‘Mare of Easttown’s Julianne Nicholson on That Twist Ending & Lori’s Friendship With Mare
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Mare of Easttown Season 1, Episode 7, “Sacrament.”]
The mystery in Mare of Easttown has been uncovered and as expected, it wasn’t a predictable conclusion of the HBO limited series.
In a season of twists and turns, the show starring Kate Winslet as the determined detective Mare led viewers down unexpected paths. In the finale episode, “Sacrament,” Erin McMenamin’s (Cailee Spaeny) killer was unveiled, but after a brief fake-out that John Ross (Joe Tippett) was guilty of murdering the teen after a brief fling, it turns out that his and Lori’s (Julianne Nicholson) son Ryan (Cameron Mann) was really the one guilty of pulling the trigger.
After learning of his father’s familial indiscretion, Ryan met Erin at the park to deter her from continuing the fling, but his use of a gun to scare her backfired in an accidental shooting that John ultimately covered up. Left to pick up the pieces is Mare’s best friend Lori, who has to care for Erin and John’s baby, DJ, as well as her own daughter with John, while her husband and son pay for their crimes. Below, Julianne Nicholson shares her thoughts on the show’s twists, Lori and Mare’s complicated bond, and more.
Did Mare make the right decision by holding Ryan responsible for the accidental shooting or should she have let him off the hook?
Julianne Nicholson: No, I don’t [think so]. I feel like for me, it’s not [the right decision]. Luckily this is all fictional, so I can talk about it with ease and confidence in my decisions. But no, I think she should have let John take the rap and let Ryan live his life. I mean, [Mare’s] not a beacon of morality, so why is this the place where you feel like you have to do the right thing? No, I wish that’s not how it ended. I wish John took the rap. But I love it. For the show, it’s perfect. So yes, I’m not changing the writing of the show, but it’s so sad.
Is Lori exclusively mad at Mare for the way things turned out, or do you think she’s subconsciously angry at John?
John. John. John, John, John. I mean, God, that anger is so big. I don’t even know how you scratch the surface of that, but no, that’s all on him. We can be the cruelest to the ones we love and the ones we know might be there for us. I think she’s mad at Mare and wishes that she didn’t do that, but as we show in the end, it’s something that she will try to, and probably can move through. But John, it’s over. There’s no coming back to that, as far as I’m concerned.
Where is Lori’s head following all of these big changes, like knowing Ryan is in juvie, and her having to care for DJ. Would you say her anger stems from the stages of grief?
I think she’s going through stages of grief. Crimes of this degree, you can’t get over in a couple of weeks, [or] months. She’s only just beginning to wade through all that this and all that it will be. I mean, to think of her son in jail for years and years. Every day that’s where you live, I think. If your son is in jail, that colors everything; every conversation, every moment. And life goes on, so how do you keep going in life?
Do you think Lori knew more about the shooting than she revealed or was she honest in the interrogation scene with Ryan?
I think Lori didn’t know until John tells her at the table, which we don’t hear, so we don’t know what he’s telling her. But I think that’s when we decided Lori knows really what happened. I think there’s definitely a moment where she’s holding out on Mare and she’s not telling her everything she knows, but I think, by the interrogation room, she does come clean and she knew at that point what had actually happened. Then, it’s Mare’s turn to be mad at her for not revealing what she knew.
Should Lori have been held legally responsible for lying? She didn’t seem to receive any punishment for her involvement.
I’m not a lawyer. You might have a good point, but I’m fine with her not. I don’t think she needs to go to jail for trying to protect her son when it didn’t actually hurt anyone else and it was just her husband that was going to take the blame.
It’s passable, but it’s definitely questionable.
It’s highly questionable. I’ll give you that.
The mystery and murder are really what pulled people into this show, but by the end, so much of the show is about these strong female figures and the grief they face. Is that the bigger story here?
I think it’s more than a whodunit. I do think it’s more than a murder mystery and that was our intention all along, that this crime was happening, but that was happening within this bigger story that we were telling, which was about this community and these women: Mare, her mom, her daughter, her best friend and how strong they are.
And Mare doesn’t give up on her friendship with Lori. While she pushes herself to overcome the grief stemming from her son’s suicide, she tries to also support Lori’s feelings. What kind of prep goes into putting an emotional scene like the one in the kitchen together?
I think just knowing the story and feeling. Kate [Winslet] and I both just showed up that day knowing the story that we’re telling and where we needed to go. She was so supportive and I trusted her implicitly as well as the writer and our director. Honestly, you’re just hoping you can get to a certain place too because if you [can’t] be authentic, it’s not 100%. You can’t just manufacture that. We did it a number of times and it always felt like it was coming from a true place, and knowing the build of that relationship and the strength of that relationship as the series progressed was really helpful. Then, it’s actually physically exhausting. The dark place is just imagining the events, but your body going through that again and again for hours is tiring.
Do you think Mare would have solved the mystery sooner had those involved not been so close to her?
I think maybe it would have been easier if she didn’t know them so intimately. Maybe it would be easier to follow clues if you’re coming at it from a more objective place. Are you writing a murder mystery? [Laughs].
No, no, no, I’m just curious because so many of the initial suspects had nothing to do with the case, like Deacon Mark (James McArdle).
I agree, I had that when I read them too, where I was like, “Oh, so it’s that guy. But how can it be that guy? It’s only Episode 3,” and then you’d be like, “Oh, okay. Not that guy.” But then they sort of come back again, like, “Maybe that guy.” I loved that there were never any clear frontrunners.
Even Guy Pearce was a frontrunner for a while, and he was entirely guiltless.
I know, until this episode. People are still like, “What’s he going to do? How does he kill her?”
Taking that into consideration, had you known the whole story when you signed onto the project, or did you learn what would happen over time?
They sent me the first six and then Kate called me and said, “I’m sending you this series. I’m in love with it. You have to play Lori, Mare’s best friend.” Then they told me a little bit of what happened in Episode Seven. She was like, “You have to trust me.” I don’t think I read seven until after I agreed to do it, but they did tell me that the final episode does end up with Lori and Mare and that experience, which was intriguing to me.
Fans had many different theories about how the show would end. Did any pique your interest or entertain you?
Well, someone just told me that there was a theory that Lori did it and the reason they knew was because Erin’s body had been displayed like the character on the Dave Matthews Band t-shirt and I was like, “Wow, that is dark.” I mean, people are really looking for ways in. For me, it’s just been fun to see how convinced people are with what they think they know.
By the end, do you think Easttown has found some semblance of peace, even if Lori hasn’t?
God, I hope so. Jeez, it’s hard to maintain that kind of tragedy, but yes, I think that there is closure around this and hopefully people can begin to live, move forward, and make as much peace as they can for themselves within their circumstances.
Mare of Easttown, Streaming Now, HBO Max