'Avenue 5' Star Josh Gad on "Starting Where 'Titanic' Ends" With HBO's Space Comedy

Gad, who plays the entitled billionaire owner of the Avenue 5 cruise ship, says his character was influenced by the Fyre Festival founder Billy McFarland, Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes and Donald Trump.
Alex Bailey/HBO
Hugh Laurie, Josh Gad and Suzy Nakamura in 'Avenue 5'

In HBO's newest comedy series Avenue 5 (launching Sunday), Josh Gad plays Herman Judd, the entitled young billionaire owner of a luxury space cruise ship who knows very little of the technical operation, but thinks all problems can be solved through enough money and smooth talking. 

Sound familiar?

Although comparisons can be drawn to Elon Musk and Richard Branson (particularly in Judd's long blond locks), Gad says he took inspiration from Fyre Festival founder Billy McFarland and Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes for his character, both examples of "an entrepreneur who's a better salesperson than a product developer." 

"Billy McFarland creating Fyre Festival is so unbelievably crazy but all of us are so drawn to it  — we just cannot believe that so many people went along with somebody who's clinically deranged enough to fleece that many people but had enough yes-men to get it done," Gad tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Similarly with Elizabeth Holmes, I was so fascinated by the fact that she had this same designer who did the turtleneck for Steve Jobs design the same turtlenecks for her."

He adds that Donald Trump was also an influence on Herman Judd as someone who "is essentially the evolution or de-evolution of those people, people who have failed upward and succeeded despite the fact that maybe they're not necessarily qualified in that position." 

The show, which follows the captain and crew of space ship Avenue 5 in its maiden voyage to Saturn, also stars Hugh Laurie, Zach Woods, Suzy Nakamura, Nikki Amuka-Bird and Lenora Crichlow and is set 40 years in the future because "it is very hard to satirize the now in the now," Gad says. The comedy is a departure from politics for creator Armando Iannucci (who also created Veep) but is still a social commentary and a humorous look at corporations, bureaucracy and the service industry when thousands of people expecting a luxury vacation find themselves trapped in the cosmos in the tight confines of a cruise. 

"It's a show about the breakdown of society in a bubble — social norms going away, class system kind of dissipating," the Frozen star says. "It's a show about the frog in boiling water and what happens when you crank up to 900 degrees and put 5,000 frogs in at once." 

And it may even be a show carrying on the story of the most famous cruise ship of all time. 

"We basically start where Titanic ends — it's like the third act of Titanic and then from there on it plays out almost like a comedic Breaking Bad where things go from bad to worse to unthinkable," Gad says. And while many of the men on the ship — including Laurie's Captain Ryan Clark — are the ones causing these problems, "there always seems to be a woman to have to fix all of the insanity that we're wreaking on and off the ship." 

Gad also promises that the series, premiering Sunday, has plenty of out-of-this-world twists and turns coming in the next few weeks: "I think around episode five we all started getting the scripts and gasping."