April 2023

Screened | Rachel Marsh

Getting Into Character With Unstable's Rachel Marsh

Photos Martin Rusch | Words Tamara Rappa

We couldn't wait to check out Netflix's Unstable, created by, let's face it, the iconic Rob Lowe, and his hugely talented son, John Owen Lowe. Having premiered on the platform last month, the eight-episode series tells the tale of an endearing and eccentric biotech entrepreneur, inventor, and genius as he navigates the aftermath of recent difficulty in his personal life. The series is filled with brilliantly quick, dry humor, and of this latest take on the modern workplace comedy, our eyes are on rising star Rachel Marsh, who plays one of several quirky biotech engineers employed by the company that the elder Lowe's character, Ellis Dragon, helms. Marsh ditched her improv instincts to play 'Luna Castillo', telling us that workplace comedy is what she grew up loving and gravitating towards. Referring to the show's co-creator as 'Johnny', Rachel shares that John Owen Lowe had a huge part in making the choices for what to do with her Luna, and that the pilot was in fact written while he was in college. While Rachel continues to hone her craft, performing at Upright Citizens Brigade, we talked to the up-and-comer all about her prominent and pivotal project, how it's made her grow as an actor, and the role she's thrilled to call deeply collaborative.

How did you create Luna? What did you do to help portray the quintessentially nerdy but cool scientist type? Even in the audition process I was throwing out ideas, not being afraid to get it wrong. Being, like, 'I think that this character's really deadpan; I think this character's really insecure; I think this character says, like, really funny shit and doesn't realize how funny she is'. I think that's a big part of Luna. Physically, I did try a lot of voices, and thought, I know someone like this. I experimented with posture sometimes, or how she would react when certain people would come into the room, or how she would be with her best friend and with her boss. That was the fun part for me, getting to play around in that way. What I like about acting in general is getting to play around. Luckily we had a team and a showrunner and creators who really encouraged it.

How would you say Luna's voice and gestures change across eight episodes? You say you modified her for the different people that she was around. I had read all the scripts, and Luna's arc is that she becomes a little bit more bold, and starts to say what she wants and what she needs throughout the series. She stands up for herself;  I knew that was where we were going to land. In the beginning it's a version of her that's a little bit less confident, a little bit more curious as to what her boundaries are, but not necessarily being confident enough to try and break them. Posture wise, she's literally kind of closing herself off from people. She develops a crush on Jackson in episode one, but she doesn't go for it because she doesn't feel confident. She was a little fearful, and that's why she pushes her best friend towards him. As the season goes on, Luna finds herself feeling like she has the capacity to take those smaller steps to become a more confident version of herself. That was really fun to play with, especially because we block-shot it, shooting different episodes during different days. During the same day we'd shoot episode six and seven, and then switch scenes. It was a challenge. In this scene I'm really confident, because that's where we left off in episode four, and here we are going back to episode two. There was a lot to keep track of, but that's kinda the fun part.

One of the things that's so fun about Unstable is that the dialogue is peppered with a ton of dry humor and wit. You're stepping into kind of a very specific genre of comedy, where things like timing and delivery have to hit in a specific way. What did you learn about working in this way? It was so fun. I have a background in improv, and so I think in my original audition I brought a lot of improvisation to it, to show what my sense of humor was in a way that wasn't already on the page. When I went to the audition and the callback and camera read, Victor, [Fresco] our showrunner, and Marc [Buckland], our director, their number one note for me was, 'Pace it up. We really trust the writing. You don't need to add anything to it.' And honestly, throughout the whole season, that was their note for the whole cast. 'We love what you're doing; say it faster. The 'jokes per minute' is what Victor is kind of known for, with Santa Clarita Diet and Better Off Ted. Some directors really like improv, some really don't, so that was something that I kind of had to learn on the spot. The way to do this job really well, is to pace up my timing and trust the writing. I learned how to adapt in that way, and you learn on the job what your boss's sense of humor is. Pacing is 99% of the work. Jay Chandrasekhar was our director for episodes four and five, and his directing style was a little bit different than Marc's. That's another fun part of acting for me; getting to work under different people who have different perspectives and different experiences. What they find funny is so different from the last person. It was a challenge. This is my first series regular role, so it's my first time seeing my character have an arc.

