Four is enough. That’s what “The Affair” showrunner/co-creator Sarah Treem told the crowd at PaleyFest NY on Monday night when asked about how many character perspectives might be added to the Showtime drama that examines the lives of people touched by an extramarital affair.
The drama in its first season depicted events from the often-dueling perspectives of the man and woman at the center of the affair, played by Dominic West (Noah) and Ruth Wilson (Alison). In season two, which opened Oct. 4, the storytelling shifted to incorporate the perspectives of their soon-to-be ex-spouses, played by Maura Tierney (Helen) and Joshua Jackson (Cole).
Treem was asked during the panel session at the Paley Center for Media about the possibility of adding still more perspectives. It’s tempting, she admitted, but then quickly assured: “I think we’re going to stop at four,” she said.
The session with Treem, the four core stars and supporting players the four stars plus Josh Stamberg, who plays Tierney’s new love interest, and Julia Goldani Telles, who plays West and Tierney’s teenage daughter, was long on laughs, particularly from West. When Treem was pressed on the perspectives question, West quipped: “What’s the dog called?”
The actors spoke about the challenges of playing characters from divergent points of view. “It’s like playing two different characters,” West said of the conceit. Tierney said she was enjoying the chance to incorporate more nuance into her character this season. “I would chafe against it when Alison would see her as snobby and cold,” Tierney said. “Now it’s fun for me to infuse that into the character.”
Jackson agreed. Last season he had to figure out how to play Cole as a character “only told through other people’s eyes.”
Treem said she had the story for three seasons mapped out in her mind at the time she and co-creator Hagai Levi pitched the project to Showtime. But her vision for the story arc has changed since then she admitted. When asked how many seasons she sees the show running, Treem replied: “I can go forever.”
The session was virtually spoiler-free although Treem noted that the character of Scotty, whose death in season one fuels a murder plot that ensnares Noah, will become a more fully realized character in flashback form this season. Part of that will be to show the relationship with his older brother Cole and the romance with the teenage Whitney that sent her father into fits.
“She’s still looking for support in all the wrong places,” Telles said of her character. “She’s pining for Scotty but I don’t think he’s reciprocating.”
Treem said she was surprised by the visceral reaction that some people had to the mere concept of doing a show about an affair. “It touched a nerve,” she said. “Part of it is that the marriages in this show to begin with were quite strong in different ways. It shows an affair can happen in a good marriage not just a broken marriage.”
With so many sliding doors to keep an eye on, Treem said she’s found the way to keep the storytelling on track is to “know the questions you’re asking” in order to avoid getting sidetracked by meaningless plot devices. “They should be large questions — existential questions so that you’re not actually going to be answering them,” she said.