Matt Rogers is finally having that moment. The longtime co-host of the “Las Culturistas” podcast with Bowen Yang has popped here and there. There was that Quibi series “Gayme Show” and writing gigs on “The Other Two” and “Q-Force” (as well as a voice role on the latter), but he’s been slightly (and we mean slightly) on the sidelines as his good friends Yang and Joel Kim Booster have stepped into the spotlight. That has all changed over the past month with the arrival of Andrew Ahn’s “Fire Island” and Vanessa Bayer’s dramedy series, “I Love That For You.”
READ MORE: “Fire Island” Review: Joel Kim Booster and Andrew Ahn deliver an instant queer rom-com classic
A very loose adaption of Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice,” “Fire Island” centers on a group of early thirtysomething gay friends who head to the gay summer enclave for what they think may be one last blast of fun together. Howie (Yang) has moved to San Francisco for work, leaving his BFF Noah (Booster) in New York. They are joined by the slightly demure Max (Torian Miller) and the out there and slightly messy Keegan (Tomás Matos) and Luke (Rogers). Over a week they find romance, betrayal, a drag queen and a deer or two amongst the Pines.
The Searchlight Pictures film, which debuted exclusively on Hulu, has already earned critical acclaim and a legion of fans. Rogers, catching up after a weekend celebrating the premiere on the island in question with his co-stars, says there are already ideas being thrown around regarding a potential sequel. And Rogers is dreaming of what could occur with a significantly larger budget the second time around.
“I mean, P-town babe, like Palm Springs, Puerto Vallarta,” Rogers says. “Truly, like the ‘Fast and Furious‘ franchise we could be popping from location to location is truly something to think about. But I think it might be cool to see these characters in a different environment, in a different station in their life. Because I think where we leave them you get the sense that this might be the last time that they have the opportunity to have this frivolous, fun, summer camp vacation with this group of people in this type of circumstance, but they’re going to keep living and keep going and remain friends. And so I just think that it almost would be like a missed opportunity to not explore something that is already so vivid.”
Concurrently, Rogers is also starring as Darcy (no Jane Austin or “Pride” relation), a career and status-minded assistant in Showtime’s “Love That For You.” Set in the world of television shopping, the series centers on Joanna (Bayer), a new on-air host who surprises herself by pulling out the “I’ve got cancer” card before she’s fired from her dream job. Sure, Joanna did have cancer at one point in her life, but that was literally decades ago. As she tries to keep up the charade, she faces pressure from her tough-as-nails boss, Patricia (Jenifer Lewis), and quickly learns everyone on staff is hiding their own issues, including her role model, the legendary on-air host Jackie Stilton (Molly Shannon). And, Darcy, who is Patricia’s no. 2, is battling his own demons.
“Honestly, I think for Darcy, he doesn’t have a lot of friends. I think that he doesn’t have a lot of gay friends. I don’t think he has a boyfriend. I think that his relationships all exist within this toxic work environment,” Rogers says. “And the way that he succeeds within that work environment is by code-switching, which to me was the heart of my performance was me really thinking about the ways in which I have had to be different people to people in my life in order to get by.”
Rogers continues, “I’m a gay kid from Long Island. I have to blend in order to survive and thrive in that atmosphere. And you do it for survival. And so Darcy is one person when he’s just with Patricia, very subservient, lets her know that he can take her abuse. He will get what she needs done. He is that reliable guy. And then when he is with Vanessa, he’s very instructive and he lets her know that he is someone to be respected. And then when Patricia shows up, he’s even crueler to her so that she can see that. Then he’s with Beth Ann [Ayden Mayeri], his best friend at the show. And you hear a little bit about what his actual goals and desires are. And yet he still has to hedge with her because she doesn’t really listen.”
Over the course of our conversation, I make my pitch that the “Fire Island” sequel should take place in…Mykonos (it makes sense, trust), we wonder if Lewis will get the Emmy love she deserves for her performance in “Love That For You,” disclose “Fire Island’s” Quibi connection, and much, much more.
The Playlist: First of all, what is your reaction been to the film after it dropped this weekend?
Matt Rogers: So overwhelmed. I mean, it really feels like everyone is really relating to it. I’ve really been trying to look less down and more up and around at this time. Like, because we were actually in The Pines themselves, celebrating this all weekend. And even more than the social media reaction, which has been really nice, thankfully, because we all know that can go either way, what was really, really special was walking through The Pines with Bowen and Joel and all my friends from the movie and having people of all different ages that were in The Pines, like all the locals, all the vacationers, stop us to say how much they enjoyed the movie and how proud they were to be represented by it. So, ultimately, that’s the number one thing. And then the fact that the critics seem to really love it so much and that people feel like it feels fresh and new is like icing on the cake.
