Meet Luke Macfarlane, ‘Platonic’s ‘Stable Dick’
In the AppleTV+ series Platonic, Sylvia (Rose Byrne) spent her young adult years training to become an attorney when she wasn’t wilding out with her best friend Will (Seth Rogen). But then he got engaged to a woman Sylvia thought was wrong for him, and when she told him so, the friendship ended. Years later, when she sees on Instagram that Will and his wife have split, she reaches out, and the two soon pick up where they left off. The only issue is that now Sylvia is a stay-at-home mother to three children, with an adoring husband, Charlie (Luke Macfarlane), who doesn’t know how to feel about Sylvia and Will’s reunion.
Will and Sylvia’s chaotic choices would have no impact without Charlie, and Macfarlane could not be a more natural fit as Platonic’s steady straight man, which no one might have expected after his high-profile role in last fall’s queer rom-com, Bros. One person who did, though: Bros director Nicholas Stoller, who co-created Platonic with his wife, Francesca Delbanco.
I spoke to Macfarlane just ahead of the Platonic season finale about what drew him to Charlie, which scene he’s going to add to his action reel and Platonic’s prospects for a second season.
So many of the stars and the producers of Platonic here have past connections to each other — Seth and Rose worked with Nicholas on the Neighbors movies, and Nic and Seth go all the way back to Undeclared. Then you and Guy Branum worked with Nic on Bros. How does it affect your process when those connections already exist?
There’s always this feeling that they like something in you, so you just feel more confident right off the bat, and that is going to make your work better. I should say, too, I didn’t know during my entire time working with Nick on Bros that he ever for a moment thought I was right for this part. So especially after I played a kind of oversexed muscle guy, for him to then suggest, “I would like you to play a really loyal family man” — that was very cool.
Not just a very loyal family man — he’s kind of perfect. One of Sylvia’s only critiques is he lasts too long in bed. What challenges does it present for you to create a character who’s just kind of great?
It’s tough, because it’s important not to be a stick in the mud, or boring. People leave people all the time because they’re boring. So it was also being unapologetically kind of a nerd, and loyal.
I have to admit, I did see a lot of Seth and Rose’s stuff, and I remember going back and watching the first three episodes and being like, “Oh my God, I’m really worried about Charlie.” They have an undeniable chemistry, for sure.
But you have it with Rose, too. The fifth episode, “My Wife’s Boyfriend,” showcases so much of Charlie’s complexity that I feel like it could almost stand alone as a short film. What was your process to prepare for that?
It was great. It was kind of perfectly timed. It was sort of near the end of filming, and I don’t have a lot of scenes with Seth, so I remember being a little bit nervous to work with him, and I was very curious about what his process was. I don’t think it’s any secret that, yeah, Seth smokes pot on set. He’s very chill, and I am not. I tend to overthink. I want to talk to everybody. I want to see how everybody’s doing.
So I walked into that day with a level of nervousness that I think served the material. In fact, I was just watching that episode for the first time because I had waited. But I noticed how much I was sweating in one of the scenes, and I appreciate that they just let me sweat. They also did such a great job with the wardrobe. It’s hilarious that I somehow had a Dodgers button-down shirt. That is so funny.
And there's dancing — you’ve talked about being intimidated by that.
Well, I was getting over an injury too, so it wasn’t super-easy. For a long time, the bit was actually that Seth and I were going to do a Cocktail-themed bar flair routine. And that wasn’t going very well. I will say Seth was having a hard time picking that one up, so it became dancing on the bar Coyote Ugly-style. I had a hard time picking that up. Seth is the bigger star, so he won that fight.
It’s generally kind of a physical episode. You knock over a stranger before the game too. In the press tour for Bros, you talked about wanting to do action, and I feel like this episode is a good proof-of-concept for you as the lead of an action comedy. Did you think of it that way?
I will, for sure, send me spinning Seth Rogen into somebody as part of my action reel. I didn’t think of it that way. So much of showing up on set is just solving the problem of the day. And it is always so funny. Where are the cameras going to be? How do we do this? That was one of the rare times that we just got it in the first take: “Yeah, just pick him up and fling him into this guy.” I was like, “Okay.”
This is also the episode where we’re introduced to the concept of the “stable dick.” I don’t think it is an expression in common use, but I feel like it should catch on.
Yeah, totally. There’s especially this midlife phase when we’re all afraid of turning into someone boring. The cool thing about Charlie is he’s really totally content with his life. This is not a slight on Sylvia, but I don’t think Charlie’s conflicted about wanting anything more. He got everything he wanted. So I think Will calling Charlie a stable dick is a little bit of envy on their part. They’re not as settled.
