Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan Talk Romance, Twitter, and Amazon's Catastrophe
It began, as all great modern partnerships seem to, on Twitter. "That was the first interaction we had, was on Twitter," Rob Delaney says of his Catastrophe co-star and writing partner Sharon Horgan. A more traditional bond was sealed once Delaney had inked a script deal with the BBC, and the two met in person in London. "I wonder how many proper, real friendships develop out of Twitter," Horgan muses.
The two are doing interviews in New York to promote Catastrophe, Amazon Prime's newest original comedy, which will premiere all six episodes of its first season on the streaming service on Friday, June 19. (Season 1 aired earlier this year in the UK.) It's an American-boy-meets-Irish-girl-in-London story that takes a quick turn when Rob (yes, the characters share the same first names as their actors) returns to the United States after their weeklong bang session and Sharon discovers she's pregnant. Caring, upstanding gentleman Rob moves to London to be with the slightly reluctant Sharon, and then the real work (and funny) begins.
Where'd this idea come from?
Delaney: We were in similar life positions, marriages with young kids, and that is an endless source of fascination for both of us. And with sitcoms, one of the original axes we had to grind was that a lot of sitcoms make marriage look like just drudgery, with islands of fake romance here and there. We're like, "That's not real. That should be a fistfight, not flowers delivered to her office." And there are times when your marriage can drive you insane—dangerously insane—but it's not boring. We wanted to show something that wasn't boring, that had the texture and dynamism of a real marriage.
Horgan: We found what was more interesting was charting the genesis of [the characters'] relationship, how they got together, and felt it would be interesting to throw a real tricky situation into a romance that's at its beginning. It's very hard being pregnant with someone, even if you've known them for years, with all the terrible things you've got to go through. It's even harder if you've got to go through it with literally a stranger. And we thought it was interesting to watch them become more fond of each other over the course of the season, and it's not really until you get to the end that they get married and the real nasty starts.
Delaney: Takes a hard left.
In relationships, those hard lefts can come from just about anything.
Horgan: I've had, like, my husband say one wrong sentence to me in an airport for a two-week holiday to be ruined. Just going from "Lovely" to "I have to get away from you."
Delaney: Oh my God, airports are the worst. My wife and I had to go renew our visas fairly recently. We had a plan. We were like, "So the main thing, we just have to be nice to each other." And immediately something happened, and we started fighting and continued for probably the first three hours of the day. And we had all three kids with us. And then it got so awful that it actually graduated to comedy and we were laughing by the end, at how horrible it was. We were bound by the horror. That could be our tagline.
The dialogue feels so natural. How much is scripted, and how much freedom do you give yourselves and the other actors?
Delaney: Oh, we're pretty ironclad. Not that improvisation isn't a vital, amazing art form!
Horgan: And it helps loads of other shows.
Horgan: …Just not us. Though the odd thing will come up. Carrie Fisher, who plays Rob's mom, she loves to improvise, and she's got such a brilliant, sharp brain, and we were so ridiculously excited to have her, that we just went, "Yeah, go for it, do whatever you want!" They were all phone-call-based scenes, so it would just go on for, God, 20 minutes after the end of the scene, just insulting each other over the phone. The problem was that we knew in our hearts we weren't going to be able to use it. There was hours of stuff, insults and weird threats. It got very dark. I was like, "Jeez, she really hates me."
Delaney: It was an out-of body experience. The idea to get her came from a fun night at the Attitude Magazine Awards in London. She gave the Icon Award to Graham Norton, and gave a speech she wrote herself that was so hilarious we were blown away. And Sharon said, "What if we got her to play your mom?" And I said, "Ha ha, Sharon, you're drunk."
Horgan: We tried to tweet her first.
Delaney: Well, yeah. But then we sent the script and pilot and she watched it and said, "Oh yeah, baby," and we—
Horgan: Couldn't f--king believe it. We're writing her into the next season, so I hope she's on board.
Story-wise, you've said you pull a lot from your lives. What about character-wise? Do you share anything other than first names?
Horgan: The thing we were interested to do was have a male character who was really likeable and a good person and a good guy who has got a moral center and makes choices for the right reasons, and have a female character who's kind of the opposite, who's tougher and pessimistic and protective of herself and has sort of more traditional male qualities—isn't a big talker, doesn't want to do feelings. So that's kind of me. [Laughs] And Rob is a really, genuinely nice person, and a good person. I used to think, when I was talking about that character, she's like me, but she's a better or nicer version of me, but I think she's just a more honest version of me.
Delaney: Maybe these are better versions of ourselves. But the character of Sharon, I realized when we were writing Season 1, it's really an act of self-preservation, her giving this guy a hard time. Saying, "Are you up to this incredible challenge? You say you are, you're showing inklings of it, but we're gonna find out if your heart is in it."
As someone who isn't married and doesn't have children, a lot of the things in the show seem terrifying to me.
Delaney: My answer to that is: It f--king is. And I would do it again in a second.
Horgan: Well, my answer is: It f--king is. And what's the alternative?
Dying alone, presumably.
Horgan: Right! So: Not awesome. You have to weigh the two.
Delaney: We've been saying in the writers' room—"room," it's like a cubby, a closet for the two of us—"People don't deserve to be happy." That's the mistake. People think they should be happy. And we're here to show you that's not the case. [Laughs]
Horgan: How do you dramatize happy, you know? Most of the time you need all that conflict and shit that goes along with relationships to make it funny. That doesn't mean you have to pretend. Rob and I will go back from New York to London and have a fight with our spouses and probably have a few days where we don't talk to them, but then you'll have a week where you're just having the best time ever and you can't believe how lucky you are. And then you'll go back to fighting.
Delaney: It's the dance.
Catastrophe, Premieres Friday, June 19, on Amazon