You’ve known Joel a long time. When he was writing this script, did he tell you he was thinking about you for this role?
Yeah, so I knew that he was thinking about adapting this to The Pines experience. The “Pride and Prejudice” Pines pipeline was something he was interested in exploring, the themes seemed to map really easily for him. And I think he was just sort of shook that he had come up with this idea and then felt compelled to write it because it just seemed to feel like it was going to write itself. And he did tell me that he wanted me to be in it. And he told me about the character of Luke who is very much the comp for Lydia Bennett in the film. And fans of the novel definitely know Lydia Bennett as the messy sister, the hot mess of the group. She gets into trouble. She’s very flirtatious, she’s vain. She’s into flirting. She’s into kind of getting into trouble and mixing it up. And I honestly was both honored and felt a little dragged by the fact that Joel thought of me for it, because there are certain similarities between me and Luke, maybe more than I’d like to admit, but, I understand why he felt I typed in.
Did he show his friends, you guys, the script, when it was done? Or was it something like you didn’t even see till it was closer to production?
I mean, not only that, but I saw the script several iterations ago. I saw the script when it was chopped up into 10 or 11 chapters for Quibi. It was originally called “Trip” at Quibi. I saw when it was the first version of the longer screenplay when the engine of the film was completely different. It was actually more of like an “American Pie.” The sisters in the house were actually competing literally for the title of the person that slept with the first person on the island. You know what I mean? It’s gone through so many iterations and I saw them all. Joel and I are extremely close and we all share with each other what we’re doing we’re all comedians and we all get it too. So, we all kind of, never shy away from asking for help or offering thoughts. So, I’ve, I’ve been really familiar with this and really excited about it for a while.
Was the Quibi joke in the movie because he had worked on a Quibi version, or it was because you are in it and you survived the Quibi experience?
Well, I think that it was a little bit of everything. I mean, the Quibi joke was in there for as long as the project was not at Quibi. I will say I’ve been watching screenings of the movie. I’ve seen the movie with a bunch of people, I think three times now, and the Quibi joke hits so hard. But I think it is just a little funny drag and a nod to the history of the project. And I have to say, at the time, I remember Joel was super disappointed. He thought, “Oh, this is really not going to get made now,” because there’s certainly been a lot of like, industry-wide hesitancy to continue any of the Quibi projects, but his happened to be one that was scooped up by Searchlight and made it to a feature film. And I wish I could go back in time and tell a very stressed Joel Kim Booster that everything was going to happen for a reason because I can’t imagine him not being able to celebrate it and see it in this way now.
Also, everything happens for a reason because Andrew Ahn got to direct this and he did such an amazing job. Can you just talk about working with him and what you thought he brought to the project?
I think the thing about Joel Kim Booster is everyone knows that he’s so funny, but people are only now realizing just how thoughtful and intuitive he is, and as a result, he wrote a very thoughtful and intuitive script. And you really need a director that’s equally as thoughtful and intuitive and an observer of social dynamics and of queer life and of the queer Asian experience to match what is so inherently in that script. And that director was found in Andrew Ahn, who not only is all of those things but very, very inventive in terms of how he frames shots [and] someone who is actually a very funny person. You may not know that from his other work, like “Spa Night” and “Driveways,” but he’s a very funny person. He is a great sense of humor. And he would often come up with really dynamic set pieces for us and ways to use the space. So in collaboration with Felipe Vara de Rey, who’s our iconic cinematographer, they just were able to elevate this in like a 360 way. Not only are the themes really vividly explored by an incredible director but also just atmospherically, this is such an incredible piece. And thank God because you’re not working in a non-iconic atmosphere. You know? You want to be able to capture all the beauty of this island, all the idiosyncrasies, like the deer when hops up onto the pathway. That’s one of my favorite shots. Just a long shot of the boardwalk leading to the water. And it’s just, there’s so much to see and feel in the film because there were such genius eyes on it. And Andrew is someone I really hope to work with again.
Do you, do you feel like if this is like success, there should be a sequel? Should it take place somewhere else?
I think so. I mean, I think it would be really fun. I think that the thing about the way this movie ends is, there’s a shot of a celebration on the dock. And you fade out and there’s this really cool drone shot that fades away from us as we’re dancing on the dock. And it goes over the island and you get the sense that you don’t want to leave them. You want to see what happens next and you want to find out maybe a little bit more about the other characters in the movie. And so I don’t want to say that we all were talking this entire weekend about what a potential sequel could be, but I’m not going to not say that.
