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Sarah Jessica Parker talks changing tone of HBO’s ‘Divorce’ season 2


Divorce season 2HBO

  • Sarah Jessica Parker explained why she and the writers
    brightened up the dark tone of her show, “Divorce,” for season
    two, which premieres Sunday night on HBO.
  • The actor and producer said that it was important to
    show a divorced couple that actually gets
    along.  
  • She’s confident in season two, but still wonders if
    they made the right narrative decisions by doing a time jump,
    which skips over a major event at the end of season
    one. 
  • Parker also discussed the benefits of working with a
    female showrunner, and on a more diverse set featuring more
    female directors. 

 

When Sarah Jessica Parker starts talking about her current HBO
show, “Divorce,” you can instantly tell she loves it the same way
many of her fans love her iconic HBO show, “Sex and the
City.” 

But it hasn’t exactly reached that status for the general public.
The first season had its moments, but even with a wealth of
talent, the show hadn’t found its voice yet. But in season two,
producer/star Parker and company figured it out — so much that
the season left me wanting more. And when I told Parker how much
I loved the season, she lit up.

HBO’s half-hour comedy “Divorce” follows of Frances (Parker) and
Robert Dufresne (Thomas Haden Church), a couple living
in the picturesque New York City suburb of Hastings on Hudson as
they go through a tumultuous divorce. They have a son and
daughter together, both teens.

The first season, which premiered on HBO in 2016, got mixed
reviews. It was a little darker than people were expecting, and a
bit superficial in its portrayal of a couple that hates each
other. And it ended on a sour note in its season finale: Frances,
who cheated on Robert and tells him she wants a divorce in the
first episode, plans to take their children away for the weekend
amidst arguments over custody. While Frances is driving on the
highway, she gets pulled over and arrested for kidnapping her own
children, who are in the car. Robert is the one who called the
police.

But “Divorce” is a story that Parker really believes in,
and her passion shows in season two. It’s a vast improvement from
season one. It’s more pleasant, funny, and takes advantage of its
talented cast, which includes Molly Shannon, Tracy Letts, and
Talia Balsam. It also surpasses the superficial elements that
brought down season one by showing a divorce that works because
the characters care about each other. 

Business Insider sat down with Parker at HBO’s New York
office in January and discussed the narrative choices for season
two (and whether or not they made they right ones), changing the
tone of the show without losing its voice, and the benefits of
working with a female showrunner.

Season two of “Divorce” starts on HBO Sunday, January
14. 

Carrie Wittmer: Season one was a lot darker than most
people expected, and ended on a very dark note. I loved season
two because it’s more comedic than season one, but feels like the
same show.

Sarah Jessica Parker: Ok, good. I’m so pleased.

Wittmer: The tonal shift wasn’t stark, which can happen
when other shows change things up a bit. What was it like
adjusting to a new, lighter environment on set? 

Parker: I think we all knew even before Jenny
[Bicks, who replaced Paul Simms as showrunner when he left over
creative differences] came on, that we couldn’t be completely
entrenched in battle, that this had to be this season of hope. We
looked at it as promise: Why do you liberate yourself from a
marriage when it’s that painful? What is the point? It’s because
you expect that there are other opportunities. My only concern
was the very thing that you said: I don’t want to do a bait and
switch, because it’s gonna look like we have no backbone. It
would look like we didn’t trust ourselves the first season, which
I did. I still like that darkness — I
personally love that, because it felt so cinematic to me and it
felt not like television in a lot of ways. I’m hopeful that just
even hearing you say it that we found a way to marry the two
without sacrificing the things that were important.  

Wittmer: Definitely. Season two shows that Frances and
Robert, who were hostile toward each all through season one, are
still kind of in love, and always will be in some way, but they
had to move on. What’s your favorite part of their
relationship?

Parker: My favorite part as an actor is just
being with Thomas [Haden Church]. That’s the truth. The hardest
part of season two was being separated from him. To have Thomas
taken away was really hard for me because the irony of divorce is
that the person you’re trying to separate from, you need the most
to complete this. You need the person to work alongside you. So
for me, the best part of their relationship is the time that we
got to be together in new ways. We had to figure it out and
experience it for the first time just like the audience. I like
that they are good together. I like that they have an involuntary
kind of chemistry, and a strange, inexplicable affection. 


