Currently in its third season, Hulu’s standout original comedy series Casual is notable for its unique exploration of familial tensions, but also for its portrait of teenage life today, as seen through the lens of Laura (Tara Lynne Barr)’s experience.
Season 3 follows up on previously established questions about Laura’s self-destructive patterns and shifting dynamics in her dysfunctional family, which leave her more alone and less self-assured than we’ve ever seen her.
Speaking with Deadline, Barr discusses Laura’s emotional journey in Season 3, a complicated new love in her life, and the experience of a season driven by female directors.
What were your thoughts, reading the scripts for Casual’s third season?
I was very pleased, just to start. I was trying to weasel information out of Zander for a while, and he just said that it was going to be maybe a slightly funnier season. He wasn’t wrong—they were really funny episodes. But I was also surprised at how deep they dug, especially in regard to Laura and the relationship with her mom. I didn’t expect him to go there, but I’m really happy that he did.
The way Laura’s sexuality is continually explored and teased out seems unique, as far as teenagers portrayed on television.
She’s really an enigma, as far as her sexuality goes. But I think she’s not uncommon with a lot of teenagers these days—especially girls, living in a big city.
She probably views sexuality as something that’s very fluid—it’s not about the label that you put on somebody. If you say that you’re just straight, or just gay, and somebody walks into the room that happens to shake that up, are you really going to limit the possibility of a relationship with that person, just because they’re the opposite gender, or the same gender as you?
I think with this season, you will find that as far as Laura’s relationship with this woman is concerned, of course, she’s physically attracted to Casey because she’s f*cking beautiful. But I think at the same time, she wants to be her somehow and wants her to be her mom.
She finds this person who could potentially be just a mentor, and she winds up in this emotional, mental relationship with this woman that’s not physical.
Keeping the relationship non-physical seems like the more interesting choice.
Yeah, I thought so too. I remember them telling me at the beginning of the season that I would enter into a pseudo-relationship with an older woman, and I was kind of like, I wonder if it’s just going to be like “Oh, she’s going through a phase, this experimental teenager thing again.”
Which is not untrue—it’s a reality for a lot of teenagers—but you have a lot more questions about it when you’re like, “Uh, they’re not f*cking? What are they both getting out of it?”
What do you think about the availability of quality roles for younger actors these days?
I think it’s getting a lot better—I’m not saying that we’re this disenfranchised group or anything, but I think it is getting a lot better. It’s not that they don’t exist, obviously, but I think the ones that treat the teenage girl or boy with the respect and dignity that teenagers deserve, those are rarer.
That’s one of the things with Laura that was so exciting when I first read the part. She was constantly surprising me—she had depth, and she was very multifaceted. I thought that was awesome.
I can’t think off the top of my head of other teenage girl roles that are similar—that’s not a dig or anything, I literally can’t think of any. But I think the tide is turning in a pretty good direction. I think as long as we keep hiring women to write and produce and direct series, you’re going to find a lot more female roles in general, but also teenage girl roles that are more well rounded and realistic.
An amazing roster of female directors came through Casual in Season 3. What was it like working with them?
We had Lynn Shelton on to direct the first episode, which is great. I love her, and she works really fast, so the crew loves her, too.
We also had Carrie Brownstein coming in for Episodes 2 and 3, which was really exciting for everyone on set because a lot of us are Portlandia fans, and a few of us are Sleater-Kinney fans. Zander revealed to us that she was a fan of the show, which was exciting.
What I love most about this director system that we have is that it’s a half-hour comedy. They’re directing two episodes, they’re there for two weeks, which is a good chunk of time to get to know the director. And they also all direct in their own specific languages, whether it’s spoken or unspoken.
Lake Bell is really good friends with Michaela [Watkins], and that was a fun energy to have on set. She was very cool and funny, and chill, and she was super pregnant, which was also a fun, weird energy to have on set. I like having pregnant women on set, I don’t know why. It’s a very calming influence.
Louie Anderson recently told me a true mother-son story centering on a table, and a table becomes a big point of conflict between Laura and Valerie this season. What’s the subtext there?
It definitely, to me, is slightly symbolic of Valerie’s mental space. Like, I need everything to be perfect, I need to have a table in the dining room, because what else is a dining room there for? There needs to be order; I need to get my life together.
