We have rarely, if ever, experienced a performer as passionate about their project as Alan Aisenberg is for Brews Brothers. We spoke on the phone with the boyishly handsome and talented Aisenberg a few weeks ago, after we realized this new way of life was starting to be the way. Over the course of an intense conversation, Aisenberg guided us through how this show, about how a pair of estranged brothers, Wilhelm (Alan Aisenberg) and Adam (Mike Castle), need to set aside their differences and work together to keep their brewery in business, was so near and dear to him.
In addition, Aisenberg revealed that he was diagnosed as Celiac right after he had landed the part and the show began, so try to picture the lengths that he had to go to convincingly drink beer when he could not have any. Also, picture that the series is a riot and Aisenberg balanced the line between serious and low-key funny in our interview, (and we managed to sneak in a question about his incredible performance as Baxter Bayley on Orange Is The New Black).
The following is a condensed and edited version of a cool chat with Alan Aisenberg of Brews Brothers.
BT: This show looks like you all had such a blast making it. What was it like for you to be in it?
AA: It was the best job that I’ve ever had in my entire life. It was truly incredible from start to finish. I mean, to get to work on a show that is this funny and this silly and know that every day, I was going to go to work and and at some point I was going to be crying hysterically laughing. Whether it was Mike Castle, who plays my brother, who’s one of the funniest improvisers I think and one of the funniest people and just the nicest guy ever. Then Greg Schaffer, our boss, who is the best boss I ever had, who is such an incredible captain for this thing and is this perfect mix of this beautiful heart, but is super funny and intelligent and knows how to run a show thinking ‘Big Picture’ and at the same time, paying attention to the little moments.I’ve never worked with someone like that and I knew that every day when I was going to work, we were going to giggle and giggle and giggle and giggle. And I would leave set and not be able to sleep because I was so excited about what we had done, and then I would wake up, excited to go to work again. It was the best summer of my life.
BT: You and Mike Castle have great chemistry as the titular Brews Brothers. Had you known him prior to filming?
AA: No. That’s the crazy thing, I had never met Mike before. We were at the screen test together but didn’t actually test with each other. We talked a little bit in the waiting room and hit it off a little bit, but I think that because of the time, or we never improvised or read together in the room, and then we got the call that we were both doing it and we went out for dinner the night before the table read and had dinner and hit it off. I was on the same show as his wife, Lauren Lapkus, but we never crossed paths, so we that connection, but we never actually met before. But Mike and I, from that first dinner, we were on the same page, I think we had this beautiful mix of we understood how we played, I mean, he’s a Chicago guy who now lives in L.A., I’m New York born and bred. We play differently in terms of how we approach scenes, but we have a beautiful intersection in terms of how we like to work, so it was really fun to just find, “Okay, here’s how we now fit together, here’s how we do it differently, which is perfect for these characters, and how do we make this work?”. And from the first minute that we started hanging out, it was like: “Oh, we get each other”, and he’s still a very good friend of mine and right now we are talking every day.
BT: What was something in the script or when you were doing it, that you were like: “How are we going to be able to pull this off, it’s over the top?”
AA: I mean the whole monk episode is pretty insane. Like I remember reading that and being like: “Well, how do you transform this brewery into a monastery?”, how do you make it feel organic in terms of Wilhelm having this relationship with people that he hasn’t seen and then the fake actors? Like how do you make the whole thing grounded, but let it get absolutely absurd? And I think that on any other platform you can’t really get as crazy as we get in that episode. We also have a whole episode about a man who makes artisanal dildos. You read that episode and you go: “Okay, this is very funny, but who is going air this?” And then you see the cut of it and it’s even funnier than the script was because it came together so amazingly. Greg Tuculescu, who plays Lazlo Suna, is a monster, and what he did with that character was insane, but like that episode wouldn’t air on cable! I think that is an episode, well, really our entire show, but that episode in particular, is one that is so perfectly made for Netflix. Netflix is the only home where it’s a fit and we give an episode that funny and that absurd a home. We made the show very particularly, like we knew that we were making the show for Netflix.
BT: You must have appreciated that Netflix gave you the freedom to do pretty much whatever you wanted.
