SXSW Interview: Animals co-creators Phil Matarese and Mike Luciano take acid and talk Bill Cosby

The second season of HBO’s animated series Animals just premiered, and in anticipation of its release I sat down with the series creators Phil Matarese and Mike Luciano at SXSW to talk about its return, Bill Cosby, warping minds, The Duplass Brothers (the series’ Executive Producers) and taking acid on 3-11.

So I just came from Park City. I was there for a couple of days, and I’ve never been to Sundance, and one thing that it struck me is it’s such an intimate experience as opposed to here at South by Southwest, and of course it’s kind of where the story began for you guys. Could you have imagined what you showed at Sundance two years ago now would have propelled you onto a minimum two-season arc on HBO?

Phil Matarese: I don’t want to say yes, but I kind of want to say yes, just because at the Sundance juncture we had been working on this, yeah we had interest, we had the Duplass brothers as our executive producers at that time.

So they were already on board at that point.

Phil Matarese: They were already on board yeah. But a year or two prior to that was when it was just Mike and I in an apartment in Brooklyn and we had won this thing called New York television festival, and I think at that point we said if we had an HBO show after this it would just be effin’ bonkers, but listen I’m not going to use it if I don’t have to. I’ll use it for the punch, I was going to say a Bill Cosby special but I forgot he’s a monster. But even after Sundance it was so much happening at once that it was really hard to focus in on selling it and all that sort of stuff.

I was just so concentrated on the screening, and this thing we had holed up in an apartment to work on for almost a year at that point, finally getting in front of people’s eyeballs was just so exciting. And then immediately after that was all the generals and the meetings, selling it with Mark and stuff, and they went really well and it was a really positive one. And that day was fucking crazy, I use the F-word, after the HBO meeting was like, “Holy shit we fucking have an HBO show dude. This is crazy”

Mike Luciano: Just hugging each other.

Phil Matarese: Just hearing Mark who’s pretty seasoned, he’s still a young guy but he’s been doing Hollywood stuff for a while.

Mark Duplass?

Phil Matarese: Yeah Mark Duplass. Just going, “This doesn’t happen that often” just, “Shit dude we’re onto something. Fuck it, fist bump”

And he knows a thing or two, Togetherness also got two seasons, if you can get a third you’re going to outlive that one.

Phil Matarese: I know. You know what man, knock on wood. That’d be fun. Three seasons feels good. Two seasons FLASH in the pan. That being said we’re very excited about season two still, and everyone should tune in because it’s good stuff. We made good stuff.

I’ve seen the first episode and I’ve got to say you’ve really stepped it up a notch. I was morbidly disturbed by what I witness in a way I don’t think I was in the first season. I still don’t know what that thing was, but I think you know what I’m talking about, but it has pervaded my dreams since then.

Phil Matarese: Good.

Larry Heath: Is there any incentive for you to kind of step it up a notch this season, just from the little bit I’ve seen it seems like you’ve given that a bit of a nudge.

Phil Matarese: I was just going to say one thing we really tried to do this season is make each episode really have a big swing to it, so we really wanted each one to really feel like its own movie in a way, and I think with that each episode, whatever the premise was, we just wanted to really lean into whatever bizarre idea that is going on, and just make it really fun and something we hadn’t seen before, and I think one thing we realised from the first season is it just takes so god damn long to make an animated episode of a TV show, a half hour show, one thing we did when we were writing it was realise we can’t be half-baked on our excitement for this episode. We need something every step of the way in that half hour that’s going to carry our excitement and enthusiasm through making it over the next year. So I think with each episode we have a handful of things that make it exciting to us, and that’s what we kind of went after.

And knowing you survived a first season and didn’t get pulled off the air there must be a bit of confidence there as well to go in and say, “Maybe this time last year we didn’t feel like we could get away with this, but I think we can now”.

