When I told my friends I was interviewing Mae Martin, three different people said, “Oh my God! I have such a crush on her.”
Well, if you watch Martin’s new Netflix show Feel Good hoping for a crushable romantic lead you will not be disappointed. But you may be surprised by the complexity infused into its romcom narrative. Yes, Martin is funny and cute, and, yes, the show is funny and cute, but it’s also asking serious questions about addiction, gender identity, and codependent relationships.
I was lucky enough to talk about these topics with Martin – and find out how they’re spending their quarantine.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Drew Gregory: Hi Mae!
Mae Martin: Hi! How are you?
Drew: Oh, you know, as good as anyone can be at this moment. How are you doing?
Mae: I mean, you know, me and my roommate are getting pretty close. Where are you?
Drew: I’m in LA.
Mae: At least you have sun and stuff. I’m in London. It’s very claustrophobic.
Drew: I’m sure. Do you have a good relationship with your roommate?
Mae: Oh yeah! She was a friend of a friend and now it turns out she’s going to be my only friend.
Mae: But we’re getting into it. We’re playing poker every night actually.
Drew: That’s great.
Mae: I think competitive people are going to thrive. A lot of board games happening.
Mae: It’s going to be weird for dating! I guess people are going to have a lot of Skype dates?
Drew: Are you currently single? Or dating?
Mae: I’m single, yeah. So do I go on dating apps and have Skype dates? I don’t really like dating apps. We’ll see what happens. Are you single?
Drew: I am single. And I also don’t really love dating apps. But I’m just bored, so I’ve been on Tinder a lot. There’s nothing that’s going to come of it I guess except a Skype date or maybe something months from now.
Mae: Yeah. Skype dates might actually be an improvement on the usual Tinder thing? Because you’re forced to get to know the person and you can decide if you really want a face-to-face date.
Drew: That is true. When this is all over we could have these deep relationships with people who we’ve never met before. It’s a whole new world.
Mae: Everyone is going to want to have orgies after this.
Mae: Just desperate for human contact.
Drew: Well, the other thing that can happen is like two week dates because that’s the incubation period for the virus. So you could talk to someone on Skype and then be like okay so we like each other enough to commit to spending two weeks together.
Mae: That’s such a good idea. That’s a good premise for a sitcom.
Drew: Well, it’s funny because obviously Feel Good starts with an intense Uhauling situation.
Drew: Is that something that’s common for you? Like are you someone who would go on a two week date?
Mae: I have fallen in love pretty hard in the past. Not always. I know that’s supposed to be a queer trope, but it’s happened to my friends across all demographics. Like my co-writer Joe has definitely experienced that too. I think there are some red flags about really intense, speedy courtships like that, right?
Drew: Yeah, I guess so. That’s the thing. It is a red flag. But at the same time – I mean, the first ten minutes of the show I was like fully on board. And there are still times in my own life where I’m like oh that sounds great – a whirlwind romance – who doesn’t want that?
Mae: I’m a romantic, so I’m all for it. You have to take risks to get the pay off.
Drew: Do you think it’s possible to have that happen and it not be a red flag? Or do you feel like as the years pass you’re more cautious and have realized this isn’t really how it’s supposed to work?
Mae: I think it’s possible. Like my parents, their first date lasted like five days. And my dad is British and he moved back to England. Then my mom kind of showed up in England and said I want to be with you and they moved in together really fast after that.
Drew: Oh wow.
Mae: Yeah they’re my model so maybe I’m naive. But I’m optimistic!
Drew: I want to talk about the sex on the show. First of all, it was great how many strap-ons there were. They were so casually present in a way that’s rare even for queer shows. I’m curious did the sex scenes come naturally from the characters and your own experience or did you think specifically about what sex acts we don’t usually see on-screen?
Mae: Definitely the former, personal experience. It’s true that I haven’t really seen my own sex life reflected on-screen, but it was just kind of an organic and natural thing. Especially with a show about a relationship it would be such a conspicuous omission not to include sex. It’s funny a lot of the feedback has been that there’s so much sex, but compared to Fleabag or Girls or Sex Education there’s very little. I think it’s a type of sex we don’t see very often so it jumps out at people. But I’m pleased about that. It was always important to us that it move the plot along – all of those scenes are narratively important. They’re not just voyeuristic where you sit back and watch people bang for a while. There’s some emotional development within the scene.
