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Q&A with 'Catastrophe' stars Rob Delaney, Sharon Horgan

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Ed Miller/Amazon

Boy on business trip to London meets girl. Boy has sex with girl. Lots of sex. Boy returns to America and gets word from girl that (oops!) she’s pregnant. Boy moves to London to be with girl. So begins this Catastrophe, Amazon’s fantastically frank romantic comedy starring (and created by) the Twitter-famous comedian Rob Delaney and Irish actress/writer Sharon Horgan (Pulling, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret). EW rang up the pair in London—where they were fast at work on season 2—for a proper conversation about the show.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You two first crossed paths on Twitter. Can we describe this as a meet-cute?

SHARON HORGAN: What’s that? 

ROB DELANEY: I love that you don’t know what that is, Sharon.

It’s a charming first meeting—maybe you bump into each other at a party and you spill wine all over him.

HORGAN:  Oh, that’s so gross. It wasn’t a meet-cute. It was a meet-awkward, really, wasn’t it?

DELANEY: A little bit. I wrote you a fan-mail missive because I had enjoyed your TV shows and was flattered that you would follow me on Twitter. I never imagined we would make a show together. I just thought it would be fun to have a cup of joe, which is what we call coffee in America.

HORGAN: Oh, I thought we were going to have a really short, really unsuccessful affair and just go our separate ways. 

We’re seeing a few romantic comedies on TV skew darker and more honest. Is this show as much of a reaction to the genre as it is a reflection of your comedic sensibilities?

HORGAN: I don’t watch a lot of romantic comedy. From my perspective it was a continuation of the stuff I’ve already done. I like comedy that involves love and pain and hate. I’d know Rob would say the same thing—it was just a continuation of what he was already talking about in his stand up and what he was writing about in his book. We didn’t want it to be cutesy, or anything like that. 

DELANEY: It wasn’t like, “Let’s drop a bomb on the romantic comedy world and show ‘em how it’s really done!” It’s pretty reflective of how we operate in our lives. I don’t watch a lot of romantic comedies either. Today, Sharon and I were writing season 2 and the film we talked about the most was Brokeback Mountain. True Detective we laugh at. We enjoy anything where humor comes out of graphic pain.

What do you think the average romantic comedy gets wrong?

HORGAN: From my point of view, it would be that everything doesn’t have to work out in the end. You can leave things open and flapping. Rob and I both are crazy about Richard Linklater and his Before trilogy. If you were to term Before Midnight, it would be a romantic comedy. But that last scene, they’re still together but there’s no beautiful happy ending. You don’t know what the f— is going to happen to them. You don’t assume that they’re going to be together forever or happily ever after.

DELANEY: I don’t tend to like things that have some sort of revelation montage near the end where they’re like, “No way—she’s the one!” I’d rather have it be like, “I’m choosing that she’s the one.” Our show’s like “F— it, hammer that square peg into a round hole, and look, now it fits!” That’s a lot more what relationships are really like, so we wanted to capture something like that.

How much are you borrowing from your own life for the show? Have your spouses told you that anything is off-limits?

DELANEY: A tremendous amount is borrowed from our real lives, and both of our spouses would watch the show and be like, “Jesus Christ!” My wife felt as though I might as well have torn her clothing off in front of a coliseum of people. We’re writing season 2 now, and it’s hot off the presses—we’re writing things that happened that day. We‘ll get into work and be like, “You’re never going to believe what happened.” Yeah, it’s pretty real. 

HORGAN: We’ve destroyed our partner’s trust once again. But they ended up liking it last time, so we kind of went, “Ehh, they’re fine!” I did sit my husband down the other night and I went through everything we put in there that involved him this time, so he had the full heads-up and it wasn’t such a tortured surprise. 

DELANEY: Yeahhh, I should consider that myself with my spouse…. A lot of the pregnancy complications along the way either happened to my wife or to Sharon. I don’t think there’s anything medical in there that didn’t happen to one of us. 

HORGAN: From my life, when my husband went to buy my engagement ring with my brother, he did choose a 40,000-pound ring, thinking it was a 4,000-pound ring. And he was so polite and British that he almost destroyed us by going through with the transaction. Luckily, on our show, Rob, who’s an American, is like, “No, f— that. I’m going to go with the little s–ty one.” 