AA: Yeah. Those guys, Larry Tanz and Andy Weil, the executives on the show, they would come by and hang out. But really, at least from my perspective, they would let Greg and Jeff make the show that they wanted to make. And in terms of the conversations that I had with Greg and Jeff, it was like: “Look, we’re making a show for Netflix in which you can say ‘fuck’ and you can show a man trying to drink beer from his asshole, let’s do it! We’re not on cable, let’s push the show, let’s make the show as wild as we want to make it”. And especially since Netflix doesn’t really have a show for the male 18-34 demographic, which I’m in, and as an avid Netflix subscriber, you do feel that hole. You are like: “let’s make a show for those people and let’s fucking go for it!”.
BT: What was a moment in which you were breaking so hard it seemed impossible to keep going?
AA: I mean, I will say that I apologized a lot when we were shooting, I’m normally very good at not laughing on set but for some reason, I was just so happy to be there, that I giggled through a lot of the show, and I think that they did a very good job of keeping that out of it. But the one thing for which people still make fun of me who worked on the show is we had a guest star, Toby Huss, who is an incredible actor and for whom I have been a fan for many, many years, and he came and played with us for a couple of episodes, he was the homeless man with the shoes. And both of those big scenes that I shot with him, the one in which he is in the dumpster, or the opening scene in the pilot, in which he’s, you know, pooping. And the job interview later on, I…the job interview, I’ve never laughed so hard in my life. Toby was improvising everything and I was in full hysterics. So much so, and I knew it was going to happen because he made me laugh a lot, Jeff Schaffer came up to me before, and was like: “Look bud, we only have half an hour to shoot this. Whatever you gotta do, just keep it together.” And I was very, very unprofessional and could not keep it together for more than a couple of lines at a time, because everything that Toby did was constantly changing and it got more absurd. All of those jokes are all him and Jeff and Greg coming up with absurd, crazy things, but that’s the theme that I will like…every scene made me laugh, that scene, whenever I think about that, I still laugh. He’s an incredible actor and I’m very unprofessional.
BT: How much of each episode was improvised and how much was in the scripts?
AA: Yeah, we had scripts that were very funny that Greg and the writing staff wrote and they were…we could have shot those, they were hilarious, but I think because Greg and Jeff know that the best comedy comes from spontaneity and just being in the moment, they let us really, from the first take, go with it. You know, I think that a lot of shows in the past on which I have worked, you shoot it maybe 10, 15, 20 times as scripted, and then you get one or two takes at the end to improvise and try something. We did the opposite here on this show, that from the first take, it was: “Here’s what is the scene, we have lines, but let’s see what happens”. Then eventually, if it got too off the rails, they would come and say [chuckles] we will need to get it as scripted. As opposed to on other shows in which you get maybe one or two takes that are like: “Oooh, you get to contribute a little bit”, these guys were so trusting of us, that really from the first take of every scene they let us run wild and see what happens.
And when you watch the show, you’ll see that most of it is what Greg and the writing staff laid down, and then we have fun moments in pretty much every scene that didn’t exist when we came in on the day. I think that’s what makes the show feel really, really fun in that you have a structure and the story makes sense and it’s been thought about a lot, and then you have things that just feel real, like two brothers fighting and some of it is scripted and some of it is Mike and me or Marques Ray or Flula Borg or Zach Reino, who is an assassin improviser just finding stuff. And it is a really nice balance of the two and I think that’s why I loved working with these guys, because you have the freedom to try things and not worry about failing.
BT: What was the most fun scene to shoot?
AA: In January, we all, the main cast, we all watched the show together and I don’t want to spoil too much of it, but the scene with the blue beer bottles, we were all in hysterics, like tears. Even though we knew what was happening in the scene, we were watching ourselves…we were all crying, holding each other just laughing so hard, because that scene, what Mike Castle does in that scene, I really don’t want to spoil it, but how he commits to the stupidity and the stubbornness of his character and then what Marques Ray does to heighten the scene even more and “Yes, and…” what my character is doing, that was a scene in which I remember watching it and being like: “Oh man, this is really funny”. My mother and my grandmother both watched the show last week and they both called me in tears after that scene. So if me, the late millennial dude who was in the show was laughing hysterically watching it and my mother and my grandmother and all of us were laughing, in tears, I think that makes me think that hopefully this will translate. But that’s the one scene in which I go back and think that we did something that was really funny and really silly. If I can make my mom and my dad and my grandma and my sister laugh, nothing else matters.