Listen, while all this gestation of ideas is going around, I have one word to say for you because Connor is a rich LA doctor: Mykonos.
Mykonos. You know what? Honestly, watch them give us this huge budget now that we’ve found this movie. Honestly, that would be so fun. I mean, P-town babe, like Palm Springs, Puerto Vallarta. Truly, like the “Fast and Furious” franchise we could be popping from location to location is truly something to think about. But I think it might be cool to see these characters in a different environment, in a different station in their life. Because I think where we leave them you get the sense that this might be the last time that they have the opportunity to have this frivolous, fun, summer camp vacation with this group of people in this type of circumstance, but they’re going to keep living and keep going and remain friends. And so I just think that it almost would be like a missed opportunity to not explore something that is already so vivid. And the chemistry amongst this cast is just not easily duplicated. And also, I definitely can see a situation where we just use the same actors and we all play different characters and different people lead the story and serve the story in different ways. So when you have really talented people who are all really enjoying each other and want to be around each other, the sky’s the limit. I think we would have a lot to live up to, but we’re all down.
Well, I’m going to assume that you would say the same thing about your castmates on “I Love That For You.” And I just have to tell you, I cover television. I cover movies. There’s so much f**king content out there right now, but I can’t wait to see every episode of this. It’s just so compelling and good. And I think the thing that surprises me the most about it is how it’s more serious than you initially think it will be. When did you realize the show wasn’t just going to be this farcical comedy about television shopping?
Right. Well, first of all, thank you for enjoying it. And I really think it’s going to be the little show that could, once everyone sees that as a collective piece. I feel so proud of the show and confident about the show and it makes me laugh and think and cry, to be honest. So I think I knew right away because we’re shooting the pilot. And it’s the scene where Vanessa is in a moment of desperation saying that she has cancer and she’s lying about that in order to keep her job as an on-air correspondent on the show because she needs a personal narrative and she really doesn’t have one that hasn’t been to cancer her whole life. And I remember just watching Vanessa as Joanna improvise a monologue to Molly – they didn’t use this – about but growing up, she had always not had any friends and she was her only friend. And so even if she lost her job right now, this was a good experience because she got to meet her. And I was just like, “Wow, this is so ingrained in Vanessa’s actual personal narrative and her struggle with cancer.” She is a survivor. And so I think when I saw how connected Vanessa was to the material shooting that pilot and I realized that when she was doing the monologue, it was both so funny with the ways that she gets her language across, like the way she stumbles and repeats words. And that Vanessa Bayer-ish way of performing was also making me cry and touching my heart. I think it was entirely in watching her performance of that climax of the pilot that I was like, “We have something really special here and if we can explore the ways that every single character in this show and in this ensemble is lying and trying to project one thing while being another, there’s something really interesting about that.” Because, just personally, I’m so interested in perception and what happens when you know you’re being perceived and how you navigate a toxic work environment by code-switching and having to be so many different things in order to succeed. Like who are you wanting to be and who are you? That rub is at the crux of our show. And it’s just exciting. And it’s interesting because the show could be funny. I mean, just funny. It’s Molly Shannon and Vanessa Bayer doing home shopping. Yeah, we buy it in the room. You know what I mean? But then for it to have a deeper level and an underlying of actual real human conflict and emotion, it’s just extremely cool. And I live under a lucky star to be involved in it.
One of the surprises of the show is that almost every cast member has an arc. And your character, Darcy, l know that guy. That gay guy in his 20s who wants to be something he isn’t…yet. What was your inspiration for him?
I think that the funniest people in the world are the people who take to take themselves really seriously. And I think that if you want to be taken super seriously, there’s something you’re missing where you can’t see humor in the world. And I honestly think for Darcy, he doesn’t have a lot of friends. I think that he doesn’t have a lot of gay friends. I don’t think he has a boyfriend. I think that his relationships all exist within this toxic work environment. And the way that he succeeds within that work environment is by code-switching, which to me was the heart of my performance was me really thinking about the ways in which I have had to be different people to people in my life in order to get by. I’m a gay kid from Long Island. I have to blend in order to survive and to thrive in that atmosphere. And you do it for survival. And so Darcy is one person when he’s just with Patricia, very subservient, lets her know that he can take her abuse. He will get what she needs done. He is that reliable guy. And then when he is with Vanessa, he’s very instructive and he lets her know that he is someone to be respected. And then when Patricia shows up, he’s even crueler to her so that she can see that. Then he’s with Beth Ann, his best friend at the show. And you hear a little bit about what his actual goals and desires are. And yet he still has to hedge with her because she doesn’t really listen.
