Casual: Leon actor Nyasha Hatendi talks Death and Taxes
Every week the cast and crew of Hulu’s dark comedy Casual will be taking EW behind the scenes: For each episode, one member will be recapping and sharing their thoughts on what went down, in addition to walking us through the ins-and-outs of the show. This week, Nyasha Hatendi, who plays loveable Leon, takes us through episode 11, “Death and Taxes.”
When Zander Lehmann, the creator himself, hinted in his usually coy and disarming way that Leon was in for “a bit of a ride,” my natural excitement was slightly tinged with dread, as we all know how devastating this show can be.
True to his word, in episode 11, the focus abruptly shifts to Leon and suddenly we find ourselves in his world, dining with friends, having the time of his life. It all seems to be working out for good ol’ Leon — a joy to behold, particularly when at the end of the evening he finds himself in bed with Claire (played by the wonderful Michaela Conlin) and the montage begins.
The greatest montage in TV history? Perhaps, but what fun it was to film when every person around you is a fan, incredibly talented, consummately professional, and just generally awesome. It makes the work a joy because it can be honest, and that is incredibly liberating.
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Like most things that begin well on this show, they almost always end terribly. Like a cruel joke or…life, if you will. What goes up, must come down, and it does — to shattering effect, beautifully captured by John Guleserian, our DP extraordinaire and Michael Weaver, a.k.a. “The Zen,” who directed this week’s episode.
Your real friends are there for you at the best of times and the worst of times, so when lo and behold the phone rings and it’s Alex (Tommy Dewey), however imperfect their relationship may be, Leon is there.
And so we pick up where we left off. Alex is falling apart. Consumed by his eyebrows no less, his failed dalliance with Sarah Finn (Britt Lower), not to mention his bitter argument with Valerie (Michaela Watkins). After Leon’s insistence, he finally seeks professional help, in the form of Jennifer (Katie Aselton), only after he manages to casually traumatize one of her former patients and blow off her colleague Barry (Jim Garrity) with his annoying tea-sipping habits.
Fair enough, really.
Jennifer finally gets Alex to confront just how deeply intertwined they are as brother and sister, and how their anger at each other’s failings should perhaps be directed elsewhere. Resolved, Alex heads off to Burbank, again, to confront his father Charles (Fred Melamed), but once again, he can’t, and as he drives off and this week’s episode ends, we discover Charles in a gurney, being moved back from the hospital. At this point, a lump rises in my throat. The omens are not good…
Please tune in next week to find out what happens. You won’t regret it.
On to Laura and Spencer, who are dealing with death with their usual devil-may-care brand of humor. Such a beautiful and tragic relationship is forming between these two, brilliantly played by Tara Lynne Barr and Rhenzy Feliz.
To “save” Spencer’s mother from her grief, the two decide to go shopping for “a dope” coffin and consider the all-consuming question that all millennials must grapple with: What happens to your online profile when you die? Of course, this is all a distraction from the real issue, which Laura discovers when she’s forced to confess, “I don’t want you to die…” It’s a huge breakthrough for Laura and provides one of the most beautifully tender moments in show. Suddenly we are all too aware of what these two must be going through.
And so it must be emotional for all the divorcees in the back (woohoo!) when they watch as Valerie and Drew (Zak Orth) are forced together once again to deal with the wreckage of their pathetic sham of a marriage. (Was that too much? Perhaps.)
Valerie and Drew meet their accountant to deal with their taxes, which Valerie uses as an opportunity to gloat on the growing dissatisfaction Drew is having with his new, better, younger wife Mae Yi (Nikki Soohoo). “I feel like a factory worker,” he says. Valerie’s reaction is priceless, as scathing as it is endearing. Poor Valerie. Still reeling from her fight with Alex, she has to confront the growing realization that everyone seems to be leaving her, which frightens as much as fascinates her. Cue Anthony (Adam Lustick), a.k.a. “the patient wot left her for a psychopath,” who she spots as they leave the accountant.
Using Drew as a human shield, she stalks her former patient into a cafe, looking for some form of absolution in his behavior, but she is distracted by Drew. In a beautifully bittersweet scene, Drew and Valerie realize that this is, in fact, the end. All that’s left to do is sign on the dotted line, and yet strangely, they have never been closer. Both desperately seeking some form of affirmation, Drew and Valerie rediscover just how intimate and familiar they are together, and so naturally, they kiss.
Every episode of Casual is like entering an emotional vortex — you never know what you’re going to get. It’s dark and intriguing, yet strangely beautiful and painfully funny. Just like Leon. Our like or dislike for these painfully dysfunctional characters is tempered by an innate empathy, which as you continue to watch them struggle to make sense of themselves and each other, you begin to feel that warm fuzzy feeling washing over you. It’s a desire to protect, to nurture, to tolerate, to reach an understanding, to love even — and that makes us feel good. About ourselves, and perhaps even about each other.
And that’s what good storytelling and television is about, right?
God, I love this show. And all the people involved.