Also I think that’s the type of relationship we’re depicting, right? These characters don’t have much in common except that they’re so attracted to each other and love having sex with each other. We had to see that so we could really understand what was making them work. It’s kind of the burning engine of the relationship that they want to bang all the time.
Drew: Also the sex scenes – some of them at least – are so funny?
Mae: Thanks! Like the Susan Sarandon–
Drew: Yes that’s exactly what I was going to bring up! That’s just such an amazing specific. What’s your favorite Susan Sarandon movie?
Mae: I love Igby Goes Down. I love Rocky Horror Picture Show. I love Thelma and Louise. Dead Man Walking. Look, I’m a big fan. And she specifically has a very sexy voice. Also it’s just something I knew Charlotte could do. Charlotte is a friend of mine and we’d been in LA together and she’d been doing this deep American accent as a joke. I knew I wanted to get it in there and make her do it. She nailed it so much. That was a really hard scene to get through because I was laughing so hard.
Drew: I’m sure. Also the moment where fictional Mae says that usually she can come just by thinking about the musical Chicago. Would that be the stage musical or the film adaptation?
Mae: Either. But on my birthday a couple years ago I did go to see Chicago. It’s my dream. I mean, I love– I love Bette Middler– I like kind of femmes– powerful– I don’t know they’re so talented! The women in Chicago! And their fishnets and they’re talking about murder! I love it.
Drew: Chicago was one of my roots for sure. I’m 26 so when the movie came out I was like 9. And it was a real game-changer.
Mae: It’s amazing. Queen Latifah? So good.
Drew: The best. So pivoting a little bit, I really appreciated how you portrayed this dynamic that can arise between a masc person and a certain type of cis femme. It’s not something I’ve seen on-screen very often. I found it really interesting how Mae was trying so hard to play a role in the relationship. How much do you think that was coming from the messaging she received from George and how much do you think it was her own insecurity? Maybe it’s both.
Mae: Yeah I think it’s both. I think the first half of the series it’s very much coming from George, but then once you realize this is a pattern of Mae’s and once George comes out and is totally there for her that shame still remains. Similarly with George coming out and realizing that a lot of her fears were internal, because actually there was no real reaction from her friends and her mom. I’m really interested in internalized shame and homophobia. It’s so hard to figure out what’s internal conflict and what you’ve absorbed from the world and society. It’s an ongoing process of discovery I think.
Drew: Does that shift depending on who you’re dating – depending on their gender, depending on their level of experience if they’re queer? At least, for you personally?
Mae: Yeah, absolutely. Gender identity aside I think everyone can feel like a different version of themselves depending on who they’re dating. People bring out different qualities in you. But yeah for sure I find dating men it shifts in a way. And the relationship in the show is based on a handful of relationships I had with women who had never been with girls before. That can be a complicated and insecure position to be in – to go through that process with someone. There’s a line in the show: “Don’t let her shame rub off on you. It’ll give you bad posture.” I’ve definitely felt that before. You’ve got to just get to a place where you’re secure in yourself and untouchable. But I don’t know if I’m there yet and this character definitely isn’t there yet. I’m further along than her.
Drew: I loved that line. And I loved Lava who said it! I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to. But the whole time I was like, oh my God just be with her. That is so obviously the thing you should be doing right now.
Mae: I’m so glad! I love how blunt she is and confident in herself and yeah Mae should totally date her. She’s so good. That’s Ritu Arya. She’s about to be in the second season of The Umbrella Academy. She’s going to be mega huge. That character is so forward and sexy and how everyone wishes they could be – like have a mic drop moment: “If you were my girlfriend I’d make you come in under a minute.”
Drew: Oh my God yeah. That moment I was like mhm yes I’m in love with you.
Mae: (laughs) Yeah.
Drew: It’s interesting the way the show frames Mae’s relationships as just another form of addiction – Mae’s mom says Mae doesn’t love people she loves the idea of love itself. Do you think people who have that pattern can still date? How do they push past that and realize how they actually feel about a person? I don’t know. I guess I’m just asking you to therapize me a little bit. But I’m curious your thoughts!
