Interview With Steve Zissis

HBO

How would you describe Alex and Tina's relationship?

Steve Zissis

Combustible. It's kind of like in ninth grade chemistry when you're doing an experiment with a lab partner. You combine two elements and all of a sudden there's fizzing, popping and smoke.

HBO

What's Alex's real take on their kiss?

Steve Zissis

When I look at that kiss, I think: Damn, there's some underlying passion here. The chemistry between them is pretty undeniable, but at this point, the circumstances and timing are not right. Tina's probably repressing her feelings way deep down because she doesn’t want to admit or face them. Alex is a few notches more self-aware than Tina, and of course, rejection is hard for anyone. His heart is hurt.

HBO

What's running through Alex's head when he steps into the casting office?

Steve Zissis

He's devastated. He's worked so hard to transform and to chase down a specific dream. Nothing against cuddly teddy bears, but in this particular case, Alex is trying to aspire to something more. He's been doing all this hard work and sacrificing. When he looks around that audition room, the wind is totally taken out of his sails.

HBO

Tina points out that Alex has to start somewhere. Why does he reject the role on principle?

Steve Zissis

These two definitely have strong, different points of view on this. I think Alex was really sold on a vision -- the vision that Tina helped him see. He latched on to that dream, and to abandon it at this point is taking many steps backward. It's heartbreaking in a way. To what extent Alex is naïve is another question. Maybe he is, but that's also part of his makeup. He has the idealism and a childlike quality that make him a great artist, but there are cons to that personality type as well.

HBO

I would think an actor that's been through the wringer would be cynical, but Alex is not.

Steve Zissis

There are definitely two masks that a lot of actors wear. There's that hard mask of cynicism from getting beat up and struggling. Then, there's the other mask of an inner child that's still alive. It takes some channeling sometimes, but successful actors are in touch with that purity, sensitivity and ability to imagine. That's what makes people good actors -- they have to be vulnerable. Ultimately, I think actors need to let go of that cynicism completely.

HBO

What inspires Alex to read for the leading role?

Steve Zissis

I don't know. Alex has a lot of fire in his belly. In this particular case, the fight with Tina outside the casting office gets his blood pumping even more. He decides in the moment. It's not necessarily logical. A lot of people wouldn't think of it as a prudent decision, but Alex's passion takes over and he says, "F**k it. I'm going for it."

HBO

'It's a Wonderful Life' keeps popping up around Alex. Why that film?

Steve Zissis

This is strongly autobiographical. 'It's a Wonderful Life' is probably my favorite movie of all time. The movie is a masterpiece, but it isn't all idealistic or happy. It's brutal. Jimmy Stewart's character is on the brink of suicide at the end of that movie. You go deep and dark, but with the help of friends and the divine, you come out triumphant. It's not just cheap optimism. It's earned. [Series creators] Jay [Duplass], Mark [Duplass] and I decided to use it for Alex because it's thematically connected to Alex's character and the art of being a sensitive, struggling artist and going through dark periods.

HBO

Alex has had some great moments of physical comedy this season. Do you have any strategy for how to play those scenes?

Steve Zissis

No, I don't have strategy and if I did plan too much, I probably wouldn't be funny. Truthfully, most of the golden nuggets in the show are improvised in the moment. The best thing for me to do as an actor is just to make sure I'm open to inspiration and can use my intuition and instincts. That's very much Jay and Mark's style and why we have such a beautiful, symbiotic relationship -- and have been working together for over a decade now. That's how they make TV and movies, and that's what I love to do.

Watch Togetherness

  1. NOW & GOAvailable