Will Ferrell, as Martin "Marty" Markowitz, consults with Dr. Isaac "Ike" Herschkopf, played by Paul Rudd.
Dr. Isaac "Ike" Herschkopf (Paul Rudd) and Martin "Marty" Markowitz (Will Ferrell) take a stroll.
Herschkopf (Paul Rudd) relaxes at the estate he's taken over from Markowitz (Will Ferrell).
We need to start with the turkey.
Paul Rudd cooks one every Thanksgiving in his New York City apartment, getting the job done via an oil-less infrared fryer. "It will blow your mind!" he exclaims with the utmost sincerity. "You just get a propane tank, hook it right up to the fryer and turn it on. You don't need to brine the turkey or anything."
Rudd loves the product so much that in late 2020, he ordered one — retail value on Amazon: $142.57 — for his good buddy who lives across the country. Says Will Ferrell, "He was talking about it on the set, and the next week, it showed up on my doorstep. That's what kind of friend he is."
It's comforting to consider this anecdote when watching the pair in the wickedly funny — yet deeply unsettling — Apple TV+ limited series The Shrink Next Door. Based on a true story, the eight episodes (which debuted in November) play out as a complicated, fascinating illustration of the codependency of professional relationships. The drama starts in 1982, when Martin "Marty" Markowitz (Ferrell) — the nice, albeit insecure heir to a New York City–based fabric business — is reeling from a painful breakup and the death of his parents. At the advice of his rabbi, he agrees to see a prominent local psychiatrist, Dr. Isaac "Ike" Herschkopf (Rudd).
What happens next is mind-boggling. Over the next twenty-eight years, Herschkopf worms his way into every aspect of his patient's life and takes full advantage of his open checkbook. Sure, there's creative overbilling. Serving as a paid consultant at Markowitz's business isn't exactly kosher, either. Herschkopf also methodically co-opts Markowitz's estate in the Hamptons, where he installs his own name on the mailbox, hangs his photos with celebrities on the wall and relegates his patient to the cramped guesthouse.
Guests who attend the lavish backyard parties assume Herschkopf and his wife, Bonnie (Casey Wilson), are the true homeowners and Markowitz is the resident handyman. Markowitz fails to comprehend his situation, because Herschkopf early on convinces him to cut ties with his beloved (and highly suspicious) sister, Phyllis Shapiro (Kathryn Hahn).
So, Anchorman 3, this is not. In fact, the unexpected performances from Ferrell and Rudd — who both jumped on a Zoom call across eight time zones for this chat — are among the series' most compelling draws. Well outside his broad-comedy wheelhouse, Ferrell shows touching vulnerability. Note how he reacts when the shrink bullies him into chopping down his mom's favorite cherry tree. "It's such a fully realized and fragile and honorable performance," Rudd says. "What he does on this show is astounding."
As for his onscreen friend (or is it foe)? For a change, People magazine's reigning Sexiest Man Alive brandishes his winning charisma as a psychological weapon. Ferrell marvels of Rudd: "He uses it to suck you in, and he reveals this whole other side of himself as an actor. That's the most surprising part of the series, I think."
The Shrink Next Door isn't just a winking title. Herschkopf once literally resided one house over from veteran journalist Joe Nocera in the Hamptons. After he uncovered the truth about this aggressively self-promoting psychiatrist and the unassuming man by his side, the writer chronicled their unconventional story in a popular Wondery podcast of the same name in 2019.
Producer-director Michael Showalter heard this stranger-than-fiction tale and saw potential for a television adaptation. He encouraged Rudd, a friend and collaborator, to listen and to gauge his interest in being involved. Meanwhile, agents at UTA contacted Ferrell for the same reason.
"I don't think Paul and I realized that we were both simultaneously listening to it," Ferrell says. "Someone finally connected the dots and asked us if we'd do it together." The answer, he adds, was an "absolute yes." Rudd and Ferrell ended up executive-producing with Showalter, who also directed four of the eight episodes; Succession vet Georgia Pritchett developed the series and served as showrunner. Jesse Peretz directed the other four episodes.
In addition to wanting to work together again, Ferrell and Rudd were intrigued. "The story of somebody going to therapy and having your life taken over to that extent was fascinating to me," Rudd says. "I liked the challenge of playing someone who, by his actions, seems villainous, while still trying to find what's human and authentic about him. It was very appealing."
Ferrell was eager to explore how and why a bright adult could fall into such an obvious trap. "My initial reaction was, 'Oh, this would never happen to me,'" he says. It didn't take him long to reach a disheartening conclusion. "You go along for Marty's journey, and then you think about a moment when your life could have taken a weird turn. If you listen to someone who seems sincere and gives constructive advice, it's human nature to be accepting. That was an arc I'd never done before."
The pair never discussed which actor would slide into which role, though Ferrell does somewhat resemble the younger Markowitz. "Strangely, when we joined forces, I was always going to play Ike," says Rudd, whose appearance was altered by prosthetics, "and Will was always going to play Marty."
