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EXCLUSIVE: 'Catastrophe' Stars Sharon Horgan & Rob Delaney Never Lose Their Charm -- Even When Things Get Nasty

by Stacy Lambe 8:20 AM PDT, August 24, 2016
Photo: Getty Images

What started as a Twitter friendship quickly turned into a creative partnership for Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, resulting in an Emmy nomination for the Amazon series Catastrophe.

“We decided to get together and have a cup of coffee,” Delaney says of their first encounter after he and Horgan followed each other on Twitter. “And then we decided to make a television show that would be global and successful.” 

While it was an idea the two had -- “in sort of an abstract way,” Horgan says -- it wasn’t until Delaney was offered a script deal that they had an opportunity to make good on it. “Then he came to me and said, ‘Oh, I haven’t written a script before. Would you write a script with me?’” Horgan recalls. 

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After drafts, re-drafts and eventually finding a home on Channel Four in the U.K. and Amazon in the U.S., Delaney and Horgan came up with a show about the sweet, harsh reality of two strangers who decide to fall in love after they get pregnant. 

Now, the two are nominated for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series and open up to ET about putting together that first script, their characters’ onscreen fights and Horgan’s other buzzy project, Sarah Jessica Parker’s return to HBO.

ET: You two are nominated for the pilot episode. I was curious if you could tell me a little bit about actually writing that first script.

Rob Delaney: That was really us really getting to know each other while writing that script. The final thing that got shot was vastly different from what we first initially wrote. But we went through redrafting it and then kind of playing with when it would be set. Should it be right when they meet? Should it be years into their relationship? So, we kind of monkeyed around with the help of the network and their ideas. We've had fun doing it. We were tentative in the beginning because we didn't know each other terribly well, but then we, you know, just kind of got better and better. We really warmed up and started to have fun pretty quickly, I'd say.

Sharon Horgan: The pilot episode is quite chunky. I mean there's a lot going on in it and I think it ended up like that because it was originally two scripts. Channel Four originally commissioned one after our first stab at the pilot -- or what we thought what the pilot would be -- and they asked us for another script. We had episode one and episode two and then they suggested that they might want to combine those two scripts. Basically, they were saying, “These two scripts are funny, but they could be doubly funny if you pushed them into one.” So, the job was a real challenge, but it was a good idea that worked out because you get the setup of the relationship. Then you also get to see them fully kind of having made the decision to get on with their lives. Hopefully it ended up a lot more satisfying and denser.

You both have a lot of roles on the show. You're creators, stars, producers and writers. What does it mean to be nominated as writers this time around?

SH: Just from my own point of view, I started as an actor and Rob started as an actor. I still don't even identify as a writer, as bonkers as that sounds. So, it's just a really lovely affirmation. It's a pat on the back.

RD: It’s so cool because obviously without a script there's no show. So to think the thing that we really labor over and devote the most time to, which is of course the script, to have those [efforts] recognized is just amazing. 

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I read that the original pilot also had the time jump, what became the start of season two with having had the baby. By pulling back on that, is that where you really figured out who Rob and Sharon are?

RD: Our initial inclination was to start deep into the family experience. It's possible we did that because we thought, “Well, we'll never actually get to make a series, so we’d better cram several seasons’ worth into one episode.” But then once they decided to make it, they were like, “Hey guys, slow down. You can stretch it out a little bit.” We were as surprised as anybody how much we enjoyed watching them get to know each other. 

For me, at least, the fighting between Rob and Sharon is the most refreshing thing about the series. Was there a conversation about that element and how you guys would either write that or play that onscreen?

SH: A lot of it is also just banter and them finding each other funny, I think. Then obviously, like in episode six, they have a full-blown horrific insult, back-and-forth argument. But I think by that point, we figured they’d earned it. They're in this pressure cooker. You know, not knowing each other, the health scares and all the sh*t that went along with it: Rob having to move to London, the insecurity of this new relationship and having a baby. So we thought, “Oh, they're definitely at that one.” And we allowed ourselves it. But generally we kept an eye on the tone. Anything in the script that seemed harsh, we knew we could lighten it up because of who the characters are. We knew that onscreen, something that sounds barbed, we could probably make it charming.

Photo: Amazon

When it comes to the fighting, is that all scripted or is there any improv in there?

RD: It's almost all scripted. It’s 99 percent scripted.

SH: Point eight.

RD: We really say what we're writing out loud as we write it and we read and rewrite, read and reread it. Everything that our characters say we want to make sure that it sounds like stuff that people really say. So nothing get shot before we battle test it and yell it at each other across the table maybe 40 times.

SH: Yes, but those characters insulting each other are really fun to write. 

With the show being renewed for two more seasons, what does that mean in terms of the storytelling and what you guys can do? Does this also mean that there's an end date in mind?

SH: Well, I don't think we have an ending in mind. In terms of storytelling, it does make you reach a little bit farther. Like, when you're writing season three and you know you have a season four expected of you, there are some things you think, “Maybe that's for later,” where in other seasons, we just threw everything else out. You have to have an overview of the series and know what it's about and know what you want to say so you're not just continuing to just drop out episodes. You need to have a really good understanding of what you want your audience to get from it. As long as you have that in your mind, it sort of becomes a little bit easier. I don't think we ever think about it in terms of how we think we see it ending. Because it's slice-of-life-like, isn't it?

RD: I certainly don't think about how it would end, because this show -- more than a lot of shows -- is more about the process than about how these two characters relate to each other and how they deal with challenges. Sure, we have some crazy and challenging things happen to them, but really, at the end of the day or the end of the series, it's not about what happens to them but how they deal with it and how they affect each other and how they help each other. That would be what I'll remember about this show when I'm old and grey.

SH: Yeah, that's true. We do have this weird fantasy that -- because we're both huge Richard Linklater fans -- if it did end, in 10 years’ time, we might pick it up again. Just see what happens. 

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Will the show ever take place in the U.S.?

RD: It's not out of the question. We're always thinking about it. We're not there yet. We would never want it to be gimmicky, so we totally talk about and imagine how we might do it. It would have to be really organic, rather than have it like The Brady Bunch Hawaii episode just for the hell of it.

SH: We’re also very in love with Carrie Fisher [who plays Rob’s mother], so we always try and think of how we can get her in it more. Obviously, heading back to Rob's hometown would give us more time with her. Hopefully, at some point it'll happen. But like Rob said, we're not trying to force it. We're trying to see what happens in the script that takes us there or might take us there.

Sharon, you also have Divorce coming up on HBO. What are you getting to do with that show that you're not able to do with Catastrophe?

SH: Well, this feels completely different because one is about the total collapse of a relationship and all the dynamics around that. It's more procedural, and I guess the challenge in that is finding the comedy within something that's super heartbreaking. It’s a different kind of beast. Catastrophe, certainly initially, was about the very genesis of a relationship and then about staying in love. Weirdly, there's not much crossover.

Was there any added pressure when it became a Sarah Jessica Parker series?

SH: From the very beginning, I couldn't think about it, because if I had thought about it, I would freeze. Everything I've ever done has always been a small show, but just by luck or chance it kind of became something, whereas this started out as something -- before I even put pen to paper. I felt a huge pressure, but also it was a ridiculous situation to be in, to be writing for someone that good and that well-known. 

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