There are a few themes in Unstable. The workplace environment and the co-worker relationship are explored in this series. How do you think they're approached in a modern way? Unstable is a very character-based show, and it definitely follows the traditional situational comedy, like The Office and Parks and Rec and 30 Rock. In that sense it's very traditional, but there's a newer kind of character who is introduced in Unstable. Especially The Twins, and Sian [Clifford's] character, and Fred [Armisen's character]. All of these characters are very specifically written. They're all a little bit refreshing and honestly, a little bit old school. There are a lot of comedies right now that I feel are trying to say something along with the comedy, and I think our show is kind of like, 'We just want you to laugh.' We're just trying to do what we think is funny, and do it really well is 25 minutes. It feels like we are following in the footsteps of the other great workplace comedies.

Throughout the series, Luna's boyfriend is a mystery, talked about and referenced. What was the idea around creating this off-camera persona in her life? I love Brian. It's so fun. I really love that we never see him, so we can leave that up to the imagination of the viewer. He is a vehicle for Luna to create agency in her life and take up more space, and demand what she wants. He's obviously someone that is not pushing her, he's not someone that she even likes, he's just pure convenience. And I think that really speaks to Luna as a character. It shows just how uncomfortable she is with taking up space and making any kind of decisions for herself. So, umm, It's a really clear and hilarious example of it. It would be pretty funny to see who Brian is. What if he's actually the most sexy man that you've ever seen? That would be so funny. And I think it would be  shocking. I doubt that they would write Brian in, but it would be pretty funny.

At the end of the season, we see Jackson turn his interest from Ruby to Luna, perhaps leaving it open for season two. What makes Luna and Jackson  especially compatible? I really love Jackson. It's so meta, right? He's Rob's son in real life, and the guy's son in the show. I think there are certain expectations Johnny's character has for himself in the workplace. But on the inside, I think Jackson is just a little weirdo. He doesn't really let the world see that. I think what he loves about Luna is maybe how comfortable she feels expressing the weirdo side of herself. And for some reason, they connect in that way. They see that side of their personalities as compatible. I don't know how compatible they truly are [laughs], but I think their friendship is really special. It would be fun to explore a romantic element as well. They're both little weirdos. I just hope we get to do it again. It was such a fun experience, and I feel like there's more story to tell.

"A hairstylist introduced me to this R+Co Dart Stick. it's amazing.  I'm half Filipino. I have very thick Asian hair. It's a pomade. I put a tiny bit on top of my hair, and then use a tiny comb to brush it out. It's just perfect. I highly recommend it."

"I do a lot of yoga classes and pilates, so I've been using towelettes. I hadn't found a brand that I really loved, until I found Herban Essentials towelettes. I love that they're made with essential oils."

"I'm big into cooking. One of my favorite cookbook authors is Sonoko Sakai. She lives in LA, in Highland Park. Sonoko Sakai Curry Powder makes for the easiest and most impressive weekday dinner."

"I am truly the last person in the world to read this book, and I know it's already iconic, but I just finished reading Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. It changed my life. The story I loved the most, was about the first time he ate an oyster".

"The Instagram account I'm obsessed with right now is called Martha Moments. I grew up watching Martha Stewart with my mother, so it's nostalgic for me. And to me, Martha is stuck in the '90s. It's so funny."

"I'm a big board game person. I love hosting a dinner-board game night. Someone introduced me to Bitches, A Dice Game from Glue Bunny Games. I've bought it for like eight friends already".

Watch Rachel Marsh as Luna Castillo in Unstable on Netflix.