Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s David Hull On How His Career Is a Commentary on Whiteness
It might seem obvious to say that David Hull plays white guys (because, well, he’s white), but the actor is on two shows — Crazy Ex Girlfriend and Insecure — that consciously acknowledge that fact. On Crazy Ex Girlfriend, David Hull plays White Josh (affectionately known as WhiJo by the writers) in a twist on the idea that the neutral Josh is actually Josh Chan, played by Vincent Rodriguez III. Then, on Insecure, Hull played what he called a “white devil,” a co-worker of Molly’s (Yvonne Orji) who seems to get ahead for the incontrovertible fact that he’s a white male. In a conversation in between takes on set at Crazy Ex Girlfriend, we talked about the provenance of White Josh, his character’s breakup with Darryl, and how Insecure and Michelle Alexander prompted him to think about white privilege.
What was it like to shoot the breakup between Darryl and White Josh?
I really like the way it turned out because neither character comes into it with a preconceived idea of where they’re headed or what that conversation looks like. Nobody has their talking points in order. We just reach an impasse in a very casual run-in, and we have to deal with it in a way that I think very much resembles real life — when sometimes we feel the conversation comes in a time and place where you probably wouldn’t have planned for that to dawn on you. It’s not like a tearful farewell. It’s a slow deterioration … we’re being grownups, acknowledging this isn’t working, and there’s something very healthy about that in contrast to the ways some of the other characters on the show deal with conflict. But it isn’t ever The End.
A lot of people are sad, though!
I don’t know if people watching it will know if it’s permanent. I don’t even know as an actor on the show if it’s permanent.
Could they get back together?
Sure, in the way that every character or human has gone through a breakup and gotten back with their significant other. I don’t know what’s in mind for season four, but it’s all very civilized, which I think is interesting. But it is sad! It should be sad! As an outsider, it’s really easy to root for two people to be together, but as one of those two people who have reached an impasse, this isn’t going to work, and they won’t be happy together, love each other though they may. I think it’s sad because there’s so much love there, and not because of lost love or things going haywire.
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As the actor who plays one of the characters, do you feel sad? Do you find yourself wanting them to be together? Or do you just go with the text?
I’m a real “play the hand you’re dealt” guy, so I don’t spend too much time dwelling on that, but I do have some fondness for the two of them, and I think there is a world where they could feasibly wind up together. We put so much value on relationships we watch and have emotional investments with them. It’s kind of funny.
I think it’s a way for us to deal with, or not deal with, our own shit.
Yeah. For the most part, we can put relationships into categories even though everything’s so complicated. It’s so much less cut-and-dry than that. So maybe it’s a nice relief to watch characters who do squarely fit into categories or do overcome the strangeness of regular human interaction. And I think in terms of just archetypes, Darryl’s character and my character don’t feel like tropes in any way, and their relationship isn’t trope-y in any way. It doesn’t fall into any pattern that exists on this show specifically.
What do you think of Josh’s arc this season?
White Josh or proper Josh?
For the first two seasons, he’s kind of this voice of reason, screaming into a void of all this mayhem going on around him, and it seems like he’s one of the only characters who sees everything clearly. He’s very resolute, he has strong opinions, he has no problem airing those opinions, and then this does throw him. It’s fun because, all of a sudden, he’s floundering, trying to find his footing. He finds an unlikely friend in Nathaniel. They both have parallel journeys because of his unrequited love for Rebecca. I think that’s why White Josh is floundering a little bit — not to give too much weight to this, I mean it is a sitcom! [Laughs.]
The ridiculousness of it just dawned on me because I referred to him as “White Josh.” I just feel like the self-important actor playing a character called “White Josh!”
I love the name!
I do, too — I love it! Even just the name is flipping any sort of trope on its head. I love the way the casting director just thought I looked like him, because I originally auditioned for the pilot to play Greg but I didn’t get it. I didn’t even get a callback for it because they thought I looked similar enough to Vinnie, who had already been cast, and it would just be bizarre. Well, that’s not the reason why, it was probably a terrible audition. [Laughs.] Additional reasons why were that I looked very similar to him, and so the casting director just kept referring to me as “White Josh.” I don’t know when they decided they were going to stick that portion of it in, but they thought it was funny enough to run with. I don’t know if you know the trajectory of how the show was born, but they had a long phase between shooting the pilot and shopping it to other networks, and finally CW picked it up. I think it was at least a year-and-a-half or maybe more. It wasn’t until then that Rachel called me out of the blue. We had never met each other. It was this very refreshing dynamic in a town that’s all shrouded in mystery and self-importance. She called and was like, “Hey, we wrote a part for you! Wanna come be on our show?” I was like, “Yeah, hey stranger! Sure! Sounds great!” [Laughs.]
It feels like lucky timing, too.
It was super-fortuitous. I was in that phase where I didn’t know if I was going to go back to NYC or stay out here. I had always planned on going back. I don’t know what they would have done if I didn’t do it. I don’t know if there’d be a reason for White Josh without me!
What was it like shooting “Fit Hot Guys Have Problems Too”?
It was an all-day affair on location, which is always a little tricky for the crew. Everyone’s in a hurry to get out, and it was the last day of the bloc, so we had a later start and everybody was eager for the day off. But it was really fun. I think there were 150 background [actors] in the club because we imagine ourselves in these go-go dancer positions with the whole crowd going nuts. We did a full striptease down to our skivvies. They gave us spray tans for it and I’d never had that before.
What was that like?
Hilarious. You get into a shower fully naked and she sprays your body for a while. I guess that’s very common! [Laughs.] I guess people are doing that all the time in this town! We just go to a stranger’s house, she says, “Jump in the shower and take your clothes off, I’ll be in in a second and do as you’re told!” I gotta say, it looked great!
