How Iliza Shlesinger Turned Wild Ex-Boyfriend Betrayal Into Cathartic Netflix Comedy 'Good on Paper'

The comedian/actress used her unsettling experience with a lying ex as inspiration to write her new Netflix movie Good on Paper

Iliza Shlesinger
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Like many people who have been through the universally challenging experience that is dating, Iliza Shlesinger had her share of good and bad experiences before meeting and marrying her husband Noah Galuten.

One of her experiences was particularly unique, in that the now ex-boyfriend lied about his entire identity and life circumstances during their relationship. Shlesinger, a seasoned comedic pro and actress with five stand-up specials under her belt and supporting roles in films Instant Family and Pieces of a Woman, turned the ordeal into the "cathartic endeavor" of writing the Netflix movie Good on Paper, in which she also stars.

Shlesinger, 38, tells PEOPLE: "Once the healing had happened and I felt okay, it became more about the art and the script, and less about thinking about that person."

In real life and in the film, Shlesinger and her character Andrea realize they've been lied about where the boyfriend went to school, his finances and alleged family illnesses.

"The last time I spoke to this person was probably 2015," Shlesinger says. "I didn't fully learn the extent of the lies until I had met with some friends of his and that's when I found out that the mom didn't have cancer, and the extent of how much debt he was in and all this stuff."

Shlesinger says despite this particular chapter in her life being "a freak thing," she's met dozens of people who have similar stories of being lied to by romantic partners.

"Once I share the story, I learn how many people have lived through something similar," she says. "People are like, 'Oh don't you look for red flags?' but the things he lied about, these are not things that we as humans are trained to question. Someone says where they live, where they went to school and what they do, these are basic intro things — especially you meet someone for the first time, they tell you those things like an info dump, why would you question it? It's not like he said, 'I'm the Prince of Mars and I only ride golden ponies,' I prefer to take people at face value and then you know take it from there."

The Spenser Confidential star says she happily focuses on the positives that have come from the relationship, because it resulted in Good on Paper (now streaming on Netflix), plus new friends and creative partners: producer Paul Bernon (Drinking Buddies), director Kimmy Gatewood (Glow) and costars Margaret Cho (The Masked Singer) and Ryan Hansen (Veronica Mars).

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"That happened so that I could write this movie, and I can actually say this from the highest place of light and when I think of that event I only think of Ryan Hansen and Margaret Cho and Kimmy Gatewood," she says. "I don't think of that pain because it turned itself into something beautiful."

If fans sense any similarities between Shlesinger and the character she plays, that was intentional.

"I deliberately wrote a character that was not a reach," she says with a laugh. "I wanted this to be about the comedy, which I knew I could deliver, and the heart and the vulnerability. And I wanted to write parts for other actors that they'd be excited to play, that would be fun. I think the biggest reach for anyone was Ryan Hansen playing [the boyfriend character] Dennis Kelly because Ryan is a good-looking sort of golden retriever happy leading man and he played a total creep."

Hansen added his own extra layer of "creep" by adding a special accessory of sorts to his character.

good on paper

"Those teeth that he wore, those were his idea," Shelsinger says of the exaggerated veneers Hansen wears in the film, in addition to a prosthetic he wore to appear a little rounder and less fit. "He showed up day one he's like, 'I got a tooth guy.'"

The comedian called on real-life pal Margaret Cho to play her character's best friend and is still surprised she said 'Yes.'

"It was Kimmy's idea, she said, 'What about Margaret Cho?' who I'm friends with. I was like 'Please say yes' and then she said 'Yes,'" she recalls. "You don't get a lot of yeses in this business. You're hoping people will take that journey with you."

Shlesinger also recommends a few key ingredients to pair with the journey of watching this film: "There's a big scene about cuddle fish in the movie and that is a sustainable fish there's so perhaps prepare a sustainable fish for you to consume," she says. "Here's a fun Easter egg: Dennis drinks a lot of whiskey in the movie and his coveted brand is actually the Gaelic word for a 'liar,' I looked it up. It's not a real whiskey, we made up one, so maybe grab some whiskey because they drink a lot in this movie, and get a low calorie snack because it's lying to you that it's good for you."

Good on Paper is now streaming on Netflix. You can also catch her on her Back In Action world tour.

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