There are two sides to every story and Showtime’s The Affair uses this adage to great effect, telling a tale of infidelity from the perspectives of both Noah—a married-with-kids author, played by Dominic West—and Alison, a bereaved waitress. Wilson has received critical acclaim for her portrayal of the tortured Alison, winning a Golden Globe for her efforts and moving from working actress territory into bona fide stardom. Wilson liked creators Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi’s split-view idea right off the bat, saying, “I thought it would be a really interesting acting challenge, that you get to play these versions of your own character. I thought that was very clever, and a really intelligent way of storytelling.” Shortly after the Globes, Wilson made her Broadway debut in Constellations opposite Jake Gyllenhaal, a role she describes as “going out into a boxing ring.” But despite the fighting analogy, Wilson earned a Tony nomination for her performance.
Allison remembers things differently from Noah. Would you be a good eyewitness?
I hope I would be. Certainly if a trauma or something major happens to you, I think it’s probably quite difficult. A lot of people blank out that memory because it’s so hard to go back to. So in a way, they are completely different versions, and Noah’s story and Alison’s story are very different. If you try and recall a moment with a friend or a lover or a family member, they’re always really different. It’s interesting. Sarah (Treem) says she asked her husband if he remembers their first date and what she was wearing and they had completely different versions. It’s really fascinating.
This is a tough show to watch with a partner—what makes it more uncomfortable than other shows centered around infidelity?
It’s the split perspective; it really hits a nerve. People can really relate to those moments where you’re viewing the same event differently, and that’s how those arguments form. Everyone has their own version of why they said something and when and how they said it—it comes up so frequently in relationships. And because you’re telling it from two quite different perspectives it’s constantly not having that one person that you trust. The audience is being forced to flip allegiances.
Both you and Dominic West are British doing very convincing American accents. And you share so many scenes. Do either of you ever veer off track with the accent?
Always. We both always veer off! But I try to stay in it as much as possible. Dominic doesn’t, so then I feel like a bit of a fool around him speaking in my American accent because I know he can see through it. It’s all a lie.
At the end of season one Alison and Noah are living their happily-ever-after—can that last?
Maybe. You hope so. I don’t know. The way the series is panning out, probably not. I mean, this has got to create drama for an audience so, no, they’re not going to be that happy, but you hope they would. I think they have their own issues, despite what happens at the end. The second season is about the consequences, where the first was the about the sin, Sarah says. The third season is the redemption.
In season two, we’ll get to hear Helen and Cole’s side of the story?
Yes, it’s really exciting because the whole story opens up and you see those consequences amongst more than just Alison and Noah. For me and Maura (Tierney, who plays Helen), these are great roles for women. We get to really explore women going through lots of trauma, but also in a way that men have really been analyzed before. It’s really exciting that we’ve had the opportunity.
Did winning a Globe for The Affair change how you felt going back for season two?
Not really. I mean, I think it gives everyone an air of confidence on the show a bit. It’s giving the show confidence. I think I will always search for work that challenges me in a way that I haven’t been challenged before, so I always try to look for stuff that kind of scares me. I think there is an element of working harder in those situations because you’re scared. But on the day-to-day of doing a scene, I don’t relax. I’m not going, “Never mind. That was rubbish.” I’m still going, “God, that could be better.”
Was Constellations on Broadway a challenging change of pace?
That was a major challenge! It’s just two actors on stage and you can jump through 65 scenes in just over an hour. You literally don’t have any point where you go off stage or where the scene changes. It’s literally bang, bang, bang. Once you’re up there, you’re going to ride a wave and get to the end, and it was incredible as an experience, and frightening. Every night was like going out into a boxing ring because you’re like, “I don’t know how this is going to go.” I think I probably lost a few years (of my life) doing it, but I love it. I love that exhilaration of life; nothing beats it, really.