Becki Newton on ‘Divorce’ Season 2 & Working with Thomas Haden Church
On Season 2 of the HBO series Divorce, Frances (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Robert (Thomas Haden Church) have been learning to navigate the aftermath of their separation and rebuild their lives independently while they co-parent. Focusing on careers, new relationships and finding ways to be happy again, with some time apart, they can actually start to remember what it was that they liked about each other.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actress Becki Newton (who plays Robert’s new love interest, Jackie, a single mother and successful career woman, in her own right) talked about how excited she was to join the series, being a huge fan of Sarah Jessica Parker, what most appealed to her about this role, comedy that comes from life’s uncomfortable moments, what she enjoys about Jackie and Robert’s relationship, how much she loves this cast, why this experience reminded her of her time on Ugly Betty, and the type of work she’s hoping to continue to do in her career.
Collider: How did you come to be a part of Season 2 of Divorce, and had you been familiar with the show prior to signing on?
BECKI NEWTON: I’m a huge fan of Sarah Jessica, as we all are, and I watched the show in Season 1. The last thought I ever would have is that I’d actually be on the show in Season 2, so when they offered it to me, I was so excited and so grateful, and it still all feels like a dream. Of course, I jumped at the chance and had the best time.
What was it about this show that most spoke to you?
NEWTON: I’ve done a lot of comedic work that’s broader and where the comedy comes from a broader place. I was really inspired, watching Season 1, by the tone. It was different from so many comedies I’ve seen. Every week, I kept getting to know more and more about these characters. I watched Sarah Jessica, and she’s so incredible and so in charge of herself. I just love watching her, as an actress. So much of it, for me, was being enthralled with the entire thing and how different it was from comedies I’ve seen and comedies I’ve done, in the past.
The funniest moments aren’t moments that are played for laughs. They’re the awkward and uncomfortable life moments.
NEWTON: I laugh more when I’m uncomfortable than when someone is telling a joke, and this show strangely matches the inner monologue that I have. It’s the comedy of discomfort, so you’re uncomfortable and you’re laughing, at the same time. I thought that was a really interesting combination.
Does it take the pressure off of you, as an actress, when you don’t have to set up the joke to ensure that you get the laugh?
NEWTON: 100%, and it reminded me so much of my experience on Ugly Betty, where so much of the comedy came from reaction and stillness. Even though that was such a broad show and it was so bright, I remember feeling that so much of the comedy had nothing to do with a joke you were hitting. It’s so strange to say, but I felt a similar connection to the comedy on the second season of Divorce.
What did you most enjoy about playing Jackie, and what were the challenges you found in playing her?
NEWTON: I was so grateful to be back in New York and so grateful that this job came up when it did that I just jumped in. I was so happy to see so many of the crew members I had worked with, so many years ago, on Ugly Betty. It felt like I was going back to a very familiar place. Even though I was joining Season 2 and these actors already knew each other, I just felt so lucky and I was so grateful. I remember my first table read, there was a little name tag that said, “Becki Newton,” and it was right next to Molly Shannon and right next to Sarah Jessica Parker. I kept thinking, “How did I get here? How did I get this lucky?” And as far as playing the character, I felt like she was a transplant. Jackie shows up in Season 2, not knowing anyone. She didn’t have a backstory. She’s plopped in with these characters, just like I was, as an actress. I didn’t find it difficult to fit in because Jackie didn’t really care if she fit in. She was just looking for a place for her and her daughter to stay. I kept that attitude of, “I’m not here to fit in,” the whole time. Jackie’s lack of apology is my favorite thing about her.
You have a very easy chemistry with Thomas Haden Church. Did that happen very naturally?
NEWTON: That was right away. The way he delivers his lines and the look in his eye when he delivers them, I find it very, very charming, and that probably translated. There’s nobody else like him, and I think he’s wonderful. Jackie’s fondness for Robert connected with my fondness for Thomas Haden Church. I think he’s just cool and different and unlike anyone else, certainly anyone I’ve ever worked with.
What do you most enjoy about the dynamic between Jackie and Robert?
NEWTON: It’s almost like they make no sense at all, so they make perfect sense. It doesn’t seem like they need much from each other, which is why it’s so appealing to them. Jackie has a career, she has a grown daughter, and she’s successful. She doesn’t really know why she likes him, but she can’t get enough of him. She’s just so fond of him, and that was really nice for me to play.