 

 

Ed Miller/Amazon

How has the show evolved differently than you expected? I didn’t know how much of the cultural divide that you would mine [he’s American, she’s Irish], but there turned out to be less than I would have thought, which was a nice surprise.

DELANEY: The fish-out-of-water stuff didn’t really appeal to us, so actually any time one of them mentions whether they’re from the United States or Ireland, we just try to always make it as racist as possible. We tried to have her really s— on America and I’ll try to make fun of Irish people as much as I can. We tried to infuse a level of animosity based on what country the person was from, so we always tried to make it a negative. And we continue that into season 2.

HORGAN: The main thing about season 1 was there wasn’t really a sort of cultural issue, it was just that there was a bit of a loneliness—that he didn’t know anyone. Messing up and getting things wrong culturally feels a bit sitcom-y to us, so we just looked for the reality of it, which is: If you move to a country that you don’t know, you’re not going to know anyone so you’re completely dependent on the person that you’re with or that one friend you wouldn’t have anything to do with if you had any kind of choice. So his world is wider—he’s just more settled in season 2 and that would be the only difference, really. He’s a bit sort of estranged from his family, but he probably thinks it’s a good thing. 

The show boasts some racy jokes, such as a graphic description of bowel evacuation during birth, a major romantic moment undercut by a drunk stranger’s urination, or even this line: “She finished off a platter of stew while I was inside her.” Which leads us to the question: Which jokes were too filthy to make it into the show? Don’t worry, we can dash them out if need be.

HORGAN: I mean, that’s about as foul as you can get.

DELANEY: Yeah, what’s funny is the network [the show initially aired on Channel 4 in the UK] was always like, “Yeah, be more disgusting!” One thing that we did cut out of the show was we did have a discussion where Sharon was on one side of the door and I was on the other, on the toilet, and we even filmed it. And it wasn’t that we thought it was too gross, it just didn’t quite work, and the only regret that I have about that was just the hours we spent honing that and then shooting it, so who knows.

Maybe you’ll release it on the DVD?

HORGAN: Absolutely. There’s a bunch of things that could go in the DVD. Including, like, hours of Carrie Fisher [who plays Rob’s mother] improvising.

At one point, Rob unsuccessfully tries to get his new friend to see the Wes Anderson movie The Emancipation of Flyburton Crisp. What were the rejected names you came up with for that movie? 

HORGAN: [laughs] Oh my god. [to Delaney] I think that was an amalgamation of something you said and then something I said. 

DELANEY: My memory of that is that that came out of you, Sharon, like a machine gun. I honestly believe that you just went, “TheEmancipationofFlyburtonCrisp!” And I was like, “Is that already in development?” And you were like, “No, I just thought it up!” I’m not even kidding. That one just came out. It was insane…. You know what did come late in the game, like right before we shot it? We don’t really improvise—we write everything and then we shoot it as is generally, but very close before shooting, we had [Chris, played by Mark Bonnar] go, “No.” And then have me go, “What, just no?” And he goes, “Just no.” 

Season 1 ends on a pretty big cliffhanger in regards to the baby. What can you tease about season 2?

HORGAN: Unfortunately we can’t tell you too much because we have a surprise. We just knew that because of the show and the title of the show we just didn’t want to leave it on a “everything’s happily ever after” kind of ending, and s— things happen and people have to deal with them. And when people have big arguments when someone’s very heavily pregnant, that can happen.

DELANEY: It doesn’t begin at the end of season 1.

HORGAN: There is a lot more pain because they’re deeper into it… Everyone that you meet in season 1 we spend more time with, and the catastrophe in this series is obviously the s— that happens to us, but we really put those other characters through the mill. So if you like Chris, and the American asshole Dave [Daniel Lapaine] and all those guys, then I think the catastrophe in season 2 is what ends up happening to all of them.

DELANEY: We might get to see Chris wear a lot more leather. [laughter] All the other people are going to stretch out a lot more. Sharon and I knew that we found ourselves fascinating when we made season 1, but as we really got to know the other characters, we realized we loved them so much. So there’s a more of an ensemble feel to this show, although we’re certainly at the center of this universe.

HORGAN: We’re still the center of the mess. 

Amazon

 

Was there an area from which you didn’t expect to mine so much humor, such as the pregnancy complication?