How has being buff played out for you in terms of casting?
You do run into a bit of a pickle there because you don’t really want to be “a body.” And also, that’s not what I lead with as a human. I like to stay in shape because it feels good and because it’s something to focus on when you have a lot of down time, as actors inevitably do. But it’s been very circuitous, my happening to look this way. I don’t feel comfortable leading with that generally, and also, I guess there is probably the fear of pigeonholing myself. It would be one thing if I looked like one of those huge dudes, like John Cena, but for me I’ve straddled the line. I’m not an obviously and only athletic person, I don’t think.
You’re also on Insecure as Molly’s co-worker at the law firm. How did you come on to that show?
Originally, there was a portion of the first season that was going to include my character’s wife, like, there’s some party and my wife would have met Yvonne’s character, Molly. But they cut all that out so I ended up having a much smaller and more specific part. And then in season two, they built me out a little bit and made me this douchey, entitled white devil who represents the white privilege that most people in his position don’t even realize they get, which I think is a more valuable story to tell. We got a lot of good white devils in that firm. It’s good! It’s not helping anybody to just play into the narrative that’s cozy and comfy. This isn’t a cozy and comfy time in American or world history. It’s a strange path we’re on here.
I don’t come from any privilege or money. My father’s family is all farmers, and my mom’s family came up from Williamsburg, Kentucky, on the Tennessee border. Everyone’s very simple, blue-collar at best. My dad pulled my immediate family out of that, so our family was much more fortunate than the rest. I always pushed back a little bit at the idea of me having an inherent privilege because it didn’t feel like I did, and I took for granted what an inherent privilege there is in just walking into rooms and feeling comfortable there, or knowing that whatever I’m wearing is culturally acceptable to people in almost any room that I would walk into. Over the last couple of years with this political climate, I’ve been obsessed with tracking the void between different ideologies, especially since where I come from has wound up on the decidedly red side of that argument, so it’s fascinating to come home and pick people’s brains, finding a way that’s not antagonistic, and also in a way that’s not preaching truth that I profess to know, but just trying to figure out what’s going on in people’s brains.
The reason I went on that long run is because that character shows this innocent complicity. I don’t think a lot of people in that character’s position think they are being villains, taking advantage of their extreme privilege and, by virtue of that, suppressing those who don’t come from the same background. But by not acknowledging that truth, you are complicit in keeping that system in place. Since there are so few shows that are that committed to having diverse crews, writer’s rooms, casts, it is very apparent there that that is something that needs to be part of the cultural conversation. It was really fun to be a part of, and I know that character’s not beloved on that show and stands for all the problems, but that’s cool. If even just a few people see it because they think it’s a trendy, fun show, and it dawns on them that that wild and unfortunate finger to be pointed at that character is something that he is by virtue guilty of because he doesn’t recognize his own position in the social caste system that still very much exists.
Did doing that show help you recognize those things? It sounds like you had a “wokening.”
A little bit! I was a poli sci major in college, so I’ve always taken a piece of the broader pie and put it away, but I never really expanded on those ideas. I was just sort of “pretty well read” and knew the climate and the terrain of the political system. I never really had “opinions” about anything. And then I read this book called The New Jim Crow, which a lot of people have been reading, and that was kind of the first time where, instead of thinking about it defensively and saying, “Well, I’m a white person and I haven’t been given anything on a silver platter! I’m an average male who shouldn’t be antagonized for that!” — and I think this is true — “I’m not racist! I don’t personally have racist feelings! I don’t have homophobic/sexist/misogynist feelings! I am a good person!” But, by suppressing the reality, which is that the system exists in a way that overwhelmingly favors a very specific group of people, you’re contributing to the problem. I didn’t even totally realize the foundations of the criminal-justice system, and coupling that with being on a show whose scripts and room are tackling that. I was the only white person in the room most days, although I was only there a couple of days. (I’m talking about it like I had this huge involvement, I was there only very infrequently.) But I think it did sort of dawn on me that there aren’t a lot of rooms that I have ever been a minority in. Just that sentence is, in and of itself, an admission of privilege. And I was in the most welcoming, open-minded place on the planet! Imagine being the only person of color in a room of white people in a part of this country where the culture suggests actual white supremacy.
I can imagine.
Sure! Yeah, I’m sure you can! This sounds so ridiculous, but it didn’t even dawn on me that since I was raised in a white family, the way I carry on a conversation is culturally white, which is culturally the way you “have to behave.” If you’re at all in a cultural world that doesn’t involve those social norms, then you’re a risk, threat, and a potential monster.
But also, if you don’t grow up with that language or how to speak, you’re at a disadvantage because you don’t know what the rules are.
Sure! And what an exhausting position to be in, fighting uphill and not even knowing that you are or that you have to. There are some very real bootstrap examples, and I know that white people who come from extremely underprivileged settings have risen to their occasions, so this is not to demean their struggles and accomplishments.
But I don’t think it does.
I don’t either! And I don’t think it costs me anything to admit that. But I grew up in every way with no real barrier against my success. There was never really an obstacle I had to overcome. I did have to work hard, and some of the people I know from back home, or my family, will suggest that that is me taking away my own work ethic. It’s as if that discredits my work ethic and my demeanor and the way that I talk to people. Yes, I work hard, and all those things are true, and sure, I could have derailed that train a long time ago if I’d behaved in different ways. So, not to demean my own accomplishments, but I don’t think it costs me anything to admit that, yes, with all of those things, I was able to succeed, but I had no extreme barriers. All I had to do was put those things together.