One of the main creative messages from Showtime’s “The Affair” is that we all believe we are good people … at least through our own rose-tinted view of our lives’ events.
Creatored by Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi, the first season of the marital drama used the springboard of a murder investigation to allow for writer/teacher Noah Solloway (Dominic West) and waitress Alison Bailey (Ruth Wilson) to reflect on how they remember engaging in an affair and eventual relationship that dissolved both of their marriages. In the second season, their spouses Helen (Maura Tierney) and Cole (Joshua Jackson) get to show their takes on the separation as the audience still grapples with with the unsolved homicide.
For Helen, this means dialing up the chill factor and being less afraid of flaunting the wealth she’s received from her successful author father, played by John Doman. She’s also more willing to experiment, be it by smoking an e-cig in public or rebounding with the closest man she can find. Here, Tierney talks to Variety about how her character is coping with her broken marriage, if she’s satisfied with the murder mystery’s big reveal and if those flashback scenes can be trusted.
I’m totally Team Helen. I was Team Cole too and then he pointed a gun at a kid in the first season’s finale, at least according to the story Ruth Wilson’s character tells us.
Well, we don’t know if that happened…
You think even that is open to interpretation?
That episode was really hard to shoot. I exempted myself because I’m not really in it, but there was lots of talk about how dramatic it was and where it went and where it was taking the characters. Although, for me, Helen’s best moment is in that scene when she says to Mare Winningham [who plays matriarch Cherry Lockhart] “OK, this is all too f–ed up for me.”
We shot it twice. But I think, for me, if Alison needs to remember it in a way that she saved Noah’s life, I understand that. Maybe she did. But maybe Cole wasn’t going like this [motions like she’s waving a gun] when it happened.
Do you think that there was an actual confrontation?
With this show, everything is true and everything is not true. Everybody is telling the story as best as they can remember it. I don’t think there’s a lot of non-truthtelling, even though the perspectives are wildly different.
Here’s what I know from a storytelling point of view: Sarah wanted to make sure that we all knew that Noah and Alison loved each other and she’s willing to literally step in front of a gun for Noah. That’s what she wanted to achieve narratively. I think what she says about live, eyewitness events is true. I think people make themselves heroes when they need to or victims when they need to.
Where you excited to share Helen’s point-of-view this season?
I was. I liked the episode a lot when I read it. The thing I like about Helen is, I think, she has a good sense of humor. Of the four of them, she’s the only ironic one. I was happy to see, as messed up as she is, they’re putting a lot of humor in her breakdown.
That sex scene with Josh Stamberg’s Max in the first episode of Season 2 is so painful to watch.
Hopefully it’s a little funny, too.
I read it and he’s so cringey how he’s making love to her. Josh Stamberg was very committed to it. What I realized in rehearsal is [Helen’s] trying to do this appalling sex talk with him, so she begins by trying to connect because they’re having sex and wants to do the thing he likes to do when they’re having sex. From not rolling her eyes about it from the very top, you can see she’s attempting to give it a go.
Did you and Sarah talk about why Helen chose to rebound with Max, who is her husband’s best friend?
In Sarah’s mind, the three of them were together all the time and there was a question of who Helen was going to be with (which, in Helen’s mind, there was not). She’s very close with him. She’s known him for 20 years. He’s had a thing for her for 20 years. He’s a safe person who really digs her, which I think feels good when you’re feeling raw and lost and left. But she can’t fix her problems with a man, certainly not this man.
I think, hopefully, we lay some track for that last year. He tells Noah [in Season 1] “don’t leave her.” I think it will be surprising, but the idea being if someone wants you and you’re alone…
Were there character things you added in?
I wanted her to repress or hide her money in Season 1 because it made him so uncomfortable, but once he’s gone I said, “I want a big Rolex and I want big fancy bags.” Not that this is going to lead her to happiness at all, it’s just a way of saying “f– you” to him. A part of the problem is the wage inequality in the marriage. I did want to show in her POV that she has overly flashy stuff to make up for whatever.
Helen’s wardrobe has also changed considerably this season and it always changes from each person’s point of view. Tell us about the thinking behind that.
Caroline Duncan is the costumer and she’s really great at her job and she has a lot to do because it’s everybody’s perspective. What she decided for Helen’s own POV is that nothing kind of fits. The pants are too tight or the shirt or dress is too tight; she’s not on her game.
In Season 1, I was way more stylish in Alison’s POV with really nice designer clothes and very austere. I was much more down to earth and hippie mom in Noah’s POV.
The murder mystery seems to be coming more into focus in Season 2.
Yes and we’ll have more of a reveal that comes into focus. By the end of Season 2, everybody knows who did it. It won’t be dragged on and the audience won’t be forced to not know.
Are you OK with who the killer is?
I think the audience will be very satisfied.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Helen did it and framed Noah.
Wow! I didn’t even think of that. Wouldn’t that be interesting? Because then she’s like Iago. She’s too high. She smokes pot all the time — another detail that I love.
”The Affair” airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime.