'Divorce' Finds The Comedy In Calling It Quits

Oct 7, 2016
Originally published on October 17, 2016 7:19 pm

Sharon Horgan didn't let her intact marriage get in the way of creating her new HBO comedy series Divorce. "We made sure we had a couple of emotionally damaged, divorced people on the writing staff," she jokes with NPR's Kelly McEvers.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church play Frances and Robert, a middle aged couple whose relationship is crumbling. And Horgan says a lot of the frustrating moments in the show were inspired by real life.

"Ridiculous day-to-day things, I sort of scribble as I go sometimes," she says. "Or I'll remember something at night and I'll write it down."

Horgan talks with McEvers about why she chose this subject and how real-life moments made her characters relatable.


Interview Highlights

On why she wanted to tackle the subject of divorce

I'm a really nosy person and I think I realized that — while I knew some people who had been through it or going through it — I didn't really know the forensic, sort of in and out of it all. And I thought it would make funny and sad and terrifying viewing. And also it's a couple sort of beginning the end of something and feeling emotional and passionate about someone they hadn't felt anything for in years. So I thought it would be a good journey to chronicle.

On her 'make nothing up' rule

In a way, it gives you more scope to be brave because at least if you've experienced that situation, or that thought, or that experience ... it's just full honesty. And you put it out there and then you sort of ask people what they think. I think when it feels too ... constructed things sort of veer into sitcom land.

On whether one needs to be divorced to write about divorce

Amy Gravitt from HBO said that anyone who's been married could write about divorce and I think that's really true. It's certainly those feelings of wanting to cut someone's head off. ... It's therapy, though, right? It's really good to get these things out there, get them off your chest. ... I mean, a lot of what I've written over the years has either been pretty observational or borderline kind of confessional.

On why she doesn't write about her kids

I don't kind of go near that because I think when it comes to sort of writing about what grown adults have got up to is one thing, and they might recognize that, but using anything that feels remotely like at any stage my kid might watch and go, 'Hang on that's me.' ... I wouldn't risk that.

On how writing the show has affected her feelings about divorce

I guess if it's done anything it's made me want to avoid it all the more. And I think hopefully anyone watching will feel the same. I don't think anyone watching our show will think, 'I should give that a go.'

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Divorce is usually not funny, but then there's the way Sharon Horgan writes about a marriage that's falling apart.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DIVORCE")

THOMAS HADEN CHURCH: (As Robert) When did it start to go off the tracks in your mind?

SARAH JESSICA PARKER: (As Frances) I don't know, I - well, perhaps when you grew the mustache.

CHURCH: (As Robert) You said you liked the mustache.

PARKER: (As Frances) Yeah, I know. Look, I'll get there eventually.

MCEVERS: That's Sarah Jessica Parker with Thomas Haden Church in the new HBO series "Divorce." It is written by Sharon Horgan, who also stars in and co-writes the hit Amazon series "Catastrophe." And Sharon Horgan joins us now from London. Welcome.

SHARON HORGAN: Hi.

MCEVERS: Hi.

HORGAN: How are you?

MCEVERS: Good. So divorce, it's not something that's usually chronicled in such detail as the pilot to this show suggests it will be. You know, characters usually post-divorce or it's something that just isn't talked about all that much. Why did you want to tackle divorce?

HORGAN: Well, I think because I'm a really nosy person. And I think I realized that while I knew some people who had been through it or, you know, were going through it, I didn't really know the forensic sort of in and out of it all. And I thought it would make funny and sad and terrifying viewing.

And also, you know, it's a couple sort of beginning the end of something and feeling emotional and passionate about someone they hadn't sort of felt anything for in years. So I just thought that would be a good journey to chronicle.

MCEVERS: I want to talk about your writing process a little bit. I had read somewhere that you have a rule, and that rule is make nothing up, like, take real-life experiences and then put them into your shows. Is that true? And if so, why?

HORGAN: (Laughter) Well, kind of in a way it gives you more scope to be brave, you know, because at least if you've experienced that situation or that thought or that experience, you kind of go, you know, it's just full honesty and you put it out there and then you sort of ask people what they think.

I think when it feels too sort of constructed, things sort of veer into sitcom land just that little bit more, you know? So, I mean, I'm not divorced.

MCEVERS: Right.

HORGAN: But we made sure we had a couple of emotionally damaged divorced people on the writing staff.

MCEVERS: I think it's what critics like so much about "Catastrophe" is you watch some of these things happen (laughter) and you're just like there's no way that that could be made up. It's just so weird and strange and funny, like, it...

HORGAN: (Laughter) Yeah.

MCEVERS: ...Must have actually happened. And when it comes to "Divorce," this new show, you haven't actually been through a divorce, but are there things you're taking from your life anyway?

HORGAN: Oh, yeah.

MCEVERS: Yeah.

HORGAN: Like, loads of it.

MCEVERS: Do you have an example?

HORGAN: (Laughter) Just the general feeling (laughter).

MCEVERS: Wasn't there something about...

HORGAN: Just the general feeling of being disappointed.

(LAUGHTER)

MCEVERS: Let's be honest, right?

HORGAN: But Amy Gravitt...

