‘The Affair’s’ Maura Tierney on Finding the Humor in Helen’s Suffering

As a jilted wife slowly coming to terms with a life she never had planned for herself, “The Affair’s” Maura Tierney has found a perfect balance of comedy and tragedy in her character Helen’s situation. Whether it’s ill-planned rebound sex, drinking wine while fighting with shapewear or hitting bottom and spending a night in the slammer, this poor little rich girl-turned Park Slope mother of four has become a fan favorite of the Showtime drama.

Speaking with Variety in its Los Angeles office, Tierney said she was definitive on at least one thing about her character.

“I said Helen will have fixed her hair by episode eight,” Tierney laughed, referring to the gray streaks her character winds up with after the aforementioned night behind bars.

She also talked about the series’ overarching mystery of if Helen’s ex, Noah Solloway (Dominic West), actually committed murder and keeping up with its multiple time jumps.

Now that we’re a good ways through the season, can you tell us anything more about the murder mystery?

The mystery’s going to be solved definitely by the end of this season. They’re not going to tease it out excruciatingly long. That’s really all I can say.

There’s this excellent mix of humor and tragedy with Helen.

[The writers] took care of me. I think I worked on Helen being funny this season. I think I contributed in that way so that they knew to write for that, but the writers just did a great job with her.

Anya Epstein wrote episode four [where Helen has her disastrous situation]. I liked it because it was just so sad, but also so funny.

Speaking of that episode, is there an art to dancing in your Spanx?

Just throw your ego out the window. I don’t wear Spanx, like politically I hate them. I really responded to the idea that it’s impossible to take them off and it’s humiliating to do so.

Was it meant to be a feminist statement?

I think she just wants to take them off, but the moment where she looks at herself in the mirror and is like this is it …

How do you keep the storylines in order in your mind?

I think all of it is actual reality. That’s how I play it. People are always like, “What’s the real story?” I think all of it. Or none of it.

From the viewpoint of the performance, I know the critics get upset because they think that the POVs have been diverging too wildly. But that doesn’t bother me. We’re both experiencing this moment in a completely different way and we’re going to remember it in a completely different way. Everyone certainly believes that their memory is the truth.

This weekend has a Helen and Noah episode. Do you feel any pressure or get nervous when you get a script, given how much they’re making you do this season?

Sometimes I read it and hope I can do it justice. I get nervous when people talk loudly in the room with what I’m supposed to do and it becomes a thing I have to do and it’s not organic.

There’s some funny parts in this episode because Noah and Helen go drinking together. I hope it came out funny, but it felt funny doing it.

There’s a turning point for Noah and Helen in Episode 8. They’re coming to terms with a new relationship. In this one, his side is a lot more humorous. They go back to where they went to college.

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