It’s Christmastime in the snowy suburbs of HBO’s Divorce — but there’s not a lot of joy in this world.
In this Sunday’s episode (10/9c), divorcing couple Frances (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Robert (Thomas Haden Church) play nice for the holidays and pretend they’re happily married for the benefit of Frances’ parents. But Robert refuses to plaster on a yuletide smile; he gets plastered instead. In the exclusive sneak peek below, he helps himself to a festive glass of Scotch and snipes at Frances, “You’re forcing me to live this lie”… just as Frances’ mom swoops in with homemade hummus.
Church tells TVLine that the Christmas-set episode does stir up a few long-dormant feelings for the estranged pair: “There are some very poignant moments where they’re forced to be together in intimate circumstances, and you do see the essence of who they were and, somewhere woven in there, what might still be there.” He thinks the show is finding its groove midway through its freshman season, too: “Now that we’ve established the groundwork with the first five [episodes], I think we do get into more complex storytelling for the last five.”
After six seasons as dopey mechanic Lowell on NBC’s Wings and another two opposite Debra Messing on Fox’s Ned and Stacey, Church thought he was finished with the small screen. “From really ’99 on, I had no interest in doing another TV show, because I had done TV for ten years,” he remembers. Instead, he concentrated on movies, earning an Oscar nomination for his work in the 2004 wine-country comedy Sideways and playing the villainous Sandman in 2007’s Spider-Man 3.
But he met Sarah Jessica Parker on the set of their 2008 film Smart People, and “we really hit it off,” he recalls. Years later, when Parker was developing Divorce, “she wrote me a letter and sent me the script. It was just so polite. It practically came with a basket of muffins and kittens.” Now they’re playing a bitterly divided couple, which Church says can be tough: “She says because we get along so well, it’s fun to be mad at him. Because she has to really dig deep to find it. I really adore her. So it is a challenge to build that crossfire.”
Divorce pulls no punches in its portrait of Frances and Robert’s crumbling marriage. Church says people have told him it’s a difficult show to watch with their spouses, “because it’s so pointed, and prodding at times. It becomes a little bit too provocative… But that, to me, is one of the daring qualities of it. We’re not flinching from asking a lot of really tough questions.”
Questions like: Why the mustache? Robert’s pushbroom ‘stache is a running joke on Divorce, with Frances citing it as the breaking point for their marriage. As Church, who’s clean-shaven these days (“I shaved that off in March”), explains, “I had it for a movie I did before we shot the pilot. And they wanted me to keep it, because the rest of the series picks up the next day, and I didn’t want to be saddled with a fake mustache. They’re a pain in the ass.” He notes that his facial hair has given the show’s joke writers plenty of ammunition: “They were having way too much fun in the writers’ room with my mustache.”
The battle lines in Frances and Robert’s split were drawn last week, with both of them lawyering up, and him employing arrogant divorce attorney Tony Silvercreek (30 Rock‘s Dean Winters). Church says Silvercreek gives Robert a newfound edge: “Straight out of the gate, he’s like, ‘We’ve got to toughen you up. You’re in for a fight.’ And her lawyer is like, ‘Let’s see what they’re gonna do and react.’ [Silvercreek] is definitely way more alpha-wolf, ‘let’s go for the jugular right away.'”
Speaking of “alpha-wolf”: Robert, embittered by the divorce and Frances’ infidelity, has become a bit of a men’s-rights activist this season, labeling Frances and her friends “clucking hens” and complaining to his male friends that it’s “open season on men around here.” So we had to ask… would Robert vote for Donald Trump?
Church chuckles a bit at the thought, before deciding that Robert’s too unpredictable to pin down politically: “I could see him being impulsive, either way. Like, ‘Well, one of the things I need to start working on is being more likable for women.’ And he punches Hillary Clinton. But the other thing is, ‘Women are all monsters. Women are all evil. They’re all treacherous. I’m going with Trump.'” He adds, with a laugh: “Because his marriage seems to be healthy.”
Press PLAY on the video above to get a sneak peek at this Sunday’s Divorce, then hit the comments and give us your take on Season 1 so far.