We catch up with Alissa Nutting, Christina Lee and Stephanie Laing.
A new dark comedy premiered on HBO Max in early April, titled Made for Love. Simply, it’s about a woman named Hazel Green who escapes from a suffocating and abusive marriage of 10 years with Byron Gogol, who is a tech billionaire. For the decade that they were married, Byron had Hazel locked and controlled in his hub where everything was futuristically “perfect”. Upon escaping, she runs to her father, who has been keeping company with his sex doll (mostly for companionship). As Hazel tries to get herself together and celebrate the fact that she’s finally out of this awful marriage, she realizes that Byron had implanted a monitoring device in her brain called the Made for Love Chip. With this chip, he’s tracking her, watching her, and knows all of her inner emotions, which is a total violation of her privacy and a big hurdle in the path of her trying to regain her independence. This first season follows Hazel as she tries to rid herself of the chip and finally get her long awaited freedom.
Relevant and timely, this series allows viewers to look within themselves and think about how much we rely on technology, especially in the last year when the whole world went into lockdown. Just like Hazel, many of us were in similar situations of being in a “hub” and not being able to get out. We all ached for that freedom, but we had to rely on our technology to guide us through that time whether that be contacting loved ones who we weren’t able to see or even order groceries to be delivered because shops weren’t safe at the time.
Made for Love is an adaptation of a book with the same name by Alissa Nutting, who wrote/co-wrote on 5 of the 8 episodes, and she is also an Executive Producer along with Christina Lee, who is the showrunner as well. Stephanie Laing serves as Co-Executive Producer and directed 6 of the 8 episodes. We chatted with this female-driven dream team about the making of the show and the broader messages they were trying to put across.
What about this story drew you in and made you want to join the team to bring it from page to screen?
Christina: The initial thing was reading Alissa’s book. It was such a nice surprise to me…not only is it such a chilling story, but it was also very funny and tonally I thought that was a great place to start for a show. And also I love that it explores different things. You have the story of divorce. You have the story of a daughter reconnecting with her father, but then also there’s this chilling tech element to it, so all of that wrapped up into one had all of the things that I love, and what I watch and read, so I was excited to become a part of this.
Stephanie: For me, I first read the first episode, actually, because they already had Cristin Milioti, Billy Magnussen, and Ray Romano on when I came on, but I feel like I would have beat any door down to be on this project with these women, and this cast. It was for the same reasons…it’s dark, it’s weird, it’s super meaningful, and relatable in a very strange way. And I hadn’t read anything like it. I’m just so excited.
Alissa, you’ve made the switch from author to TV screenwriter. What inspired you to make that switch?
Alissa: I started as a creative writing professor, cheating on that at night doing development in screenwriting, and then I was able to move to be a screenwriting professor, and I was still cheating on that at night doing screenwriting and development. And then finally I was able to make the jump, and now I do it full time and don’t have to cheat anymore. So I’m very happy. I can work for 18 hours and still get upset when I have to stop and go to bed. It’s really a dream job.
What has the experience been like for you thus far, especially when you compare it to being an author?
Alissa: Oh, amazing! I couldn’t have asked for more of a dream project to make that transition and more of a dream team. While we were working on it, just having female members of the crew come up to us and tell us how much it meant to be working on the show where they look around and are seeing all female leadership, an environment of respect and vulnerability that we were just able to cultivate. It really has been such a model for me and I just want every single project I ever work on to be exactly like this with these people.
Christina: Us too!
For those who want to read the book, or already have, how much did you follow the original plot and how much did you leave out? Was there anything added that wasn’t in the book?
Alissa: One nice way I like to think of it is that the show is a companion to the book. They both have kind of the same themes and many of the same characters, but they’re kind of exploring those themes in a different way. Christina and I really wanted to make sure in externalizing the book, we were turning it into this multi-character show as opposed to just one point of view as it is in the novel. We were giving all of these characters layers of depth and complications that could play out not just for this season but hopefully multiple seasons. Our actors are amazing. We were just gifted with such an incredible cast, who really were also collaborators in deepening these characters and bringing them to life for the screen.