Divorce season 2
Parker and Thomas Haden
Church in season two.

HBO

Wittmer: You opted to skip the divorce proceedings. The
second season has a slight time jump, which opens with Frances
and Robert signing divorce papers. Just like that, they’re done.
It’s very been there, done that. Was there a lot of debate over
whether or not to show the proceedings?

Parker: Oh, yes. So the first question was:
Where do we pick up? Is it 20 minutes later? Is it two weeks
later? Is it two months, six months? My great concern I had was
that we had to figure out a way how to address what happened on
the side of the highway. [In the season one finale, Frances takes
the kids away on a trip. Robert calls the police on her, claiming
the kids have been kidnapped. Police pull Frances over and arrest
her on the side of the highway with the kids in the car]. To not
do it, it felt lazy, almost like we couldn’t figure out how to do
it, that it was too complicated, that we had painted ourselves
into a corner. I kept assuming we were going to. So there was
that to hash out, and really have some very robust disagreements
about. And then there was, how much are we showing and telling?
And how much is necessary? None of us wanted a procedural.

Wittmer: I think it was the right decision. So many films
and shows have covered divorce proceedings. We already know what
happens.

Parker: I’m still not sure if we did right
by the highway. Like, we didn’t really deal with it. 

Wittmer: I liked how it wasn’t directly addressed. It was
a huge theme throughout the season that Frances and Robert love
each other so much that they put this horrible thing so far
behind them that we never even hear them mention it. Frances
could use it against him, but she never does. The decision to
leave it alone helped me understand their relationship, I
think. 

Parker: Ok, good. I was so worried

Wittmer: Don’t be. I really liked that. I love it when
shows don’t feel the need to address everything. It’s just
something that sits with you.

Parker: I just wanted to make sure it
didn’t look like we were just looking scared.

Wittmer: I didn’t get that impression at all. I know that
you, as a producer on the show, and HBO in general, are trying to
get more female directors and more diversity on set. I think
there were more female directors on season two than season
one.

Parker: Yes, there were.

Wittmer: Was there a different vibe on set compared to
some other projects you’ve worked on?

Parker: This has been something our company
[Pretty Matches] has been trying to do, not arbitrarily, because
I don’t think it’s very helpful when you put out the call, like
… “all women and people of color and diversity!” But we really
just want to look for the people that deserve to be storytelling
with you. And that means in all departments across the set, from
mixers to set dressing to the production office. It’s just good
for everybody. Personal experiences are shared in lots of ways:
they don’t just have to be shared in the writers room. It does
change the environment, it changes the climate, the tone of the
set. I’ve spent a lot of years in my career with women. And it’s
very pleasant, you know? And I think it’s good for us. It’s very
interesting when Jenny [Bicks] came on, I had never worked with
her as a showrunner. I’d only ever worked with her as a staff
writer on “Sex and the City.” But she came on and I was like,
“Damn, things just got done.” It’s so interesting to see a woman
running this show this way, because it was like the way I work —
we get it done! Get it done!

Wittmer: In this season, Frances had more scenes with her
friends. There’s not many shows that tell the stories of middle
aged men and women with lives outside of being mothers or
grandmas. 

Parker: Right, right. You’re right.


Divorce season 2
Parker with co-stars Molly
Shannon and Talia Balsam in season two.

HBO

Wittmer: Was this something you wanted to showcase in
season two? I would honestly watch a show just about Frances and
friends. 

Parker: Yeah. And we wanted even more. Not to
the exclusion of Thomas, but to find a way to let those stories
unfold a little bit more. I was SO
happy — I love Talia [Balsam] so much and
I love Molly [Shannon] so much and that was definitely an
enormously joyful part and I selfishly would’ve liked more.

You can watch the trailer for season two of “Divorce”
below. If you haven’t seen the first season, you can stream it on
HBONow or HBOGo.


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