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The Fight Between Opulence and Poverty: 'On Becoming God in Central Florida'
August 25, 2019  | By Mike Hughes

Mel Rodriguez – or what's left of him – was discussing two important subjects.

Both topics are key to the Kirsten Dunst series (On Becoming a God in Central Florida, Sunday, 10 p.m., Showtime) he co-stars in. And both have places in his life. 

The first is multi-level, work-from-home marketing schemes. 

"My mother was in Grand Rapids, MI, where Amway started," he said at a Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour Session. "She almost got into it and regrets the day that she didn't, because she would have been really wealthy now."

And then there's the state of Florida.  

"I'm from Florida, and there's a real hopelessness in places like Ocala and Gainesville. These are people living from paycheck to paycheck, (hoping) they can maybe not get their lights turned off."

That's true of Krystal (Kirsten Dunst), the desperate mom at this show's core. "I was so tired, and we worked so hard," said Dunst, who started filming five months after her son was born. "But I was like: 'Krystal's working so hard. She's so tired. You just (have to) be the most emotionally vulnerable you can.' "

Viewers have seen Dunst, 37, often – three Spider-Man movies, Jumanji, the second Fargo mini-series, even (when she was 12) Interview With the Vampire.

And Rodriguez? He's been on TV for two decades, sometimes playing guys with good hearts and great bulk. (The latter detail is changing; Rodriguez, 46, said he lost 160 pounds – some of it during the series and some while preparing to play "a very, very scary guy" in a movie.)

He's brought depth to characters who could have been cliches. In HBO's much-praised Getting On, Rodriguez got a Critics Choice nomination as the socially awkward supervising nurse. In Fox's Last Man on Earth, he was the bloke who married the gorgeous Melissa (January Jones). And in this new series, he plays Dunst's boss (Ernie) at a tattered water park, her friend, and, soon, her sales target.

That's one of the problems with such sales plans, said Esta Spalding, the showrunner. They "are all about people being asked to monetize their relationships."

Products are sold to family, friends, and co-workers. "I had a football coach try to recruit basically the whole team," said Robert Funke, the show's creator.

Beth Ditto, who plays Bets, recalls a similar effort during her Arkansas girlhood. "My friend was in Amway, and she was, like: 'Hey, get your boyfriend to talk to his mom and dad.' "

Rodriguez felt that pinch from his mom. When she was 16, Mom had a crack at Amway; back then some early dealers built up webs of sub-dealers and became rich – just short of being an illegal pyramid scheme, according to federal investigators. 

Much later, she tried sales of essential oils, he said.

"We ended up having to buy them all off of her, all the kids... This older woman who really didn't know any better, she spent money she didn't have, a little over $1,500 on this kit. And she thought, 'Well, you're from Hollywood; you would know all these actors.' "

By the end of the first episode, Krystal is desperate enough to try anything. Orlando spawns such desperation, Funke said. It's "unbearably hot swampland were we built an enormous theme park and a cartoon-mouse-based economy that made everyone in the world want to go there, but not live there."

That contrast – the big-money joy of Disney World and the tattered life and work of Krystal, is important, Spalding said. "You can see those rides in the distance, where people are riding and screaming and having fun. And then there's our water park."

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