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Who’s Telling the Truth on ‘The Affair’? Golden Globe Winner Sarah Treem Shares Secrets

Who's Telling the Truth on 'The Affair'? Golden Globe Winner Sarah Treem Shares Secrets

Not the worst thing, winning a Golden Globe…

Not the worst thing that’s ever happened. They are heavy, though — that’s what everyone says, they are really heavy.

Unexpectedly heavy.

Unexpectedly heavy. Yeah, like hard to carry around with you for a night. I mean, not actually, but it was —

Did you actually physically carry it around with you for the whole night?

Yeah, because it opens so many doors — you just plop the Globe down —

Even if they don’t recognize you, you’re like —

Yes.

Wow.

And I changed outfits actually, so I guarantee you nobody recognized me. It’s pretty funny.

That is so handy. How much partying did you actually do?

I was out late.

It was well-deserved.

I’m drinking tea right now, and trying not to like, puke.


So last time we talked, I had only watched the first episode, and we talked a little about how you were planning to structure it. How would you say the show evolved from your original conception to what you ended up with at the end of season 1?

Yeah, I think the show evolved a lot. I think initially, we really had an idea that it was going to be a more rigid structure, that you were really going to see a day in the life of these people every episode. You were going to tell scenes from their lives slightly differently, and I think we observed that structure for the first three episodes and then, honestly, I think we got a little bored — and we worried that the audience was going to get a little bored. We were afraid that people were going to get ahead of the storytelling.

So, we started to break it up in the writers’ room — so Episode 4 becomes two different time periods in the same day, so it becomes continuous. And then, in Episode 5 their memories really start to differentiate, and in Episode 6, we lose the detective entirely… We were like, “So let’s see what this show could be.” And that was useful.

I always kind of think of the first season of a television show like the first draft of a play — you are trying stuff out to see what works. And then, the exciting thing — and the challenging thing — about television is, you don’t really know what works until you see it on screen, and everyone else sees it on screen, too. So you can’t really go back and do rewrites, you have to wait until you literally have an episode in front of you, and then you can learn from that. And it all happens really quickly; the learning curve is really, really steep but I’m excited about what we figured out in Season 1, because I feel like we saw where the show really works, we saw where the show really faltered, and we have a much clearer sense going into Season 2 of what kind of needle we’re trying to thread.


When you look back, what parts do you wish you had another try at?

You know, it differentiates episode by episode — some of them are really big, some are small. Episode 8, for example, I thought was going to end up being a much more powerful episode then it ended up being on screen. And that was just a bunch of different mistakes that were made in a bunch of different ways that I didn’t really anticipate, and then kind of saw it when it all came together — I was like, “Oh, that just didn’t come together in the way I was hoping.”

In terms of the detective storyline, we kind of had this sense that maybe we could kind of pepper it in — we never wanted it to overwhelm the major romantic relationships, and we were like, “Well, we can just drop it in where we need it.” But I think, because the show is already going back and forth between two people’s perspectives, when you don’t give the audience a more consistent sense of what role the detective plays, it starts to feel frustrating in a way that we didn’t really anticipate. I didn’t anticipate how connected people were going to feel to the detective and the murder and stuff like that. So, yeah. I don’t know — I don’t have one huge, overarching answer for it; it’s just specific things.

In terms of things you feel were really successful — what’s a standout moment for you?

I think there’s a lot of things that are really successful. There’s a lot of things I’m proud of. I think the scenes with Maura and Dominic at the end, the last couple episodes, where she kicks him out, and then he comes back, and she asks him back — we were really building towards those scenes in a lot of ways. We were building towards them with their characters, and the actors, I think, were building towards them. The directors were really anticipating them. [Director] Jeff Reiner says, “I took this job to direct those scenes.” And, actually, one of them was directed by Ryan Fleck, and he was like, “Ugh!” But I’m very proud of those scenes, I think we got to a real place of honesty and vulnerability and character flaws and people just trying to communicate, and just failing miserably at it.

So those are moments I’m really proud of. I’m proud of a lot of Ruth’s performance. That character; the depths of despair that that character gets to towards the end of the season — I think that we are not necessarily used to seeing a female character go that dark… and if they do go dark, it’s because they’re crazy. I think trying to show one woman’s true extreme suffering, and how self-destructive it makes her, felt very true to me. I thought that Ruth captured it beautifully.


When we doing weekly recaps over the course of the season, [Ben Travers] covered Noah’s side of the story, while I covered Allison’s, and both of us were kind of convinced that our person was being the more truthful one. When you approach each episode, is there one person you feel is being more truthful than the other person?

No. And I’ve never felt that one person was more truthful than the other person, I always think that they’re — we’re always writing from the idea that both people are trying to communicate their truth about the situation.

Right. How much of that is tempered by personal bias?

I think everything is tempered by personal bias. So I don’t really believe there’s such a thing as an objective truth. I think that every — that all of us are prisoners of our own perspective, and that we only have the capacity to see what our experience, our memories, our parents, our great hopes, and our great fears — allow us to see. So, that is how we approached all writing for the two different perspectives. Like, who is this character, what is he afraid of, what does he want, where did he come from, where is he going — knowing all that about him; now we have a scene in front of us — now, how would he see that scene. Knowing everything about her, we’ve got a scene in front of us — how would she see that scene. And sometimes, we’d show a scene from his perspective that we didn’t show from her perspective, and the rationale behind that would be, “If we’re going to show a scene, it has to be important to the characters.” He might remember something because it was important to him, and she has forgotten it because it didn’t matter to her. Or vice-versa.


In that case, where do the scenes featuring the detective — where do they fit into that worldview? Can we trust the scenes with the detective as being absolute truth?

I’d say if you’re looking at the scenes with the detective, you’re seeing a neutral scene.

When you found out you had a Season 2, what was your reaction?

When we went in to Showtime, we pitched three seasons, so I was always hoping we were going to have a second season; I was always sort of treating the writing process as if we were going to. So, yeah, it’s not so much of a “Oh good, now we get to do something more;” it’s “Oh, good, now we get to keep telling our story,” you know? Honestly, my feeling is, “Oh good, now we get to complete our story,” because I think it would have been really hard for me to leave it after Season 1. Because I feel that it’s kind of only just begun.

READ MORE: Review: ‘The Affair’ Season 1 Episode 10 Oversells Its Season Finale

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