ADTV talks to Divorce‘s Talia Balsam about her co-starring role on HBO’s new series.
I didn’t recognize Talia Balsam the first time I saw her on HBO’s Divorce. Many viewers will probably remember her from her stint as Mona Sterling on Mad Men (“I became really attached to those girdles,” she joked early in our conversation), but I was thrilled to see her take on a more comedic role in one of HBO’s high-profile shows of the Fall TV season, Divorce.
When I spoke with Balsam about her involvement on the freshman show, I could tell she was excited and grateful to be part of such an anticipated project. The half hour show is one of the more talked about comedies to come out in the last few weeks, and it’s positioned in a very strong Sunday night lineup (Divorce airs along with Insecure and phenomenon Westworld). Balsam was only on 11 episodes of the AMC ad drama, but it definitely always felt like Mona was around more. She always made an impression on her audience. The same can be said about her work as Dallas in Divorce. Balsam’s dry delivery and strong presence leave you wanting more. You can immediately recognize that she was eager to be involved.
“When I read the pilot, I thought it took a lot of twists and turns, and I thought it was just fantastic. You just know right away. It was just so well done, you know?” Balsam said. “It’s one of those projects where you think, ‘How can I be in it?’ Even when you’re shooting and things are changing, what came out was something really great.”
Within the first five minutes of Divorce, you can already tell that you’re going to like Dallas. The first long scene in the pilot is set at a birthday party, and Dallas refers to a widower (and potential suitor) as a “human loaf of bread” — an insult that I have personally used since watching the first 6 episodes of the season. I wondered if she was allowed to contribute to any of the comedic writing on set.
“Only by accident. They would come up with much better stuff than I ever would, and they are also very open. Sometimes the camera just goes and things get said, and they are open to keeping those things,” Balsam explained. “There’s nothing that I could add that is beyond what they are doing. I wouldn’t tamper with it too much. Some of it stays in.”
It’s been said that the topic of divorce doesn’t lend itself to laugh out loud moments, because it can deal with real emotions. The comedy does sneak in in a dark way, and Balsam’s performance can be dark in a truly funny way. Walking that line between comedy and drama is obviously something that any actor would love to tackle. No one’s life is strictly comic or exclusively dramatic.
“It walks the line. For some people, there will be things that ring very true and stuff that they will recognize. People might think they are in for this drawn out thing, but it’s also very, very funny. And very dark. It’s sort of where you meet these people in a very heightened point in their lives, and you get to see how it all plays out. Sometimes you’re not your best self, and sometimes you are your best self. That’s what makes it human,” Balsam said. “It is about marriage, and some of that is a peephole into a person’s marriage. Each of these characters are in very different points in their lives. That’s what I love about it. It’s in the hands of extremely witty, smart, and funny people but I think the heart of it is very true. I don’t think anything has to be one or the other. Our lives are like that too. I think they did a really great job with that. I’m not sure if it’s easy to explain it, but it reveals itself as you watch it.”
Balsam has real chemistry with Molly Shannon and Sarah Jessica Parker. Since all three actresses come from different performance backgrounds, I was curious if that palpable chemistry was evident on set.
“The characters were very defined. When you do this, you’re trying to figure out a lot of stuff too, but the three of us are very different anyway. We have a mutual sensibility in what makes us laugh. Sometimes when you see stuff written, you can think, ‘Well, any character can say that’ but it’s clear who is saying what and why. The humor is out of each specific character, and that’s good writing.”
With such a seasoned troupe of actors, I’m sure we can all expect that the storylines to expand from here. Dallas is in a very interesting place in her life, and her character’s position is something Balsam is eager to explore more of.
“At first everyone is trying to figure out who’s doing what. My favorite thing is that she’s at odds with herself. You think she’s going to be one thing, and then you realize she’s completely the opposite. I found things very surprising when they came up, and that’s what I like about it—without giving anything away. Maybe it has to do with where she is in her life, but I just like that I couldn’t perceive what was going to happen next.”
Divorce airs Sunday nights at 10pm ET on HBO. Episodes are also available via HBO GO and HBO NOW.