“I love the fact that the series makes people laugh — hopefully, a lot! — but it is terrific and surprising how much the audiences have ended up feeling for the characters, too.”
With so much going on in the world, who couldn’t use a hug right now? What if you have no one in your life to snuggle up to? Well, that’s no longer a problem. Just call your friendly professional cuddle buddy.
Evidently this is a real career and now the inspiration for the new web series “Hug It Out” from actress/creator Kincaid Walker and director Jason Eksuzian. The awkward situation of individuals who long to be held and a down on her luck women in need of a job is the basic premise for the series. But, don’t be fooled. It also sheds light on why someone might turn to a stranger when they feel the need for a little non-sexual intimacy.
What’s not awkward is learning that both Kincaid and Jason have each been rising up the ranks in Hollywood. Kincaid can be seen as ‘Hillary’ on ABC’s “Speechless” and will also appear opposite Rosario Dawson in the upcoming Unforgettable. Jason first gained attention at SXSW and the LA Comedy Festival for his popular series “I Miss Drugs”; and then went on to critical success with his series “DINKS (Dual Income, No Kids),” which starred Kincaid and led to their later collaboration on “Hug It Out”.
Now that “Hug It Out” has launched, Kincaid Walker and Jason Eksuzian found some time for an interview:
For anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, set the scene for “Hug It Out”.
KINCAID: HUG IT OUT is a six-part comedy series about Gwen, post-divorce and seriously broke, who moves to Los Angeles on a whim and (reluctantly) becomes a professional snuggler. The series begins on her first day on the job… and almost her last… on which she meets Seamus (Parvesh Cheena from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”), a sweet agoraphobic who considers snuggling his therapy.
Kincaid, where did you come up with the idea for the series?
KINCAID: I had been writing a pilot script, going through the process of rewrites, and I was eager to find a new story I could jump into. Serendiptiously, I read an article in The Atlantic about the rise of the professional cuddling industry. It made me giggle thinking of the inherent comedy in such a career, but then I start imagining a person (Gwen) who is hesitant to connect, introverted, has “intimacy issues,” and then watching her have to go into stranger’s homes and not only snuggle them but really see and be seen by them. Then, it was just a matter of having fun thinking of all the different clients she might meet (in this case, a former nudist, an agoraphobic, a depressed Evangelical wife, a war vet, etc.) who need her snuggling services.
And, then at what point did Jason get involved?
JASON: I got involved pretty early in the writing phase. The first time Kincaid explained the concept, I was totally in! I knew she would be brilliant as Gwen and we would be able to have a ton of fun creating this world and the people that inhabit it. I was so honored that she wanted to bring me on from the jump.
KINCAID: Jason and I had collaborated on his comedy series DINKS — I was the lead actress in it. It was such an exceptionally positive experience, so I really hoped he would direct HUG IT OUT. He not only has such a gift for working with actors and bringing out the “funny”; as a writer himself, he was a great early eye on my scripts; and the fact that he’s become one of my best friends… Well, I just knew he was the person with whom I most wanted to make this series; and luckily, he agreed.
What’s the hardest part about creating something funny?
JASON: Believing in the jokes and the concepts after reading them and watching them hundreds of times without an audience to validate the comedy. You’ve got to remember what made you think it was funny in the first place and trust those instincts.
KINCAID: I agree. I think also initially trusting that the quirky, silly, sometimes niche observations and reactions that you find funny, will also be funny to other people. Then, the process of putting it together during post-production, which takes, which reaction shots, the pacing — all of those technical aspects that end up either serving the comedy or working against it. We were really fortunate to have a great team from start-to-finish to make the comedy, in my humble and totally biased opinion, really work.
How much improvising was there or did you stick to the script mostly?
JASON: I love to let actors play and we definitely turned them loose a bit within the context of the scenes and the story. Kincaid is one of my favorite ad-libbers of all time so with it being her script, it was amazing to watch her go. All the actors on this did an incredible job being in the moment with their characters and knowing them so well.
KINCAID: What’s on-screen is pretty close to what was on the page, but there are certainly wonderful, funny lines and ad-libs that came out spontaneously, and when that happens, we loved having the chance to include those moments in the series. Jason creates the perfect balance of making sure the script is shot, and also leaving time for the actors to improv and play. Structured freedom, I guess you could call it.
Your supporting characters are important for the comedy to work – tell us about your casting process.
JASON: Kincaid had written some of these parts with people in mind. We are incredibly thankful that we were able to secure the kind of high-caliber and passionate talent we got.
KINCAID: Yes, Jason and I were thrilled to have such talented, generous pros to play the rest of the cast. Because of the way this series is structured, many of the episodes revolve around Gwen’s interaction with a client the audience is meeting for the first time, so the supporting cast was hugely important for the comedy and story to work. It was so much fun to watch these actors put on their own special touches to really bring these characters to life. It was a pleasure as a writer to watch that happen, and as an actor, I knew I had scene partners who were only going to make me better through having to rise to the occasion of their great work.
Anything about the project that you wish you could get a ‘do-over’ on?
JASON: There is a scene in episode six involving a pool. I really wish that I had remembered to turn the heat on in there before shooting! Kincaid’s a true professional and a real trooper for not complaining at all and doing an amazing job even though I’m sure she wanted to strangle me.
KINCAID: Ha! Well, Jason is being very kind. The water was cold, yes, but I also had imagined myself capable of a “Graduate”-type shot, where Gwen is under the water, eyes open, expressing all the angst she’s feeling, and then doing it long enough for Jason and our D.P., Mike, to get a nice, lengthy shot… Well, that didn’t exactly happen, ha! Though it came out well in the final edit, I wasn’t exactly the underwater-acting-talent I had fantasized being when I wrote the script. So maybe a do-over on that on my end too, yes!
Overall, what’s been the biggest surprise for you in creating this series?
KINCAID: The biggest surprise is how much people are touched by the characters, Gwen and the clients/ people she meets. And that delights me. I love the fact that series makes people laugh — hopefully, a lot! — but it is terrific and surprising how much the audiences have ended up feeling for the characters, too. I love that.
Lastly, are you a ‘hugger’ in real-life?
JASON: I am now!
KINCAID: I always was, but now a hug has a little extra, fun meaning after doing this series. And I concur on Jason — he was a reluctant hugger at best when we started this, and now well… He got us matching “hug dealer” sweatshirts for the first day of shooting, so maybe that says it all.
Watch “Hug It Out” online now at: www.HugItOutTheSeries.com or catch Episode One in the media player below: