Hacks Creators On Season 2, Deborah's Tour Bus And How They Landed Laurie Metcalf

Ask Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs and Jen Statsky about what they love about working on “Hacks” the most and the answer may surprise you. Sure, continuing to collaborate with living legend Jean Smart is incredible. And this season another acting legend, Laurie Metcalf, basically landed in their lap, but it’s continually working together as a family that the “Broad City” veterans enjoy the most.

READ MORE: “Hacks” season 2 Review: Jean Smart continues to amaze, but this second act underwhelms a little [Review]

During an interview last month, the trio jumped on a zoom to discuss the season two arc for Deborah Vance (Smart), how serious that lawsuit Deborah filed against Ava (Hannah Einbinder) is, the “small world” story for casting Metcalf, whether Wilson (Johnny Sibilly) will appear in more episodes before the finale and much, much more.

Please note: This conversation includes hints about the last two episodes of season 2, but nothing specific in terms of spoilers. This interview has been edited and condensed for length.


The Playlist: Could you tell me what your guys’ plan was for Deborah’s arc this season?

Lucia Aniello: She’s starting to do her new hour and so she’s starting from the bottom up and she’s deciding that it’s going to be more personal and not quite like anything she’s ever done before. And that’s really, really difficult. And so for her to hit the road and to be doing this from scratch really challenges her because it doesn’t go very well at first. And that her lack of confidence is also something new and Ava is there to kind of buck her up. But it’s difficult because not only is she starting from scratch, but she’s starting scratch at her late sixties and at a time where she’s lost her residency, she’s on awkward footing. Is that the right phrase? I don’t know, uneven footing. And so, it really challenges her psychologically and having to do that by and also sleep on a bus. It’s just a terrible combination.

The Playlist: But it is one of the most beautiful tour buses I’ve ever seen.

Lucia Aniello: Oh sure.

The Playlist: Was that inspired by a real bus? Is there buses that are actually like this? Cause it’s a set, right? It’s like not real.

Paul Downs: Well, it is both a set, but also it is a Prevost bus. We had a real Prevost bus that was branded with the DV that we traveled with as you’ve seen in episode six and other episodes, all over the country. But yeah, we went on a couple of those buses to actually look at them and they are pretty much like that. There’s a primary suite in the back for XYZ star and then their band is in really tiny bunks. In fact, one of the bunks that I got in was like, literally four inch wide.

Jen Statsky: Yeah I have a photo. It looks like you’re sleeping on the floor.

Paul Downs: And you are on the floor though. But I’m like, this is terrifying. It’s crazy.

Lucia Aniello: Yeah. You’re really like eight inches from the tire.

Paul Downs: So honestly it’s not far from life. It’s really ripped from the headlines.

Jen Statsky: Obviously it’s Deborah Vance-ified a bit. She did her custom touches to elevate it. But yeah, we looked at a bunch of different tour buses and did research to try to make it as authentic as possible.

Lucia Aniello: Our transpo guys, who deal with the cars, they would always be bringing in new buses and I think they really loved this one. They were like, “We got a new bus for you guys.” And we’re like, “Let’s load it up.”

The Playlist: Obviously you were one of the shows that shot in the heart of the pandemic in your first season. And I know it was tough, really tough. Was there anything that you got to do this season you couldn’t do before?

Jen Statsky: Yeah. It felt less terrifying this season to go to set, but it was still, you had to be so safe and careful. And there were still a lot of production challenges.

Lucia Aniello: Yeah.

Jen Statsky: Like the cruise episode was very difficult to get a cruise ship to allow us to shoot on board because of COVID protocol. And like Paul said omicron was raging right at that time.

The Playlist: That surprises me because I think the one thing a cruise company would want is some TV show showing anyone on a cruise so that people start booking tickets again.

Jen Statsky: I know.

Lucia Aniello: Royal Caribbean came through.

Jen Statsky: Royal Caribbean, shout out to them.

Paul Downs: For being the brave cruise line.

Jen Statsky: Yeah. If you’re looking for a brave cruise line, it’s Royal Caribbean.

The Playlist: I want to ask about Ava’s arc this season because she obviously feels like she’s getting more comfortable with Deborah, but also she has a lawsuit that’s always in the back of her mind. Did you want to minimize that potential lawsuit? Is the idea to bring it back later on as a real threat or is it just meant to demonstrate Deborah’s subtle control over Ava?

Paul Downs: It’s a lot of things. I think that rich people do dole out lawsuits and are in litigation left right and center. And for them it’s nothing personal. It’s just sport. They just do it for sport. And also I think Deborah being a comedian knows there’s something inherently funny to having this thing that she can hold over Ava’s head. So it’s a way of just needling at her constantly.

Jen Statsky: And to teach her a lesson.

