The Ex-Factor: ‘The Affair’s Joshua Jackson and Maura Tierney on Playing Jilted Spouses
Perspective is everything. In Season 1 of Showtime’s steamy drama The Affair, novelist Noah Solloway (Dominic West) and waitress Alison Bailey (Ruth Wilson)—both married to other people—met and embarked on a secret relationship. This year, with their liaison out in the open and the pair now living together, the show adds in the points of view of their former partners, shopkeeper Helen Solloway (Maura Tierney) and Montauk, New York, rancher Cole Lockhart (Joshua Jackson), both of whom are left to clean up the ruins of their broken marriages. Here, Tierney and Jackson discuss taking on greater roles in Season 2—and tackling the cable series’ more intimate moments.
Last season, viewers saw the story unfold through Noah’s and Alison’s eyes. What challenges did that pose in fleshing out your characters?
Tierney: First, I’m so happy to be doing this interview with Josh because he’s the most erudite person in our cast.
Jackson: [Laughs] Well now that the bar has been set! There were certainly challenges, but in some ways, it was actually simpler. Cole as seen from Noah’s perspective is really just sort of a brute. It’s the Alison side that was tricky because she had more of a nuanced understanding of him.
How did you react when you learned Helen’s and Cole’s points of view would be included this year?
Tierney: It was nice to hear, and I was curious about what the writers would do with it. But it was hard to be Helen from Helen’s point of view! Last season I was heavily dependent on how Noah saw Helen. A few episodes in [this season], I realized this does have to be very different. I think with both Helen and Cole, the audience gets to see more of their vulnerability and culpability now.
Jackson: On Cole’s side, there is definitely vulnerability, because last season he was viewed as this capable, confident man, even in his madness toward the end. So to have an opportunity to see how this guy perceives himself was a very welcome challenge. It gave a whole new dimension and a new place for the character to go.
Where do we find Helen and Cole in the first couple of episodes?
Tierney: Helen is not having a good time! [Laughs] She’s really struggling with the loss of her life as she knew it. She was this blessed person who didn’t ever have to deal with any major loss.So how does a person who has never really had to face any significant struggle deal with it? For her, not very well. It takes her a while to accept her responsibility and contribution to the problems in the dissolution of the marriage.
Jackson: Cole is stuck in the emptiness of his life. All the things that were a foundation for him—the sense of honor, duty, family and place—have been stripped away. I think last season he took responsibility for how his relationship went off the rails, but I don’t think he had any conception of how to be a man without all those external things. And it’s not until he can resolve the dynamic with Alison that he can work toward becoming whomever he’s going to be, as opposed to the man he has been. He’s trying to craft a new personality for himself. The beginning of his journey is very internal, and over the course of the season, he steps out without all the pressures of family life.
Tierney: I think Cole is the most moral and the most ethical character [on the show]. He’s the least wildly self-involved. There’s a generosity of spirit that others don’t necessarily have.
Jackson: I think he gets to that, but I think where we find Cole initially is pretty indulgent. He has decided: “F— all this. I’m just gonna be unhappy.”
Tierney: But that’s indulgent about himself. I just find him not to be a judgmental character. But it’s your character, so I don’t know! [Laughs]
Cole even gains some weight. Did producers put you on a new diet, Josh?
Jackson: Just about a gallon of water before every take! The beard does some of the work. The rest of it was just tricks like slouching, pushing out my gut and drinking a bunch of water so it puffed up the belly.
Tierney: That’s what I did too. [Laughs]
Do you see any parallels in how Helen and Cole deal with the fallout of their marriages?
Jackson: I’m going to speak for you, Maura.
Tierney: Yes, please do!
Jackson: Helen is at least attempting to engage the world around her, possibly just by virtue of being a mother. Cole is not at all there yet. He has completely retreated from everything in his life. So I feel they’re in really different places.
The series also continues to flash forward to a couple of years in the future when Noah is on trial for the murder of Cole’s brother. What are Cole and Helen like at that point in time?
Tierney: Helen does not want the father of her children to go to jail. Time has passed. And a lot of stuff gets pushed aside for Helen when it’s about her kids.
Jackson: Obviously, Cole is on the very opposite end of it. He’s discovering Noah’s culpability as those courtroom scenes and the drama around the arrest and arraignment unfold.
Maura, you had a very intimate first scene in Season 2.…
Tierney: I’ll say! There also happens to be full-frontal male nudity in my face.
Jackson: Yeah, nothing like a limp d–k to kick off a season!
What’s it like to shoot those sex scenes?
Jackson: When they are made to tell you something other than these people are f—ing, those are the more interesting ones to me. But sometimes it’s
Tierney: There was a big comedic element to my scene, which takes a lot of the heat off. It’s supposed to be kind of funny, and that’s an easier requirement to accomplish than to have to be in love and having sex.
Will we ever see Helen and Cole become romantically involved?
Jackson: That’s Season 3. You just revealed the entire story.
Tierney: Spoiler alert! [Laughs]
The Affair, Sundays, 10/9c, Showtime