Timothy Greenberg is the man responsible for cloning Paul Rudd. Well, more accurately, he’s the man responsible for cloning Paul Rudd’s character Miles in the Netflix series Living With Yourself, a show he created. Greenberg, who spent several years working on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, recently explained to Vulture how the idea for the show — which focuses on a dissatisfied man who goes for an elite spa treatment and winds up with a superior duplicate of himself — occurred to him, and all the places the story could go from here. He also talked about the role Charlie Kaufman played in the show — both his work and the man himself — why the scene in which Paul Rudd emerged from his own grave “scared the shit out of him,” and what he learned from Rudd about how to project the best version of yourself.
Note: There is a spoiler in this interview about the ending of Living With Yourself. Another warning will appear before that section of the interview for those who haven’t watched in full.
What inspired this particular idea for a TV show?
Honestly, it was a lot of things. I’d had variations of this idea over the years in a lot of different forms. Like anyone, I struggle with life. Sometimes I’m the best version of myself. You know, the one that feels good about myself and presents well to the world, and because I feel good about myself, I think I am better to others and I am less selfish. And other times, when I’m not feeling as good about myself or about the world, I think I am less kind and more selfish and certainly interact with others not as well, my loved ones perhaps most of all. It’s been sort of a lifelong struggle with, why can’t we get to be our best selves all of the time? The sort of, “Ooh, I’d like to try that ride” is, what would it be like if you met yourself? And then the thought is, well what would it be like if you met your imagined, perfect, and prized version of yourself? What if you met the worst version of yourself? What would that be like, you know?
I think it’s Robert Burns, right, that famous [line]: “Would it be that we could see ourselves as others do?” [Note: The exact line is, “Oh would some Power the gift give us, to see ourselves as others see us.”] I think that’s fascinating. I think if we could do that, if we could see ourselves, I think that would go a long way toward making us better people, making us a better society.
Look, it came from a million things. It came from arguments my wife and I used to have. It came from, like I was really into science fiction my entire life, and this idea’s been kicking around there for a long time. It came from the panic I had when I used to be at The Daily Show, and Jon Stewart told us he was leaving, and I felt like, “Oh my god! I need a job!” It came from a lot.
You mentioned sci-fi and I was curious about whether certain films or projects inspired the show. When I watched it, I got some major Charlie Kaufman vibes from it.
My greatest hope is that one day somebody will call me, like, a cheap rip-off of Charlie Kaufman. [Laughs.]
I mean, very specifically, he had somewhat of a role in this coming about. I was meeting with Anthony Bregman, who had produced Eternal Sunshine, just to ask his advice on movie stuff. But I’d already had this idea a week earlier of doing a TV show. When I was walking out of his office, I noticed the Eternal Sunshine poster, and clearly there’s some shared sensibility between the two. So I said, you know, “You have a TV division …” and he had just in fact hired somebody [to oversee that division]. So I came back a week later and I pitched him the idea and he loved it and we kind of went from there and developed it.
But I mean, there’s no point in trying to rip off Charlie because he’s too brilliant. Ironically, Adaptation, which is the one that has the two of them, that one doesn’t feel quite as similar to me as some of the other ones. Although we did look at Adaptation very specifically for some of the stuff that Spike Jonze did in terms of how they had the two [Nicolas Cages] in the shot at once, and how the camera would move and that kind of thing. And Charlie actually was kind enough to read a couple of early drafts and talk about it, which gave me some ideas.
When I talked to him, which was definitely one of the highlights of this entire project, what we got in discussion about was not as much the script and the story, it was about our worldview. And his worldview, his view of humanity, is definitely a bit darker than mine. Which is obvious if you see his movies, but it was only when I talked to him I was like, oh wow, he’s definitely darker than I am! [Laughs.] That was a cool thing for me to experience, us talking about that on that level.
The opening of the series really grabs your attention, with Miles emerging from the ground wrapped in cellophane. How did you come up with that idea, that the clones would be buried? And not that deeply, by the way. They seem to be in a remote location, but they’re not that far underground.
I mean, it was plenty fuckin’ deep. [Laughs.]
It was deep. It was more panicked than I’ve ever been while shooting anything, and I’ve shot at The Daily Show over the years, some really ridiculous, dangerous stuff. But this scared the shit out of me. Like, it was really disturbing. That’s behind the scenes. As they describe in the show, normally they dissolve the bodies into acid, but they’d had problems, you know, sourcing things from Korea, so for now they’re just kind of burying them in this big forest. So, this is not like all of their clients.
Well, now I’m wondering if Paul Rudd was freaked out by shooting that.
He did it four times, which is amazing. I thought we’d get one, but he did it four times. He was such a trooper. But yeah, I mean, it just feels wrong. It was just horribly creepy, I think for him and for us, and terrifying. [Laughs.] Like, I won’t do that again, or if I do, we’ll do the stunts a different way.
At what point in the process did you think of Paul Rudd for this?
I mean, instantly, and then not for four more years. Pretty much right out of the gate I was like, “Who’d be great for this?” And he was the top of the list. Then it was a long process of us taking it around town to sell. We eventually sold it to IFC and fully developed it there, and I wrote the entire season for them. When we were there, we couldn’t afford him. We didn’t even bother calling him, because IFC’s budget just limited us. It eventually died there due to circumstances beyond, I think, even IFC’s control.