So I think with Darcy, he is so preoccupied with being something different to everyone, that he doesn’t actually know who he is and doesn’t really know what he’s missing. He thinks it’s this bag. He thinks he’s going to sneakily buy this bag and look at himself in the mirror and rehearse conversations he might have with other quote-unquote, serious people. But you look at him in that scene, and I do think that a lot is revealed when you were alone in front of a mirror, and you see that he is not even really able to be a version of himself in the mirror. He’s rehearsing for some imagined scenario, you know? And so it’s really interesting what happens when you make your work environment your entire life, and that work environment is toxic and you get devalued in it. He starts to unravel and it’s been really fun to play. He’s so much more interesting than I think he could have been, or I had ever hoped he would be.
In that episode you’re referring to, Darcy has the whole scene in front of the mirror because he’s bought that bag he wants so badly. But then he goes in and Patricia sort of shocks him with a gift of the same bag. Did he think he was getting fired when he sat down? The way you played it, it almost felt like he thought it was all over.
I think a lot is going on in that scene. And I worked with our director Desiree Akhavan on that a lot. And she said, “The thing about him in this scene is he is certainly not going to show weakness in this moment where he’s pretty sure he’s being fired.” He is going to go down with self-respect and maybe even being a little bit of an because he is not going to crumble and certainly won’t beg because he has made the decision to stand up for himself. He’s vocalized his concerns and his frustrations to Patricia. And Desiree was like, “Let’s try it where this is a version of him that is not afraid of being fired. He did what he did and he is going to stick it to her if she has a problem.” And then the gift, the expression of kindness and of love for him so takes him by surprise that he actually gets physically sick because it is so unexpected. And I think that’s because he could never know this, but Patricia is obviously dealing with what she’s dealing with. She’s mortally afraid now that she’s been diagnosed with cancer and she does not have a close relationship with the actual son in her life. So one thing that she can do is express kindness to this person that she knows is devoted to her and is going to be there for her. Little does she know that he’s taken advantage of her and stolen from her, but it certainly sets their relationship on an interesting course for the following episodes. And it makes him even more desperate than he has been. Because all he wants is for her to love him. All he wants is for her to say, “You’re someone important and I want you to know I take you seriously. And what you’ve done is not in vain.” So, when she does that when she expresses that at this moment, it’s like true shock and panic and fear and disgust at himself.
We’ve got two more episodes that haven’t aired yet. Does the show end on a cliffhanger? What should viewers expect from at least the finale episode?
The finale of, “I Love That for You” is going to come full circle in many ways. In terms of the conflicts that we’ve seen underlying for Joanna, I think that it’s going to be very satisfying for the audience because certain things are revealed. And it’s a really fun sequence that is set amongst the backdrop of this cancer-thon charity event that the Special Value Network is throwing and it takes place over the course of just that one evening pretty much and it’s really exciting to watch. And in terms of Darcy and where he’s at, at the end of the season, it’s a completely different place than he is at the beginning of the season. And I think he starts to feel a little bit of very unexpected hope that maybe something or someone might change his station a little bit emotionally. And so it ends on an image that I never saw for Darcy when I first put that very tight suit on in the pilot.
I really do hope you guys get a second season for “I Love That for You” because it is so fun to watch.
I hope so too. It feels like a lot of people are finding it. More and more. People are telling me that they’re watching it. And from what I hear, I think Showtime is pretty happy with how it’s performing. And so fingers crossed. It’s so good. I really just think sometimes shows like this just need a second to find their audience and get the tone. And I think I’m really, really excited for what it could be.
And I want Jennifer Lewis to get some Emmy love, although it’s so competitive this year.
It’s so competitive, but I just want them to start talking about it more. Because I think her performance stacks up against any of these girls. That’s no disrespect. It’s just like, “Oh, what she’s doing is on another level.”
It’s just really hard when there are 30 great performances and eight slots. It’s just bizarre.
Doesn’t that suck?
Yeah. And I’m like, I think my chances are at about 0.02%. I was like, “Let me go out there and campaign for Jennifer.”
Hey, you know what you’re competing for? You’re competing for the SAG ensemble. That’s what you’re competing for!
That’s what I’m saying. I think we deserve it. We deserve it.
And maybe an Independent Spirit Award for somebody for “Fire Island.” That’s what you want.
You know what? We want the ensemble award for “Fire Island.”
Yeah. You want the Robert Altman Award.
Yes. Come on. We deserve it.
“Fire Island” is now on Hulu. “I Love That For You” debuts new episodes every Sunday on Showtime.