(LAUGHTER)

HORGAN: It's all right. I say that kind of thing to my husband all the time. He's, like, used to it now.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

HORGAN: Amy Gravitt from HBO said that, you know, anyone who's been married could write about divorce, and I think that's really true.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

HORGAN: It's certainly those feelings of wanting to cut someone's head off...

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

HORGAN: ...You know, are - they're there.

MCEVERS: Well, there's a moment in the pilot - right? - where she's, like, describing in vivid detail how she wanted to harm him when he threw her laptop out the window or something.

HORGAN: (Laughter) Yeah.

MCEVERS: Is that a little bit...

HORGAN: Yeah.

MCEVERS: ...Familiar for you?

HORGAN: That's - yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

HORGAN: Yes. Oh, yes.

MCEVERS: So what I want to know then is like...

HORGAN: It's therapy though, right? It's really good to get these things out there, get them off your chest.

MCEVERS: Get them off your chest, sure, but on television where millions of people are watching, including, I would imagine, your husband, who's like, you know...

HORGAN: (Laughter) He knows it keeps me - he knows it makes me happy.

MCEVERS: But does he get - I don't know - does he get weirded out? Like, wait a second that happened in my life.

HORGAN: Well, I think he's kind of used to it now. I mean, a lot of what I've written over the years has either been pretty observational or borderline kind of confessional. So, you know, it just goes with the territory, you know.

MCEVERS: He doesn't say, like, honey, do we need - do we have to talk?

HORGAN: (Laughter).

MCEVERS: Like, is there something we need to talk about?

HORGAN: Well, you know, sometimes I see it in his eyes.

MCEVERS: I want to play another clip from "Divorce." There's this scene between Sarah Jessica Parker's character - her name's Frances - with the girl who plays her teenage daughter. She's taking her daughter to drop her off at the school bus, and she's making sure that she's brushed her teeth.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DIVORCE")

PARKER: (As Frances) Lila, come here and let me smell. No, no, they are not.

STERLING JERINS: (As Lila) They are.

PARKER: (As Frances) Well, they are not brushed properly. So great, well done, all right? Your breath stinks.

STERLING: (As Lila) Why are you being such a [expletive]?

PARKER: (As Frances) Don't you dare - all right, you know what? Everything is cancelled for you this week and next. Everything.

MCEVERS: (Laughter) Anybody who has kids can recognize a moment like this where you're just being such a - you know, just making mistakes. Is this - you have two daughters, right?

HORGAN: Yes.

MCEVERS: Is this something you fear, your children not liking you?

HORGAN: (Laughter) Well, I mean, what happens directly after that clip is that she just backtracks and honestly...

MCEVERS: (Laughter) Yes.

HORGAN: ...And just wants her love back.

MCEVERS: Goes to the bus, knocks on the window and says I'm so sorry.

HORGAN: Yeah.

MCEVERS: I didn't mean it.

HORGAN: Yeah.

MCEVERS: I'm not cancelling everything.

HORGAN: Yeah. I think it's just that sort of thing of having a bad day, and in this case having the worst of days. And as much as you try, and as good as a parent as you hope you are, it's very hard to not let that impact on how you operate.

MCEVERS: What's so interesting about it, too, though, is that this - it's this, like, very common anxiety that I think people have. I wonder if you're in your own life and you're like something grim or terrible is happening to you, but you're also - like, do you just have this ability to see the funny in it when it - when things like this happen?

HORGAN: No.

MCEVERS: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

HORGAN: Not - I mean, not when it's happening. It's more sort of, you know, with hindsight or in retrospect kind of thing. No. I mean, I hope I'm not such a donkey that I sit around...

MCEVERS: No, no, I didn't mean it like that.

HORGAN: You know.

MCEVERS: No, no, no. Just more like - yeah.

HORGAN: No, no, no, I'm being - I'm just trying to be funny.

MCEVERS: OK.

HORGAN: No, it's not like - I think when it's smaller things, when it's sort of ridiculous day-to-day things, I sort of scribble as I go sometimes or I'll remember something at night and write it down. But - and the other thing is, like, stuff with your kids is generally on the whole I don't kind of go near that, you know? Because I think when it comes to sort of writing about what grown adults have got up to is one thing, and they might recognize that, but kind of using anything that feels remotely - like, at any stage my kid might watch and go hang on, that's me. I kind of feel like that's not an area I want to...

MCEVERS: Right.

HORGAN: I wouldn't risk that.

MCEVERS: You know, in doing - you talked about how, like, anyone who's married has had thoughts about divorce in some way. Do you feel like writing about this and writing about this relationship between these two characters, you know, has changed you, like, has helped you think about things in a different way?

HORGAN: (Laughter) What, now that I've seen what a nightmare it is.

MCEVERS: (Laughter). Yeah.

HORGAN: I don't think I ever thought it was anything but - I don't think I ever thought it was anything but a nightmare. No, I mean, I guess if it's done anything, it's made me want to avoid it all the more (laughter). And I think hopefully anyone watching will feel the same. I don't think anyone watching our show will think I should give that a go.

(LAUGHTER)

MCEVERS: The divorce rates in the states are going to go down after this (laughter).

HORGAN: (Laughter) I hope so. Wouldn't that be lovely? Wouldn't that be a nice thing?

MCEVERS: Well, Sharon Horgan, thank you so much.

HORGAN: You're welcome, thanks for taking the time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.