Then we took it back out and got Netflix, and then we were able to take out the original list, because Netflix has money. Actually, they were the ones who said, “Here’s our list of people that we love, but Paul is definitely at the top.” He had been at the top of our dream list way back when, and he was the first and only person we showed it to at that point. It couldn’t have worked out better.
You were talking before about Adaptation and looking at that as far as how to shoot the same actor in a dual role. Obviously that’s been done before, but can you talk a little bit about the challenges of doing that and how you navigated it?
In its basic concept, the techniques we used were as old as filmmaking, usually. We did have this one machine that could move the camera around through an x, y, z axis on a giant crane, and it would remember that and repeat it. That’s one technique to use, to move the camera around and still have people moving in the frame. A lot of them were some of the more typical kinds of tricks you would use, split screens and some other things, and we did do some minimal face replacement. I don’t wanna say our VFX crew did nothing, because they did a lot, but it was a lot more like you would imagine doing it at home than you might think.
What’s much more interesting to me is how Paul would do it from a performance perspective. We would decide who was driving the scene, and he would record the dialogue for the opposite character — in other words, the least important dialogue, he would record the audio of. He’d kind of imagine the scene ahead of time, and he’d try to do it in the timing, and the intonations and everything, as he was actually going to do it. He’d take that recording, and put it in his [earpiece] and he’d listen to that as he would perform the first side of the scene for the camera. Then, we’d go back and do the second side of the scene again, now listening to his original film performance and playing against that. Not only did he have to get timing down, obviously, but he had to get the arc of the scene and the emotions and all of that mentally in place before he could even begin.
He’s clearly done a lot of acting in general, and acting to, you know, a pair of tennis balls or things like that just seems second nature to him. But I thought it was really interesting, the way that he built the scene like that. And also, he could switch back and forth. What we did with Miles is just take off the makeup, mess up his hair, and get him in there. We’d turn around fast, so he’d really be switching characters very quickly. That was both great and fascinating to see, and saved our production schedule a lot.
That’s really the main differentiator between the two versions of Miles: his hair, and he carries himself less confidently.
Here’s something that I still am amazed by. I think it’s one of the two diner scenes, if you look at his face in each image, it looks like the shape of his face is different. I was there. We didn’t do anything to him! But somehow, in his posture, and in his behavior, to me they really feel like markedly different [people]. Early on, long before he got on set or maybe before we even cast him, we were always worried about, well, are we going to have to resort to tricks to tell them apart? But you know which character it is. Even once this is New Miles trying to be Old Miles, he still feels like New Miles acting like Old Miles. He could manage that kind of 3-D chess of all those performances.
It’s funny that you say that about his face in the diner scene, because there were a couple times where I did think, “Did they film some of this at different times?”
Yeah, it was totally wild. I couldn’t figure out how he was doing it. In one he looks almost like a movie star, and then in another he looks like a regular person. But he really did — I mean again, nothing against the makeup people, they were great — but like, we didn’t do that much. It was really his performance.
Kind of makes you wonder how much better you could make yourself look if you could do whatever the heck Paul Rudd was doing!
I swear to God, it’s true. He would share some of what he was doing with us, but you know, he didn’t want to have extensive conversations about it. But we did talk about posture a bit, and ever since then, it’s made me much more conscious of my posture, because I’m a big sloucher. Literally, right now, I’m sitting on one of those balance chairs that’s supposed to get your posture corrected. I just set it up today, because I’m more aware of how your posture affects the way you look. Stand straight, I’ve learned from Paul Rudd, and you’ll be a better version of yourself.
[Note: Here come some spoilers about the conclusion of Living With Yourself.]
I wanted to ask you about the ending of the season. The idea that Kate would be pregnant: Did you have other possible endings, or was that always going to be what happened?
That was an idea from pretty early on, just because you know, now they’re really tied together. [Laughs] Once you have family together, you guys are together. You better be able to live with your best and worst self because it’s for real once the kid comes onto the scene.
Also the fun of it is the fact that they don’t really know who the father is, because maybe it doesn’t matter. Certainly, arguably, it doesn’t matter. But to a different degree it does matter that they can’t know and they can’t ever know. Whenever that idea did come up, I immediately liked it. Never varied.
We did have to scooch around the potential timing of it. Like, just when could she have gotten pregnant and how long and when was the earliest? I had so many conversations with obstetrician-gynecologists: Could she have gotten pregnant, and when could she have tested positive? Okay, no, we need more time. How do we build in more time? That was something we were doing right up in the edit even.
That teases the things that could be explored in future seasons. Have you thought about what a second season might look like?
I’ve thought about it a lot. I don’t want to get too tied to anything, emotionally or otherwise until all of the parties feel that we want a second season, you know?
Myself, Paul, Netflix, at such time that we all feel like, yeah, maybe we want to continue the story or do a different take on the story, then I would really commit to thinking about it. But I’ve got all kinds of great ideas. There’s a lot of backstory that’s only hinted at in this season that would be revealed in the future.
One of the reasons we ended it the way we did is it could go either way. I think it’s very satisfying on its own, I think if it also raises a desire to see more — either way, I’m happy.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.