Since I got a career—since my late 20s or whatever—I feel like my tendency has been to describe myself with what I do for a living. I’ve become really aware of this in recent years. But that’s not how I look at people, so I’m always careful to ask questions like, “How do you spend your time?” instead of “What do you do?” I find myself very often defined by my work, but I don’t want to assume that everyone else is defined by theirs. I certainly wasn’t for a long time.
That was a long preamble to say: I’m a Brooklynite, and while I always want to call myself a filmmaker, I’m really a TV maker.
Right now I’m about trying to be present and truthful to myself—thinking about what I want out of this life and then constantly evaluating if I’m being truthful to those things. Therapy helps, because that’s definitely a safe space where I don’t feel the need to put on any sort of anything. It’s a bit like that Marie Kondo philosophy. Asking yourself those questions—“Does this bring me joy? Does this person bring me joy? Does this item bring me joy?”—but on a more existential level.
The thing about my job is that it takes up so much of the year, and I have so many things I want to do. It brings me a lot of joy—when it’s easy—but there are so many other things that would also bring me joy. I have friends who are creatives and writers with projects that I am dying to help realize. I’m writing a screenplay with my partner, Adele. I hope I get to make it at some point, but I’m also like, “When?”
I don’t know what it is about our process on High Maintenance—perhaps it’s because we have to reinvent ourselves almost every week. We’re not able to just rest on a cast of eight that we task a writers’ room with writing for. We have to build a new world every week. It’s tiring. It started out as this cool art project, and now it’s a job.
I think anyone who does creative stuff and gets paid for it can probably attest to the fact that, yeah, it feels like a job at a certain point. Creativity on demand is so different from having inspiration strike you, and then actualizing it at your own pace.
I love unrealized potential. I love meeting people, seeing something in them, maybe seeing that they're not doing the thing they could be doing that they would be good at.
I don’t consider myself a performer at all. I’ve done it, but it feels like mostly on a dare. It wasn’t something I was dying to do. Once I did it, and then when we brought back the character that I’m attached to, I was like, “I guess I have to come back.”
I like directing a lot. This was the first season that [my co-creator and ex-husband] Ben and I split up as a directing team. I had a lot of insecurities about doing it because my directing career is pretty small and limited to the scope of my own work, which has always included him, and us directing together. But I was really curious to see how I was going to feel being on my own and it was fine. I really liked it and it made me want to direct more on my own.
A lot of the time, directing feels like you’re an air traffic controller, especially if you have the good fortune to be part of a crew that’s really great at their jobs. Then you’re just kind of like, “You here, you there. We’re gonna do it like this.” That’s kind of the less exciting part of directing. It’s different when it’s your own work. Ben and I are the showrunners of our show, so I have the creative authority to change things on the spot.
But producing is my main love. And developing—I come from casting, which I think speaks to that. I love unrealized potential. I love meeting people, seeing something in them, maybe seeing that they’re not doing the thing they could be doing that they would be good at. I love matching people to a role or a job. I love world-building. My favorite part of production is putting together a mood board for my costume designer, my art production designer, and my DP. I love going on Instagram and being like, “Look, these are the kinds of people that would be in this world. This is what they would dress like. This is what their home would look like.” That part is so fun.
I very specifically moved to New York to get into casting. I only saw two choices for that: L.A. or New York, and I came from suburban Southern California. It was not a place I wanted to be.
I really only go back to California once or twice a year for work stuff. I don’t really have family there or a network of people, except for industry people. I’m a bridge burner. I really feel like I’ve had a lot of lives, and I don’t really have a lot of contact with people from those former lives at all. There’s one person from every chapter, maybe. Maybe. I just think life moves too fast to be able to keep holding on.
I’m the person always purging their home. I think that translates over to my personal life.
It’s interesting, though, because I’m so sentimental and so nostalgic. I definitely like to revisit the past in my mind a lot, and have a deep appreciation for things from my history. But I just don’t hang onto things. I’m the person always purging their home. I think that translates over to my personal life. I mean, I’m chill with people from my past and I still have contact with people who have been really meaningful in my life in certain ways. My ex who I was with before Ben—he’s now my real estate broker. But I find that a lot of the people that one becomes close with are often a product of circumstance: you’re all in the same shitty job together or something like that. Just a time-of-life thing. And once you’re out of that time of your life, you sometimes just don't have that much in common.
