One suffers from a textbook Peter Pan complex, the other struggles in a sexless marriage where romance has gone the way of school carpools and grocery runs.
Yet while their personal circumstances vary on “Tell Me You Love Me,” both Adam Scott, a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and Tim DeKay, with a master of fine arts degree from Rutgers, play disgruntled husbands grappling with the seismic gaps in their marital relations, a theme explored throughout the controversial HBO show with unabashedly naked (literally) details.
“It was something that I had to think about,” admits Scott of his character Palek’s anatomically raw sex scenes with his desperate-to-conceive wife Carolyn (Sonya Walger), who goes so far as to examine his ejaculatory emission after a hand job. “But it’s something the show can’t survive without. The show is about intimacy, and if you don’t explore the sexual intimacy, then it doesn’t have a leg to stand on if you’re going to explore the emotional intimacy.”
DeKay, whose character David masturbates during one scene in real time behind locked doors while wife Katie (Ally Walker) lies asleep in the TV room, found his role a foreboding yet enticing challenge.
“As an artist, whenever you are afraid of something,” DeKay says, “undoubtedly that is telling you that you should do it because you’re going to tap into something that is exciting and scary and complete.”
Both Scott and DeKay affirm that the series’ realistic, if clinical, depiction of sex merely underscores the more jarring emotional rifts among its protagonists’ thrashed-up marriages, threatening to dismember not for lack of love or forays into adultery but for all the nuanced internal complexities that television rarely talks about.
“He tries to make his wife happy, believing that by doing this he’ll be happy,” comments Scott of Palek abandoning Carolyn when she does get pregnant. “Then he discovers that the things she wants aren’t what he wants. This power shift is devastating. He feels emasculated. There is a lot of suppressed rage. Now he wants to take control of his life, and he starts to act out in very selfish ways.”
Yet “Tell Me” is not simply about marital decay but about repairing what’s been damaged.
“Marriage is very tough,” DeKay posits, “especially in a culture that isn’t simple anymore. But in the end, it’s hopeful that these couples survive.”
Favorite scene: “There’s a scene where things really start to change in Palek and Carolyn’s relationship. We’re out and she tells me about an abortion she had in college. It’s a really great sign of how complicated the show can be.”
What you like most about your character: “That I’m able to be flawed and the character isn’t just one thing. He feels like a real person, trying to figure it out and keep his brain in one piece.”
TV guilty pleasure: “American Idol,” “Top Chef” and “Lost.”
Favorite scene: “David’s first therapy session when he just loses it.”
What you like best about your character: “That he’s a great dad.”
TV guilty pleasure: “I’m a huge ‘SportsCenter’ nut.”