Phil Matarese: Yeah. And even in the audience respect in seeing the things that they had taken to and picked up on we felt like, “Okay we don’t necessarily need to go broader” not that we would anyway, but we definitely wanted to make more stuff with purpose and three eleven jokes.

All important. All important.

Phil Matarese: Happy three eleven day guys. It’s today.

It is today. Congratulations on surviving another one.

Phil Matarese: Thank you. Last year I took acid. I would be on acid right now.

Mike Luciano: I am on acid right now.

Phil Matarese: Oh.

Mike Luciano: You guys are … I can’t describe what you look like.

Phil Matarese: Look at that painting man, you might get lost forever.

Mike Luciano: Yeah my mind’s exploding.

I imagine there’s a little bit of acid needed to create some of these concepts. When it comes to creating some of these concepts you guys wrote every episode of the first season. Is that the same case this time around?

Phil Matarese: Yep. Mike and I write every episode. We just kind of lock ourselves in a room similar to this and we just see what comes out of our guts, really.

Acid does help with that.

Phil Matarese: Yes it does help that. And it helps with digestion too, a lot of people don’t know that. But we just kind of hole up in a room and just tell what kind of stories we feel are necessary or that we want to do, or really what makes us laugh. And again most excited about making it, and we write these outlines that we later improvise with funny people with.

The funny people that you’ve got on the show. It’s always a talking point for this one. You had so many great guests in the first season. Is there anyone you’re particularly excited about for season two?

Phil Matarese: I think we really pumped up the eclecticness of this season. We went … there’s a lot of music people who are just doing VO on our show, there’s a lot of behind the camera people who are characters this season, and just the … there’s older generation comedy people. I’m just thinking of like …

Bill Cosby.

Phil Matarese: We got a Cosby in, we got Cosby. Dude how easy would it be to book Cosby on something. He’s probably fucking blind and whatever. Wasn’t he losing his vision? It’s just kind of funny that he came out to be a monster and then he also …

Mike Luciano: God punched him and he went blind.

Phil Matarese: He went blind. That’s so dark. That feels like Michael Haneke movie or something. Just Cosby. Then he stabs himself with a pair of scissors. Very inside.

There’s an episode in this.

Phil Matarese: Yeah. There’s something here. Shoot. What was the question? Oh the people we got. Allowing our influences to be brought into the show as well, so getting someone like Pauly Shore who we both grew up on and love it, and Andy Dick, and all these just like great people with more contemporary funny people too, just mixing up that world feels really fun and fresh to us.

The animation style is quite unique for the show. I remember when I first watched it, and I’m sure it was compared to this also, but it reminded me of watching those first South Park episodes, that real DIY feel to it. But as you said each episode takes a long time. I don’t imagine it’s the five day South Park turnaround. Does that impress you that they’re able to do that now that you know how much work goes into each episode?

Mike Luciano: Of course.

Phil Matarese: Yeah. I’ve literally been raised on that show, so it’s just interesting to learn that process. Ours is for sure way different than theirs, and I doubt anyone will ever have that same process as they do, but it’s very interesting to see what those dudes do. But yeah, our process … thank you for saying it feels like South Park, but that’s another show that feels like this is Matt and Trey. Like no matter what that’s them. And that’s, I think, that something me and Mike have really put in our DNA, of like, “Let’s make the Phil and Mike show as much as possible” so I don’t think we’ll ever be broad enough to be a nuclear family kind of TV show. We’re not going to ever be Sunday nights on FOX. Why am I saying that, we’re an HBO show we’re doing great. It’s fine. Jeez pat yourself on the back kid, you’re doing great, you’re at South by Southwest (SXSW).

Was there ever a time where you wanted to call it the Phil and Mike show or the Mike and Phil show. I mean it basically, it is, every episode is you guys.

Phil Matarese: Maybe we kicked around Phil & Mike’s Animals, something like that, but we try to make sure a lot of time, even if it’s a created by card or something like that, that it’s a Phil & Mike thing, because why not. You have to be confident, you have to own up for what you’ve done.