I have a lot of weird guilt about it. I’m always like, “Oh, no. Am I some sociopath who can't hang on?” When I see people who are still getting together with their high school or college friends for dinner every month, or whatever they do, I'm just like, “Oh, is that what you're supposed to do?” I don't know any of those people at all anymore.
I’m never content. I don’t know where I got it from. As a kid, no one was pushing me to be super ambitious. I would never describe my parents as ambitious or striving. They’re so practically oriented. But they’re also Danish and I think the Danes have a crazy high standard for everything.
When we started High Maintenance, I don’t think anyone thought we were gonna be anything noteworthy. I don’t think anybody anticipated this would be a cornerstone of our professional lives. It seemed like fun and games. So it’s always a little surprising when cannabis entrepreneurs or people who make adjacent products are interested in my opinion about things. I’m just like, “I don’t know about all the strains and what this one does or what that one does. I just make a TV show.”
I'm just glad that it's becoming legalized because of what it means for the justice system. No one should be sitting in jail for selling weed, and for giving easier access to people who need it. I’m a person who lives in a city, so it’s never not available to me. But I think about people who live in other situations where it’s not as easy to get their hands on it.
But I also have complicated feelings about legalization. I’ve been watching what’s happening and it’s just more corporate America bullshit. They’re going to put small farmers out of business, potentially.
The way people smoke now feels out of control. The weed that we're smoking is so much stronger than it ever was.
There’s also this weed-guzzling mentality. The way people smoke now feels out of control. The weed that we’re smoking is so much stronger than it ever was. And the high that people are getting is way different—the pesticides being used. That part is upsetting for me and another reason why I would like some regulations around it.
It’s alarming to me to see all these people who are just about the bottom line. They don’t really care about the history or the culture or the experience behind cannabis. To think about the little guy not having a business after having risked so much, or all the people whose livelihoods have been put on the line suddenly because of the corporatization of legalization—that part is dismaying.
I still smoke almost every day. But when I travel, I don’t really have any on me. Maybe I’ll bring some drops. I used to get really creative about smuggling back in the day. But eventually I was like, What am I doing? I don't need to do this. I smoke a lot less than I used to, though. Sometimes I find myself smoking just out of reflex—if I’m feeling a certain way or the day looks a certain way or the light is a certain way. Then I'm like, Wait. Now I'm all stoned and shit. I've gotta move my car. I can't do that.
I have a few friends with whom I associate smoking. And Ben. It’s a thing we bonded over, so we’ll just sort of do it out of habit, and then both of us are like, “We didn’t need to do that.” I think it’s a holdover from smoking cigarettes. I smoked for 12 years, and when I stopped, weed smoking took over.
My relationship with Ben definitely had really high-highs and super low-lows. I think it’s because we really went all in on it. We got together really quickly, committed to each other really quickly, got married really quickly. And the show happened very quickly after that. When that happened, we both jumped in with full force and decided that this was the thing that we would invest in. It’s hard to pull him apart from that. And it’s this thing that I’ve invested all this time in, so it only made sense to try to make it work.
I think work is what made our breakup better. It’s like we had exposure therapy to each other. We broke up and it felt like a fiery breakup, but we didn't have the option to just go to the opposite ends of the world and process it and then come back after a couple of years. No, we had to go right back to work a month or two after the fact. It was just us putting on our grown-up pants. There were some bumps along the way, but for the most part I've been impressed with how we’ve managed to do it. I respect Ben a lot creatively, which is, in part, how we're able to keep working together and pull this off. It’s really only gotten better and better. It surprises me how chill it is. We still share a car, which is nuts. But it’s helpful.
It feels ridiculous even saying this since there are only, like, 40 people in New York who care, but I think because my last relationship was so characterized by “we make this together,” that when things went badly, I could feel that part of it playing into things. Especially with my coming out. It felt strange to have to be like, “Actually, I'm queer and I don’t want to be in this relationship.”
I do think social media played a part. I’m super fatigued by it, even though, to me, it’s not that strange to live in “public.” I don’t have a lot of issues around privacy generally. I’m pretty open and candid about myself. But just considering what anyone would think was annoying. I realize I didn't have to, but I did. Now, I think I’m very wary of saying too much about my relationship because I feel protective of it. It’s mine and people don’t need to know what we’re dealing with, ever. It’s not their business. So, there you go, but it’s a really good relationship.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Katja Blichfeld photographed by Luca Venter at her home in Brooklyn. If you like this Conversation, please feel free to share it with friends or enemies.