Six-Thirty (B. J. Novak) in Lessons in Chemistry

Bert and Bertie on Bringing a Dog’s Perspective to ‘Lessons in Chemistry’

Bert and Bertie have become two directors that I instantly know I can trust. They direct some of my favorite episodes of television and whenever I watch their work, I know I am going to have an emotional yet fun time. Whether it is them bringing to life my girl on Hawkeye or wrecking me by focusing their time and energy on Six-Thirty’s arc in Lessons in Chemistry, the directing duo really know how to bring you into their work and make you invested in the story before you. Even if that is listening to the woes of a dog as he tries to navigate the death of his owner.

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On Lessons in Chemistry, we watched as Calvin (Lewis Pullman) died while running with Six-Thirty after the dog stopped in the middle of the road. Taking it upon himself, Six-Thirty blamed himself and Elizabeth (Brie Larson) also blamed the dog. Now, logically, it wasn’t the dog’s fault but in episode 3 titled “Living Dead Things,” we watched as Six-Thirty (voiced by B.J. Novak) thought about his life with Elizabeth post Calvin’s death.

I spoke with directors Bert and Bertie about the episode and bringing that story to life, particularly in making Six-Thirty a character and how they made what is, on paper, a somewhat outlandish idea so emotional and we talked a lot about how it is grounded in the beauty of forgiveness. I asked them about how they balanced their typical fun approach to directing with the hard hitting tone of “Living Dead Things.”

“You can have both, I think whatever we are doing behind the camera, we feel like ends up somehow infused in the work,” Bert said. “So if we’re having fun, whether it’s with camera technique or with the actors or the dog’s perspective or whatever it might be it ends up on screen and look as long as it’s always driven by the emotion and driven by character, we can do something fun with the camera but it always comes back to the audience really relating to the characters. So as long as that leads it, everything else is kind of the fun bits. It’s the cherries on the top.”

Bertie went on to talk about the joy of getting to do this for work. “And we have this constant kind of sense of childlike wonder, I think both about life, but also about this job that we get to do. So I think we show up and we’re just, we feel so privileged every day that it’s like a sandbox that we get to play in, you can’t not have fun. You’re forgetting how privileged it is if you’re not having fun.”

When I asked about bringing the perspective of Six-Thirty to life, Bert talked a bit about having that responsibility and said that they viewed him as just a normal character. “These people took him in and he spends the rest of the episode blaming himself,” she said. “So, you know, in that way just, I just felt incredibly sorry for him. The minute we put those kind of human qualities on him, it’s just a child blaming themselves for killing their mom or their dad and you look back on that you’re like it wasn’t your fault. So I certainly think there’s an innocence there.”

Elizabeth and motherhood

Brie Larson as Elizabeth Zott in Lessons in Chemistry
(Apple TV+)

The two also directed episode 4 titled “Primitive Instinct,” that includes Elizabeth coming to terms with the fact that she is a mother. Both episode 3 and 4 deal with this and Bert and Bertie do a great job of balancing Elizabeth’s former reservations about motherhood. When I asked about making sure that wasn’t just glossed over, the two really dove into making sure they understood what it meant for Larson to understand Elizabeth’s journey and her understanding of what Elizabeth was going through. “I think episode four is about Elizabeth’s falling in love with her child,” Bertie said. “It is really difficult. And I think what was amazing that the writers were like motherhood is challenging. And it’s not for everyone and she thinks it’s not for her and she thinks it’s never gonna be for her. And I think that’s where Harriet Sloan (Aja Naomi King) comes in to say you can make motherhood what you want it to be. That friendship is so crucial to Elizabeth accepting her version of motherhood. Brie did lean on us as mothers because she’s not. For some, I remember that scene when, and actually her and Lewis, because Lewis doesn’t have children and there’s the scene where the baby’s screaming and she’s like, I can’t do this.”

Berie went on to talk about how Pullman and Larson worked with them as directors. “And she’s screaming at the baby and the memory of Calvin comes in and holds her. And they’d both read it that for some reason they’d both read it, that Calvin came in and soothed the baby and we’re like no, no, no, no, he’s soothing the mother because when the mother calms down, the baby will calm down. And Brie was like, is that a thing? And we’re like, a hundred percent it’s a thing. So there were those conversations about us being mothers and her not being a mother. And so she was brilliant at kind of accepting and leaning into our perspective that she didn’t yet have.”

Lessons in Chemistry airs on Apple TV+.

(featured image: Apple TV+)


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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.