There’s a metaphor within the story of how technology is really trapping us and not allowing us to be free in our regular day-to-day life. Almost everything we need is a tap away on our phones. In a similar fashion, Hazel’s character is being controlled through this chip in her brain and she’s doing everything to be free and rid of it. Is that something you’d agree with?
Christina: That’s the ultimate dilemma, right? How much technology can you bring into your life without wrecking your life? Others might say, it improves your life. That is the ultimate question, I think, that was eliminated especially this past year where I felt very grateful to have the technology to connect with loved ones when I wasn’t able to see them, but at the same time, for me in no way did it replace the real thing. So what’s that phrase? You can’t live without it…
Stephanie: You can’t live with it, you can’t live without it. Both a blessing and a curse.
Christina: Yes, blessing and a curse. Those are definitely our conversations around technology that we weave throughout the show of our own personal relationships to our phones, social media, all of that.
Alissa: There’s also the theme of when does something cross over into sort of becoming a toxic relationship? And I think that’s something that I kind of constantly monitor in my own life, and fail at, to be honest. Like am I using technology, am I overusing technology, am I obsessed with technology? I am. I probably am.
Stephanie: I am. I, for sure, am. My kids will tell you that.
I think for me the strangest thing from quarantine has been Instacart and Shipt doing my groceries for me. Like we don’t even have to get off our couch anymore. You can even choose replacement items.
Stephanie: I have an Instacart delivery right now and I won’t be surprised if it comes during this call.
Christina: I’m never going to take a meeting across town, or fly anywhere for a meeting.
Alissa: It all definitely gave me this weird awareness of the things that I did. I oddly miss the mindless strolls through Target, just like looking at things I didn’t come there to get, buying stuff I don’t actually need. It made me realize the kinds of coping behaviors that I have suddenly were cut off by not being able to leave my house.
Stephanie: I don’t think I even remember how to behave in a Target anymore.
It’s definitely a timely story with the technology elements, as well as the way it tackles topics like patriarchy with dark humor. For example, the chip that has been implanted in Hazel is called ‘Made for Love’ – as in I will completely control you and know you inside out, but that’s because I love you. Can you tell me a bit more about how these elements came into play and what you wish the broader message of the show to be?
Christina: It was a deliberate approach, I would say, among the three of us on this show because you have this high concept of there’s a chip in her brain, it’s sci-fi, he lives in this simulated world of the hub. Ultimately, it’s the very familiar story of a woman trying to escape from toxic masculinity. The three of us discussed that..we talked about dealing with narcissists, which the three of us have all had a lot of experience with. We wanted this show to really resonate with a female audience that has been in a situation where they feel like their privacy has been taken away, where they feel like their agency has been taken away, and I think what we’re doing is giving that character a voice. Like what do you feel about that happening to you? We wanted to see that character fight back and regain her power and you know her own mind and body
Stephanie: I’ve been getting a lot of messages from people who I don’t know that are saying they relate to Hazel in some way or another. And they’re thanking us for showing her having some agency over her future and I think that’s been really nice. Someone messaged me that they cried in episode 6 when Hazel says the line about just wanting to be loved. I’m so proud of the three of us for really driving that message home and super rewarding that people are taking something emotionally away from the show, and not just laughing.
Ultimately, as you said, this is an abusive relationship that she’s escaping from. Byron is an abusive husband. He kept Hazel locked away in a hub, and something I thought of was earlier in the lockdown when many pointed out that we need to think about and reach out to all those who are stuck at home with someone abusive. I think that resonates here as well.
Christina: Yeah, that’s a really good point, and we thought a lot about it. Quarantine was tough for everybody to be stuck at home, but for others tougher depending on who they’re with, or if they don’t have a home. We certainly discuss those types of issues of what abuse looks like and that you can’t always see it from the outside and I think this is a good example of that.