HORGAN: When we did season 1, we had no plans to spend so long on the horrors and the difficulty of a pregnancy. We were both very interested in how difficult it is to stay in love when you have kids, but the first season ended up being primarily about the pregnancy and their romance and getting to know each other. And what we ended up finding funny was the stuff that most people I hope wouldn’t want to write about, which is very, very difficult medical issues. I don’t know if we went into the series thinking we were going to write about pre-cancer and a geriatric pregnancy, but we found that to be funny. The great thing about [writing] season 2 is that we felt like we had a freedom because we were like, “Oh, audiences like pain. They like watching people going through it.” The most positive response we had was people writing to us going, “That’s exactly the s— I went through! Please write about it more!” It really gave us carte blanche to keep going down those avenues.

DELANEY: I might have thought some of the more high jinks stuff would be more relationship-based, two people verbally assaulting each other in a room. But there is a lot of wackiness in the show, even to point of slapstick. And I was happy to discover as we wrote and shot that we were both more than up for any types of grand shenanigans. That was fun to realize.

HORGAN: That’s so true. Rob really, really hated the idea that he would run and fall over in a scene. Because he thought, “Well, first of all I’m not going to be able to do that. And secondly, no one’s going to find that funny.” And it’s the thing that they use on every trailer. Anything they use to promote the show is Rob running and falling over and face-planting. So, yes, I guess that was a surprise that we enjoyed that.

It was an interesting touch to show Sharon drinking wine and taking a puff of a cigarette while she’s pregnant, given the sensitivity about that. And we see a man judge her for drinking. What was the backstory there?

HORGAN: The backstory there is pregnant women get a f—ing hard time. Everyone tells them what to do from the minute they start showing. It’s not just men—midwives, nurse, doctors, everyone suddenly has a say in what’s going on in your body. We set up that the characters are sensible, reasonable people, and I know that I and anyone I know who’s been pregnant has had a glass of wine or, at a stressful moment, taken a puff of a [cigarette]. What we were trying to do is to show that they’re fallible, real people who can do something like that, and if they do get judged, it’s the person judging them who looks like the twat. It was a little bit scary—we were nervous—but luckily everyone who watches our show is a reasonable person or they wouldn’t have decided to tune in to that kind of show. So we only got positive feedback.

DELANEY: My wife was pregnant with our third kid when we were polishing the script and shooting season 1. I think during my wife’s first pregnancy she really didn’t drink much, the second one, she drank a little more, and during the third one, she was like, “If I want a glass of wine, I’m going to have a glass of wine, and if a man complains about it in public, I’ll snap the wine glass and cut his throat with the stem.” [laughs] And I totally supported her in that. Also, Sharon and I have five kids between us, and there’s a lot of terrible stuff that people do to parents of young kids and pregnant women that we just wanted to skewer.

The first season takes us through various relationship milestones, but at no point do they say “I love you” to each other. How calculated was that? Or did that develop organically?

HORGAN: They barely know each other, and they have to fall in love over the series. The only time that we ever went to say it was in episode 6 when he’s cutting her toenails. In a draft that almost made it, we had them say “I love you.” And then we just looked at each other and went, “No, they can’t!” We don’t want the audience to feel comfortable with our situation. We don’t want the audience to think that everything’s okay. Also, Sharon is very protective of herself, so we tried very hard to show it in a look, when he is cutting her toenails. That was our “I love you.” And her “I love you back” was “I’ll have sex with you now.” 

DELANEY: We didn’t have a show bible where we were like, “They can’t say ‘I love you.’” We experimented with it, and we decided] we wanted to show it rather than tell it because we felt that would be more powerful.

Of course, the true sign of commitment would be for Rob to change Sharon’s name in his phone, which still reads “Sharon London Sex.” When you do you foresee that happening?

HORGAN: Maybe that’s season 3 or 4. We got a great tweet from someone the other day who changed their boyfriend’s name in their phone to “Robert London Sex,” which I absolutely loved. 

DELANEY: Ultimately the series will morph into film and maybe even into an interactive experience at Epcot, and I think by that point—when it’s in four dimensions in Smell-O-Vision—he’ll have changed her last name to Morris. 

An edited version of this interview ran in Entertainment Weekly issue #1371-1372, on newsstands now.

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