She’s the creative genius behind every woman’s favourite comedy fix, Catastrophe. She’s scripted for SJP, and now Reese Witherspoon is after a piece of her action. Marie Claire meets the absurdly talented Sharon Horgan
Sharon Horgan is a one-woman blizzard of creativity right now. She’s just spent all day in the editing suite cutting the third season of Catastrophe down to size; she’s reading scripts for the second series of her HBO show Divorce; she’s working on a film for Reese Witherspoon’s production company, and she’s also busy with a team of writers penning her upcoming parenting comedy Motherland. ‘On top of all that,’ she adds, ‘I’m listening to my youngest daughter practise her drumming. We got her a kit for Christmas. It’s cute. I love seeing girls on drums.’
There was a time, not long ago, when women in comedies mostly filled wife or girlfriend roles with little purpose other than to make the men around them look funnier. Horgan is a key player in the new wave of female writers and comedians who have changed that.
One of five kids, she was raised on a turkey farm in County Meath, Ireland, and moved to London in her twenties to study drama and work as a jobbing actress, filling the dry spells with waitressing and call-centre work. She was 36 before she gained recognition for her 2006 BBC Three sitcom Pulling (starring as ‘promiscuous’ Donna, who calls the police when a man steals her kebab), but it’s her and Rob Delaney’s BAFTA-winning comedy Catastrophe, about a woman who falls pregnant after a fling with an American businessman, that’s been the real game-changer.
Inspiration for the series was drawn from Horgan’s own experience of an unexpected pregnancy just six months after meeting her husband, entrepreneur Jeremy Rainbird. Rob Delaney and Horgan wrote the show together after they met on Twitter and discovered their mutually dark sense of humour. ‘We both have whatever the opposite of rose-tinted spectacles is… puce spectacles?’ she says. ‘For season three we had a writing assistant and it took time for us to get used to there being someone in the room listening to what we came out with before it had been made acceptable for human ears.’
Last year Horgan’s talents transferred across the pond to America with the critically acclaimed HBO series Divorce. If you haven’t seen the show yet you really should: it stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Robert Haden Church as a separating couple immersed in an (often funny) power struggle. Now Reese Witherspoon, who recently said she was fed up of seeing so many talented actresses in bland helpmeet roles, has enlisted Horgan to write a movie for her. Is this the beginning of the Horgan Hollywood revolution? We hope so.
Let’s talk Catastrophe. Series two ended with Rob accused of workplace sexual harassment and Sharon appearing to have cheated on him. How will things pan out?
‘It’s hard for me to say without giving too much away, but I hope we have an interesting answer to it. Marriage is complicated and it would be weird if there weren’t some ups and downs. We wanted to explore how people navigate and negotiate this… ill behaviour, shall we say.’
Do you and Rob end up having quite deep talks when you’re writing the show together?
‘Yeah, I mean I don’t think it’s very healthy to move yourself with your writing all the time, but it’s often the stuff we feel it’s important to talk about that we don’t. Particularly now – there’s lots to laugh about because, if you didn’t, you’d cry. Sometimes we get a bit fucked up writing something if it’s a bit close to home, but then we usually try to find an answer to it. If people are seeing their own lives reflected back at them they don’t want to be told, “This is your shitty life!” They want to be told, “Other people have shitty lives and this is how they navigate it, so it isn’t so bad.”’
It was interesting to see you explore how tough maternity leave can be in the last season of Catastrophe…
‘I know during that period that’s how I felt, so it didn’t seem extraordinary to think other people would too. [It’s about] that desperation to fit in [with other mothers] when the only thing that unites you is having a kid the same age; the change from being in work to being a mother and feeling, “Who am I now? What am I now?”. You can’t just have an identity through your child, so you need to find something else. The most satisfying storylines are the ones where we feel we’re saying something that might chime with people. As well as the silly stuff, because we want people to laugh.’
You’ve drawn on your own life for your work. Has your husband ever tried to veto anything?
‘Well, I mean, I’d be lying if I said I ran it past him… I do show him early cuts of things and sometimes if there isn’t much of a response, I’ll know it’s because he feels it’s a little close to home. You’ve got to find a narrative, so I quite often feel by the time we get to the end of an episode it’s enough steps removed to be a story of its own, rather than a direct lift.’
You wrote a very moving tribute to Carrie Fisher, who will appear in her role as Rob’s mother in the new series…
‘She was the best. In series one and two it was more of a fly-in-fly-out deal, so we found it harder to pin her down, but for this series she was around a lot more. She was an incredible wit and had a beautiful way with words, but she wasn’t overly flowery with her compliments, so it’s only really in her passing that people have sent me lovely messages saying how much she enjoyed playing Mia. Sadly I dropped my phone down the toilet in December and lost a lot of her texts, which were so funny, raw and brilliant. Mostly they were knock-backs for my invites [laughs], but I’m going to see if I can get them back.’
You’ve said we’re in a golden era for women in comedy right now. Why do you think there’s better female representation in TV comedy rather than film?
‘I think it’s because film is a director’s medium and, as we know, women are massively under-represented in that area. In order to catch up, that has to change. TV is more of a writer’s medium and I feel it’s now also a place where women are allowed to tell their own stories. The days of a sitcom being two blokes typing out six episodes and then casting an underwritten female are gone. Thankfully.’
What got you interested in writing about divorce?
‘It was actually when I met up with SJP [Sarah Jessica Parker]. Originally, we chatted about what she wanted to do and she was very interested in focusing on long-term relationships that had taken a turn for the worst. I thought divorce was interesting because, not only would you get to watch the breakdown of a marriage from the beginning, you would also explore the industry of divorce itself. I don’t have an awful lot of friends who have gone through it, but I realised I didn’t know much about it. I thought, “Oh shit, because people don’t talk about it, maybe it’s something people might like to see the nuts and bolts of.”’
You’re also writing a film for Reese Witherspoon. Are there any other Hollywood ladies you’d love to work with?
‘There are so many female performers who blow my mind. Amy Adams, for example; Kathryn Hahn also makes me laugh a lot. I used to have this feeling every time I met someone I was a huge fan of that I should write something for them. But then you realise there’s only a certain amount of hours in the day. I got to write a show for SJP. Sometimes you just have to say to yourself “Look, calm down.”’
Catastrophe returns to Channel 4 on Tuesday 28th February at 10pm