Having started out his career in comedy coming up through the legendary Upright Citizens Brigade, Paul W. Downs has been honing his acting skills ever since then through his recurring role in ‘Broad City’, as well as branching out into production and writing with his partner Lucia Aniello with their film ’Rough Night’ from 2017 (which starred the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Zoë Kravitz, and Kate McKinnon).
Now working on a number of different projects on the go, Downs is enthusiastic to discuss his upcoming projects over the phone, in between telling me about his Australian best friend (“Not that it’s the same as New Zealand!” he implores).
We caught up with Downs earlier this month to discuss the final ‘Broad City’ season, among other things…
COUP DE MAIN: The fifth and final season of ‘Broad City’ started last month - I’m both excited but also sad, a world with no new ‘Broad City’ on the horizon!
PAUL W. DOWNS: I know! It is sad.
CDM: What was it like filming the very final episode of the show?
PAUL: It’s pretty wild, because almost all of the cast is part of the series finale. One by one, you kind of get a chance to say goodbye to everybody in the cast, so it was really bittersweet. In one way it was very emotional, but it also felt really like we were able to give everybody the send off that they deserved, and that the show deserved. So it felt like the right time, but of course it’s never easy to say goodbye.
CDM: Do you think there are any similarities between yourself and Trey? Or yourself and Trey’s alter ego, Kirk?
PAUL: Yes! <laughs> I guess my enthusiasm and optimism are probably similar to Trey, although I’m not anything really like the character to be honest. And then in terms of Kirk Steele - he’s just a whole other thing. I wish I had the self-assuredness and confidence and the sexual prowess of Kirk Steele. <laughs> He’s someone to look up to.
CDM: It must have been fun channeling that role when you got to play Kirk.
PAUL: That was one of my favourite episodes, it was really a blast. No pun intended. It was one of the few episodes that we filmed in New York and in the Valley in Los Angeles - because the flashback to his amateur porn career happens here.
CDM: Your working relationship with your partner Lucia seems so unique - especially in having both male and female voices and points of view when you’re collaborating. What’s it like working on writing and directing/producing projects with her?
PAUL: We feel so lucky, and also when we meet other couples or partners in the industry who don’t work together, they’re often apart for months - so for us, we not only get to be together, but we try to make each other laugh all the time. It’s really very rare and lucky that we get to do that. Of course it’s not always easy, you can’t really turn to somebody and say, ‘How was your day?’ And if you had a hard day, you know because you were two inches away the whole time. But that said, we do feel really fortunate that we get to work in comedy, and also work together, because in the end she’s the person that makes me laugh the most.
CDM: Are you guys still working on the female spinoff of '21 Jump Street'?
PAUL: It’s so funny, everybody asks that! We aren’t - we wrote a version several years ago after '22 Jump Street'. I think it’s taken a long time for the studio to figure out what they were going to do, because for a while there was a ’23 Jump Street’, which was going to be a ‘Men In Black’ / ’21 Jump Street’ mash-up, and then that didn’t happen - because ours was technically going to be ’24 Jump Street’ which was going to draft off of that. That didn’t happen, but the person who was writing that has now written another one, so there’s been a lot of iterations of the project, but we are not responsible for the one that’s being made now.
CDM: It’s really cool to see you, as a man in comedy, working with so many strong women around you - in ‘Broad City’, and also in your projects with Lucia - which is quite refreshing to see, in a world where so many people think that women aren’t funny, which is insane. Do you find it important to be working alongside these women, and helping them showcase their talents?
PAUL: I feel lucky to do it, because I think women are funnier than men in many cases. Obviously that’s a generalisation and you can’t make a generalisation in either direction, but I would say by and large they are. They have to be in order to succeed almost, because I think you’re given no privilege otherwise. But, I’m like, women, they do so many things better. <laughs> They have kids! It’s crazy to me when people challenge their ability, whether it’s to run for office, or to be funny. It is something that I find very important.
CDM: We loved your appearance in Tove Lo’s ‘Bitches’ music video - what was it like working on that?
PAUL: Oh my god, that was so fun. I’m a fan of everybody in that video, all of them - I’ve loved ALMA for a while, she’s great, Charli XCX, Icona Pop is so funny and fun. The fact that I got to do that and meet all of these people that I honestly have been fans of for a while was so fun. It was a crazy day. Not only are they so talented and such good musicians, but they’re also all so sweet, and funny, they were so down. It was the chillest, most fun experience. I’ll do music videos anytime.
CDM: How did it compare working on a music video, to working on TV and film?
PAUL: Visually, they’re much more free - it was really freeing to not have lines, not have to hit your marks, and just be able to play around. It’s not like there’s a rehearsal because most of those women are on tour, they’re flying in for the day to do it. They just turn on the music and go, and they’re such natural born performers. It was actually zero pressure, very fun, like playing around, it was honestly really cool.
CDM: If you could star in any music video of your choosing, what would it be?
PAUL: Wow. Great question. I may have to get back to you on that. There’s already a visual album, but there’s an artist named Tierra Whack who I’m obsessed with!
CDM: I love her!
PAUL: Isn’t she incredible? I haven’t seen the visual album, but I would be in a video for any of her songs. How ‘bout, ‘Hungry Hippo’? I wanna be in that video. She is so dope.
CDM: You have so many upcoming projects on the go! How do you balance your time between what you are working on in an average week?
PAUL: I think because I have ADD [attention deficit disorder] in a serious way it’s very helpful for me to be able to bounce from project to project, so that I’m not ever getting bored. For me, I feel so lucky that I get to work in an industry where I can have a lot going on, and it isn’t the same thing 9-5. I don’t actually find it to be a struggle, I find it to be really creatively liberating.
CDM: I’m particularly excited about the Netflix series based on ‘The Baby-Sitters Club’!
PAUL: Oh yeah! I don’t know if you read them growing up, but Lucia was a fanatic, and says that ‘The Baby-Sitters Club’ is her ‘Star Wars’. It is her magnum opus, she is so excited to be part of the making of it for TV. I think it’s such a strong message for young women - it’s a fun, young, entrepreneurial group of girls, I just think it’s a very cool thing that will be great for people to become familiar with because I think young girls today don’t necessarily know the books, so it’s going to be a cool way to reinvigorate the franchise.
CDM: You’ve talked in previous interviews about the similarities between comedy and drama - is that what makes you want to head more into acting in drama roles?
PAUL: I think my natural inclination has always been to comedy, but I think most performers don’t just want to do one thing. Again, to nod to my extreme ADD, it’s something that makes your work feel different and more exciting. It’s definitely something that I’ve done in the past and would welcome doing more of.
CDM: We know you’re friends with D’Arcy Carden - who we also love! Have you been enjoying her get the praise she deserves with this new season of ‘The Good Place’?
PAUL: I love her! It’s so funny, coming up from the UCB, I think a lot of comedians know each other, it is a very small world in the end. It’s so nice to see someone both so talented and so deserving, and also so nice, get the recognition they deserve. She’s someone that Lucia and I have not only been close friends with, but also supporters of her career for a long time, and I’m so happy she’s getting the accolades she deserves, because she’s so talented and so funny. She’s the sweetest person.
CDM: If P.A.U.L. was an acronym, what would each letter stand for?
PAUL: Passion, Attention Deficit Disorder, Unique, and Lover/Laughing. That was just off the top!
The final season of ‘Broad City’ is airing weekly - watch the trailer below…