Arian Moayed, one of the stars of new comedy-drama You Hurt My Feelings, has wanted to work with writer-director Nicole Holofcener for a long time. The actor, perhaps best known for his role as Stewy in HBO's Succession, has long admired Holofcener's work, following her career for several decades.
"In the '90s, in my teens and early college days, I watched Walking and Talking in a movie theater, and I was madly in love with it," Moayed tells us over Zoom. "There's something about her films that make them very honest and simple. [They use] real human behavior to exploit a micro [issue] into a macro – Nicole is excellent at that."
You Hurt My Feelings stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus (a "dream come true" to work with, according to Moayed) as Beth, a writer who finds out that her supportive husband has been lying to her and doesn't actually like her new novel.
The movie's central conceit is a simple one – should we lie to protect our loved ones' feelings? – yet watching these characters grapple with that question and its implications for 90 minutes is extremely compelling. How does Moayed think Holofcener achieved that? "We all do it, don't we? We all have to live with this thing," he says. "I live in New York, and you see a lot of plays with your friends in them. And oftentimes, a lot of the plays aren't great. And now all of a sudden, you're stuck in these scenarios… Nicole just exploits it in a way that's really honest."
Moayed plays Mark, Beth's brother-in-law, a struggling actor who's just landed – and is promptly fired from – his first big theatre gig after a run of mediocre on-screen parts.
"Most artists that aren't getting to the next level or aren't moving their careers forward are dealing with some sort of deep vulnerability or insecurity. Nicole wrote this amazing line where [Mark] says, 'I think I just wanted to become famous' and it's both funny but also tragic, because people have spent their whole lives fooling themselves as an artist, but they really just want the love and attention of others."
Moayed says that he had a harsher view of Mark's abilities, whose acting we don't get to see for ourselves. "Nicole and I had a different feeling of how good or not good Mark was as an actor. I think Nicole thought he was a better actor than I thought he was," he explains. If you can judge an actor's ability by the quality of their roles, one of Mark's past projects is a Disney film only referred to (with some disdain) as "the pumpkin movie."
It's because of this role that he's recognized by a man on the street, who politely declines his offer of a selfie. Moayed jokes that this scene isn't too far from his reality – he just finished a run on Broadway in A Doll's House with Jessica Chastain, and recalls meeting audiences after performances. "They'd have their camera ready to go. I'd be like, 'Oh, do you wanna take a picture?' And they're like, 'No thanks,' because they obviously just want a picture with Jessica Chastain." He laughs. "Fine. It's fine."
In the face of his stagnant career, Mark takes solace in one thing: socks. Moayed himself isn't usually as fussed about footwear, except for his first stint on the set of Succession. "[In] season 1, I was adamant that Stewy not wear socks," he says, referring to his role as Waystar board member and Kendall's college pal. "I just thought that said a lot about who this guy was. And knowing that the rich don't even spend that much time outside – to be honest with you, I was just jumping from cab to jet to helicopter. Everyone on set made fun of me. But then it became cool and everyone else started doing it."
As well as socks, Mark and the other characters in the film are preoccupied with aging, a natural extension of anxieties about unfulfilling careers. Is that something that concerns Moayed in real life? "To be real with you, I don't even think about age because it's all slightly a climb towards death anyway, so we're all dealing with it," he laughs. "I have kids that are 14 and 12 and they make me feel old all the time. They say shit to me and I have no idea what they're saying anymore. My oldest said to me, 'He's pressed, let him cook.' And I said, 'What's that?'" (We believe this roughly translates to, 'He's mad, let him do his thing.')
Moayed hopes that You Hurt My Feelings opens a door to more comedic roles, as he strives for variety in his on-screen characters. "Before Succession, I only played Middle Eastern characters. Only Iranians, Iraqis, Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, that's all I played. Now, since Succession, I only play assholes," he explains, laughing. "So, maybe Mark will lead me to some comedies. I really would love to do a lot more comedies," he says.
Next up for the actor, though, is Retribution, an action movie in which he shares a scene with Liam Neeson that he describes as "high stakes". After that, it's a "psychological" horror movie produced by Jason Blum, House of Spoils, which co-stars Ariana DeBose and Euphoria's Barbie Ferreira. "I think it's going to be something that people just fall in love with," he says. "It's amazing doing a horror [movie] because on set, especially night shoots, you can feel the energy of the horror all around you. It's really satisfying."
For now, however, we can enjoy Moayed facing the greatest horror of all in You Hurt My Feelings: self-doubt.
You Hurt My Feelings premieres in the UK at Sundance Film Festival: London, before hitting Prime Video on August 8. For more, on the movie check out our interview with writer-director Nicole Holofcener.