Interview: Bryan Greenberg Talks "How To Make It In America", Netflix Backlash & Working With Kid Cudi

Catch up with the NYU-trained actor before Season Two of his HBO show premieres this Sunday.

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When we spoke with Bryan Greenberg just under a year ago, he had just wrapped shooting this summer's hit rom-com Friends With Benefits and upcoming indie The Normals. It hadn't been decided that How To Make It In America would be picked up for a second season, but here we are, with the hit HBO show returning for more episodes this Sunday, October 2 at 10:30 p.m. No one, it appears, is more excited about this than Greenberg, who stars as the show's leading man, Ben Epstein. We caught up with the actor at HBO's New York offices to talk about what to expect from the new season, Netflix's controversial price hike, and which coast of the States he prefers.

Interview by Ernest Baker (@newbornrodeo)

Complex: How’s your year been?
Bryan Greenberg: It’s been pretty crazy. The year’s gone so fast. Between the music and the acting and the traveling, I haven’t really stopped. Since we last spoke, I put out a record, I went on tour, I did three films, I filmed this series, I’m working with charities. It’s been a good year.

You had just finished Friends With Benefits when we talked. How was it to see it become a hit in theaters this past summer?
It was fun. That was always Justin and Mila’s movie. I was just doing that to work with Mila and it was a funny script. I think it came out well, and I like playing a dick. I never get to do that. It’s always good to get to do a studio film. I think they did a great job with that movie.

What’s the status with your other film, The Normals?
I did two films, The Normals and The Kitchen, and I don’t know what the deal is. You do these indies and.... I don’t know. I really should call them. The life of an independent film can go anywhere. I think they want to work Sundance, and do that whole thing. My thing with indies is, if they come out, great. If not, I’m not doing indies for the money. I do it because I like the characters. It’s not really a results-based process for me. I do it because I enjoy working on the projects, and that’s it for me. Whatever happens, happens. You have to let it go. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t.

Are there any studio films on the horizon?
Not at the moment. I just did those two films and then this.

How do you feel about How To Make It In America coming back?
Good. Really good. I'm super proud of the work we all did. The first season was a good show, but now it’s a great show. And I’m not a big self-promoter. I’m not going to say something’s good when it’s not. I’ve been working steady for 10 years now, and this is one of the proudest things that I’ve ever been a part of. It’s so tight this season. The stakes got higher, it’s sexier. We figured out the tone last year, which is the hardest part, to create a world. You have to establish, “That’s the feel. That’s the look.” No one else was doing that look or feel on television, and we’ve got that. But this year we’ve nailed the characters and the story.
We just interviewed your co-star Kid Cudi. He's really excited about the new season, too. What's it been like watching him grow as an actor?
He's great. Cudi is an awesome guy and has always been eager to learn. He's gotten so much better as an actor and he has a way bigger role this season. People are going to be surprised.

Victor Rasuk also told us that there’s way more girls this season.
Yeah! We were like, “What are we doing? We’re on HBO, let's take advantage of this.” [Laughs.]

With Entourage over, do you feel like How To Make It will hold down that demographic?
Yeah, for sure. Entourage was a great show and had eight seasons, which is awesome with television. The comparisons were inevitable in the first season with Wahlberg producing both shows, Levinson producing both shows, HBO, guys in their late twenties, half-hour format. I get it. And nothing against Entourage, but I feel like we are a very different show. Now people can see us stand on our own two feet, and be our own show, and recognize us. We have an original vibe.

What makes the show different this season?
My character in the first season was really in his head. He beat himself up. This season he’s Ben 2.0. He totally has a different attitude. It’s like the poster says, “Go big or go home.” That’s Ben. He’s just going for it, and he doesn’t really care about the consequences. He’s saying yes to every opportunity, and it opens a lot of doors. It’s a lot more fun for the audience. He’s not sulking anymore, but he is having an identity crisis. He doesn’t know who he is. So you see this guy try to figure it out. It’s funnier. We’re a little more cohesive now. The stakes get higher.

How so?
The first season these guys were trying to pay their rent. It’s a couple months later now. These guys have their own hoodie and T-shirt line. The season starts off with us in Tokyo. That alone is like, we’re on another level this year—it starts with us in Japan. Ben and Cam have the potential to make Crisp into a very big, profitable brand. That causes a lot of tension between them. They have to find out what they want Crisp to be, what they want to be themselves. It’s not about paying rent. It’s like, now we’re on yachts with Pharrell. It’s a totally different world that we’ve stepped into.

Who’s behind the "New York Eats Its Young" shirts your character designs? I see them all the time.
Yeah, it’s cool, right? Eli Gessner, who started Zoo York, is a consultant on the show. He does all the designs, and he’s got a lot more designs this season. I see the “New York Eats Its Young” shirts all over the city, but now we’ve got a bunch of new Crisp designs, which are really cool. I feel like it should be a real brand.
Being in the movie business, how do you feel about Netflix's price hike and subsequent backlash?
I withdrew my subscription. It’s like, “That’s what you get.” They fucked themselves so bad. It was amazing to watch that happen. You think in this economy you can do that to the consumer? I love that the consumers spoke up.
Your Twitter account makes it seem like you have a serious love affair with New York.
I do, man. I just made the decision, I’m moving back here. I lived here. I went to NYU, but I couldn’t work. There wasn’t enough work to go around. So I moved to LA, but all the jobs took me here. So I’ve been living here half the year, but I’m living out of hotels, and suitcases, and friends’ places.

I could care less about being the lead in something that’s OK. I would rather be a supporting part in something that’s great.


Do you dislike L.A.?
I’m not giving up on L.A. I actually like L.A. It’s good for me to re-focus. I work out, I get healthy, I ride my motorcycles, I ride my bicycles, I take meetings, I work on music, I stay home, I watch movies, but in New York, I’m much more social. And I’m a social person. I don’t have to make plans in New York as much, I just step out my house. I like not being around the business so much. It’s nice to sit down at a coffee shop and not overhear someone’s pitch for a TV show. You need a little bit of a break from that. Especially since I’m in it all the time. If it wasn’t for L.A., I wouldn’t be here right now. So I don’t hate L.A., I just prefer New York.

You’ve expressed interest in writing and other aspects of the business. Still interested?
Yes, but I had a couple of projects that fell through, to tell you the truth. It’s a long story and I don’t want to get into it, but it was a bad thing that went down. I’m taking a backseat on the writing thing at the moment. I’ve been offered things to produce, but I don’t want to just do it to do it. I want to believe in it. It’s got to be right if I’m going to put my name on it and really put that kind of time and investment in it. I’ve got to love it. It’s not something I’m closing the door on, but the project that I was working on wasn’t right.

Surely there are plenty of acting offers on the table, though?
Well, I've been neglecting the studio world, because I haven’t really been feeling the game. I appreciate filmmakers for doing it for a pure cause. With the studio thing, in my experience, there’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen, which is a difficult process for me. But now that I’ve re-thought my approach to making films, my goal is to work on studio films. I could care less about being the lead in something that’s OK. I would rather be a supporting part in something that’s great. I don’t limit myself to what type of role it should be. Right now, I’m just interested in working with really talented filmmakers. I’m putting it out in the world, so we'll see what happens.
Interview by Ernest Baker (@newbornrodeo)

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