*Spoilers for You’re the Worst season 5 through the episode “We Were Having Such a Nice Day”*
It’s a strange thing seeing your kids all grown up. In director Jordan Vogt-Roberts‘ case, those kids just happen to be the two alcoholic, narcissistic assholes he brought to life in the pilot of Stephen Falk‘s You’re the Worst. The Kong: Skull Island director dipped back into helm a few more season 1 episodes—including the all-timer “Sunday Funday”—but hasn’t returned until now, for the sitcom’s fifth and final season, in which he directed three straight episodes leading up to the Falk written-and-directed series finale. In classic YTW fashion, all three of Vogt-Roberts’ episodes are equal parts joyful and tragic, especially the third, “We Were Having Such a Nice Day.” The half-hour is centered around two genuinely heart-breaking conversations on the eve of Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen’s (Aya Cash) wedding. The first, an isolated talk on depression and regret between Gretchen and her mother (Rebecca Tilney). The second, in a swanky L.A. speakeasy, sees Edgar telling Jimmy a truth that’s pretty much been building since the pilot: A marriage between Gretchen and Jimmy would most likely destroy them both.
Before the episode aired, we hopped on the phone with Vogt-Roberts to discuss coming back to the show after all these years, handling character arcs right at the end, those two devastating conversations, and the triumphant return of Thomas Middleditch‘s “Sunday Funday” hipster.
Collider: So it’s funny, I’ve been a fan of this show for a long time, but I somehow never knew you directed the pilot.
JORDAN VOGT-ROBERTS: Well, I think unless you were really into Sundance coming-of-age movies that combined Amblin films and Terrence Mallick, I don’t think I was on a lot of people’s radar prior to making a giant monkey movie [laughs]. So it’s kind of reasonable. But it was great coming back, because the pilot is one of the things I’m most proud of in my body of work. And a lot of people don’t know that. It’s funny, because I actually have regular conversations with people talking about the show, and over the course of the conversation they realize I did the pilot. It’s a weird Twilight Zone thing.
Before I dive into specifics, I wanted to ask about coming back overall. You dipped back in to direct a few episodes, but coming back this close to the end was it kind of like seeing your kids all grown up?
VOGT-ROBERTS: That is precisely the way I describe it. You kind of just took the words out of my mouth. It was surreal, it was amazing. I love Stephen, it’s always an honor to bring his words to life. The cast is so incredible. People always ask me about the show, and the first thing that comes to mind is the special and rare combination of crew, producers, network, writers, talent it is. It’s just such a great family, from the beginning. And I really missed that when I was away. I did the pilot, I did a couple episodes in the first season, and then right after that I kind of went into giant monkey territory. Kong was two-and-a-half years of my life. I had to leave the show behind. It was great watching the show grow from afar. But the big difference is like, if you have a kid and you leave, there’s a big difference between seeing photos of your child and then coming back home and actually seeing this thing that was, I don’t know, 30 feet tall when you left it, and then it’s like a grown, adolescent man. They had been on their own journey, and there’s so many things I missed out on, but there’s so many things you stand back and you’re so proud of the way it’s evolved. The way everything has grown. How things you set up continued to set the tone stylistically.
For me personally, it was also just so surreal coming back from a giant blockbuster back into TV. On a more macro level, it’s just crazy that in those years I was gone, the way in which even the landscape of TV and film has shifted is so significant. I honestly could go on for an hour about that stuff alone, but it was amazing and incredible. In my career, it was one of the more meaningful things, being able to come back and do the final three episodes leading up to Stephen doing the finale. To me it such a perfect kismet thing, also, in the process of this show him transitioning into directing and killing it as far as I’m concerned. Really, really stepping up and bringing his own voice as a director to it in addition to as a writer. Very rarely in life do things get nicely buttoned up, and this felt like that.
When you’re doing a two-hour movie you’re responsible for every part of your character’s arc, but when you jump back into a TV show there are so many beats that you missed along the way. How did you approach that?
