Bryan Greenberg and Creator Ian Edelman Talk HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA

How to Make It In America

With HBO’s new original series, HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA, premiering this Sunday, February 14 at 10pm, Bryan Greenberg, who plays Ben in the show, and creator/executive producer Ian Edelman took some time to answer a few questions from the press. Here are a few things they had to say:

On the melancholic aspect of the show and it being based on Ralph Lifschitz’s (aka Ralph Lauren) story.

Ian Edelman: First I wouldn’t say that we based it on Ralph Lifschitz, but it was certainly an inspiration that you know that it was like you know a story that I grew back – my parents who told me growing up, but it wasn’t – it wasn’t this is not based on Ralph Lauren’s story.
But yes, we had a term that we called it, as we were so – as it – as sort of as the whole series was coming together, and it was not sweet melancholy, but it was something that is you know sort of an undeniable take away from the experience, and it’s I think the whole – the whole hub is that it feels very real and relatable, and at – and this is a period in these guys’ life where you know there’s a lot of hard work to be done, and there’s you know everything is you’re figuring it out, it’s an existential window, and there’s pressures. So sometimes things hit harder than others, and sometimes I think they’re really funny. So it’s just kind of a realism and authenticity of this moment that we are going for.
And sort of on the street level where these guys are at, it has – it has moments that feel a little weightier for sure.

On how much is based on true life experiences.

Ian Edelman: A huge portion of it, I think it’s my experiences, it’s my partners experiences we all bring to the table, we pour our heart and souls into it. And you know certainly the cast of characters has been influenced by a lot of people I’ve met. I’ll tell you a really short, funny story, which is I had met this woman who had seen the pilot, and asked her what she thought, and she said her husband really liked it, and her husband was sort of this like New York City kid that I knew growing up, and I said oh, well one of the inspirations for the character of Cam was this kid that – sort of a best friend that I had at you know ages that I met when I was 12 skateboarding, who was Dominican, he was from a different neighborhood than I was, and you know sort of a big influence there.
And then another mutual friend later was like I ran into so and so who told me that Gabe [Nunez] has his own show coming on HBO, inspired by his life, so there’s definitely a lot of people that I have sort of grown with in New York City who have contributed to the show.

On their personal experiences and whether there was ever a moment they would have considered taking a more stable job.

Bryan Greenberg: Yes, I mean when I went to NYU, and I just finished studying acting school there, and I was living in the city, I was doing extra work, and catering, and working for a mortgage broker, and bartending and waiting – I was just hustling you know doing five different things to try to keep my dream alive.
And it’s really tough, you have to take jobs that you don’t want to achieve the dreams that you do want. And you know the thing about trying to make it, in any career, I think, it’s like if you give yourself a plan B, you’re going to take it because it’s so hard out there, pursuing your dreams, that if you give yourself an out, you’ll take it. So I never did that, I never pursued an alternate career, because I felt like that would be giving up on my dreams.

On whether the characters will realize that their dreams might now be all it’s cracked up to be.

Ian Edelman: I think the series is definitely more about the journey than the destination, and I think a step backwards is a step forwards. And their lives will continue to change as they grow and figure it out.

Bryan Greenberg: Yes, I mean I’m hoping – Ian knows the answer to this, I just say the words. But being involved in the show, I kind of hope that these characters, they do get some success, but at the same time it’s taken away, and the show is called “How to Make it in America”, it’s not “Making It.” And it’s not “Made It” you know so it’s all about these guys and their struggle, and while they’re going for their dreams, like life happens, they prove their friendship to each other, they run from the cops, they fall in love with girls, and fall out of love, they party, have good times. It’s like that’s really what the show’s about, it’s about the journey, and it’s really not about the destination.
So I mean I don’t know if the show would work if you’re seeing Ben and Cam on a Learjet, it wouldn’t be as exciting, I don’t think.

One whether there is some improv in the show or everything is scripted.

Ian Edelman: Everything is scripted, but we have these wonderfully talented actors who do drop gems of improv on us at times. So it is a scripted show, but there are certainly moments where things are ad lib and improv, and we work and figure it out on set.

Bryan Greenberg: Yes, there’s definitely a looseness involved in the filming, I mean the thing is, we’re striving to achieve realism here, I mean it’s definitely – my biggest take away after seeing four episodes is how real the show is, and when we’re filming, some of these people on the street like they’re just – they’re not extras, they’re real people, and they come up and talk to me and – me and Victor while we’re shooting a scene, they’re like we’re selling jackets on the street, and they’re like so how much are they? I’m like yo, this is actually – we’re shooting something, there’s a camera right there. That’s how real it is, you know.
So when you’re doing that kind of filmmaking, you have to keep it loose a little bit, and fresh, and just be honest to the moment. And sometimes that calls for an improv, and sometimes it doesn’t. I mean the writing’s all there, these guys did such a great job on the scripts, but just sometimes a moment comes up where you got to address it with an ad lib.

