Sarah Jessica Parker’s New Collaborator Sharon Horgan On Divorce & Catastrophe

Photo by Steve Meddle/REX USA
Sharon Horgan, who co-writes and stars as Sharon in the Amazon series Catastrophe, felt her “maddest” when she was pregnant. “You really think you might be losing your marbles, and then when you find out that it’s because you’re pregnant, you’re like, Oh, thank God, I’m not insane, I’m just carrying a baby,” the Irish writer-actress says. Horgan used that feeling as creative fuel for Catastrophe. “That whole episode when Sharon’s insanely horny and maniacally depressed — that’s just pure personal experience.”

Drawing from the lives of Horgan and her co-creator, American comedian Rob Delaney, Catastrophe, which was released on Amazon earlier this month, is a comedy, but also touches on the horror that can come with pregnancy. The show stars Horgan and Delaney as two people who have a fling while he’s in London on business. The pair are brought together again when Sharon learns she’s pregnant. Their situation is not only complicated by the fact that they've only just met, but also because of the health concerns that can arise in a later-in-life pregnancy. It all makes for rich, multi-layered material. Vulture deemed the show the “romantic comedy of the year.”

Horgan, meanwhile, is due for even greater exposure in the United States: She is the writer and executive producer of Divorce, the upcoming HBO series starring Sarah Jessica Parker as a woman going through the breakdown of her marriage to her partner, played by Thomas Haden Church. That's right, Horgan is spearheading SJP's return to the cable network that launched Sex and the City. We spoke to the writer-actress about the television projects that find her both in front of and behind the camera.

Unplanned pregnancies have a history in comedy. There's Knocked Up, for one. How did you and Rob decide that this was something you wanted to explore — and did you want to add something new to the genre?

"We hadn’t planned to write about it at all. When we first decided we wanted to make something together, the thing we wanted to talk about was marriage, really. Even though that’s unoriginal territory, we felt we had something to say about how hard it is [to stay in love] in a long-term marriage with kids. We had one script planned where they met, and she got accidentally pregnant, then we were going to jump forward four years later when they’re right in the middle of it. We found the romance that you have at the beginning of the relationship, and the fact that it’s skewed by the trickiest of things, and how romance just goes out the window, and the true terror of being pregnant and the ugliness of it [all] really interesting.

"We wrote this one script that was just supposed to be the pilot, and it ended up being the whole series. Obviously, unplanned pregnancy has kind of been done before. From our point of view, the fact that they’re older, that she’s been through the mill, that she’s cynical, that she probably thought that it might not happen, and if it didn’t happen we kind of figured she was probably okay with that — it felt like a new take on it. They’re older, and every decision you make when you’re older means a hundred times more because you get no second chances. It becomes a lot harsher, and the fact that the romance blossoms around that cynicism and harshness I think is the thing that gives it its own voice."

Pregnancy is a scary thing; the media doesn’t often touch on the scariness of it, but rather the absurdity of it. There are dark moments in the show. Was it hard to go into those darker moments while also keeping it funny?

"It was really hard, and it was actually terrifying. We were scared when we put it out. What we had on our side was [that] it was purely honest. Rob and I have got five pregnancies between us — between me and his wife — and every single thing that happened to our characters happened to us. So, we felt we could be kind of brave about what it feels like when you’re faced with the possibility that you might be carrying a disabled child, or the chance you might have cancer, or that fact that people are terming your pregnancy a geriatric one when you are only in your 40s. All of those things are terrifying.

"Our whole thing was, if we could make that shit funny, then maybe we are doing ourselves and other people a service. I think comedy’s a really strong tool. It’s lovely when people tell you that they laugh at a joke you’ve written, but we found it really satisfying when someone would say, 'You made us cry at that point.' If you can make someone cry in a comedy, that’s a pretty nice feeling."

There’s a huge cliffhanger at the end of the season. [SPOILER ALERT: The baby starts to come far ahead of schedule, and after a fight.] Why did you choose to end it at that moment?

"We always knew we wanted it to end like that. We knew how our season 2 was going to begin. We didn’t want it to end on a sunny moment. I mean, the show’s called Catastrophe. We wanted to be true to that in a way. Over the course of the series, you kind of watch them fall in love. It’s not really expressed necessarily, they don’t say ‘I love you’ or anything, but you watch them go on a journey, and you watch her lower her guard a bit, and you watch his fear kind of grow a bit. Suddenly, he’s in a job he doesn’t really like because he has to [be]. He’s in a country he doesn’t really know. He’s with a woman he doesn’t really know. He doesn’t have friends. You slowly watch him become a little less gung-ho, and watch her kind of open up a bit more.

"By the time they get to the wedding, it’s a beautiful day but there’s all this baggage around it. We wanted to give them the most beautiful wedding that we could and be true to the show, but we wanted it at the same time to be one of the worst days of their lives. We didn’t want to tell the full story, because we wanted to leave people waiting to see what happens. But that was always our goal: to give them this beautiful day that was going to end horribly. [In the second season] we jump forward a little bit, but I don’t want to tell you too much because it might ruin it a bit."

What makes a good romantic comedy?

"I think what makes a good romantic comedy is of course rooting for your heroes. But I think, as well as that, it’s turning it on its head. For me, it's not tying everything up in a pretty bow. I think it’s allowing the audience to reference their own lives and recognize things. You’ve got to take them on a journey and you’ve got to put them through the mincer. You’ve got to take all these emotions that go with romance — when you’re in the flush of romance, it’s the bits where you feel the most uncertain when you feel the most, and I think it’s the same with an audience. I think when everything’s just beautiful and lovely and it’s pure romance, that’s great — but then what? You only really, really feel things when your heart’s breaking. That’s when you physically feel love, when you think you might lose it. I think all the great rom-coms kind of put you for the mill."

Can you tell us about Divorce? How did that idea come up?

"The idea came up because I met up with Sarah Jessica Parker, and HBO really wanted to do something with her again. We met and we talked about what she was interested in and what I was interested in, and what she wanted to do next. I kind of went away and I thought about what I’d like to see her in, what I’d like to watch her in. A lot of the stuff I write is about relationships. I just recently watched The War of the Roses, and I think that’s one of the most brilliant films ever made about the breakdown of a marriage, [about] people who were desperately in love just slowly and painfully hating each other, and trying to extricate themselves from the entanglement of marriage, and a marriage that has kids.

"What I really liked was the idea of the kind of procedural nature of divorce, and how there’s such an industry around it. There’s an industry of lawyers and mediators and counselors and an industry builds up around it, and you lose friends and you divide possessions. I thought, There’s a great show in there. There’s a great show just completely focusing on the anatomy of a divorce. It’s a very long-term divorce."

This is Sarah Jessica Parker’s big return to HBO after Sex and the City. Did you feel any pressure around that?

"I think the best thing is to not think about that, or you’ll go a little bit crazy. I just approached it like any show, and write as true and funny a tale, or as true and dramatic a tale as you can. We’re lucky in that we have some great writers and we’ve gotten a ridiculous cast. From the minute I met her, we didn’t even really talk about it. [Sex and the City] was obviously a show that I watched and enjoyed, and it was a huge part of her life. But she’s moved on, and the world moved on. I’m not saying it doesn’t have a bit of baggage around it, but I don’t think of it like that. I’m certainly not. Not yet anyway. I’m just kind of approaching it like I approach anything: I’m making a show, just telling a story."

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