Thomas Haden Church of HBO’s Divorce talks to Awards Daily TV about Robert’s man-child innocence, the timeless quality of the series, and what fans can expect in Season 2.
While both Frances (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Robert (Thomas Haden Church) are obviously integral to the story HBO’s Divorce is telling, Robert serves an important role as the audience’s surrogate.
“Robert is indelibly conjoined with the audience in a way,” says Church. “When the audience finds out about the affair, Robert finds out off-screen, but at about the same time.”
Frances’s revelation completely blindsides him, although Church admits that it doesn’t take much to jolt the blissfully unaware Robert.
“He’s myopic with what’s going on with his personal life, professional life, wife, and kids. It’s a very narrow world. There’s this impending gloom that he knows is around him, and he’s trying to hide that, and in hiding that, it delivers that blind-sided quality. Get up, get dressed, go to the job site, act like you had a really busy day. There’s a bit of performance art going on with Robert.”
Sleepwalking through Life
For much of the first season of the series, Robert sleepwalks through the divorce procedures, stumbling into walls when it comes to lawyers and discovering a lot about himself in the process. With each episode, he slowly starts to regain vision into what’s really going on in his life.
“If you don’t admit that it’s broken, then you don’t have to admit that something needs to be fixed. If she had not rung that bell so loudly, I don’t think Robert would have done anything about it. I’m not suggesting that he’s spineless or incapable of initiative. I think that he’s just kinda going along. Every day he’s just fighting to maintain this simplicity and this dignity. But it’s inevitable that it was going to be revealed. All of the financial stuff that’s been revealed, this unknown catastrophe that was lurking. It’s denial.”
For all of his Mr. Magoo-esque qualities, Robert proves to be pretty capable. When he comes up with the idea for Funspace, an indoor entertainment and games facility for kids, he manages to pull things together rather quickly. He not only discovers interest from investors but also a market for the idea, something even hard-bitten businessman Nick (Tracy Letts) gets on board with for where they are in Westchester County.
A Divorce People Can Relate To
Church describes Robert as having a timeless, Midwestern quality, as does the show as a whole. One of the most noticeable things about the show is its striking Lite FM ‘70s/’80s soundtrack, featuring songs from The Raspberries, Todd Rundgren, and Supertramp.
“There’s never any social media stuff. We don’t do on-screen pop-ups that show parallel communication. Quite frankly, the kids don’t even do it. It’s not this big consuming battle with them. That’s what I like about it. We wanted a little bit of an independent film vibe to it even though it’s set in 2016 and it’s HBO, so there are social entertainment standards that have to be met. We wanted to create as unique a world as we could, but as the same time with all those familiar elements that people find relatable.”
And with half of marriages ending in divorce, the topic is certainly identifiable for a lot of people.
“I think it’s all too familiar. I think with Robert and Frances somewhere along the way there was this disillusion of good communication, but it wasn’t that noticeable. She even says in the very first episode, ‘I want to start my life over while I still care enough.’ They have been drifting down river for a while, and she’s the one who wakes up. Love doesn’t have much of a chance if you don’t have much more in common than your kids.”
Robert proves to be valiant in the Christmas episode, when he throws himself under the bus in front of Frances’s parents and claims that his infidelity is what ended the marriage, taking on the role of the betrayer.
Was his selflessness something that Frances was initially drawn to all those years ago?
“I think there are other moments even in the last episode, and we’re just sitting there talking, you do see they’re capable of very thoughtful moments of intimacy, and I think that that’s where it started. We’ve always imagined that Robert and Frances get together, hovering around 30. You’ve got a lot of other parts of your life sorted out and you’re like, ‘OK let’s start a family.’ ”
In Episode 10 of the first season titled “Detente,” just when you think Robert and Frances might be able to get along during the divorce, Robert makes a rash decision with irreparable repercussions.
“What you’re going to see in the second season is that they do flourish in their own ways, and there’s still some conflict, and there’s definitely a lot of the unknown that has to be either cautiously approached or impulsively approved. It’s a new world, man. A new beginning.”