Tuesday 20 February 2018

Sharon Horgan does 'Divorce'

Girls on the pull, unplanned pregnancy - it was only a matter of time before Sharon Horgan tackled divorce

Sharon Horgan created the new TV series 'Divorce'
Sharon Horgan created the new TV series 'Divorce'
Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan in 'Catastrophe'
Thomas Haden Church stars in 'Divorce'
Sarah Jessica Parker

Anne Marie Scanlon

When the former Carrie Bradshaw, Sarah Jessica Parker, decided it was time to return to series TV, for the first time since the end of mega-hit Sex and the City, she called Sharon Horgan.

It's hard to believe that it's only a decade since Horgan's breakout Pulling, which established her as an actor, comic and writer. In that decade Horgan has gone from struggling wannabe to a force with whom to be reckoned within the entertainment industry.

Horgan is lying on a green velvet couch. She has a severe headache. I've given her some super-strong tablets but she still appears to be suffering. I'm worried that the tape recorder won't pick up her voice, as she's speaking quite softly.

In person, Sharon Horgan looks exactly like Sharon from Catastrophe. That might sound like stating the obvious, but it's rare. Faces that we know well from film and TV always look different in real life. Not Horgan - she looks like herself, but she doesn't sound like herself. I certainly wasn't expecting somebody so reserved. But she does have a bad headache.

Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan in 'Catastrophe'
Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan in 'Catastrophe'

"I went to New York to meet her," she tells me about SJP. "She'd read a couple of my scripts. The story she was interested in making was about a long-term relationship and the breakdown of a long-term relationship. We talked about those sort of themes and then I went off and had to come up with something.

"What I was interested in," Horgan continues, "was the kind of dark industry that springs up around two people who are having the worst time of their lives but really it's all about the dollar. I didn't know anything about divorce, and the reason why is that people don't really talk about it. I don't know why, whether it's because there's a kind of shame attached … Also," she says, "if someone is having the worst time of their life, you're not going to ask them questions. So unless you've been through it, most people don't know and I thought it was something more people would like to know about."

The result, Divorce, stars Sarah Jessica Parker as Frances, a career woman married to Robert (Thomas Haden Church), and mother of two. Watching the pilot and first episode, I was struck by the total lack of common ground between the two characters. Later, in a phone call with Paul Simms, the New York-based writer who collaborated with Horgan on some episodes, he reveals this was entirely deliberate.

As the story evolves, Simms tells me, the nature of the relationship will become clear. "Eventually, you see that when it worked between them, it worked really well."

Simms has been married "seven or eight years, it still feels like a brand new thing," he says and then adds laughing, "I wish my wife was here to hear me say that!"

He has never been divorced and argues that while the show centres on a divorce, and the process of divorce, that it's really about relationships and conflicts in relationships.

Thomas Haden Church stars in 'Divorce'
Thomas Haden Church stars in 'Divorce'

"We hate the people we love at times," the former Girls writer tells me. "Anyone who's been in a relationship will see that. Anger and difficulty go hand in hand with love."

Horgan, who has previously mined her own life and experiences for material, has never been divorced either. The hit show Catastrophe was in part inspired by the fact that she had a surprise pregnancy just six months into her relationship with Jeremy Rainbird. The couple have now been married 10 years and have two daughters, Sadhbh (12) and Amer (8).

Without her own experience of divorce to draw on, I ask Horgan if friends will see themselves in some of the characters and situations. She laughs before replying, "Well, there's really only one friend who I sat down and asked for some detail from, so she knows." After a short pause, she adds, "I've used her life a few times. The show I just made for the BBC, Motherland, one character is fully her, so she knows."

Just like Catastrophe, Motherland struck a chord with many parents as the coalface of motherhood can often be difficult and unpleasant. How much do you hate the school run? I ask. Horgan laughs. "I don't hate it. I just get in and get out." (For those of you who don't have school-age children, saying that you like to get in and get out is code for hating the school run.).

I ask Horgan if, having created and written much of Divorce, she was tempted to write a role for herself. "No, it's a big old show. There's 10 parts and there was an awful lot to do [Horgan is also one of the executive producers]. It wasn't about finding a way to shoehorn myself into the show, it was about making the best possible show. And it was really nice to not have to sit in the make-up chair for two hours every morning. It's nice to just concentrate on the story and casting and make it the best show possible."

The Divorce cast is outstanding, especially Molly Shannon, who plays Frances's self-obsessed friend Diane. It is Diane's disastrous 50th birthday party that prompts Frances to end her marriage. Horgan describes Shannon as "wonderful", adding, "I've admired and loved her for years."

Sarah Jessica Parker
Sarah Jessica Parker

Although Horgan was born in London, her family moved back to Meath when she was four. The writer is the second eldest of five children - she has two sisters and two brothers, one of whom, Shane, played rugby for Ireland.

"I think if you come from a big family then you have to find a way to get the attention," she tells me. So were you the funny one? "All my family are funny. They all make me laugh, anyway."

Horgan is by now sitting up on the green velvet sofa announcing that she thinks the super-strong headache tablets are working. Hoping that as a result she's feeling kindly towards me, I ask her a question that I know will annoy her, about the under-representation of women in comedy.

"I feel like the more people talk about the women in comedy question, the more people are going to feel it's a thing, and it's not really. Certainly in the stand-up scene they are still under-represented but, to me, it feels like it's not an issue (in television). I don't think it will stop being an issue until people stop asking about 'women in comedy'."

It certainly isn't an issue for Horgan because right now she is the woman in comedy.

Divorce, Tuesday, October 11, Sky Atlantic 10:10pm

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