Sarah Treem’s biggest surprise to date as to viewer reaction to her Showtime drama The Affair has been about the “general outrage” that the series is about an affair. “It was kind of surprising,” she acknowledged to New York PaleyFest attendees this evening.
The series tackles an affair between a schoolteacher/frustrated novelist (Dominic West) and a waitress (Ruth Wilson) grieving over the death of her child, from each of their perspectives. This second season, the perspectives of their respective spouses (Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson) further complicate the storytelling.
Treem said she’d expected some people to push back at how she portrayed incidents differently from the male and female perspective. Instead, people got knicker-knotted about the affair itself. “Yeah, we weren’t trying to hide that,” she joked. “It’s the name of the show.” She thinks people got uncomfortable when they realized the characters having the affair were both in marriages that “to begin with, were quite strong in different ways. … What is threatening is that affairs can happen in a good marriage, not just in a broken marriage.”
As had happened when the actors and Treem came to TCA in July 2014, West seemed to be having the most fun onstage and thoroughly charmed his audience. Noting his Noah Solloway character has gotten the worst of the knicker-knottedness Treem mentioned, he joked, “Yeah, everyone hates Noah.”
As Noah and Tierney’s Helen Solloway divorce, and her perspective is incorporated into the second season, viewers will see how, from Helen’s point of view, Noah is this “total asshole.”
“From Noah’s point of view, he’s a reasonable, rational guy,” West continued. “It’s like playing two different characters, and that’s the strength of the show – what’s fun about acting in it.” Asked if he has to constantly remind people Noah is a character, not him, West replied emphatically, “Yes!” getting more laughs.
Asked to describe Noah, West said: “It’s obviously very different – but like me. He lives in the city and doesn’t have a proper job, and he’s got too many children – and it’s me.”
“I’d better do an accent to differentiate it,” he continued, as attendees lapped him up. This season, he and Noah differ in that Noah “essentially gets everything he’s ever dreamed of and is an enormous success, which is where our two lives have diverged slightly,” West joked. “So I’m enjoying playing that!”
Meanwhile, Jackson’s Cole Lockhart character is getting married again this season, “Because it worked out so well the first time,” Jackson joked. He said he appreciates that his character’s perspective is being developed this season because last season his character was “only told through other people’s eyes. In the pilot, the first two times we meet Cole could not be further apart. He’s either having consensual sex with his wife – or raping a stranger over a car.”
When a member of the audience who identified himself as a divorce lawyer in Connecticut said he’s had clients come to him with suspicions their spouse is having an affair because of things they’ve seen in the Showtime series, Jackson shot back “Do we get a commission?”
Asked by the lawyer if they think people are more aware of what their spouses are up to because of the show, Jackson joked, “If you’re so paranoid about your spouse that a TV show is what’s tipping you over the edge, it’s probably not the TV show.”
Snarked Tierney, “We’re killing in the divorce community!”