BT: What types of shows do you respond to?
AA: I’m a big comedy guy. If I weren’t on this show, this is the kind of show that I would be watching. I grew up watching The League and Curb Your Enthusiasm and That ’70s Show and 30 Rock, like I am a diehard comedy guy. The world is often very crazy and I don’t want to go home and watch an hourlong drama. I want to go home and watch Kimmy Schmidt. I want to go home and watch Astronomy Club on Netflix right now, which is so good. I want to watch the stuff that is just funny and intelligent. Really, from the bottom of my heart, the show that I would tune in to watch, were I not on it, would be Brews Brothers. From the fact that I’m going to get to watch it and my friends are going to get to watch it, a show that we would already be watching and in which I am one of the leads still has not dawned on me how weird that is.
BT: What was your takeaway from Orange is the New Black, playing a guard opposite Samira Wiley‘s Poussey?
AA: That was incredible. I mean I equate that with learning how to play baseball on the Yankees, like I was supposed to do an episode of Orange and Jenji (Kohan) was nice enough to keep me around for three years. I thought that I was going to be in and out and then she gave me this beautiful, very challenging, very fulfilling arc, that I think selfishly, which I learned so much from but also I think that it served a very important role in terms of how people look at that movement.
To go off to the side, it’s very crazy that now we shot that…five years ago? And it’s still this crazy to me that people stop me on the street every day still emotional about the death of Poussey and the relationship that they had with Bailey and the conflict that they still feel almost five years later. I think that’s a testament to the writing and how on point they were and also Samira’s performance in terms of how lovable she made that character, that when a fictional character died, people felt like they’d lost someone real. That’s all the writing and that’s all Samira. I played a very small cog in this machine, but every time that I get stopped on the street and people are emotional or near tears talking about Bailey and Poussey, I’m blown away and so grateful to have been a small part of that because it clearly struck a chord with folks. I’m forever grateful to Jenji for trusting me with that.
BT: Why is it so important for you, especially right now, to be charitable and to be involved with Feeding America?
AA: I think that everything that’s going on is truly unprecedented and in any way that we can contribute to helping what’s going on, I think that the two things that we can do is social distance ourselves and try and flatten the curve, and then if we are fortunate enough to contribute financially, we have to give where we can because it truly feels like every part of society is going to be impacted. So if I can do a small part to help supply food banks, then great. I’m trying to find opportunities wherever I can. I’m donating to local breweries to which I used to go because I know small businesses are going to get hit hard, giving to food banks, donating to the Actors Fund, because this is truly going to be an interesting time for society. We’re truly all in this together, so Feeding America is one of the places in which I started to see where I can give back a little bit.
BT: Why do you think that this is the ideal show to watch during a time of social distancing?
AA: I think that people should watch it for the same reason that I said that people would watch it a couple of months ago, it is truly a show that is silly for silly’s sake. The message of the show is about brotherhood and about finding connections with people with whom you wouldn’t otherwise have a connection or otherwise shouldn’t have a connection and about putting your differences aside. And obviously that’s the theme of the show, but the show is about being funny. The show is funny. The show is ‘sit at home, have a beer, laugh’. That’s it. That’s the reason that I exclusively watch comedies – I just want to laugh, I want to find a way to laugh. And that’s why I would ask that people watch the show. It’s like: “Shut off your brain for a little bit, come to a truly crazy show, which will hopefully make you laugh and I think will surprise you at every corner, in terms of how absurd it gets.” At no point do we ever let up, the show never finds a stable ground, in terms of here’s where we are, we always push it to a different, higher level and it just goes and goes and goes and goes and gets funnier and heightens, and I think it’s just a fun three hour ride.
Brews Brothers is now streaming on Netflix