On what sort of things was discovered about the character during filming.

Bryan Greenberg: Well, I talked to a lot of guys in the fashion world, because I’m not really familiar with it. Like street fashion though, and just realizing what it takes. I had a conversation with one guy who was like look, at the end of the day, we’re selling denim, it’s not any different from the next guy’s denim, but it’s how we convince the consumer and how we brand it and make you think that it’s cooler. And I was like wow, so it’s really about your hustle.
And the tricky part about playing Ben Epstein is yes, it is a half hour show, you want to keep it light, but he’s a very complicated guy, and he’s got a lot of demons, and a lot of insecurities. And Ian and I work really closely to not make Ben a bummer Ben, and the biggest challenge was to find a fine line where yes, he’s kind of down on himself, yes things are tough, but at the same time, he’s got that fire inside of him that he’s going to fight and achieve his dream no matter what, and hopefully the audience will take away that it’s a positive upward swing, instead of an introverted downer lead character. So that was the challenge, and I think we’ve gotten a good middle ground, I think, I hope.

On casting the actors for the show.

Bryan Greenberg: Funny thing is, I knew Ian before – I didn’t even know Ian was a writer. We played ball together, and you know we had a mutual friend in common, and I guess he saw me in “Prime,” and he liked my work, and I took it as a compliment. And then we were on the same basketball team, and it was so funny because we sort of look alike in real life, which is funny, but then on the court, we have the exact same basketball game. We’d both be trying to fight for the same position, it was really weird.
But that day, we were undefeated, we did not lose. So we had immediate chemistry. A couple of months later, I read that he sold a project to HBO, and that it’s going, and I was like whoa, HBO, Ian, I didn’t even know Ian was a writer. I read it, and I really responded to it you know. And I just wanted to sit down and talk to him and see where he was planning on going with it. And I just thought he had this really fresh approach to portray New York in a way that I’ve never seen portrayed on a television show or in a film before, like a real New York, not like some “Sex in the City” girls drinking martinis and wearing fancy dresses, this is like the New York that I lived in, downtown, people on the hustle you know me and my friends, we don’t go past Broadway or above 14th Street, we stay downtown.
And I’ve never really seen that portrayed in a real way, and then I heard that Victor was being circled for the role of Cam, and I got really excited. And the chemistry test worked out, and here we are. Ian?

Ian Edelman: Yes, and so for me, I’ll say that once we found out that the pilot was going to be shot, I started meeting with the actors for the various roles, and I mean this sincerely that Bryan and Victor were at the top of the list for us. I had known Bryan from “Prime”, I remember watching Bryan on “Scripted”, and I remember really enjoying him. I remember he was wearing like a specific pair of like Nike hi-top Vandals that I had, then when “Prime” came out I felt like it was a very relatable character for me.
And I will tell you that when Bryan and Victor first met each other, because I was there, it was like we could not have been happier, it was like instant chemistry. Victor’s from the lower east side, Bryan has spent so much time living there, maybe half his life, we were so lucky and so fortunate that it was just like they were instant friends, you felt their backstory, it was like a chemical thing, we couldn’t plan for it, it was fantastically lucky.

On finding Kid Cudi before his breakthrough in the music industry.

Ian Edelman: We hope that Kid Cudi’s success as a musician helps him along, but we’re excited for Kid Cudi just to emerge as a great actor on the show, and have his acting speak for itself. But I can tell you, the back story of finding him was I was in New York for a research trip before we started shooting the pilot. We came like three weeks before. And I was sort of reacquainting myself with downtown New York City, and young people hanging out, and specifically there’s a fashion brand called Peg Leg. And there are these incredible like downtown kids, it’s a small business, they first start off making T-shirts, now they do like T-shirts and sweatshirts and denim and jackets.
And they’re like a racially diverse company, they’re all young, downtown native New York kids. And so I was hanging out with them, and they took me to this club, and I had sort of heard Kid Cudi on like some mix tape, he had just started to put music out there when they introduced him to me at the bar, and I was like hey, man, you should come in and read for this thing, and I think he was a little bit suspect, and was like who is this dude talking to me at the bar? It’s kind of a cliché encounter.
But he showed up, and was just this like raw talent, and Julian Farino came in, who’s the director and executive producer, came in and worked with him, and he got better, and kept getting better and better and better, and then showed up at the network test, and he was so funny, he was like I think he sort of didn’t – I think from like sitting in the HBO lobby waiting to do a network test, and from – and meeting me at Santos Party House, I think he was like oh, this is like a real show. So he was so nervous, he was texting me, he was like you there’s like real actors out there. I was like yes, man, this is HBO. And then he just came in and was fantastic, and we’re so happy to have him on board.