Paul Downs: But she wants to teach her lesson. She signed an NDA and she violated it. So, Deborah a rule follower and she set a rule and Ava crossed that boundary. So, I think she wants there to be a little bit of confusion for Ava around the lawsuit. But I will say in the final two episodes, there is a resolution. It’s not just something that we say and it’s just an offhanded mention. It does come back.

Jen Statsky: Yeah it comes back the last two, not to spoil it.

Lucia Aniello: It always comes back.

The Playlist: There was effectively a cliff hanger at the end of season one. Do you do something similar at the end of this season? Or is it more closed?

Jen Statsky: Well, it’s both open and closed.

Paul Downs: Honestly. It’s not so funny, it’s both.

Lucia Aniello: It’s both. Yeah.

Jen Statsky: Is that helpful?

The Playlist: Real helpful. [Laughs.]

Paul Downs: And yet it’s like, wait, is that closed? Or is it open?

Lucia Aniello: And, and it’s so closed. Is that a cliff hanger? It’s so open. Is that resolved?

Paul Downs: Yeah, it’s a real test. It’s a real choose your own adventure.

Lucia Aniello: It’s a black mirror really of what do you see when you look into it? It tells you something about yourself.

Paul Downs: Wow.

The Playlist: Exciting. A black mirror episode of “Hacks.”

Lucia Aniello: I don’t mean like the TV show!

The Playlist: Oh, I know. More importantly, how did you snag Oscar nominated Laurie Metcalf to join the cast this year?

Lucia Aniello: We wrote the character of Weed, Alice AKA Weed and wrote “think more Laurie Metcalf” in the description and the head of casting at Warner brothers or yeah HBO, she is friends or like practically family or friends, family [with Laurie].

Paul Downs: Yes. Linda Lowy is very close with Laurie Metcalf and weirdly had gotten the script that said, “think Laurie Metcalf” would we be so lucky. That night they were spending the evening together, they were having drinks in her backyard. And she’s like, “Hey…”

Lucia Aniello: “I just got this script. It says, think Laurie Metcalf.” She goes, “Well, here I am.” So, she fixed it to her and she’s on board. It was that easy, honestly. So thank you Linda Lowy for making her dreams come true.

Paul Downs: And thank you to Laurie Metcalf for wanting to do the show.

Jen Statsky: And being such a good sport.

Paul Downs: She is so fantastic. We had such a good time with her. And honestly, we’re so honored to have her.

Jen Statsky: Yeah.

The Playlist: I hope down the road, that she somehow finds a way to come back.

Paul Downs: Well, I’ll tell you this. She said to us, “Don’t throw out the costume” and we said “We absolutely won’t.” Absolutely. I would say that door is open, wide open.

The Playlist: Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) and Wilson broke up at the end of the first season. Did you always plan that Wilson would not be around as much in season two? Or was it more about Johnny’s availability because he was shooting other things?

Paul Downs: Well, that was one thing that was a challenge just for all of the ensemble because they’re on the road. So, Deborah being [in] this like mobile mansion as you saw on the road. It meant that a lot of the people in Vegas were not necessarily going to be in as many episodes, but we also wanted there to be this tension and distance between Marcus and Wilson. So, it was kind of written that way, but Johnny deservedly so has been incredibly busy. So. it ended up being quite serendipitous that he was shooting all kinds of stuff while we were doing the show. But you will see more of him in episodes that you have not seen.

Jen Statsky: Yes.

The Playlist: I don’t know if it was from you guys in particular or someone in particular in the writer’s room, Marcus is going through such a crisis. I’m curious where that inspiration came from. Was there anyone who sort of championed what his storyline should be?

Paul Downs: We’re all in crisis. Union writer’s room, we’re all in crisis.

Lucia Aniello: Yeah. It’s a constant day of crisis.

Jen Statsky: Yeah, no, there’s not like one person in particular. We’re very lucky to have a super talented room of writers who, with all our characters, give them stories and background. But Carl, they’re such a wonderful actor and we wanted to put them in a situation where they were also hitting rock bottom and dealing with this thing in their personal life that they’d never encountered before. And so that was just the thinking behind Marcus’ storyline this season of really having Marcus hit rock bottom, not to give anything away, but return to a place of comfort and then work through some things that way.

The Playlist: Kayla (Meg Stalter), is obviously a fan favorite. Paul, do you guys improv may of your scenes? Meg seems like such an improv type of actress. I don’t know if that’s the case. Could you talk about how those scenes come about?

Paul Downs: Yeah, it’s interesting. We wrote the character before we cast Meg. We loved Meg and had thought of her, but it’s an HBO show and we needed to audition people for the role. And so we did, and of course, Meg brought so much to it because she is a live wire. She also literally was almost electrocuted by a live wire during the audition because her lamps fell over. It was a [shock]. Is this a bit? But that said, she auditioned with the scene you see in the finale last year in the hotel room.

The Playlist: Right.

Paul Downs: So that scene was written but again, there are always things that change and are improvised.

