight episodes of Living With Yourself with his partner and wife, Valerie Faris, “it was always kind of like, ‘Oh my God, that’s so good. Holy shit, how are we going to do that?’”
In the case of that mouth-to-mouth sequence — in which the original Miles smothers his clone with a pillow and then immediately regrets it and revives him — they pulled it off via a mixture of special effects and careful staging.
“I couldn’t just do that to air, like I had done some of the other scenes,” Rudd says. Instead, someone had to get into what Rudd jokingly describes as “a green body bag,” then, “to get it right, I had to kind of put my mouth over his chin.” And, of course, Rudd also had to shoot the reverse, with him on the ground as the helpless New Miles. But what really intrigued the actor was the symbolism. “I loved the idea of that,” he says, before adding: “And if you could somehow marry these things, two guys beating the hell out of each other and then trying to save the other …”
Originally, Greenberg’s script was very light on the specifics of the brawl. Once Dayton and Faris encouraged him to fill out the details a bit more, the creator and writer drew on a fight he’d had with an old roommate years ago. “We had just seen Fight Club, and then we’d gone out drinking, and then we got back to our apartment,” Greenberg says, sighing a little as he cops to this. “So, we’re like, ‘Yeah, let’s try it, man.’ And we started to get into a fight, and then we started to really get into a fight, and we literally broke furniture. Our coffee table, just like in the movies, was flat on the ground. And, at some point — one of us must have been moving or something — we hit a giant box of packing peanuts, so that everything in the entire apartment was covered with packing peanuts like snow.”
Dayton and Faris wanted some of that sloppiness and realism in the set piece — neither Miles knows how to actually fight, remember — while also maintaining a level of finesse. “The problem is that, at this point, we’ve seen every kind of fight. And they almost become numbing,” Dayton says. “We wanted to find this fine line where it was believable but it was also kind of beautiful and absurd.”
So they enlisted the services of the Kuperman brothers, Rick and Jeff, directors and choreographers who are also third-degree black belts in Kenpo Karate. After initially meeting with Dayton and Faris, the Kupermans filmed themselves executing a few sequences, including a version of the double kick that ultimately made it into the show. In arranging their demo tape, the Kupermans (who are just 13 months apart) focused on moves that would underline the idea that the Mileses are equally matched. “These two guys have the exact same instincts as one another and the exact same strengths and the exact same lack of training as well,” says Rick, the older of the two. Jeff adds: “It’s kind of like two brothers just going at it, which we have a lot of experience with from our childhood.”
Dayton and Faris are acquainted with that sort of sibling dynamic, too. “We have twin sons, so there was something very satisfying to us about getting to sort of relive what it’s like,” Faris says. “Some of those moments, to us, really felt like they were so familiar and honest — that thing of kind of hating each other but then loving to fight with each other.”
While the Kupermans were able to practice and refine the routine ahead of the shoot, Rudd didn’t rehearse much. That didn’t keep the star from getting into the scrum, though. “Paul ended up doing most of the stuff,” Jeff says. “It was a particularly grueling fight scene because he’d have to do it and then we’d have to change position and do it again in the opposite way.”
Throughout the roughly four-day shoot, Rudd was switching back and forth between the original Miles and New Miles, changing outfits and playing an array of emotions. But he was just one of the bodies in the mix. Dayton and Faris estimate that about seven people were intimately involved in the filming of the fight, between the Kupermans, a stuntman, stand-ins, and someone who was feeding Rudd prerecorded lines via an earwig so he could react to the opposite Miles’s dialogue. “The feeling that I had really towards all of them, besides being thrown that they were all dressed like me,” Rudd says, “it was just gratitude toward everybody.”
Despite the scene being very much a group effort, in nearly every shot, according to Dayton, Rudd is at least one of the bodies onscreen. The major exception is the mirror-image double kick, when the two Mileses push off each other, each with one foot; in that case, it’s the Kupermans. “That’s the one thing you can’t really fake,” Rudd says.
Otherwise, it’s Rudd with someone’s legs locked around his head, and Rudd whose face is getting pounded with a pillow. “Normally, the stunt guy is the one who takes the hit,” Dayton says. “But he was actually hitting Paul. And Paul’s like, ‘Don’t hold back, we’ve gotta make it real.’”