HumorThe Masterminds of 'High Maintenance' Are Really Killing It Right Now
We talked to creators Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld about the move to HBO, being "Brooklyn famous," and serial killer calling cards.
Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld just work. Maybe it’s because the couple both had the deeply un-rebellious preteen pre-bedtime ritual of listening to the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack. Maybe it’s the complementary filmmaking style that allowed them to make three seasons of High Maintenance, a Vimeo series turned HBO show about Brooklynites serviced by the same Sinclair-played weed dealer.
Or maybe it’s because they’re nothing alike. Blichfeld, a 37-year-old Emmy-winning casting director with a Debbie Harry bob, brings what she describes as “law and order” to the marriage (more on that later), while the 32-year-old Sinclair, whose pre-Blichfeld hobbies included getting stoned, putting on an Elmo costume, and playing with lights in the theater where he was squatting, is little more…relaxed.
Sinclair’s low-key, semi-baffled vibe is on display in the new season of High Maintenance as his unnamed drug distributor flits between clients and vignettes—every episode features a different star and vibe, ranging from cruelly hilarious to poignant. The new episodes keep previous seasons’ intimate feel, but are more HBO-y somehow. Maybe it’s the money? “We can hire porn actors now,” says Blichfeld. “That guy from the first episode is an artist and a Marxist—really interesting person. But, yeah, he does porn.” We sat down with Blichfeld and Sinclair in Greenpoint restaurant Cassette to talk about even more things you can look forward to this season.
KATJA BLICHFELD: I might eat a little nibble. The radicchio salad.
BEN SINCLAIR: Why don’t you get that and I’ll get the gnocchi. And I want a drink.
KB: I’m gonna get an Aperol spritz.
BS: Oh, that’s what I want, too.
GQ: Who’s the better orderer?
KB: I think me.
BS: I think I can be a little more decisive, actually.
KB: I have always fear of missing out and fear of food envy. So I’m always like, Wait, what are you getting? That’s why we share; so that nobody feels disappointed. Or at least we can both be disappointed together. It’s called codependency.
BS: Yeah, we’re pretty codependent.
KB: We’re working on it.
GQ: What are your roles in the relationship?
BS: My role is the instigator.
KB: Yeah, the provocateur. That’s his specialty. I’m an only child, and it was always like me in the middle [of my parents]. I’m like a diplomat, keeping the peace at all costs because chaos and disorder make me really uncomfortable. But I also seek it out. That’s why I’m with you, Ben. And I think you probably, vice versa. You were looking for law and order in your life.
BS: More structure. But I don’t know where my chaos comes from.
KB: I think it comes from you being the youngest child and figuring out that that’s the best way to get people to pay attention: make a ruckus.
BS: Everyone else claimed identities that were more safe. You know, like good grades, leadership skills, all that.
KB: You have those, too.
BS: Yeah, except you have to add on an extra something every time there’s a new sibling.
KB: You gotta have your gimmick.
GQ: You’re in a really good place, fame-wise.
KB: Go to Williamsburg, by the Graham stop, and Ben can’t walk a block.
GQ: Is it weird to be so successful that HBO has a car waiting outside for you?
KB: It’s pretty weird. And it’s nice.
BS: I don’t want to get too used to it. Like, I know that so many people do so many more important jobs that deserve to get picked up by a car. But goddamn it, we worked really hard.
KB: It was a hard year.
BS: Katja and I were like, If we want to keep this version of the series the same as the web series, we need to do everything like we did before. And that includes writing everything and directing everything.
KB: Supervising everything.
BS: And editing it still, with, Jane Rizzo, our lead editor. We had only released three [five-to-fifteen-minute] episodes at a time before, which would take us, like, four to six months to compile. And this time around, HBO ordered six episodes that would be 20 to 30 minutes long. That was four times the work load that we had ever done at one time, because while these are six episodes, they are 11 short stories.
KB: If we ever get the opportunity to do this again, I think we would definitely enlist more help.
GQ: Does this election make you feel like things are going downhill?
BS: Oh, yeah. We’re ready.
AP: Like doomsday preppers?
BS: We don’t have our shit together enough to be preppers.
KB: We’re half-assed prepared. I don’t feel like I’m a survivor, either. Even today, I was thinking about, like, Wow, what if things get really bad? I wonder if I could easily get a hold of one of those cyanide type pills and I could just have that with me, in case.
GQ: I’m worried about people accidentally killing me. Our downstairs neighbor falls asleep with the stove on all the time.
KB: That scares me, too. These are things I think about all the time, by the way.
BS: Yeah, no, I don’t think about that all the time.
KB: And I do, like, constantly. You’re in a building with other people and they could be responsible for your death.
BS: I just think about, like, What if that person finds out that I didn’t actually see Shampoo and I just said I did to look like I was a Warren Beatty fan?
GQ: Do you guys call each out out on bullshit like that?
KB: I don’t rat you out. You rat me out, though, all the time.
BS: Fuck you, man! That is not true. Now I’m calling bullshit on you.
KB: It’s okay. I love you. It keeps things real.
GQ: Now that you’re big deal HBO stars, you’re going to need to keep each other grounded while you transition from “Brooklyn famous” to “real famous.”
BS: Wait, did you just say Brooklyn famous? Like, not real famous? I’ll remember that one.
KB: Dude, you have used the words "Brooklyn famous."
GQ: I think the reason High Maintenance is so popular is that it’s like Hitchcock’s Rear Window without the murder.
BS: That’s funny because, we almost did one episode about a person whose family was staying with them from Long Island and he’s like, You know what? I’m just gonna walk to the office and work on stuff there. And so he walks across all of Brooklyn during Hurricane Sandy, past lines of cars waiting for gas to cross the bridge and then goes to his office and he’s smoking a bowl in his office.
KB: There’s no power.
BS: No electricity. And then he looks across the way and then he sees a murder. Cause what better time to murder someone than Hurricane Sandy, right?
GQ: Do you ever think about what your method would be if you were a serial killer?
KB: Oh my god. If I kill an ant, I spend the next several hours feeling like, Why did I do that? I didn’t need to kill that ant. I’m really sensitive. I would never be a serial killer because I can barely kill an insect.
BS: I would be called The Bagger. I’d put ‘em in a body bag. I would do those space saver bags, where it has a little spot for your vacuum cleaner. I would vacuum seal your face.
KB: That’s dark as fuck.
BS: And you could send them in the mail.
KB: What the fuck? Who are you sending them to? That would be really expensive.
BS: My fans. My Brooklyn fans.
KB: The Brooklyn famous serial killer.