Season Two of Life & Beth Gets Deep

From her stand-up to her sketch-comedy series Inside Amy Schumer, to her 2015 hit film Trainwreck, to her extremely personal 2020 HBO Max docuseries Expecting Amy, Amy Schumer has become known as one of comedy’s great truth tellers over the last two decades. It’s no surprise, then, that the second season of her Hulu series Life & Beth—which she writes, directs, executive produces, and stars in—deals with a wide array of issues with honesty, self-awareness, and a great deal of vulnerability.

A semi-autobiographical series based on Schumer’s own life, Life & Beth goes deep in season two, exploring Beth’s relationship with her husband, who is diagnosed as autistic; a childhood friend’s opioid addiction; a particularly rough pregnancy; her parents’ divorce (shown through a series of flashbacks); and the long-term ramifications of a teenage sexual assault. In short, it gets heavy. But Schumer does something we so rarely see on television: She tells the messy stories that real women actually experience—with grace, sensitivity, and laughter. There is an uncanny realness to her characters—the dialogue feels as though it could have been written only by someone who had experienced any one of these given situations. Put simply, Life & Beth’s characters are lived in.

One of the most poignant moments of the 10 new episodes comes in episode nine, when Beth’s oldest friend, Jess (Sas Goldberg), decides to have an abortion after her extramarital affair leads to an unwanted pregnancy. After the second season’s release in February, Harper’s Bazaar spoke with Schumer and Goldberg about what it was like to prepare for such an emotional scene, the lengths to which they went to ensure accuracy, and how the trust they’ve built in their own friendship has made for very moving TV.

There’s so much happening this season. For you, Amy, it’s semi-autobiographical. From an outside perspective, it feels so high-stakes to put yourself, and your truth, and these storylines out there for the world and the public to see. As you’re mapping out the season and writing, is there ever any apprehension about being so vulnerable? What is the compelling force behind being truthful in this show and in your work?

Amy Schumer: I think that it is ultimately extremely freeing to be transparent. The fear of people finding something out or admitting something about yourself, I find, is always worse than when you alleviate the stress and the shame of something. It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel super vulnerable at times, but I think, in the long run, I have never shared anything that I have regretted. I can say that, because we grew up before social media. There’s nothing that I’m like, “Really wish I had held that one for myself.” I’m more reticent to share a thing about other people, and that’s why I try to really ask and make sure it’s cool with everybody if I’m going to talk about somebody else other than myself.

Sas, you have a much bigger storyline this season. A lot of the fun of this season—and also, a lot of the heavier moments—are really when you dive into this amazing group of friends that Amy’s Beth has. When you read the scripts, what was your first reaction, and did you feel prepared to go there?

Sas Goldberg: I think I was shocked when I first read the script. I was not expecting that to happen. It was a real fear. I was really having a journey as I was reading it. I think the best way to describe it is: I felt scared, which is always a really good sign to me [that] I’m excited. If it’s the first time I’ve done something or it’s exploring a different part of myself … I’ve played sidekicks for a really, really long time. I’ve never played anyone who’s ever had any sort of sexual chemistry with anybody. It was almost like having a first kiss, because I’ve never had that sort of experience on camera.

And looking back now, do you feel like you were challenged?

SG: Not only did I feel like I was challenged by the material, but I was challenged to dig deep with how I would approach it. The way that we shot the show, too, was really interesting, because we would have to go to various different emotional places as an actor. It sounds gross to say, but truly, within the day, you’d start at a real high, a party scene, whatever, and at the end of the day, a really heavy scene. Which I think speaks to Life & Beth in general, and how they are so very closely intertwined. Which is a metaphor for life—you’re laughing and then you’re crying, and you didn’t even know what happened to you. That was the same way in the shooting experience, as well.

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Marcus Price

You guys have such wonderful chemistry onscreen. All four women in your friend group on the show do. Throughout these last years of getting to know one another, have your relationships made the leap from the screen to real life? And if so, has that made your onscreen chemistry stronger?

AS: That’s awesome. I’ve known Yamaneika [Saunders, who plays Maya] for a long time, but I would say we all had chemistry right away, just liking each other as performers and each other’s vibe. Over the course of shooting and over a couple of years, we actually have become really close friends. It’s real. We really have that. We have become really good friends, all of us, I would say. I think that’s the authenticity that you’re seeing.

SG: It makes those group scenes particularly so easy, because I think the thing I’m most allergic to is watching fabricated friendship, or when you can really feel it’s fabricated—very “Lean on Me,” hands-around-each-other’s arms kind of stuff. It doesn’t ever need to be pushed [on Life & Beth]. The joy of having time in between these two seasons was for our friendship to grow, and then for it to be shown. Anytime that we’re together, it feels particularly easy. There are a lot of scenes where we sit in silence, which I think is the making of a true friendship.

AS: That’s so true. There’s so many scripts where they’ll give you an action line where it says, “They laugh,” or something. You really want to throw up, because pretending to laugh on camera is so vile. Also, I think a lot of people get friendships wrong. They’ll have girls almost flirting with each other in a way you don’t do with your friends. You’re not clever with each other. You’re turned off. You don’t need to put anything on.

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Marcus Price

In episode nine, Sas, your character, Jess, gets pregnant and decides to have an abortion. The episode really runs the gamut of every emotion. As an audience member, I could tell it was handled with care and grace, but also with laughter and these really moving moments. Tell me a little bit about what it’s like walking onto set on a day like that, because I imagine it could feel very intimidating.