Mae: Part of it is recognizing the problem and being aware of it. Pushing through that initial euphoria – that kind of agony and ecstasy – and allowing yourself to be your authentic self. Both George and Mae are often performing for each other and I think to transform a relationship like that into a long term healthy one it’s just about hard work. I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know if those characters are going to be able to do it if there’s a season two. I don’t know if I can do it in my life. But I’m trying. I like how George says in episode six, “I’m not a thing. I’m a person.” And that’s it, right? Cocaine doesn’t talk back and have feelings and have needs. People aren’t things so it’s empathy, authenticity, vulnerability. And really everyone says – and I’ve had experiences in the past so I know that it’s true – that actually being truly vulnerable and authentic is the biggest high of all. It’s much more profound than that initial rush. It’s actually totally transcendent when you’re yourself.
Drew: In regards to the actual addiction storyline, how did you find a balance between representing your lived experience with addiction and recovery and skewing more towards dramatic tension and humor? I’m specifically interested in how you decided to present the meetings. Obviously there’s a lot of representation of addiction out there that’s inaccurate because it’s made by people who don’t have any personal experience.
Mae: Yeah I felt a responsibility too with the 12 step program because I’m not a devout 12-stepper. Like the character in the show, I drop in and out of meetings and if I feel I need it I’ll go. There are things I find really useful and other things that I don’t. So I guess I was trying to present the idea that it’s not a one size fits all solution for everyone. The depiction of the meetings – like the format of the meetings – is not particularly realistic because they wouldn’t be allowed to digress into these insane comedic debates. But I definitely found humor and empathy and all those things in those meetings. I think in my life I follow a harm reduction philosophy and in my teens I was in rehab for about nine months through a harm reduction program that was less about 12 steps and total abstinence. It’s kind of a practical and nonjudgmental approach and it’s not right for everyone but it works for me. And I’m interested in all that – like if Mae the character did coke once and she hasn’t done it in years does that mean she’s back to square one? With everything we just tried to show the nuance and complexity to these things and it’s different for everyone. There’s not one answer.
Drew: The last thing I want to talk about is Mae’s mom. Obviously Lisa Kudrow is amazing and amazing in this, but also I just loved the character. I loved how she left every interaction by saying the person she talked to was rude. She just felt very, very authentic. And the ending was both really comforting that she wants Mae to come home, but also – Shelli another Autostraddle writer pointed this out to me – there’s sort of a disconcerting dynamic where some parents can only be supportive in times of crisis. I thought that was a really interesting observation and maybe explains why I felt the way I did. I’d love to hear about the development of that character and what you hoped to achieve with her.
Mae: I wanted to tap into what I think is a universal experience of wanting your parents to like you, worrying that they don’t, wanting to hold them accountable for things but also not wanting to disrupt the equilibrium, and really just wanting their approval. I have a great relationship with my parents now, but I was sort of exploring some adolescent stuff and I think in the Blackpool episode Mae the character kind of regresses to adolescence. We might be frustrated with the parents and their emotional detachment, but we also empathize, because Mae can be so selfish and myopic. I wanted to present a balanced view of their relationship. I wanted us to see how difficult it is as a parent too. I think Lisa did that so well.
Drew: It felt extremely balanced. I mean, it just felt really real.
Mae: I’m glad that people seem to be empathizing with her character.
Drew: Before I go, do you have any big quarantine plans? Are you able to stay productive? I haven’t found that pandemic fosters the most relaxed creativity for myself, but I’m curious how you’re doing.
Mae: No, I’m the same. For the last week I’ve had no attention span and I can’t stick with anything. But I think I’m going to just settle into it and try to structure my days. I bought an exercise bike. Because it’s hard! Part of what keeps my brain happy is going to the gym and going to 12 step meetings and doing stand up. And none of those things can happen now. So it’s great if I can break a sweat once a day and relieve some stress. But I think people shouldn’t beat themselves up if they want to stay in bed and eat cheese and cry.
Feel Good is now streaming on Netflix.