Sharon Horgan on Apple TV+ Series ‘Bad Sisters’, ‘Divorce’ Lessons, Writing Intimate Scenes – The Hollywood Reporter
When Sharon Horgan writes at her home in Los Angeles, she oscillates between the office and a shady patio. In her main house in London, she has an attic for writing. But that’s usually not where you’ll find it. “If I’m really honest, I sometimes write in bed,” she says. “I kinda feel like a pig – just shit everywhere!”
No matter the region, it works. The writer and actress is one of the most prolific creators working in television today. having created Tie rod, Disaster and Divorce – as well as acting in films such as game night and The unbearable weight of massive talent – the Irish multihyphenate launched two series in 2022 alone. She co-created Starz’s shining valley and, come August 19, debuts bad sisters on AppleTV+. This latest passion project, which she writes, stars in and produces under her Merman banner, is an adaptation of a Flemish drama about five sisters who agree to murder their misogynistic husband. This is new ground for Horgan on several fronts. But, as she says while zooming in from her parents’ Dublin home in August, she’s not interested in repeating herself.
You have the reputation of being a generator of ideas. East bad sisters your first adaptation job?
I’ve been sent so many things to adapt over the years – Israeli books or series that they thought could get a makeover in the UK or the US. It never pleased me. It seemed so difficult. Then I adapted a short for modern love. I loved being able to use my imagination around a story that already existed.
So what made it this one?
I love the sisters in the original, that five-headed monster dynamic. I liked the idea of doing an hour and a thriller. I thought, “Do it. Do something that scares you.
What scared you?
How can I own it? It was quite big and different from what I normally do. I’m a “six half-hour episodes” kind of girl!
When you wrapped Disasterwhat did you think was next?
I am in my fifties now. I’m divorced. My children are becoming adults. Everything changes in my life. I thought I wanted to write about this. It really is fertile ground. But I found that I was too close. To turn something tragic into comedy takes time and space. And I was already afraid of repeating myself. I didn’t want to get too self-absorbed and self-indulgent, like using TV as therapy.
You have a lot of creator credits. How do you decide between the shows where you write every episode and those where you are less involved in the day-to-day?
It normally works on its own. With something like shining valley, it was an idea I had that I was thinking of writing myself. It goes back centuries, but Divorce was picked up and I put it aside. My manager at the time didn’t want to give up on the idea, so he thought, “Let’s just find the right showrunner and you can be as involved as you want.” It works for some projects. Then something happens like bad sisters, and it takes over your life for a few years. This I felt I needed to possess.
shining valley seems like it could have gotten more attention. Do you think this is on Starz or the TV glut right now?
I completely agree. I was so angry that Courteney [Cox] did not earn an Emmy Award nomination. I know that doesn’t mean everything, but she’s so good! It’s a beautifully put together and challenging show to do. Starz put it all behind. They have a show with Greg Kinnear, Mira Sorvino and Courteney Cox. It’s a big problem. It’s a breakthrough in a way, but it should be more.
You have a producing partner, Clelia Mountford. What does she do that you can’t?
She is a mover and shaker. She convinced Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe to do The notebook of a young doctor, so she gets things done. She’s very good at the things I don’t want to do: woo the commissioners and get cheese and wine in the right places.
Because you said ‘commissioner’, I now have to ask you about the differences between doing business in the UK and the US. Looks like it’s getting more and more similar.
Everything looks very similar now, except for the budgets. In the UK you have tiny budgets – sometimes 10 times less. But even so, you are still short of money. It doesn’t matter if you do a $4 million or $400,000 episode.
Are the notes always so different?
I was just talking to [Shining Vale co-creator and showrunner] Jeff Astrof on this. He thinks if you don’t know how to write a joke, “Fuck you.” Don’t tell me, ‘Make it funnier.’ “But I’d say Americans are much better at saying, ‘Good job,’ first. Jeff and I met to talk about season 2, and he was like, ‘Don’t give me a stack of notes. and not a pat on the back first!”
I think the most important thing is that the project remains the same. If you bring something to anyone and say, “I want to do this,” it’s because you like it. You have a point of view. But it can be crushed into a different shape if you step into that “yes” culture to get it ordered. You accept things you never thought you would accept, anything to get things done. So you’re attached to something you don’t want. “Take it back!” Work is 50% of your life, so it’s important not to waste that.
You said the shoot Divorce harm your mental health. Have you put professional guards in place to make sure this doesn’t happen again?
I don’t get too emotionally involved. I made a pact with myself not to lose it. I work very hard but remember this is just a TV show. Divorce was different. It was my first major American television series. I was away from home and I was trying to write Disaster at a time. It was too much. I missed my children. But at the same time, I wanted to be everywhere. It was simply impossible. Even if I didn’t like it, I certainly learned a lot.
Disaster and Divorce present a beautiful juxtaposition. When you write more intimate scenes, do you approach them differently when you play them?
That doesn’t even occur to me in the slightest. It’s the weirdest thing, like someone put me on like a meat suit and wrote it down. Sometimes I really wonder “Why did I write that?” I regret it afterwards. On a micro level, silly, why would I put on a bikini? Now I have to go on a diet for two months. Why would I have two pages of tears? It’s really hard to do! If I thought about it, I would limit the story too much. So I don’t think about it at all until I do. So I curse myself.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the August 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.