Alissa: One of the things I love so much about what Stephanie was able to capture are the ways that it can be kind of insidious, even on the surface to others who are present and looking around. One of my favorite moments was in the pilot when Byron whispers into Hazel’s ear saying, “you’ve been lying to me.” Her face drops and she kind of immediately puts on this mask for everyone else. There is this theme within the show that things aren’t always as they appear particularly in romantic relationships.
Byron at one point decides he wants his new product to allow two people to become “Users One”, which makes a duo so connected that there aren’t any more secrets, miscommunication, or private thoughts. Many might say that this would resolve most arguments that people might have and make way for open communication, however, others might disagree because the element of privacy is completely out. What are your thoughts on that?
Christina: If I could not have one more conversation with my husband on what was for dinner, I feel like, in a moment of weakness, I might put that chip in my brain, but then he would find out all the other weird, dark things that are swimming in there, which I don’t want him to. I would be curious to talk to those people who say that they would be willing. I think that would be really interesting because I don’t know anyone myself who would actually go through with it.
Alissa: I think I would be willing, but then I will be scared of the person that wants to be in a relationship with me, who can see the entirety of what’s going on inside my brain. I don’t think I’d want to be in a relationship with them so it’s like catch 22.
Stephanie: I think it would be a big business of people removing them for those who said they would do it. That’s what I think. Like an instant regret.
Christina: That said, I would chip with the two of you guys.
Alissa: I was just going to say that.
Stephanie: I think we are already chipped together.
How has it been seeing the viewer’s reactions to the show?
Christina: Yeah, I mean it’s been absolutely thrilling and a dream come true, especially because we shot most of this show in 2020 when we were in this bubble, and we weren’t seeing people so it was a very surreal experience. So for it to be out there and to hear from people that they’re watching and resonating with it means so much. It’s been very exciting.
Alissa: It was such a wonderful experience with Christina and Stephanie and our cast and crew. We were in this hermetic space as we were doing it. It was so fulfilling and touching that there were times I forgot that we were making this for something else, something other than what it was for all of us. We were so into it and engaged and it really felt like the mission was already accomplished. This is really different than anything else out there and seeing it connect with viewers has just been so cool and rewarding.
Stephanie: It’s absolutely thrilling and exciting. I just want to do it again.
What was it like filming during quarantine?
Christina: The hardest part was the time before we went into production, all of the anticipations of shooting during COVID because, along with our numerous production meetings, we had to have daily COVID meetings too. It all felt very overwhelming, but we had this killer production team that made it feel easy, and we could really focus on the creative and I credit them. After being home for so long with only seeing the people that live in your house, we were so thrilled to be on set, that it was like we were just jumping up and down, we were just happy to be there. So anything that was hard, we just, you know we dealt with it because we felt so lucky to be back and able to finish the show.
Cristin Milioti, who plays Hazel, has been getting rave reviews for her performance. How did you all feel about the way she took on the role of Hazel?
Alissa: Just stunning. I was blown away. She was always our only choice, our top choice. Her performance was above and beyond anything we could have conceived. She was so dialled into the character of Hazel that Christina and I did a lot of changes and rewrites as we were beginning to see these layers that she was unpeeling back. It was spectacular.
Stephanie: She’s incredible. She’s so specific and I could ask her to show us a hint of hub Hazel and it was like instant. She’s incredible. So incredibly talented.
Christina: Yeah and I think she’s one of the best actresses out there right now.
Alissa: She’s superhuman. We would give her something brand new thinking, oh, we’ll rehearse it, but she’d do it in one take as if she’s been doing it for two years. It’s like she was on Broadway. So uncanny and phenomenal. There were times on set where we were like, is there anything she can’t do and the answer is always just no.
Stephanie: It’s so, like, emotional…just a subtle change of her face and it’s so good.
Made For Love is out now.