I think, as far as Laura is concerned, as evidenced in that scene where she goes to the party with this guy that she meets at this grocery store, she’s really envious of his family. You can sense that she is longing, to use a gooey word, for a sense of community, and love, and warmth that she doesn’t have with her family.
I think maybe she looks at the table and thinks to herself, why the f*ck do we need this table? It’s the two of us. We never sit down and eat meals together. You’re never home, you’re always going out and about. And I don’t have people over; I don’t have friends.
I truly think Laura can sense that her mom’s obsession with the table is more of an extension of her poor, weird mental space that she’s in.
Laura’s more alone than ever this season. What’s your take on the emotional journey she’s going through?
At the beginning of the season, she’s in a really bad place, because she got fully dumped. He had a good reason to dump her, I’d say, but she’s still upset about it. She still has that ugly ass tattoo that she wants to get rid of.
There really is a pattern—emotional intimacy is not her forte. It’s not for Alex either, and probably Laura picked up on that a bit when they were living together. I also think, just as a kid, Laura was probably weirdly touchy about emotional intimacy through watching her parent’s unhappy marriage.
She goes out and she gets behind a cause, and you think, “Oh, great. She’s setting herself up for good things to happen to her. She’s going to make some money, she’s going to get her tattoo removed, maybe she’ll meet some friends through the process.”
You can just assume based on the show that we’ve made that it doesn’t end terribly well. I think this season, in particular, she’s struggling with the fact that she’s watching her mother trying to put the pieces back together, and Laura is like, well, just because I’m smart, and approaching adulthood, it doesn’t mean that I don’t need a mom—it doesn’t mean that I don’t need you to be invested, or focused on my life at all.
Laura is becoming increasingly aware of the ugliness that’s gone on in her family’s past. I mean, just look at her family. She’s got these grandparents that she’s been told all her life were awful, and they weren’t present in her life because her mom wanted to keep them out of her life. And then she meets her grandparents, and they have this terrible Thanksgiving, and then they kill her grandpa.
Then, all she has is Valerie and Alex, both dealing with their own dysfunctional sh*t. And her dad, who is off with this much younger woman, and has revealed that they’re trying to get pregnant, so she feels like he’s emotionally moved on from her.
She feels very alone in the universe.
When Laura signs up for a scientific study to make a little money, we really see her crack for one of the first times. How did you approach that scene?
I don’t think she was expecting it at all—she’s very insulated.
I don’t think Alex would think it was weird that she was put on birth control when she was 12. Laura thought her mom was just trying to make sure that everything was kosher and cool, and she wasn’t getting pregnant.
But I think when she’s confronted with that fact in such a cold, clinical setting, and she can look at it really objectively, I think it does trouble her. It causes her to re-evaluate whether or not her mom was all that great of a mom.
Casey chisels in a couple more cracks in that exterior. Casey makes it even more glaringly obvious that her relationship with her mother is not wrong, but unconventional, in a not-so-great way, and that maybe it has affected her ability to connect with people.
You get to sing this season, in a particularly poignant moment. Did you go into a studio to record your vocal part?
They actually recorded it on site while we were doing the scene. They gave me one take where they played the song so everybody could hear so I could sing along. Then, they were like, “All right, now that we’ve got that out of the way, we’re just going to put a little bug in your ear so we can get a clean take for sound.” So that’s what you’re hearing—just me, on set.
It was super embarrassing, because the rest of the takes, only I could hear the playback. I was singing a capella, and everybody else is just standing around with boom mics, watching me sing. It was very uncomfortable for me.
I’m not hung up on the fact that I don’t like singing in public. I used to do live theater as a kid, so I feel like I should be more comfortable with it, but I’m just not.
But it was fine—that song is so beautiful. It’s one of the great songs, to me.
What were the biggest challenges you faced this season?
I think this season relied a lot on my face, just emoting without words. And I like to talk—I don’t know if that’s clear. Casual is such a quick, wordy show, but I think it’s so strong where it’s silent. The words are obviously hilarious and great, but I also think the moments of silence are very powerful and say almost as much as the wordier parts.
Even Laura’s most climactic scene of the season, in the last episode, I think it’s like an eighth of a page. It’s very short, but there’s so much going on in one particular beat. That was probably the hardest thing to shoot, for me, this season. Hopefully, it pays off.