Lucia Aniello: They both improvised a fair amount. Yeah. It’s also, we work really hard to make the writing feel unscripted.

Paul Downs: I think the thing that is really special about Meg is that she’s able to improvise within the lane, very committed to character. And it’s not like you see sometimes when it’s a wild left turn that makes the scene long or that you don’t see, because directors don’t cut it in because it doesn’t really work. She really knows the character. And because it’s written toward her voice, she’s able to play around in a way that we both have a lot of fun.

The Playlist: Obviously, by the sixth episode, it seems like they’re getting along a bit more. Will there be a resolution to their work conflict?

Paul Downs: There is a big come to Jesus [moment].And then an even bigger one in episode eight. So there’s a lot that goes on. I’m really excited for the audience to see the way in which Jimmy and Kayla evolve and what happens with their story because it was really fun and really satisfying.

Lucia Aniello: The last two episodes are really Jimmy. Jimmy and Kayla have a time.

Jen Statsky: But one of my favorite scenes all season, I’ll just say it’s an episode seven with Kayla.

The Playlist: Jean sadly, had a rough year personally while you were shooting season one. When she came back this season, does she have any thoughts, suggestions, does she have any input in terms of where Deborah’s character goes or do you feel like she just trusts you to give her the keys in order to provide her with a character that she enjoys playing?

Lucia Aniello: Because she comes from theater and she respects everybody’s job so much and I think been trained [so] she’s really dedicated to the material. She doesn’t really push us to change anything or ask us to do anything really in particular. Sometimes she’ll ask questions, but she doesn’t ever push us. I think that’s one of the joys of having her as an actor is that she knows that she’s such an incredible actor, but she also respects that’s her job. And so as a result, she really does allow us to just tell the story we want to tell. And she does an incredible job of fulfilling the shoes of Deborah Vance, which is in and of itself some pretty major shoes to fill. So yeah. It’s been an incredible working relationship with her

Paul Downs: I think the way in which she has the most impact is obviously her delivery of jokes, she exceeds our wildest dreams and always makes things even better than we could have imagined. But I do think she’s very specific and it’s a really special thing when an actor is so committed and so caring and loves the character so much, that she’s very specific with her props, the things that she wears, the kinds of pen Deborah would use, the kind of notebook Deborah would have. All of that stuff, all the stuff that really filled out her world, Jean is very attentive to. And in that way, I think she’s always helping to give texture and detail to the world that we couldn’t even bring.

The Playlist: This may seem like a general question or sort of a wide open one, but I feel like it never gets asked to creators of shows who are basically dedicating their lives to this stuff. What do you love about working on this show? What gets you excited about it?

Paul Downs: Ladies first.

Lucia Aniello: I’m going to take the obvious answer, which is that we get to be together all the time, which I know seems like such a odd answer, but I think we’re really lucky that we get to make this show with people we love being around the most, and that isn’t something that we take for granted. And we actually talk about it all the time about how lucky we are that we get to be together, because even sometimes we’ll have a work thing, but we’ll still go and just get lunch afterwards. And we’re really, really, really, really lucky and also the great people we’ve gotten to meet and become friends with through making the show. I think that’s been an incredible part of our lives as well.

Jen Statsky: Yeah. I think, I mean everything that Lucia has said and yeah.

Lucia Aniello: See? We get along so well.

Jen Statsky: Let’s get lunch! There’s also filming in TV [and] it’s such a collaborative process. And I think being a showrunner, you get asked a million questions a day and people bring you their ideas and getting to work with such talented people and say yes to their ideas that make the show so much better and help it and make it richer and deeper is such a wonderful thing. We just work with so many wonderful artists who are so good in their specific craft and job and getting to see their work and elevate it. And then, when things like the Emmy’s happen to see their work recognized that way is such a privilege and wonderful thing. And so having this idea that’s started as this thing just between the three of us grow to a bigger thing where hundreds of people work on it and they all get to be recognized for what they’re so good at and giving their heart and soul to the show is just, it’s such a privilege.

The Playlist: Awesome. And Paul?

Paul Downs: And I’ll say all of that, everything the women said and more. I think one of the things that is so rewarding and exciting about the show is that, we had this idea six years ago, seven years ago?

Jen Statsky: I think seven.

Paul Downs: Seven years ago. And whenever we would get together, we would pitch on it or talk about it. And the truth is that we wanted to watch it. We made a show because we were like, we want to see it. I want to see the show and we get to see it not only on set and watch these incredible performers act the show, but then we get to watch it. And honestly, we hope people connect with it and we hope it resonates with anybody that’s had a nightmare boss or anybody who’s devoted themselves to any profession and found it difficult or anybody who’s been knocked down and gets up a hundredth time. But also we made it for us because we want to watch it/

Lucia Aniello: Over and over and over and over and over again

“Hacks” season two launches new episodes every Thursday on HBO Max