Tracy Letts of HBO’s Divorce talks to Awards Daily about working with people his own age, coming back from the dead, and keeping secrets from Molly Shannon.
Nick and Diane on HBO’s Divorce seem to be one of the more positive representations of matrimony on the show—even though, you know, she shot him in Season 1. But is it really wedded bliss?
“I have a good marriage in my real life, so it’s hard to look at Nick and Diane and say, oh, that’s a good marriage,” says multi-talented actor/playwright Tracy Letts, who plays Nick on HBO’s Divorce and is married to the equally talented Carrie Coon (The Leftovers, Fargo). “I will say I’m hopeful about their marriage. I have hope that they’re invested enough in it to make it work. I think that’s all you can ask with any marriage.”
Working With Molly Shannon
In his on-screen marriage, Letts spars with Molly Shannon, who plays the vivacious Diane, Frances’s (Sarah Jessica Parker) best friend and art gallery investor.
“She has such a sense of comic invention, which I so prize in any actor really. I love playing those scenes with her. I think it took Molly a while when we first started to realize that Nick’s taciturn way was a great counterbalance to her. This is kind of an opposites attract that we both really benefited from.”
The two really couldn’t be more different, which is something Nick is drawn to. In the middle of the season, he reveals that Diane is totally his “type,” just like his first wife.
“The sense of the backstory of those two is that Diane started out as kind of a trophy wife, and I think what we start to see, and I think it’s one of the things that Molly brings to the series, she has such a sense of joy, energy, curiosity. I mean, she’s a narcissist, but she does have a real energy about her that is undeniable and heartbreaking. There’s something about that that he finds human but attractive.”
In the first episode of the new season, Nick and Diane engage in positive propositioning, where they are only supposed to speak to each other when they have something positive to say. Naturally (and hilariously!), they have nothing to say, and yet their sex life has never been better.
“I’m a playwright and I’m interested in language, and I’m interested in how people use language, whether they’re able to use language or not to get what they want. I really found the idea of involving language between Nick and Diane an interesting idea because we go from that first episode of Season 1, where clearly they don’t communicate at all, to over the course of the first season, expressing love and affection for each other. In the second season, they don’t really have the gift of language. They don’t know how to talk to each other. In some ways, it’s the way they wind up getting into trouble at the end of the second season. He hasn’t confided in her what’s really going on in his life. So the things they do talk about in the second season, it’s almost all a denial of what’s actually going on in his life. I found that a very interesting, fun, secret challenge to play.”
A big twist shatters Nick and Diane in the final episodes, something that Letts knew about before they even shot a day of the show, but that Shannon learned about as her character did.
“I had it in my back pocket from the beginning. As an actor, you always delight in having a secret. If they don’t give me a secret, I’ll typically have a secret myself. I like having a little mystery for myself. It’s always great fun to play. And then, once it was revealed to the other people, they were like, Wow, I didn’t know that was going on. It was very good for me and Molly that I had that knowledge and she did not, so we were able to play the end of the season truthfully.”
A Change of Heart for Nick
Shortly after he retires, Nick reveals to Robert (Thomas Haden Church) that he’s been a terrible friend. Then later he sticks up for his wife at a big event. Are we seeing sudden empathy from one of TV’s biggest jerks?
“One of the delightful things for me about the show is that I went from a one-joke dead guy [he ‘died’ in the first season] to being back to life and the series for me has been a deepening of those relationships, from the first episode to the last episode of Season 2. The primary episodes are with Thomas and Molly, and so to have those relationships deepen that way, I embrace that idea. Robert needs a confidante, somebody in his corner. But Nick might need that, too. We all inherit friends from our spouses, and sometimes, it’s like, well, if we’re gonna be friends, then let’s really be friends.”
The rapport and ease on screen appears as if this group of forty- and fifty-somethings truly enjoys each other’s company. Letts credits this with age.
“I think maybe cause we’re all old people. The fact is that there’s something about working with people in your peer group that feels very comfortable. And by the time you are in our peer group, you let a lot of stuff go that might be a hang-up for younger people. Your cultural references are the same. People just speak the same language. There is a real comfort level in working with people your own age.”
HBO’s Divorce airs on Sundays at 10 p.m.