Otherwise the Duplass brothers are going to take all the credit.

Phil Matarese: That’s true and those guys are doing fine. Those guys are great. I love them. But give me this.

I’m the one working here, I’m the one working at South by Southwest, not on acid.

Phil Matarese: I could be on acid right now. It’s freaking raining. It rains in Texas, who knew that?

It’s almost hard to believe. If there was one word that you could use to describe what you hope people take away from season two of Animals, what would that word be.

Mike Luciano: God I wish I had a thesaurus.

Phil Matarese: I would say … let me think of different words for unique, but I want to say unique.

Mike Luciano: I have one.

Phil Matarese: Go ahead.

Mike Luciano: Mine would be Mike.

Phil Matarese: No no no no no. Mine would be Mike. I would go with Mike too. Season two of Animals, “Mike”

The correct answer was Chlamydia.

Phil Matarese: Aha that was good.

I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

Mike Luciano: Nope. That makes sense to me now.

Phil Matarese: I get it. No I get it, I totally get it.

 And anything else on the horizon for you guys that you want to talk about and plug?

Phil Matarese: Animation and this show, we put our whole selves into it, we’re very ingrained into every aspect of it, so for the past two years we’ve been in a little hole in Burbank making this show, so we don’t have anything else. This is it. Ladies and Gentlemen, season two of Animals is the blood sweat and tears of two young men who gave it their all, so when you’re watching this show remember that. That every detail is obsessed over, and every joke is obsessed … I took acid. I’m freaking out. I’m flipping out dude.

Mike Luciano: And I’ll just say for all the network executives out there we have a lot of great content that we are brewing.

Content creators.

Phil Matarese: We’re content creators.

Mike Luciano: Oh yes. Snapchat.

Trending. Hashtag.

Phil Matarese: And we can be broad too. I said we would never be that, but let me tell you something. If you want the next The Simpsons, if you want the next The Bob’s Burgers, well guess what sugar tits … I just blew it. I just blew it. In a good meeting, and I call the person sugar tits. It’s a guy so relax, just relax. It’s a big burly guy and I call him sugar tits, and I just lose Mike and I’s career, I blew it. I blew it. We got stuff.

And then Phil runs out of the room and stabs a guy, on acid, and that’s just how shit gets done in Hollywood.

Phil Matarese: You guys are thinking of bath salts. Acid is much more tamer. You’re introspective. It’d be fun. We’d have fun you guys. What if we met up in Austin every 3-11 and we took acid. What do you think about that?

Reunion!

Phil Matarese: You’ve got to come the farthest, so I don’t know.

Mike Luciano: I’m going to have a wife and kids by then though.

Phil Matarese: Next year?

Mike Luciano: Next year?

Are you really?

Phil Matarese: Oh my god are you telling me something?

Mike Luciano: No. Okay I realise that was plausible enough to not be funny.

Phil Matarese: Hey Mike.

Because it’s more than nine months away.

Phil Matarese: You’re like 30. You can do that it’s not weird.

Mike Luciano: All right. I’ve got to figure some stuff out.

Phil Matarese: I think when we’re making this show we’re 15 years old. I’ve kind of becoming a little bit of a fifteen year old. I just said sugar tits, like what’s going on.

Well thank you very much for your time.

Phil Matarese: Hey thanks for having us.

And looking forward to having my brain disturbed even further in the rest of the second season.

Mike Luciano: There’s some heart to it too. That’s the other thing we really like about the show is infusing it with craziness and a lot of funny comedy, but also some nice little storylines of characters. So hopefully you get some of that as well.

Fantastic. Well guys enjoy your acid trip at SXSW and see you next 3-11.

Phil Matarese: Thanks man, likewise.

In Australia, Animals Season 2 is screening fast-tracked from the USA on Mondays at 10pm on the Comedy Channel, while it screens in the US on HBO on Fridays at 11.30pm.

Photo Supplied.

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Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.

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