With the HBO series, Aduba steps into her first leading role on TV. But it comes after the loss of her 'biggest supporter.'
“It means everything, honestly,” Uzo Aduba tells ET about landing the first lead role of her TV career. After winning Emmys for her supporting performances on Orange Is the New Black and Mrs. America, the 40-year-old actress is now playing Dr. Brooke Taylor on HBO’s revival of In Treatment, the award-winning series about a therapist who runs a private practice out of their home.
“It feels unbelievable, but I'm trying to believe it,” she continues, adding that “I’m very grateful to HBO for giving me that opportunity to step into that space, [executive producers] Joshua Allen and Jennifer Schuur for giving me an exciting and complex character to play.”
Taking over for Gabriel Byrne, who played Dr. Paul Weston in the first three seasons, Taylor treats multiple patients -- played by the likes of Anthony Ramos, John Benjamin Hickey and Quintessa Swindell -- out of her home while battling her own demons and questioning her own practices.
And as she deals with complications in her personal life, including the loss of her father and the return of her longtime on-again, off-again boyfriend (Joel Kinnaman), she’s trying to help her patients navigate a global pandemic and the major social and cultural shifts that erupted in society.
Because this is the first time she’s ever done a reboot of any kind, she purposely did not talk to Byrne about his experiences on the series. “I realized I wanted to take space to find Brooke Taylor in her own world and her own time because the truth of the matter is, even going back to the show, life was so different before,” Aduba says.
Taylor is treating patients in a world that’s so different than that of Weston. “And I wanted that world and life to have as much freedom and boundlessness as possible,” she adds.
But playing Taylor didn’t come without its challenges, with Aduba revealing earlier this year that this was the hardest thing she’s ever worked on. And she wasn’t kidding.
Not only did she have to work with Allen and Schuur to develop her character (“There was a lot of invention, creation, and imagination”) and complete 24 episodes in a short amount of time (“If somebody asked me tomorrow to memorize the Bible, I’d be like, ‘Maybe’”), Aduba was doing it all in the wake of losing her mother, Nonyem, to cancer just 10 days prior to starting production on the HBO series.
While Nonyem has been a constant figure in Aduba’s life, many fans may only know of her from the brief viral moment during the 2020 Primetime Emmys when the actor shouted “Momma, I won” after winning for her portrayal of Shirley Chisholm on Mrs. America.
“The simple truth is, I would not be here without that woman. Period. End of story,” she says now. “I’ve never had a greater champion, a bigger supporter. She inspired me and encouraged me and my siblings every step of the way into believing that anything was possible that we could be and do anything even before I believed it.”
So to go right into filming so shortly after spending time as her caretaker over the past year, she was thankful that the network “really gave me the space and the time that I needed … I definitely wasn't expecting to be going through something like that. It was different from what I was used to.”
And how it ended up paralleling what Taylor was going through on the series was something that the actor could have never predicted. “I could identify with pain and loss in her story,” Aduba adds, noting at times it was hard to shake the character when she would get home. “I felt like I brought a lot more of this character home with me and I could see larger pieces of myself in her being a part of the story.”
Aduba was initially worried about that in the beginning of the process, talking to her therapist about how nervous it made her. But in the end, “I'm glad that parts of that happened because usually when I work, it only exclusively [goes] out. And this was one of the first times where I felt like I got something back.”
She adds, “I could feel the healing.”
Looking back on the experience, especially now that she’s on the other side of it, Aduba feels like she “was tested in a way I’d never been,” she says. “And I was just very happy that I passed.”
She, of course, credits the entire cast and crew for rallying together to get through it and wanting to share in that same feeling of achievement. But for her personally, “when we got to that last episode and when I was off book, that was just an awesome feeling,” Aduba concludes.
In Treatment premieres Sunday, May 23 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO. The series will air two back-to-back, half-hour episodes every Sunday and Monday night.
--Additional reporting by Matt Cohen