In the new Hulu/FX limited series Fleishman Is in Trouble (which hits the streamer Thursday, Nov. 17), Adam Brody’s character—an aging, single finance bro who starts to question his commitment to eternal youth—is named “Seth.” Does the actor wish his new role didn’t share a name with his iconic heartbreaker/comic-book nerd from the early-aughts teen drama, The O.C.? “Sure,” he acknowledges, but maintains that the re-Seth-ing didn’t plague him too much. “I would see ‘Seth’ on my trailer door and it didn’t give me flashbacks. I wasn’t always thinking of Seth Cohen.” He starts again, “Although, you know…”
Even though he may always have the ghost of Seth Cohen in the back of his mind, Brody and the types of characters he’s been playing have matured. When he began The O.C., Seth #1 was a high school sophomore, and Brody was 23. Now on the cusp of turning 43, he’s playing a Seth in his own demographic. “It’s very exciting at any time in my career where I can play someone that is more or less my exact age and I can bring everything I’ve learned to it, rightly or wrongly,” he explains.
His castmates have also grown into their middle-aged roles on Fleishman Is in Trouble, years after early iconic parts. Social Network star Jesse Eisenberg plays the titular divorcee Toby Fleishman, who is just beginning to enjoy a newly single, Tinder-amped life in Manhattan when his theatrical-agent ex-wife (My So-Called Life grad Claire Danes) disappears after dropping their kids off at his apartment. Seth and Toby also reunite with their old friend from a college year abroad in Israel: Libby, who is played by Mean Girls and Freaks and Geeks alumna Lizzy Caplan. For viewers of a certain age, watching Fleishman is like watching avatars of your angsty youth deal with the grim realities of middle age. “Somebody said to me the other day, ‘It makes you feel old,'” Brody says.
Right now, Brody is exactly where he wants to be in his career. During and after The O.C., which ran from 2003 to 2007, he had opportunities, but nothing that turned into his next hit. “I sort of treaded water for a long time,” he says. Bitter, he says, is too strong a word to describe how he felt, but he knows luck was not on his side even if he did generally enjoy his life and his work during that period. But something shifted in the last five years. He popped up in a surprise horror hit (Ready or Not), a Best Picture nominee (Promising Young Woman) and a superhero franchise (Shazam! and its upcoming sequel). Fleishman, however, is “precious” to him.
Brody didn’t need to audition for his role. In fact, he received a personal appeal to sign on from executive producer Taffy Brodesser-Akner, a former GQ contributing editor who adapted the limited series from her 2019 bestselling novel, and Eisenberg and Caplan also each wrote him an imploring letter. “I would have gladly done it, regardless, of course,” he says. “And I’m not an overly sentimentality person—I don’t think any of us are—but it was such a lovely welcome into joining this friendship.”
He didn’t know Eisenberg and Caplan well, but they had a lot in common. “We’re like 99 percent Ashkenazi, and that’s a start,” he says. They are around the same age, and they are all “very verbal,” to which anyone who has seen them in anything can attest. “None of us are the strong quiet type,” he adds. It was easy to pretend to be decades-long pals, even though Brody can be skeptical of projects that try to convince you a group of actors have known each other for years. “I haven’t seen The Big Chill in a long time, but in most rip-offs it’s so hard to buy they are old best friends,” he says. “Casting is very important, writing is very important, specificity is very important. And in some ways that can be just really cringe-inducing.” Fleishman was “effortless,” he says.
Fleishman is an extremely New York show, set on the streets of the Upper East Side and the grass of Central Park, though Brody, a San Diego native, is thoroughly Californian at heart. Throughout the five-month shoot earlier this year, he only had to jet East twice a month to film his scenes. “It was so rad,” he says, his inner surfer jumping out. It was easy for him to slip into the part of the besuited dude who can always find another party to go to, and then head home before the city made him too antsy. Our interview takes place on his lunch break in between a flurry of press surrounding Fleishman‘s premiere; after this highly-concentrated wave of press, he will jet back to the comfort of the West Coast. “I feel like an imposter here,” says Brody, who doesn’t think he could ever be a real New Yorker.
Back home in Los Angeles, Brody has a 7-year old and a 2-year old with his wife of eight years, Gossip Girl’s Leighton Meester, another veteran of an aughts network teen drama created by Josh Schwartz. He says he never had the sort of anxiety Fleishman‘s Seth does about marriage and the potential for divorce. That said, it’s not like slipping into arrested development was hard. “I think that’s very easy to tap into for most people and, conversely, very easy to tap into later on when he has a bit of an evolution and starts questioning his own life, and longing for the relationships and the family and the comfort that his friends have,” Brody says. “I certainly identify with that.”
Despite having once been on a hit teen show, Brody has always felt outside his generation. He hasn’t been able to name a Top 40 song for about 20 years, but he listens to a lot of Cate Le Bon and reads historical nonfiction. Part of his comfort with his age comes from recognizing how the passing time has made him better at his job. The one thing that he finds slightly bothersome about always being associated with that character is that he thinks he’s a stronger actor now than he was then. “It’s weird to be better, but known for something where you weren’t as good,” he says. At the same time, being associated with that first Seth is kind of awesome— even if his heart lies with new Seth. “It also truly is an honor and really cool to just like write my name on the wall of pop culture a little bit and be like, yeah, fucking Seth Cohen’s old now.”