The Affair isn’t a show you should watch with your significant other. With all the lying and cheating squeezed into literally every episode, not to mention those famously intense sex scenes, even the most trusting of partners will inevitably look over at their mate and wonder “Could you ever betray me like that?” Just ask self-proclaimed “enormous fan” and current series regular Jennifer Esposito, who took on the role of main Lothario Noah’s sister Nina in season two and calls the show’s knack for making you question everything “brilliant.”
For the uninitiated (hi, where have you been?), The Affair chronicles a steamy liaison between Noah and Alison, played by Dominic Cooper and Ruth Wilson, two very married people who blow up their lives and make an earnest attempt at a committed relationship of their own before a little murder scandal obliterates that, too. Phew. Enter season three, a decidedly darker direction for the show that jumps ahead a few years and picks up after Noah’s three-year stint in the clink for said murder with more mysteries and, happily, more frequent appearances by his scene-stealing sister.
We grabbed 10 minutes with Esposito, who returns to the show this Sunday Jan. 1 (Showtime) to chat about playing next of kin to one of TV’s most divisive philanderers, how she avoids spoilers and why the show is one of the most honest portrayals of human nature on TV.
You took on the role of Noah’s sister Nina for season two of The Affair. Had you watched season one? What were your expectations?
Oh my gosh, I was an enormous fan of the show and it came about because my manager actually called over to the production and said that if anything were to come up, it didn’t matter how big or how small, whatever it was, [to let us know], because I was just a crazy fan. So when they called and said they wanted me to do a scene with Noah and play his sister, I almost jumped out of my skin. I was like “What?! His sister?? Yes. Yes!”
Your scenes are typically relatively brief compared to the other characters, but they’re very emotional. How do you prepare?
I try to stay true to what the writers were trying to convey, but [you need to go into a scene] really open to move in a different direction that you didn’t think of.
What is the mood on set? It’s such a heavy show, but are there any moments of levity?
Absolutely. I remember we had a couple of tough, very layered scenes one day. My dressing room is next to Dominic’s and he came in and was singing and laughing. Then on set, everybody’s talking and just normal, and then when it’s rolling, we do the job.
How do you unwind after an emotional scene?
A glass of wine is always helpful. But I always end up beating myself up of like, “Oh, I hope that went the way that they wanted it to,” because I think it’s such a fantastic show that I just want to add to the experience.
It is such a fantastic show! I didn’t actually watch it until two months ago when I binged through the first two seasons in like a week, just obsessed.
Wooooow! Oh yeah, I know that feeling.
Sometimes after I watch a few episodes in a row, I’m like “Love isn’t real.”
I know, I know. You start to question everything. But that’s what I think is brilliant about the show and I wish we could have more of that out there. It’s called reality. It’s the sad truth but it is reality. People are flawed. And the more we keep pretending that we aren’t, the worse trouble we get into. People are good and they’re bad. They do great things and they do really shitty things, they’re just human, so I think it’s a very human portrayal of who these people are.
Are we ever going to learn more about Nina?
Things are not good in Nina’s life and I don’t think we see enough of that and hopefully we will. There’s a whole bunch of stuff going on for sure, why Noah and Nina have the relationship they do, we’ll find out a little bit more about that, but to tell you the truth, any scene that I wasn’t in I really didn’t read. I don’t want to spoil it for myself!
One of the biggest things that’s remarkably different and powerful about this season is Noah’s post-prison PTSD.
There are definitely things that he dealt with in his past that we’ll find out about. He has a past. Everyone does. Things go down in your life and it’s up to you to see how you’re going to cope and bring it into your future.
Is it fair to say the season is going to get even crazier? Will more secrets be revealed?
Oh, absolutely. The stuff that they’re writing this season, it’s like almost a different show. It’s incredible. It’s the same but it’s such smart, very brave, writing. And I think there’s no telling where they’re going to go next, the sky’s the limit. That’s one thing you can rely on—that you absolutely will not expect what’s coming.
Since you’re first and foremost a fan of the show, what’s an ongoing mystery you would love to see revealed?
I would love to see more of who Noah is because we don’t really know his family. I would love to see more of why Helen‘s hanging on, there’s something there.
Do you have a favourite character? Do you think any of the characters are beyond redemption?
I don’t think any of them are unforgivable. I think they’re human. They’re dealing with the really crazy circumstances of what they have done and then not done. It would be hard to choose, but I think Noah is so incredible to watch. I remember talking to Domenic about it a little bit when we were on set and I think maybe I’m the only female who doesn’t hate him. I kind of see why Noah went where he went. But Dominic was actually like “No, he’s an asshole!” That’s what’s great about the show is you really can have those conversations.
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