SG: I can tell you from the acting perspective, and then obviously Amy’s going to have a much more bird’s-eye view. That day, we shot one of the first scenes in the first episode at a bowling alley, so, to talk about the highs and lows of the world. Started with Beth telling everyone she’s getting engaged, and that excitement.

Then everyone left for the day, and we literally did a full company move and went to an actual doctor’s office. There was a complete shift in the second part of the day’s energy. We were shooting in a real doctor’s office. The hallways were narrow, just like a real doctor’s office would be. Amy took every single precaution to make sure I had space. I had room. I believe there was a grief counselor on set. I think the whole crew was experiencing … I might have been the vehicle doing it, but everyone was experiencing the subject matter we were talking about. In case it brought up anything for anybody, there was somebody to speak to. There was also somebody on set who performs abortions to make sure that we got it right, and it wasn’t just miscellaneous doctor utensils in the room, and this felt completely accurate. I remember specifically, at one point, the person who had done them before was like, “This thing wouldn’t be there.” Amy very quickly was like, “Let’s get it out of the room, then.” She wanted nothing that wouldn’t be there to be there, even if it was just set dressing.

She made an announcement before we started filming: “Clearly, we’re dealing with a heavier subject. If anyone needs space, if anyone needs time, please take it. Let’s make sure that we’re not laughing and giggling between takes and setups,” as could happen during other scenes. Everyone did the work, I felt. She came in when there were notes to be given, quietly gave them to me, held my hand. I felt so fucked-up and so taken care of at the same time, if that makes sense.

AS: Oh, my God. It’s so beautiful, hearing that from your perspective. I’m very emotional about this. The set we were on was … it wasn’t a normal-sized doctor’s office. You cannot imagine how cramped it was. It was really, really small, and we were all packed in there. Everybody was really with us. I think that’s so beneficial about having an actor be the one directing, because you know what it feels like to be asking this of yourself. Having somebody laughing … it really can mess with you, so I did my best to create an environment for everyone where people would feel supported, especially Sas. I knew that she would be living this out, and really going there.

Oftentimes, I think, when we film a scene that asks a lot of us, there isn’t that much care with the coverage and the amount of times we’ll ask for someone to put their minds in their bodies through this kind of an experience. I tried to be extremely thoughtful with the coverage, so that she would have to physically be in this headspace for the shortest amount of time possible.

I was very clear about the plan, and having Sas trust me. She just went on that ride, and did what she needed to do to prepare and live it out. Everyone was extremely affected by it. I think that she did it with such dignity, and I think it’s the scene I’m definitely the most proud of for all of us. I would say also that the actress in the scene performing the abortion … you’re just building trust with people. We have been burned so many times on productions where it can be so demoralizing, whatever you’re shooting. I could feel that she knew that she was in my care, and that I was not going to let anybody fuck with her.

Why did you, Amy, feel like it was so important to weave the abortion in general into the storyline, and why now? Other than the obvious, I guess.

AS: Maybe subconsciously it was because of what’s going on right now? Sas gets to have several sex scenes, one on the street in New Orleans, and one on a cop car with a stranger. I don’t know the narrative that people try and spin, that it’s some careless slut who gets an abortion. Which is also fine! But there are so many circumstances. A lot of times it’s people who already have kids, who can’t swing it. They can’t do it.

Showing the waiting room, and showing different scenarios of who could be there—during that, while we were filming that, next to this doctor’s office, there happened to be this physical therapist office. It was our holding area. I went in there, and there was a woman … I have severe back pain. I’m like, “You’re a physical therapist?” She wound up—while we were waiting to shoot, I worked with her.

She told me that she had been pregnant a couple months earlier, and she had a complication. But, in New York wasn’t allowed to get an abortion even though it was threatening her life, had she kept the baby. She had to go out of state to get an abortion. It was just so heartbreaking and sickening, and it just made me really glad we were showing this other scenario. [To show that] it’s not like these things that you think of, and that there’s no judgment, and for people to see what an abortion can look like. What does it look like to go in that room? What happens?

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Alyssa Moran

Right, logistically. So much happened in this season, from John’s autism diagnosis, to the opioid addiction, to the abortion, to also a lot of wonderful, joyful, funny, irreverent moments.

Something that I felt personally moved by is that I really felt like there were so many storylines that really will, when people watch, make them feel less alone—like somebody who maybe is considering an abortion, and in much smaller ways, like people like me who watch workout videos while they’re sitting on the couch, eating pizza. What has been the best feedback you’ve gotten or the most interesting thing to hear from people who are watching Life & Beth and feeling seen or heard?

AS: You saying feeling less alone is the dream. That is the absolute dream … that is up there. That’s up there.

SG: Sometimes I send Amy screen grabs that I get from various people who are watching it. In my life, at least, which is a small little [microcosm] of what’s happening, but people who are watching it are everyone from my older family members, to really young cousins, to sorority sisters I have not spoken to since ’07. The girl who plays young Jess wrote me that her tap teacher was in the same sorority as me. She’s like, “My tap teacher says she knows you.”

I think the thing that makes me feel the best is the screen grabs of people sobbing, honestly. I’ve gotten so many of them, because I think you think you’re about to watch a comedy, which you are. You’re going to laugh a ton, and then it’s going to sneak up on you like a fucking jalapeño, and, out of nowhere, you’re crying. Those things make me feel like it does make people feel less alone, because for you to have an emotional release, means you see yourself somewhere in here.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Headshot of Andrea Cuttler

Andrea Cuttler is the Entertainment Director of Harper’s BAZAAR , where she oversees all things film, television, and celebrity. When she’s not watching her DVD of Indian Summer for the 27th time, you can likely find her at one of the same three restaurants in the West Village.