‘The Affair’s’ Joshua Jackson on Cole’s Struggles

Season one of Showtime’s “The Affair” broke ground as it told dual narratives of Noah Solloway (Dominic West) and Alison Bailey (Ruth Wilson) as they recounted how they came to have an affair while they were also being questioned in a murder investigation.

With season two, which premiered last week, not only do Noah and Alison get a voice but the audience gets to also hear from their jilted spouses Helen (Maura Tierney) and Cole (Joshua Jackson). While Helen got her time to sound off in the season premiere, the second episode of the new season spends time with Cole — a character who had formerly just been seen in flashbacks as either erratic and violent or the sweetest guy in the world who is struggling to come to grips with the death of his son and the dissolution of his family’s estate. Jackson spoke with Variety about this juxtaposition as well as who he thinks offed his doomed brother, Scotty (Colin Donnell).

Is Cole a brilliant, egomaniacal genius or just the sweetest guy in the world who can’t even bring himself to say something negative about his ex?

I think it’s both. Maybe it’s the actor in me, but I am constantly surprised by how often my internal emotional state in a scene is not what comes across. We’re complex animals and often when you think you’re coming across as this one thing, you ask somebody else and they say you were completely the opposite.

What’s interesting in that second episode is that Alison sees him and he’s aggressive to the point of violence and totally inappropriate and in her space, but that was not the initial take that I had on that scene. As we got into it, we realize that from Alison’s perspective, the last time she saw him he was holding a gun to her lover’s head. That threat of violence is real. They haven’t had any interaction in between.

It’s unusual for our show to show something so drastically different. From her perspective, she is thinking what are you doing in my house and you are not welcome. For him, he’s been sitting in that sh–y little trailer for two months and wondering, “Why isn’t my wife coming back to me? I’m just stuck here waiting for a sign.” Internally, he felt like a wounded puppy from his side.

In season one, aside from the first episode and the finale, Cole’s a pretty decent guy.

Here’s an interesting trick of the Cole character, I think. He’s very good at being the man, the patriarch, the solid one, the one who can fix things and the one who can take care of stuff. In the loss that they’ve suffered together, while that would look good to most people, there’s a tremendous amount of cruelty in that. Instead of him saying to his wife, “I love you and I’m shattered and I don’t know what to do going forward,” he leaves her alone essentially. He’s not dealing with that loss. There’s a degree of cowardice to that. Until he breaks down on the street in Brooklyn in season one, you don’t see him struggle.

He has this elaborate tattoo on his back …

… Which is both charming and hyper-aggressive. Imagine you’ve lost a child and every time you see your husband’s naked body, he has a physical representation that you have to witness every single day. And it’s on his back, not his front. He doesn’t have to see it. On the one hand, it’s incredibly charming; he wants to keep a talisman of his boy with him at all times. On the other hand, it’s not really taking into account her emotional state and her needs.

Do you have an idea of who killed Scotty?

Yeah, we know. We’ve known right from the very beginning. The circumstance of it has changed slightly and there was a brief time where it switched slightly. I’m good with the decision. It’s less interesting to me who killed Scotty. It’s more interesting to me for what that means for the few characters who have direct knowledge of this event as they react to it. Obviously there is one actor who is directly responsible; there are others who are indirectly responsible.

How do you feel that we get an interpretation of Cole’s side of the story?

For me, it’s great. It’s tricky playing yourself as a memory all the time. By virtue of being a memory, you become two-dimensional. It’s good to be able to go into that man’s world — particularly in this moment in doubt — and see how far and away his interpretation is from what really happened.

The Affair” airs at 10 p.m. Sundays on Showtime.

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