To help prepare — and to get closure on some of their burning questions — the producers visited Markowitz and Shapiro at the infamous Hamptons abode. (Herschkopf's medical license was revoked in April 2021 after years of investigation; he didn't cooperate with the series.) The experience was enlightening. Though Markowitz booted the live-in Svengali several years ago, his presence remains.
Markowitz showed them homemade photo collages from their weekend bashes, complete with Herschkopf's hand-scrawled snarky captions. "There was one shot of Marty in a groundskeeper outfit sleeping near the tennis courts after serving hamburgers for six hours," Ferrell says. "Ike wrote, 'Once again asleep on the job.'"
Even more surprising, Markowitz still credits Herschkopf for helping him. A little bit, anyway.
"I think he would say that Ike helped him financially in terms of expanding that Hamptons property," Rudd says. "And Marty was pleased with how he encouraged him to make certain choices. It shows we can't paint people in total black-and-white archetypes." But, Ferrell points out, "As soon as Marty complimented him, he'd go back to calling him 'The Evil Doctor.' It's like you're in the worst relationship and go, 'I can't believe I spent years with that person! But they were a pretty good cook.'"
Ferrell and Rudd knew each other casually before the 2004 smash Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, which is to say they'd chat for a bit at awards-show after-parties. Everything changed once Rudd was cast as cologne-loving newscaster Brian Fantana in the goofy comedy that spoofed San Diego's local TV news scene circa the 1970s. Ferrell was riding high after a successful big-screen transition from Saturday Night Live; Rudd had pulled off turns in well-regarded indies (Wet Hot American Summer) and the most mainstream sitcom in all the land (Friends).
"We wrote this character and didn't even know who he was," says Ferrell, who coscripted Anchorman with Adam McKay. "Then Paul came in and we were like, 'Oh, that's the guy.' He created something beyond what we had put on the page." In the ensuing years, Ferrell watched his costar evolve from supporting scene-stealer to leading man and bona fide Marvel superhero. One more compliment: "I describe him as the Rose Byrne of male actors. He's never bad."
Rudd is equally effusive about Ferrell. "He's one of the funniest people on the planet, but he's more than just funny. There is a genuineness to him. He's an open book, which is essential for a great actor. And he effortlessly merges those qualities, which is really rare." Asked to name his favorite Ferrell movie, Rudd compares the task to Sophie's Choice and starts rattling off Anchorman as well as aughts comedies "that just destroyed," such as Step Brothers and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Plus, "Who else could make Elf a Christmas classic?!"
Drawing on that friendship and mutual admiration, they approached The Shrink Next Door with an effortless shorthand. "There was never a feeling of, 'Oh, I've got to be careful and don't want to step on toes,'" Ferrell says.
Rudd adds: "Exactly. With Will, I had a real partner. Not just because we were acting together. It was our approach to the material and the tone. Because we know each other and respect each other's opinions, it was nice to know we were coming from the same place."
And forget the image of two pals joshing around or sharing sports scores between takes: during the intense one-on-one therapy scenes in Herschkopf's office, they stayed focused and spent downtime simply running lines together. "Some of them skewed very somber and heavy," Rudd says. "So we adhered to the tone."
Their joint press tour provided considerably more levity. Ferrell says, "It's been an absolute luxury. I mean, whether we're being silly or serious, we can go down rabbit holes and waste people's interview segments on non sequiturs."
In the closing episode of The Shrink Next Door, Markowitz finally gets the gumption to confront Herschkopf and also reconcile with his sister. Both men are hurt and steadfast in their opinions that they did nothing wrong as they attempt to forge ahead with new lives. Without each other. "It's a very gray and ambiguous ending," Ferrell says.
Rudd and Ferrell have also gone in separate directions since wrapping the series. Before this interview, Rudd had just finished a long day on the Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania set in London. "It's kind of never- ending," he says of the five-month shoot, which would soon take him to California for pick-up shots. Ferrell completed Spirited, a family musical version of A Christmas Carol, opposite Ryan Reynolds.
Both projects are miles from a probing character piece on a streamer, but that's how they prefer it. "It was such a contrast going from this smaller, super-intimate series to being thrown into singing and dancing rehearsals," Ferrell says. "Like, how did this happen? But looking back, they've been the most challenging and best back-to-back work experiences I've had to date."
Rudd, not surprisingly, shares a similar sentiment: "It doesn't matter if I'm doing a $200 million studio event movie or a little indie film — the essence of what I'm doing is the same. I'm still thinking about the same stuff in a scene, which is the person that I'm playing and how I'm reacting to the situation."
And while The Shrink Next Door was a one-and-done, they're more than open to another opportunity to reunite. "We're actors, right?" Rudd says. "We're moved and drawn to anything nuanced and character-driven that focuses on human behavior. That's still the best kind of stuff to work on."
In addition to Ferrell, Rudd, Showalter and Pritchett, the executive producers of The Shrink Next Door include Jessica Elbaum, Brittney Segal, Jordana Mollick, Hernan Lopez, Marshall Lewy, Aaron Hart, Jared Sandberg, Katie Boyce and Francesca Levy."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #7, 2022, under the title, "That Shrinking Feeling."