Thomas Haden Church on the End of ‘Divorce’, Returning to TV, & How the Landscape’s Changed

     August 2, 2019

From creator Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe) and executive producer Liz Tuccillo (Sweetbitter), the final season of the HBO series Divorce has continued to follow Frances (Sarah Jessica Parker, who is also an executive producer on the series) and Robert (Thomas Haden Church, who is also a producer) in their post-divorce lives, as they find themselves going in unexpected directions that actually bring them closer together. Whether it’s navigating co-parenting, sorting out their love lives, or dealing with their mutual friends, Frances and Robert come to terms with the fact that life is about the good and bad times, and the chaos, tears and laughter in between.

During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Thomas Haden Church talked about the journey for Robert and Frances over the three season of the show, how much he’s liked his character from the beginning, working with co-stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Becki Newton and Amy Sedaris, the evolution of television since his time on Wings and Ned and Stacey, and what draws him to a particular project.

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Image via HBO

Collider: There’s been a real evolution for all of the characters on this show, from season to season. How did it feel to go into Season 3, playing him, at this point in his life, and how does it also feel to know that this is where you’ll be leaving him, since it’s the last season?

THOMAS HADEN CHURCH: The departure is very comfortable. We had a strong suspicion that it was likely to be the last six episodes. It wasn’t confirmed while we were shooting, but it was not terribly long after that, that we knew that it was most likely not going to happen for another season. And so, all of that was in the ether, creatively. When my conversations began, with our showrunner, Liz Tuccillo, last year, way before stories were broken, there was always that, “Well, if this is going to be the end of this family’s story, what dynamics would you like to leave the audience with?” Everybody was in agreement that they wanted it to be hopeful, with the family looking forward. The first season was just so littered with betrayal and deception, and everything else that went on, on her side and my side, and the stuff that was revealed, along the way. It just was such a pitched battle. And then, in the second season, we were in repair, with the code red stuff, for the most part, gone. For me, it was always about the family. They were friends, they were romantic, they fell in love, they got married, and they started a family. All of that is a very traditional evolution of a relationship into a family.

For me, what was the most painful was this family being torn apart, in the first season, and then, the reparations of that in the second season. At the end of the second season, Robert was in the relationship with Jackie, the kids were pretty balanced with everybody’s life moving forward, and Frances did have a relationship, but it didn’t work out. There were hints of maybe a whole other thing with this big art dealer in New York, and that was definitely implicit, but for whatever reason, they decided not to pursue that storyline. The stories that everybody were creatively out in front of was just that we wanted the family back together, but in a way that Robert and Frances are still gonna have their separate journeys as adults, but as a family, they’re intact. They’re back to being friends. Whatever that builds into, together or apart, they’re gonna remain friends because that’s what creates a healthy environment for the kids and for them, as a family. And so, I was really happy that they’re a working unit, once again. They’re a positive, productive team, once again. We always figured the journey, from the beginning to where we ended up, at the 24th episode, was somewhere between two and three years. That would be a realistic period of time for them to get to get to where they are in that 24th story.

That makes sense because, in real life, life and relationships aren’t perfect. They change and evolve into the next version of themselves. The way things feels more like real life than if you’d stuck a big bow on it.

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Image via HBO

CHURCH: From the very beginning, with it being branded Divorce, I don’t think anybody was ever thinking, “This is definitely going to go six seasons.” I always saw it as a movie, each season. The storytelling became tighter and tighter and tighter because you know all of the characters, and you know, for the most part, what to expect, with how Frances or Robert is going to handle a situation, emotionally. What I really liked about it is that, as the storytelling got tighter, it also got lighter. The way the show was, the first season, was very much the way that Sarah Jessica [Parker] and I wanted it to be. Sharon Horgan and Paul Simms, and HBO, were like, “Yeah, let’s see. There’s the dark and the light.” There’s the ugly, but at times, there were flashes of why these people were in love once. You’ve gotta get through the doom of tearing a family apart. Things evolve, they devolve, and they revolve. I think that we explored it pretty thoroughly, and we’re all pretty satisfied with, if this is it, being good with that. And then, we got that official word. I didn’t feel a cascade of disappointment. After the second season, I felt like it wasn’t done. We left it in an open place, and I did not feel like he was done. I would’ve been more disappointed, if it ended after the second season.

