Anna (Zoe Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally) are a married couple having a tough time together in Band Aid. Their therapist suggests they form a band as an outlet for their frustrations. So they do, calling it Dirty Dishes; and write fight songs. Jamming in their garage, their weird neighbor Dave (Portlandia’s Fred Armisen) joins as drummer. He’s a RSA (Recovering Sex Addict), so he stands in the uncomfortable middle of Anna and Ben’s hyper-aggression. Writer-director-composer Lister-Jones is known for New Girl and indie films like Breaking Upwards. Band Aid has drawn wide acclaim, and Lister-Jones has been called “one of our most promising young directors” more than once.
Iron Man 3’s Adam Pally has been on the cusp of breaking out since his incredible turn as the schlubby and hilarious gay man Max in the criminally underrated Happy Endings. Since then, he’s played roles in Dirty Grandpa, had a major part as Peter Prentice in The Mindy Project and headline his own series in Making History. He’s a true comedy nerd’s dream; an actor that kills it whether he’s on a podcast or leading a series.
Lister-Jones and Pally are an entertaining joint interview. Our conversation bounced from modern romance to sexualized politics, including why Mike Pence is hard for Vladimir Putin. Read our conversation, lightly edited and condensed for clarity, below.
Is cuddle therapy, suggested in Band Aid, a thing?
ZOE LISTER-JONES: I think there actually is something in Japan, of course, where you can pay to be cuddled by somebody. I think cuddling is therapeutic. I love to spoon.
Come to think of it, a Playboy writer did a piece on this in New York. He actually paid someone to cuddle him for an hour.
ADAM PALLY: I have a ton of questions. First of all can I have that number?
I was talking to Irvine Welsh about Trainspotting 2, and he reckons all characters reflect “some part of yourself, even a repressed part.” Can you relate to that?
LISTER-JONES: Totally. To endow characters with empathy, you have to live inside each one of them a bit. So I definitely agree with that statement. Especially when writing a script that’s about relationships and commitment, you do really have to step into every character’s shoes in a way that I think was enlightening for me as a person. I think the film definitely drew upon personal experience.
How do you think modern romance compares to those of times gone by?
LISTER-JONES: In my relationships, at the turn of the century, I felt that men were a bit more chivalrous. But my corset was so tight I feel like I couldn’t-
PALLY: Oh you mean the nineteenth century?
LISTER-JONES: Yeah. I can’t compare, except for seeing what relationships looked like for my grandparents. Obviously, for my relationships, I think women have a lot more agency. I think that’s a step in the right direction. I think the issues that plague relationships are timeless.
PALLY: The actual plague!
PALLY: No. I would say that I don’t know much about romance in time gone by, but I would hope that romance now is not just equated to a man being a gentleman and paying for a woman’s dinner or something like that. I would hope that there’s a little more of a fluidity between a gender association of romance.
LISTER-JONES: Guys don’t want to pay for dinner [Laughs]. So, we split the bill most of the time.
PALLY: Well gender equality, right? [Laughs]
ZLJ: Yeah, women’s agency.
You have both been in serious relationships for many years, since before Tinder etc. Are you sorry you missed out on experiencing that?
PALLY: I’m definitely bummed about that. I don’t think I’d be good at dating now. I think I’m too old and too set in my ways and too grumpy.
LISTER-JONES: You’d have a lot of grumpy sex.
PALLY: I don’t know. I’m bothered I didn’t get to swipe left and go meet someone at a bar, that sounds fun.
LISTER-JONES: I think Tinder is a living nightmare for women.
Mike Pence and conservative Republicans bizarrely going along with Trump’s Vladimir Putin alliance. I think it’s because they admire Putin’s suppression of women, the LGBTQ community, and sexual freedom in general?
PALLY: This interview is all over the map [laughs]. But yeah, I do think you’re right. With our country’s Republican right, I think the thing that they do like about Russia and the human injustices going on there, are what they push to be going on here. So when you hear talk like, “strong leadership” or stuff like that, what that really means is no LGBTQ or stuff like that. I agree with what you’re saying.
Judging from your Twitter feeds, you’re both passionate about politics?
LISTER-JONES: I think it’s essential, especially at this moment, to use the platform to try and effect change, or at least spark a dialogue.
PALLY: I don’t understand anybody that’s not, to say the truth, political at this point in time. I don’t know what else you could possibly be interested in. Sports, and TV, and music, I love all that stuff. But we’re [America] literally hanging on by a thread here. So I think it’s important that we all engage.
Your Making History’s character’s motif was he time travelled, using a duffel bag, to pick up women. Because this is Playboy, any tips for Playboy’s readers from that?
