Thursday 23 November 2017

The humour in imperfection

As Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney return with a new season of 'Catastrophe', they tell Jeananne Craig what they learnt from their late co-star, Carrie Fisher, and how the show reflects their own marriages

Pillow talk: Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan as Rob and Sharon Norris in Catastrophe
Pillow talk: Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan as Rob and Sharon Norris in Catastrophe
Sharon Horgan and Carrie Fisher.
Carrie Fisher as Rob's outspoken mother, Mia

Sorry about the armpit smell," says Sharon Horgan, by way of a greeting. "You might assume we've been here for hours adding our own scent; we haven't even had a chance."

Rob Delaney, her co-star in the pair's hit sitcom Catastrophe, chimes in: "We came in here and were like, 'Wow. It's the armpit room'."

If you could count on anyone to address the elephant in the - admittedly pretty whiffy - room, it would be this duo, who have created a TV show known for its brilliantly honest, no-holds-barred humour.

Viewers have fallen in love with Catastrophe, as much for the wicked dialogue and sharp observations (sample line: "If a normal courtship is a dance, then ours is like a heart attack or seizure or something") as the against-all-odds romance at its core.

Born in Hackney and raised in Bellewstown, Co Meath, Horgan (46) has written comedies including Pulling and Sarah Jessica Parker's Golden Globe-nominated HBO show, Divorce. She has also joined forces with Father Ted creator Graham Linehan for the upcoming BBC Two parenting sitcom Motherland.

She and Massachusetts- born comic Delaney met via Twitter around 2010, and started work on Catastrophe in 2012.

In the show, Horgan plays Irish teacher Sharon, who meets US businessman Rob in the pilot. After getting pregnant following a whirlwind 'six-night stand', the pair decide to get married and raise the baby together.

By season two, they were navigating life with a toddler son and a newborn daughter, as marital and work pressures threatened to bubble over. Sharon ended up engaging in - and soon regretting - a drunken tryst with a stranger, and things ended in a cliffhanger when, just before the final credits rolled, Rob discovered a receipt for the morning-after pill.

The third instalment picks up right where things left off, as a shocked Rob decides whether or not to confront his wife, and a guilt-ridden Sharon wonders if she should confess her actions.

They may not be the perfect couple, but as a viewer, you find yourself willing them to get through it. And their creators do too.

"I think they're rooting for each other," says Delaney (40). "As the writers, we have their relationship charter; we want them to make it."

Horgan adds: "We did for a minute think after the end of season two about having them have a proper old break. We were like, 'Would it be interesting to see Rob trying to date someone else, or Sharon...?' It made us feel sick, and I think that might also make the audience feel sick, and we don't want that."

One of their major coups - and testament to their brilliant, Bafta-winning writing - was persuading Hollywood royalty Carrie Fisher to join the cast from the pilot as Rob's outspoken mother, Mia.

Season three finished filming just days before the Star Wars actress suffered a heart attack on a flight home to Los Angeles from London. She died four days later, on December 27.

It's clear how much the actress meant to the pair, as a colleague and as a friend.

"That she did our show is pretty amazing, because she would have been working in pre-production on Star Wars and she was like, 'Yeah, I'll also have fun doing this little show,'" says Delaney.

"She was one of those people who always gave good chat and always had pearls of wisdom from her own life," adds Horgan. "You're always going to learn something from someone like that, not only because they've got fantastic experiences, but also because they express it in the funniest ways."

Horgan, who lives in London with husband Jeremy Rainbird and their two daughters, recalls advice Fisher gave her: "She was being really lovely about Catastrophe and saying it was a good moment in time for me. She was going, 'It's great what's happening at the moment - just think about the other people in your life, because it's kind of tricky when suddenly the focus is on you. Maybe a good thing to think is how the other person is feeling'."

She continues: "I guess anyone who was involved with Carrie Fisher would always have been 'Mr Carrie Fisher' in some way. My situation is so many millions of miles away, but that was something that was worth saying, that she had learnt."

Horgan and Delaney (who has relocated to London with his wife and three young children), have plenty of personal experience to draw on for the show.

"In the first season there were very, very specific things both our partners recognised and were like, 'What the f***?' But in this season there's much less," says Horgan.

Addressing her co-star, she adds: "But your character saying to my character, 'You're an amazing mother but a sh** wife'; my husband saw that episode and went, 'That's exactly what I say to you.'

"And first of all I thought, 'Well, that's pretty harsh', but also, I think that came directly from Rob Delaney's mouth, that particular piece of dialogue. It's a harsh thing to say, but it's a heat of the moment thing. It's the kind of thing we do say and it's lovely to hear it said to another human in a sitcom."

With references to everything from sex after childbirth to defecating oneself at a wedding, is anything off-limits?

"There's the odd thing we might dial back on if we feel there are too many 'f***s' in it, because sometimes if there are too many, it's distracting, or if you're hearing that, you're not hearing the other words. Or if there's too much toilet humour - but it's a quality control thing, rather than, 'We shouldn't do that'," explains Horgan.

"I'd like to think we put things in the show for the right reason and it's not just to get a reaction."

Despite the pair's evident affection for their characters - and Delaney joking that "an analogy for our relationship would be like fraternal twins" - we can't expect a straight-forward happy ending for Sharon and Rob just yet.

"We've left ourselves with a massive s***storm at the end of season three," Horgan reveals. "So we're going to have to claw our way back from that..."

Catastrophe returns to Channel 4 next Tuesday, February 28

Irish Independent

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