Back in the first season, Ray claimed to hate Marnie so much and so often that it was obvious he was hot for her. What is it, or was it, about Marnie that got him so hot and bothered? What is it about her that gets under Ray’s skin?
I think what kept them together was some strange combination of lust and projection and loneliness. But those are not sturdy pillars to support a foundation that’s healthy, so they had to come down. I think they took too long to do it; you’re kind of frustrated by these people because they’re not growing, they don’t support each other, they don’t care that much for each other, especially Marnie — I don’t think she’s really that interested in Ray. I think it’s the inertia that comes from cowardice that kept them together for as long as they did.
Ray’s parents are dead, and he doesn’t seem to have much other family. Do you have Ray’s backstory in your head?
Well, sort of. Especially in Season 1, I would come up with references of who he reminded me of. He was a little bit of this person, a little bit of that person. But more than anything else, I realized he reminded me of who I used to be about ten years ago. Someone who is much more judgmental and cynical, has a lot more unresolved anger, is a lot more existentially disoriented. I thought about those traits, and I try to put them into high relief. I essentially try to create a caricature of my former self for comedic effect. To some degree, I relied on memory, but my memory is not great and thousands of bong hits probably does not help.
The thing that I discovered in Season 1 that was more helpful than anything else was emails. I would go into my old emails — you can enter these date parameters for your search, and then you can type in a keyword. You know how search engines work. And that was really helpful. If there was a scene where Ray runs out of his house to scream at a honking car and handle rage in this really public and unstable way, I could maybe look up “rage” or “fury” or “I’m sorry” or “please accept this gift” or “we do not need to involve lawyers.” My whole human tragedy is in my inbox. It’s all there. I only really need to read the first three sentences of an email and this visceral wave of memories and feelings and thoughts washes over me.
How do you think Ray, ten years ago, saw his life panning out? Do you think there’s a big discrepancy between that and his current reality?
I’d like to think he had some lofty goals for himself and I think, unfortunately, a lot of those have not been fulfilled. I can imagine Ray from ten years ago thinking he could start his own band that got successful, or maybe was in a relationship if not a marriage by now, maybe had a little bit of a family. But he did not succumb to the man. He kept his independence to some degree. He is a local business owner. I think he would not have anticipated becoming a politician, even though it was short-lived. So I think there are victories and defeats, but I suspect more defeats.
There was one line in that scene between Ray and Marnie at Hermie’s house, when she calls him a “cliché” for thinking about his own mortality in light of Hermie’s death. Ray’s response is a little cryptic: “Why should I be smarter than this?” How did you interpret that?
I think Ray sometimes feels like he’s too analytical for his own good, and too removed from his feelings. He feels like he needs to be smarter than a situation, or more quick-witted. I think he’s starting to realize that. Why should he be smarter than this? He needs to feel this. He needs to engage with it, negotiate it, and maybe learn from it.
Is this the longest you’ve played a single character?
Oh, yeah. I haven’t really done much TV outside this, everything else has been movies. And they’re little independent movies, so they don’t really span time. The budgets don’t allow them to span time.
What does it feel like to leave him behind?
It’s sad. I love Ray. I have a very tortured relationship with him. I’m very frustrated by him and the quicksand that he often mires himself in. I’ve seen him kind of fumble his way toward deeper maturity — I like to think maybe I helped steer him, on one or two occasions, towards maturity. He’s almost a child to me. I like stepping into his shoes, almost as much as I like stepping out of his shoes. It’s fun to hop on a soapbox with him and yell at the world.