The Showtime series I’m Dying Up Here, about a fictionalized group of stand-up comics in L.A. in the ‘70s, is back for Season 2 and diving deeper into the dysfunction among this makeshift family at Goldie’s. No longer just about the struggle to make it, Goldie (Melissa Leo) expands her comedy empire by partnering with legendary Las Vegas comedian Roy Martin (Brad Garrett) while trying to figure out how to deal with her 18-year-old daughter, Cassie (Ari Graynor) has to come to terms with a major secret from her past, Nick (Jake Lacy) will struggle with his drug addiction, and Eddie (Michael Angarano), Ron (Clark Duke), Ralph (Erik Griffin), Bill (Andrew Santino), Adam (RJ Cyler) and Edgar (Al Madrigal) all start to question what it is they really want.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Ari Graynor (who’s done really terrific work on the series) talked about the deeper character exploration in Season 2, how protective she feels about Cassie, the evolution of Cassie’s journey, why she originally wanted to be a part of this project, and the joy of working with this incredibly talented and diverse cast. She also talked about the experience of working with director Jason Reitman on The Front Runner (starring Hugh Jackman), about Senator Gary Hart’s presidential campaign in 1988, and playing a real-life characters, along with what she looks for in a project.
Collider: I very much enjoy your work on the show! I’ve seen the first two episodes of the new season and it definitely seems like some things are going down.
ARI GRAYNOR: Yeah, there’s a lot going on. First of all, I’m really glad you liked it. I’m happy to hear that. Had you watched last season?
GRAYNOR: How did it compare, for you?
I love how the second season of a show always seems to be when we get way deeper into the characters and their relationships, and their lives outside of whatever the story is that’s being told, and I feel like this season does that.
GRAYNOR: Yeah, exactly! Last season was so focused on the club and about stand-up, and the stakes were very much related to that world and that space, getting on Carson, getting on the main stage, finding your voice, and fighting for your space. I was so excited by this season because it felt like all of the stories exploded a bit, and you’re really getting a picture, outside the club, of who these people really are, what they’re dealing with, and the distance between who they are and who the wanna be, on a much bigger level. Not only is that a really exciting and satisfying space to look at ‘cause it dives into the world that we all love, of that early ‘70s success in L.A., with the money, drugs and struggle. That gets more colorfully drawn in, as a whole. And these bigger themes of the American dream, going after what you want, compromises you have to make, and the difference between what you think success looks like and what it feels like, are things that are much bigger concepts, and I’m really excited to see how the all come together when it’s edited ‘cause I thought the scripts were really exciting to play.
After doing a season of the show, how did that change your perspective on Cassie, going into and during the second season?
GRAYNOR: You know, I’ve never done a second season of a show, so I didn’t have any baseline experience to reflect back on. I didn’t really know what that would be. At the end of Season 1, I felt wildly connected and protective of Cassie and of her integrity, her desire, her ambition, and her strength, but I also had a lot of questions, still, after all that. I wanted to know what really makes her tick. Sometimes, in the first season, I felt like she had a real handle on things, and I know for myself and every other creative person I know and comedians, we either self-sabotage, or keep a secret, or have an addictive behavior that affects how you manage to get through the world. I wasn’t sure what that looked like for her and where the soft spots were, so that you could understand more of her inner life and where her behavior was coming from. So, I was really excited, this year, when we started talking. Without saying anything specific, you’ll learn more about where she came from, what her experience was with having a very big, fundamental secret that’s such a shameful part of her own life and that she feels very conflicted about, and what that means for her career and her desire to prove that it was all worth it. And she self-sabotages, so you’ll see how she self-soothes and what her issues are with love and relationships. All of those things were really exciting to learn about. Even though I couldn’t relate to some of the specifics of it, I could relate to her emotional life.
Cassie is a very strong, solid person, who has big dreams and a huge amount of reserve inside, to pick herself up and go. At the same time, this year, we get to see what a struggle it is to do that. With female characters, sometimes there’s a desire to paint them as strong, capable and greatly confident, or they’re a total mess and lost. For me, it was really exciting to play a woman that is so very relatable to me, and that is doing and fighting, but not because it’s easy and comes without effort. She does it anyway. She does it with her fear, with her doubt, and with her self-loathing. That’s an incredibly human experience, and I think that’s fun to watch, with all of these characters, but it’s particularly meaningful to me ‘cause I’ve never gotten to really play a character like that.
In the beginning of this, you couldn’t have known exactly what you would get with this show and character because you never get to know what the full journey will be, when you’re doing a TV series. You’ve also said that, when you got this role, you hadn’t been working for awhile and you were having a moment of real self-doubt. So, what was it about this role that snapped you out of that and made you see something in her, in the little you had to go on?
GRAYNOR: In a very basic and honest way, it was that they saw me in her, which was the first step. It wasn’t like I was in moment of self-doubt and I wasn’t sure if I was gonna act, and I was just rolling in offers with amazing parts. Part of it was that I didn’t want to exclusively do the broadly comedic characters that I had been playing. I still love doing that. After a couple years of doing serious dramatic work, I’m like, “Well, it could be fun to play a really silly, comedic character again.” But, when this came along, it was not only that out of the blue someone had given me this gift in saying,” We see you in her,” but when I saw her reflected back, at least in the pilot, which was the only script I got, it was someone who had been going through a similar process that I had gone through, of trying to find your authentic voice, of trying to find her purpose in her work, of having gone through loss and difficulty, how that effects who you are, and how that makes you meet a deeper, more honest part of yourself.
She was also incredibly confident, and I loved how much she believed in herself. That was a real gift for me. I believe in myself a lot, but I’m also a person who has to deal with a lot of self-doubt and self-criticism. She does that in a different way, but she also knows she deserves to be somewhere. That was a really important thing for me to hang onto and it’s done something great for my own core. That’s the thing with TV, you never know what you’re gonna get. You don’t know what’s gonna develop, and I didn’t know what the show or she was really gonna look like, after the pilot. This season is really exciting to me because it just explores the whole world, in a way that I was craving to see, with the personal lives of all these characters and the world of comedy, which is not just about comedy but is placeholder for anybody artistic and creative and that’s trying to make it, whatever making it means.
Another thing that I really enjoy about this series is this family of comedians because they’re all so different and diverse, and you guys are a diverse group of actors. What has this cast been like to work with?
GRAYNOR: I’m so in love with this group and feel incredibly close to them. We’ve all been on a group text, for about two and a half years now. It’s a remarkable group of people, humans, actors and comedians. Everyone is so unique and so specifically themselves, and yet there is real alchemy between us. Something works, both personally and professionally. We were all together more, last season, because the world of the show was much more centered at the club. This year, we’ve been together, en masse, much less frequently, so I miss people, but it’s been so exciting to see the bits of work that they’re doing and following everyone’s path. I also think that the development of some of these relationships is really beautiful. Last season, Cassie was the sole female comic.
This year, Xosha Roquemore joined the cast as Dawn, and she is so amazing, so funny, so smart and so connected. It’s been very exciting for me to have her there, and see her find this whole other element to that space and her journey as Dawn, with all the stuff that she’s dealing with, personally and as a comedian. Love and friendship just takes new forms. People that you’re coming up with, there are conflicts, along the way, there are roadblocks, there are hurt feelings, and there are times where maybe you don’t talk, but you are fundamentally family. I think that’s true of all the characters on the show, and it’s really true for all of us, outside of the show. They’re my family. Whether this is it or we’re on forever, I will always feel that way about them.