Do you think Will has achieved stable dick status by the end of the season?
I don’t know. I can’t imagine that it would make for a really interesting Season Two if everybody was okay. There wouldn’t be any tension there. So I don’t know. I don’t know who’s going to have this sort of unstable thing if we get to go back and do it, but I don’t think the work is done.
You’re Canadian. Seth Rogen is Canadian. Even though you hadn’t worked together before, did you immediately feel like you were a little bit connected to him because of that common background?
Well, he is Vancouver, I am Ontario, so you know we’re very different. I will say, one of my favorite moments is when his mom and dad came to visit the set, and they were very lovely. I started chatting with them, and his dad immediately says, “Oh, I know you.” I kind of did the profiling: “They’re nice middle-aged people. They probably watch Hallmark films,” so I asked if that was it. And they’re immediately like, “No, it’s not that.” It was my Canadian sci-fi show (Killjoys), and I thought, “They are good Canadians who love Canadian content. They watch CanCon sci-fi.” It immediately painted a picture of Seth’s family.
Charlie is a father of three. How did you and the kid actors get to know each other for Platonic?
I really like being on set with kids. Especially in comedy, you just kind of have to roll with it a little bit more. It makes you just have to be much more responsive to what they’re going to bring and give. You can’t say to the kid, “Hey, if you just give me an extra beat, there’s a joke I’m trying to hit before you say your line. You’re stepping on my laugh line.” Kids don’t really respond to that. That’s also very much in the style of Stoller or Delbanco comedy, too: just find it. So I like being on set with kids. It can be a little exhausting, but I like it.
Was the process different preparing with kids in this context than it is being a dad, or a prospective stepdad, in a Hallmark movie?
On a show like this, you don’t see the kids for two weeks, and then they come back. So you start to develop a little bit more of a relationship with them over time. Often in the Hallmark movies, you’re going to work with them intensely for three days and then they’re out. So it’s a little less of an opportunity to invest in them as deeply and fully.
The kids here are, I think, much more committed to being actors. A lot of them have kind of uprooted their lives and moved with their families and stuff like that. So there’s a level of focus that’s a little bit different too than some of the kids you meet on Hallmark movies.
It came out last month that you’re returning to Hallmark for another Christmas movie this year. I was surprised to read about it. You sort of alluded to this in some of the Bros interviews too, saying something like, “Hallmark might not want me back.” What was it like to find out that they did?
I was afraid that they weren’t going to have me back (because Bros was sexually explicit). And I love making those movies. I really, really do. I’m always struck by how meaningful they are to people. Hallmark treats their actors really, really well. I can’t really think of any other studio that keeps having the same people back if they like you. So there’s something sort of old-fashioned about it that way.
I really like working for them. I think all their actors have various different answers to the question of “What does this mean that I’m doing these movies?” But it really starts to settle over time too, when you realize how rare it is that you will get to be the lead of a movie, and that you will have creative authority when you do show up. After having a pretty solid track record, they trust you a little bit more to change little things here and there.
I’ve watched Hallmark adapt too. I remember very clearly, on my first Hallmark film, it was no plaid, no beards, no scruff. That was very strict. So I’ve watched them change whatever their protocol is and figure out that their audience would be okay with things like that, including the queer stories and the diverse stories that they’re now starting to tell.
No plaid. That was weirdly a thing at one point when I first started.
And one of your past co-stars is Meghann Fahy, star of The White Lotus Season 2.
That’s another crazy thing about Hallmark. I worked with Meghann Fahy, I worked with Sheryl Lee Ralph, I worked with Jean Smart. I actually just did a guest episode on Hacks. And Jean Smart immediately gave me a hug, and said, “Christmas.” It’s such a cool opportunity to work with all these different people. It’s been great.
Having just very intentionally returned to series television, do you have an all-time favorite TV comedy that you would recommend, or one that was especially formative for you as an actor?
I grew up very loyally watching Frasier with my family. It’s just such a solid ensemble cast, funny, specific world-building. That show really holds up. It definitely is one that stands out as a formative TV comedy. David Hyde Pierce. Holy smokes. He’s just brilliant.
One of my dearest friends is a comedy TV writer, and we often talk about the days of the multi-camera network television show. It’s such a beautiful art form that’s so hard to capture and so hard to get right. But when you do get it right, it’s just magic.