Is this a character that you’ve liked from the very beginning, or is he a character that you grew to like more than you did, initially?

CHURCH: No, I liked him from the beginning. I did. I liked the darkness. I liked the battling. Those will endure as some of my favorite scenes with SJ, in the therapist’s office and battling, and putting on airs and graces with the kids, that everything was okay. We couldn’t really do that with our friends because they witnessed the derailment, straight out of the station, so we didn’t really ever make any overtures with our friends, but we definitely had to put on a bit of a charade for the kids. But as we moved into our separate lives in the second season, I was like, “Wait a second, I have fewer scenes with SJ.” And then, in Season 3, I had even fewer, but that’s the nature of it. I knew, ultimately, that it was gonna have to be that way, and we were gonna have to move apart, as divorced people should, unless they immediately fall in love again, and renew their vows or get married all over again.

You do have some great moments with Sarah Jessica Parker this season, and with Becki Newton, who I was really happy to see as a series regular this season, and you even have some memorable moments with Amy Sedaris. What did you most enjoy about working with all three of those women, who are clearly all very different actresses?

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Image via HBO

CHURCH: I’ve known SJ for a good while. We did a picture together, a long time ago now. With SJ, I admired her and I did get to work with her, years before we did Divorce, so I came into the show fully anticipating what I knew would be really exciting and thrilling, to go toe-to-toe with her. Becki, I wasn’t familiar with. I had watched a lot of casting videos, and we narrowed it down to about a half dozen actresses, and then, we did chemistry reads. They were all wonderful actresses, but Becki just completely separated herself. It was just Becki’s personality, but there’s something very calming about her, and she brought that, even though, at times, Jackie could be high strung, which clearly demonstrates Becki’s range, as an actress. I really felt like that unspoken dynamic was really necessary in Robert’s life, at that point. He meets somebody who’s outwardly tough, but at the same time, could be very nurturing, and she hadn’t had romance in her life in awhile, and it was this odd click, as a rebound to Frances. And then, Amy Sedaris is playing a whole other sport. Don’t bring nail clippers to a knife fight. You’ve gotta be absolutely at the top of your game when Amy comes striding onto set. She’s just such a comic genius, and I use that term sparingly. She’s so lightning quick. She doesn’t change a lot of dialogue, but she just manages to get in a zip on her fastball, that you didn’t see coming. Amy Sedaris is something else. What’s really lovely about Amy is that when she comes out of that tornadic spin, there’s a frailty there. With Amy, you just have to buckle in. She’s terrific. They’re just such individual actresses.

You’ve done other TV series before, but TV has changed quite a bit, since Wings and Ned and Stacey. After having had this experience, doing a shorter season on a cable network and not having the restrictions on content, do you think you’d do it again? Are you interested in doing another TV project?

CHURCH: I was out at it for a good while and I realized, when Ned and Stacey went off the air, it was the spring of ‘97, and by the time Divorce aired, it was the fall of ‘16, so I’d been out of series television for 20 years. By the time it aired, we’d already done a full season and we were ramping up to start the second one, but it is different. The gender landscape is, for sure, different. Wings was absolutely male dominant. Ned and Stacey was a little bit less so, but most of the writers’ room was dudes and the directors were dudes. On Wings, I was on that show for six years and I don’t remember a woman writer. I do know that we had a few women directors and producers. So, the gender landscape has transformed, and that’s terrific. There’s nothing worse than two male egos trying to dominate each other, on a movie or TV set, or in a writers’ room. And so, in that regard, it’s changed a lot, from the ‘90s to 2019. It was so far over to the male side, and now, we’re hearing women, creatively, loud and clear. It’s good for the industry, it’s good for society, and it’s good for humanity. We’ve just gotta keep fighting forward.

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