Were you ever worried that there relationship would fall apart, before the end of the season?
NEWTON: I really did join this show up for anything and I knew I was in such good hands with Jenny Bicks, the showrunner. I just trusted the whole thing. Wherever the character was gonna go was okay with me, and Jackie was just game to see where it goes.
Jackie seems like someone who knows who she is and what she wants in a way that Frances hasn’t because she’s been so busy focused on other people. Do you think her success, drive and focus works in a positive way for Jackie?
NEWTON: Yeah. Where Jackie might struggle is because she’s done everything on her own for so long. She’s raised a daughter and run her own business. How do you then become part of a partnership and relationship without it negatively impacting everything else. That’s something that she struggles with.
What does Jackie think of Frances and the fact that she’s Robert’s ex?
NEWTON: What’s great about the character is that, even though she’s a ball-buster and she’s not everyone’s cup of tea, she knows that this woman is such an important part of Robert’s past and of his children’s life. She doesn’t judge that. I love the fact that they didn’t create some rivalry, on Jackie’s end. Jackie is like, “I get that you have history. I’m not here to mess with that. I just really like Robert, and you guys are divorced.” I loved that it was more interesting than just the new girlfriend and ex-wife. They didn’t create a catfight. They just created comedy out of Frances’ discomfort with it. Jackie was forthright with how she approached Frances and wanted to get the discomfort out on the table. She had no problem addressing it. Of course, it’s uncomfortable.
How does Jackie feel about Robert’s kids?
NEWTON: We haven’t gotten to see too much of her interacting with his kids. Because Jackie is also the mother of a teenager, she understands how complicated it is. An appealing part of this character was that she doesn’t judge and she would never take anything away from Robert or Frances’ connection with the kids. I think she’s very respectful of that because she’s gone through it herself, with her own daughter.
Are you hoping to get to continue with this show, if we get a Season 3?
NEWTON: I would absolutely love that!
How did you find the experience of having a female showrunner on this show, with Jenny Bicks, especially with the previous relationship she has with Sarah Jessica Parker?
NEWTON: It was so classy and easy and supportive, and all of the things that, in your mind, you imagine something to be. It even surpassed that, and that started with Sarah Jessica. The first episode that I got to work with her, I just sat silently and watched her. The way she seems is the way she is. Everything I thought that she would be – polite, classy, generous, professional – she is, and what an example to be leading a set. I was blown away by her. And her easy, confident chemistry with Jenny Bicks really was a collaboration. Ideas were always so well thought out. I loved the environment. Absolutely loved it! I’ve been really lucky to work with some powerhouse females in my career, like Vanessa Williams and Judith Light, who have succeeded in this business, and when you see what good work ethic they have and how they treat the people around them, it’s such a wonderful thing.
You clearly admire Sarah Jessica Parker. When you see what she’s done with her career, as an actress and as a producer, does it inspire you to get more involved in the work that you’re doing?
When you’re on a TV series, you typically work with different directors on every episode, or every couple of episodes. Is that an adjustment for you, as an actor, especially when you’re the person who knows your character best, aside from the writers, or do you enjoy having those different voices?
NEWTON: The best part was that, on my first day, Wendey Stanzler was the director, and guess who directed multiple episodes of Ugly Betty and a few other shows I’ve done. It was an amazing gift that the person that directed my first introduction to the show, knew my work and knew what I was capable of. That was just another blessing, on this job, of comfort. I felt comfortable enough that I could play around and not feel self-conscious. Among all these people I’ve looked up to for so long, it just made me really confident to see her there. And the director of photography, Joe Collins, was the D.P. on Ugly Betty. So, the person literally behind the lens was someone who knew all my tricks from the Ugly Betty years, and still seems to like me. It was wonderful serendipity. It was the last thing I would have expected, so how great is that?
Is there a dream role that you’d love to play or a genre that you’d love to work in, but haven’t gotten the chance to yet?
NEWTON: I’m already living in that direction. In the past, I’ve done much broader comedy, and one thing I kept looking for was something that reflected more of my inner monologue and the things that make me laugh, whether it’s an eye roll or a glance. I’ve been looking for the comedy that resonates more with my sensibility, and this, to me, really matched with the sensibilities I’ve been looking to portray more. Jackie is still a very funny characters, but the humor is coming from a more grounded place, and I really enjoy that.
Divorce airs on Sunday nights on HBO.