The Affair was last year’s hottest drama, intriguing everyone by showing the titular tryst from the two lovers’ very different perspecives. This season (Showtime), we see the nasty fallout from the POV of all four leads, including that of ER vet Maura Tierney, who plays the jilted ex-wife.
How hard is it to play heavy, emotional scenes?
I’ve been in a situation where someone has cheated on me, so that’s going to feed the experience; then you find yourself stuck in that place, and that’s not always fun, but it was mostly really well-written. I just wanted to do justice to the words.
Sarah Treem co-created the show. Any benefits to working with a female showrunner?
In that last scene of season one, I get really upset and beg [Dominic West’s character] Noah to stay. And then the two of us kinda have sex, which is just weird because it’s like, ‘Why is she doing that?’ The two guys didn’t like it. Dom and the director felt that it made my character too humiliated, and I was, like, “Well, yeah.” I mean, that’s what should happen. She starts out up here and she ends up down here. And Sarah and I both had no problem with it, but the guys did. I was glad to have a woman there, because we’re the women, so if we think it’s OK—that’s nice.
If you could have an affair with anyone, who would it be?
Wouldn’t it be great if I’d had an affair with Jesus Christ? I would have learned a lot; I could debunk a lot of myths. He has a nice beard.
Anyone else you would have an affair with?
Christoph Waltz is amazing. I did have a really embarrassing moment at the Golden Globes where I touched him, and he turned around, and I said, “I’m just a really big fan.” And then, the other day, he was next to me on a plane, and I was like, Oh, shit. I touched you at the Golden Globes. I didn’t say anything, though; we didn’t talk. But I love him. I’d have an affair with him.
So how did you and Dominic West establish the rapport of a long-married couple?
Well, during the first table read, he called me “Laura.” He claims he didn’t, but I think he did. It’s like the show, ’cause he says it didn’t happen and I say it did. But we just got along. He’s really charming. He’s super-super-charming, and I think I’m pretty easygoing.
Did the different wardrobes for each perspective help you adjust your performance accordingly?
The stuff I wear in [the memories of side-piece] Alison is great; that stuff is so expensive, like it’s couture. You do behave differently when you know you’re wearing an $8,000 gown.
Your character comes from an extremely privileged background. How did you portray that but also make her accessible and human?
She’s this very lucky woman who has not really encountered major obstacles: She grew up wealthy and was popular and got the handsome husband and has her kids, and she can work and have her kids. It’s not her fault she hasn’t come up against any struggles, so that’s why I think she can still be a nice person. There are people like that who are annoying, but they’re still nice and you still like them. But what’s going to be interesting to me next year is what you do when you’re a person that has encountered no strife and, like, all of a sudden, the rug gets fully ripped out from under you. It’s easy to be fun and likeable when everything’s going your way, so what’s going to happen to her when it’s not?
It was refreshing to see her teenage daughter’s abortion handled in a relatively neutral, matter-of-fact manner. How did that come together?
On ER, we just couldn’t have done that. There was once a scene where a character who was something like three or four weeks pregnant got an injury, and they wanted to give her a CAT scan. And one doctor was like, “You can’t—she’s pregnant.” Then one of the other characters said, “It’s not even a baby yet.” That was the sentence. That had to be cut because of Broadcast Standards and Practices, and, like, that’s just somebody’s opinion. I’m not saying it’s the right one. [By comparison], this scene felt very mature.