PALLY: [laughs] Let me see how I can phrase what I want to without getting in trouble. I feel what you want me to say is that you grab the chick and you throw her in the duffel bag. But what I’m going to tell you is that that is kidnapping. So I guess what I would do if I was really trying to pick up chicks, is use my knowledge of the future to impress them. Kind of what I did on the show.
LISTER-JONES: I would never get inside a duffel bag, no matter how much knowledge of the future you had.
Adam, how did you find having an all-female crew during Band Aid’s sex scenes? PALLY: Again, this interview is awesome. It’s all over the map. I loved having an all-female crew. I find that women are less judgemental and they’re more concentrated on the task at hand. So especially the sex scenes, I credit to Zoe for the women that she chose, there was no odd feeling about it at all. It was just part of the day. That’s what you did that day when you shot.
Adam, you worked with Robert Downey Jr. on Iron Man 3. Any 4 a.m. texts?
PALLY: [laughs] We don’t speak on the reg. I would say we speak when something big happens. He’s very nice to me. He texted me this morning to say congrats on the premiere. We’re friends. That’s a long story. But he’s very nice. And he looks after me quite a bit. He looks after me just enough that I would never surpass him [laughs].
That text sounds more low-key than some of the texts he’s sent you.
PALLY: Yeah! He’s definitely more low-key with me now I think because he’s scared that I literally could kill him and replace him and no one would skip a beat.
I’ve done a lot of film press conferences in my time, and he’s one of the kings of the one-liner.
PALLY: Right. And the only one better than him, and this is what I’m assuming that you’re gonna say, is me. So thanks for that. And he knows that. No, he’s the best, he’s the greatest.
Is there gonna be any more Happy Endings, maybe a movie?
PALLY: Nothing that I’ve heard yet. I think we would all love to do it but as I’ve told a lot of people, if anybody really wanted to see that it would be pretty easy to do. So, I think that no one [producer-wise] really wants to see that.
Zoe, your Band Aid character being a failed writer turned Uber driver is interesting.
LISTER-JONES: It’s such an interesting social experiment for strangers to be in cars when it’s not a licensed transportation method like days of yore. It’s just regular people that are driving you around. So I thought it was a good device to get Anna into some sticky situations with the passengers. It’s also an ick of a time in her life where she’s really stuck. And stuck as an artist, and as a person, and stuck doing a job she hates.
Adam, Ben shares your actual tattoos with the world. Any cool stories related to them?
PALLY: I have bad tattoos, I’ve had a bunch of bad tattoos. A couple of ‘em were for my kids. I have a peach for my daughter and a good ol’ cap for my son. I have a tree on my back that I got on air when I hosted the Late Late Show, a couple years ago, and I was really drunk. I had to explain what I wanted, right? So it looks like, chicken and broccoli. I have my Hebrew name on my chest which is also like the worst tattoo in history [laughs]. I think that’s most of ‘em.
Zoe, anything else you hope the film might accomplish, messages people might take away from it?
LISTER-JONES: I guess a big theme is about what it means to commit to somebody and all of the messes that we have to clean up. And that that kind of is the truest form of love there is. I’m not trying to get on a soapbox. I was once called Olivia Newton-John on glue. I had a blonde Mohawk.
That physical scene with the pillows at the end of the film stood out. Was that a favorite?
LISTER-JONES: That was pretty fun. I think that was something I wanted to do in my life, so I just wrote it into a movie [laughs] and made a little padded cell for myself to jump around in. But it was really fun to play some music, too. We played all the music live, so it was kind of gigging while shooting. Fred [Armisen], Adam and I had a lot of fun as a band. It’s cool that the band has continued on and had a life of its own after the movie.
You had an impressive variety of roles with the film. Any particular lessons for other indie filmmakers beginning the process?
LISTER-JONES: First is finding a story that you think is important to tell, whatever that means to you. And then find a group of people who you wanna make art with, cause so much of making films is about the community that you surround yourself with. I think now more than ever it’s important to lean into those communities and make work together.
Do either of you have a favorite memory of Playboy?
PALLY: Yeah, I have many favorites. My uncle used to collect old Playboys and would keep them in his bathroom. So going over there to go to the bathroom was a big deal. Drew Barrymore did Playboy when I was a kid. I liked that one. I preferred the Drew Barrymore Playboy to the Pamela Anderson Playboy. I like ‘em natty, know what I’m sayin’?
Alexander Bisley is a film interviewer and critic. Favorite interviewees include Irvine Welsh, Rose Byrne, Keira Knightley and Sir Ian McKellen.