‘The Affair’s’ Maura Tierney Found Her Career ‘Rhythm’ in 1989 Santa Monica Play

'Affair' Star Maura Tierney Looks Back
Caroline Andrieu for Variety

More secrets have yet to unfold in Showtime’s “The Affair,” now that it’s been picked up for a second season — not that star Maura Tierney is willing to reveal any. “It’s challenging,” she says — a word that might also be used to describe the role that earned her her first mention in Variety. Before she secured her place in TV history with “NewsRadio” — and as the indefatigable Abby Lockhart on “ER” — Tierney found herself onstage in “Rhythm of Torn Stars” at a small Santa Monica theater.

How did you land the part?

The director was my neighbor, or my neighbor’s friend. I met him around my apartment complex in Venice Beach. He found out I was an actress and asked me to audition for his play. It was the first real play I ever did. There was live music accompanying all of the poetry. It was very nontraditional — it had no narrative structure. And after we were done, it would turn into a club and we would dance.

Did you read the review?

No, I probably didn’t read it. I was terrified. What did it say? “I was clean-limbed and fresh-faced”? I’ll take that today in a heartbeat!

What was the best thing about that time?

I’d been working as an actress for a year. I wasn’t a waitress anymore and I wasn’t a student. So it felt very Mary Tyler Moore-ish. And I had met the guy who would become my husband, which was fun. Who then became my ex-husband, which was not fun.

And the toughest thing?

I was so young and inexperienced. I had a lot of nerves about the play. I’m always nervous about everything, but that was the hardest thing for me — being scared that I wasn’t going to do a good job.

What did you learn from the experience? 

I can’t think that I learned much. It was at a club in Santa Monica called the Pink. We had to set up the folding chairs ourselves.

What do you consider your big break?

I would have to say “NewsRadio,” but I worked with Norman Lear on a TV show in the ’80s. No one ever saw it, but it felt like that was a big deal. He’s extremely perceptive about the audience, and keenly aware of what you’re doing, (and what impact that’s having), not just in the studio, but how that’s going to land. That’s why he had 7 zillion shows on TV at one time. Also, he’s just a wonderful man.

What do you wish you could tell your younger self?

I’d stop worrying about everything so much. Sometimes s*** happens. Nobody is thinking or talking about you as much as you fear they are.

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