“I don’t do much besides writing comedy and being in a relationship and having a family. I’m not flying airplanes at the weekends. So I know my limits.” Sharon Horgan is explaining why it is that so much of her work – the hugely popular Catastrophe, which she also stars in; the BBC pilot of Motherland that she co-wrote; and her new project, Divorce, with Sarah Jessica Parker – has common themes. She makes shows about being a mother and being a wife and being a person who works in the world. Shows about being a woman and feeling that weight of expectation and finding a way to navigate that. There is love – sometimes the sexy kind, sometimes the wiping-small-snotty-noses kind – and there is frustration. And, perhaps most importantly, because Horgan is so close to her subjects, there is honesty. In every Sharon Horgan project, the viewer will come across a tiny taboo and it is that frankness that makes her comedy so exciting.
In Divorce – which stars Sarah Jessica Parker as the 50ish Frances, a dissatisfied woman seeking a divorce from her husband and the father of her children – the jokes are often brilliantly, uncomfortably dark. This is a show about people who resent each other, and contempt is a state that Sharon Horgan nails. In the first episode, a husband gets up to toast his wife for her birthday, but keeps it short: “Diane hates it when I make a speech – or talk.” And things only get grimmer from there. As you would expect from the title, there is a lot of focus on the realities of separation, what Horgan calls the “procedural elements of divorce, the nuts and bolts of it”. This was actually an area that she had to research, as divorce isn’t familiar to her. “I haven’t been divorced; I don’t know that many people who are divorced – you know, I’m Irish,” she hoots.
But, while divorce is a new subject, the fallout for Frances is familiar territory for longtime Horgan fans. “I’m writing about more than the relationships,” she says. “I hope that, from the beginning, with Pulling and Donna, it was also very much trying to explore something she wan’t happy with, and I think with Frances in Divorce, it’s a similar thing. Just with 18 years of marriage and two kids in between.”
It is, of course, a massive boon to have Sarah Jessica Parker on board; not only is she a brilliant actor – perfect for the “dramedy" of Divorce – but she is, obviously, a huge star, beloved of millions who have been waiting for a suitable script for her since the end of Sex And The City. Speaking about the expectations for the series, Horgan says, “I was aware of how people feel about her – she’s America’s sweetheart and I was very nervous about that. I wanted to make sure I didn’t let her or her fans down.” It is thrilling to see Parker on HBO again and she does for Frances what she did for Carrie Bradshaw, imbuing a sometimes selfish, sometimes silly character with a humanity and, yes, a likeability. “You have to relate to Frances and to her situation, and you have to root for her on her journey, but she also makes terrible mistakes and she’s flawed,” says Horgan. “The lucky thing about having Sarah Jessica Parker playing that part, and involved in a show like this, is that you get away with a lot more because she is likeable and people do love her. It’s hard not to root for the character.”
I was aware of how people feel about Sarah Jessica Parker – she’s America’s sweetheart and I was very nervous about that
In Horgan’s medium – television – women are allowed to be messy and she has revelled in that, but I wonder if she has thought about taking her flawed heroines to the big screen. “It’s tricky with film at the moment, because it’s very much dominated by Marvel and super blockbustery-style stories, and I guess those are more male-driven territory,” she says, but she wouldn’t rule out the possibility. “I’ve got lots of film influences that would inspire me. And you have to set yourself goals along the way. My life is fully TV at the moment and it’s very satisfying, but it doesn’t stop you thinking that you’d like to nail a story over an hour and a half, and crack that.”
She seems sanguine. Yes, it would be nice if it happened, but she’s not going to fret over it. “There’s no master plan. I mean if someone I admire likes my work, I get giddy about it, but in a way that’s like, ‘Oh that’s exciting that you’re watching that’, instead of ‘WHAT CAN YOU DO FOR ME?’. Whereas, I think, back in the day, when I was younger, I was a bit like that…”
These days, she is perhaps too successful to be overly concerned with what people can do for her; as we speak, she is in a car on her way into Manhattan for the premiere of Divorce. And anyway, it’s ultimately the work and the jokes that drives Horgan: “I’m just a really hard worker and I like what I do, and I like to make stuff. I like to produce stuff; I like getting stuff out there. There’s no master plan.”
Top of the list of stuff she wants to get out there is a full series of Motherland – the BBC has just commissioned it on the back of the hilarious pilot she co-wrote with Graham Linehan, Helen Linehan and Holly Walsh. And then, of course, there is series three of Catastrophe, which she is currently writing and which starts shooting in November. At the end of season two, Rob and Sharon left viewers worried that the relationship could be in trouble after a spot of (largely unintended) infidelity. But we needn’t worry; there’s no HBO, US-style divorce on the cards for those two. “Catastrophe is kind of different because it really is a romance,” Horgan confirms. “They have their own difficulties, but there’s never really a sense that they’ll fall apart. They’re together – that’s it now. Whatever shit happens, they’re going to make it work.”
Divorce is on Sky Atlantic at 10.10pm