VOGT-ROBERTS: To me, honestly, Kether, Chris, Desmin, Aya, all of the supporting cast, all of them are so great in those roles that A) They very much do embody those characters, but B) a lot of it was just these weird fusions of meetings, of me and Stephen just talking about the episodes. These conversations that blurred the line between us generally catching up, “How’s this been? How’s this been? Tell me about this.” It was like coming home and saying, “Tell me everything this child did while I was away.” All the little idiosyncrasies and details and things you’re born with. A lot of it was those long conversations with Stephen. So much of that was just on a page. It really was there, it’s a testament to his writing and the actors. From the beginning, in season one when we did “Sunday Funday”, I’m honored Stephen at times let me step out of the box a little bit and let me do some improv stuff with [Thomas] Middleditch and otherwise. Because we had the shorthand of the pilot, there still was an ability to explore and play, say “Hey, I know this.” Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s all just a testament to the incredible work of the actors and the incredible words of Stephen, and frankly the network for letting a show like this go on for five seasons.
Specifically, the penultimate episode “We Were Having Such a Nice Day” seems like that episode that happens in every You’re the Worst season where everything officially goes to shit. This episode is so joyous and so soul-crushing at the same time.
VOGT-ROBERTS: Well [laughs], I’d say life as a whole is part joyous and part soul-crushing. Frankly, I would say the tone of a lot of my work is the exact bullseye. That’s the spectrum that I like playing in. I love that stuff, because I do think that’s life. To me, there is such beauty in the soul-crushing parts. There’s such tragedy in the beautiful parts. In general, life’s traumas, the scars that we carry with us, are the things that eventually allow us to be great. Or to better ourselves. From the beginning, this has been a show about toxic, complicated characters who are people you fall in love with. In a weird way, that cross-section you’re talking about is the embodiment of why people rallied around this show. For me, it’s just a pleasure to be able to play that gamut. Stylistically, really commit to those ups and downs. When it’s sad let’s commit to it being sad, but that doesn’t mean that in the midst of that you can’t do something absurd and funny. When it’s happy that doesn’t mean it can’t be melancholy.
I want to talk specifically about two conversations that happen in the episode, the first being the fall-out between Jimmy and Edgar. It’s a turning point for a series right as it heads into its series finale, so what tone did you want to strike?
VOGT-ROBERTS: That was such a surreal scene to shoot. Everyone knew going in that it was an intense, impactful, heavy culmination of five-plus years. That’s what the scene is. For me, I didn’t want it to be a flashy thing. It didn’t need to be a flashy thing. This scene was about Jimmy and Edgar, like let’s focus on them, let’s let their characters but also Chris and Desmin as actors, let them do their thing. Bring this whole show to that moment and see how it plays out in one last episode. That’s so much the moment where, as a director, I have to do my best to set a mood and a tone in terms of the location and blocking, everything where my job is, frankly, get out of their way.
I almost felt like the conversation between Gretchen and her mother was more heartbreaking, because at least with Jimmy and Edgar it was two people saying what they mean. But I did love how you just kept the camera straight on their faces, across from each other.
VOGT-ROBERTS: That one actually was approached differently. It was such a long scene. They were both long scenes, and in the scene with Jimmy and Edgar in the bar there’s a specific piece of coverage. We’re in a very specific kind of coverage and then when there’s a shift in the scene, the coverage also shifts to reflect the mood. But in the scene with Gretchen and her mom, that scene is so long, and by nature of how it was written by nature of them being pampered and having their hair done, they had to be stationary. Me and the DP, Mike Berlucchi, we were sitting down and trying to think, how do we just let the actors be? And not over-shoot this in a bunch of different angles to keep it alive? But do something dynamic. That particular scene, we start…yeah, there’s profiles, but it’s basically one shot. It’s a big super-wide of each of them flat. Over the course of the scene the camera dollies in closer and closer very slowly and very subtly in a way I don’t know if people would even pick up what’s going on. But trying to visually reflect the distance. Really convey the way in which these people are completely isolated in their own frames. Completely distant from each other. And my job there is also the same, just get the hell out of the way and let them do their thing. But in that one, because of the length of it, trying to find ways the camera can be additive to what’s going on, and really reflect them in their own worlds. They don’t show up in each other’s frame until the very end outside of the big Spaghetti Western wide. That was about playing distance and space.