On guest stars appearing on the show.

Ian Edelman: Martha Plimpton plays Rachel’s boss, Edie.

Bryan Greenberg: Lake Bell has a much more significant role than she did in the pilot, as my ex-girlfriend, Rachel. And the audience can follow like what it’s like to be a single young girl in her 20s trying to make it in the city as an interior designer. And also deal with the aftermath of a breakup, and running into your ex-boyfriend in different functions, and dating a new guy, and just questioning her career choices, and you know her life in the city.
Eddie Kaye Thomas, who’s really funny, who’s in the pilot, [plays] David Kaplan. You know we got a great cast.
Luis Guzmán’s [who plays Rene] stuff, it gets a lot more intensified, I mean we end up borrowing money from him, and then you know there’s consequences that come along with borrowing money from Rene, and so we see him on a weekly basis.

Ian Edelman: And it’s a sort unprecedented move in loan sharking to take money to start a denim line you know it’s not – it’s not necessarily good business.

Bryan Greenberg: Yes, and it keeps Ben and Cam like entrenched in that hustle, that street game which Ben has no desire to be in at all. But it creates a nice conflict.

On using stills in the show.

Ian Edelman: The use of still photography was the brain child of Julian Farino, who is a brilliant director. And it was about giving the show another dimension and adding to the realism, and the stills it wasn’t like we have to use stills, but the more we used it, the happier we were with it, and we worked with this incredible photographer who is – his name is Boogie, and he’s originally from Serbia. And if you Google him or you look at his work, he started off doing sort of street photography, and he had already like taken crazy images. And Serbian came to New York, and started like taking pictures of drug dealers, and just as like brutally raw documentary things that were so resting.
But he did have this – he has this great ability, he’s fast, he’s like a nimble photographer, he’s on his toes all the time, and he just has this ability – like if he could hang out in the projects with gangsters and drug dealers and capture the sort of truth with these characters, on set, he was just able to sort of be like our recon team, go to a location, like if we were shooting at a flea market, he can go to a flea market, communicate with people, capture real the sort of essence of these characters, and great portraiture, and establishing shots for us. So Boogie, is a photographer, and he was a great asset.

Bryan Greenberg: Yes, the show covers so many different characters, and so many different scenes, and you only have a half hour to do it. So you can tell a lot with just a picture. And I think it’s really the aesthetic of the show, it’s almost like you’re flipping through a magazine, right, and you’re like OK, here’s a shot of sneakers, here’s a shot of like aesthetic Jews, it just gives you a flavor, and you’re in right away without any sort of explanation or back story, it kind of just tells the story for you.

Ian Edelman: And this is also sort of at its core, Ben and Cam come from a culture where now more than ever people are photographing themselves on social networking sites, on blogs you know what I mean. That was the genesis of the idea kind of grew out of that, and then became a greater narrative tool for us to use.

Bryan Greenberg: In the second episode, it opens up with this party scene that we had, and we shot the whole thing on iPhones and Blackberries, and I’ve never heard of anything like that, I thought that was the coolest idea, I mean because it just seemed so real and current.

Ian Edelman: It felt really real, and then the set was unique, because you didn’t really need any lights, the crew was so small, it really just – again, for us, it upped the authenticity and it made the moment somehow bigger.

Bryan Greenberg: Yes, the crew left, and they just hired a bunch of like beautiful girls and cool looking dudes, and then you know we were just partying and having a good time. And honestly, I was shooting it on my iPhone, and then the next day, they’re like we need that footage.

Ian Edelman: Yes, unfortunately the DP who was shooting on his iPhone, somehow like he lost all of his footage, but luckily Bryan was there with his iPhone too to fill in the gaps.

Bryan Greenberg: So it was cool, I mean that’s the thing about the show, it’s a really fun show to shoot at an actor, because those party scenes were – they turned into real parties, they were fun.

On how Bryan Greenberg approached playing Ben and Rachel’s relationship.

Bryan Greenberg: I thought it was really brave and interesting for Ian and the writers to start off a series at the beginning of a breakup. I just thought that was a really interesting entry point that I’ve never seen before, and how two characters have to deal with that. And yes you know I’ve gone through you know some breakups in my own life that I could easily draw upon, and it wasn’t that hard.

On whether any character ever makes it in America.

Ian Edelman: Does anyone really make it in America? You know it’s a street level show, it’s the beginning of a journey, I think we want to take our time and enjoy the process. It’s about baby steps, obviously we don’t want to slow the story totally down too much, and find the joys along the way. But it’s a non-stop hustle and it’s a non-stop grind that you take a step forward, and it’s three steps backwards, and you know they’re kind of figuring out – I think the fun of it is it’s got that sort of do it yourself, every man starting a business you know or woman, and it’s just about sort of mining the stories from that, and keeping it real.