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Five Minutes with Sharon Horgan – Double IFTA winner for ‘Catastrophe’
16 Nov 2015 : Sean Brosnan
Sharon Horgan
They say there’s no rest for the wicked and there’s even less rest for the wickedly funny as recent double IFTA winner Sharon Horgan proves.

Winning two awards for Best Writer and Best Female Perforamance for her hit Channel 4 show ‘Catastrophe’ (co-written by Rob Delaney who also stars) – the critical and commercial hit which tells the story of an Irish woman and American man who discover they are expecting a baby after a brief affair in London, Horgan has also created successful television shows such as ‘Pulling’ (co-written with Dennis Kelly and earning them both two BAFTA nominations) for Channel 4 and starred in films such as ‘Run & Jump’ and ‘Man Up’.

Talking to IFTN from New York where she is currently in pre-production on her first US show ‘Divorce’ - which will star Sarah Jessica Parker (who will also Exec Produce along with Horgan) Sharon talks to us about the “new feeling” commercial success brings, blending the dark and the light seamlessly together in ‘Catastrophe’ and the advantages of working in a writer’s room in her new HBO show.

IFTN: First off, congratulations on both your wins at the recent IFTA Gala Television Awards – how does it feel to be recognized in not just one but two categories for your work on ‘Catastrophe’?

Sharon Horgan: ‘Very good! It’s nice to get the show out there and have it recognized.’

And the show is definitely recognized – great viewership and reviews in the UK as well as being acquired by Amazon Prime and selling internationally – how does it feel to have created something that is doing so well both critically and commercially?

‘It’s certainly a new feeling [laughs]. I have done stuff in the past that done well critically, I suppose, but didn’t do as well commercially. I think I often said in the past that “it doesn’t matter – all that matters is that you are making something you are proud of” but I take all that back now [laughs]. It’s very, very nice to have more people watch your show – it’s really satisfying – I mean as long as they are watching and are enjoying it of course. With ‘Catastrophe’, it seems that people get it – they get what we are trying to say and understand it which is pretty joyous.’

Aside from the acclaimed and very sharp comedy on display in the show – a universally praised element of the writing is not shirking away from some darker themes – post-natal depression and dementia in the second season alone – is it hard to find the right blend between light and dark themes?

‘It wasn’t hard to get the blend at all and it wasn’t something that we even felt we had to try hard to do. It all felt like it was just there naturally. First off, the comedy is very important to us. When we are writing an episode about something that is a tough issue – we go back with a fine toothcomb and make sure there are jokes peppered through it. It feels like those dark and light themes go hand in hand and fit together very snugly. The drama of life – relationships, jobs and just trying to get on and the comedy of that is universal I think. You laugh hard but you also cry hard as well. Not that I go around crying every day [laughs]. But it would feel odd writing something that is purporting to be true to life without having the two side by side.’

Your writing partner Rob Delaney also stars opposite you in the show – does it make it easier writing comedic material with someone you will also be acting it out with?

‘Yeah I suppose it does – it’s certainly more fun. It is something I have done a lot in the past but I also do a lot of writing on my own too. When you are writing with another person, I think it’s easier to find out if something is funny or not as you would be more inclined to laugh out loud more. Also, we would be reading aloud as we go and I think it can be very helpful with dialogue as you know immediately whether or not the words spoken actually sound like words the character would say – which is slightly harder to figure out when you are on your own. Ultimately, writing on your own is tougher but it has its’ own pleasures as well – you write on your own time and you are the captain of your own ship.’

‘There is no way I could have done ‘Catastrophe’ without Rob though – it’s a combination of my life stories and his life stories and it has given the show its’ unique voice – especially as we are the ones performing on the show too.’

Just touching on you being the captain of your own ship – an element of your work which must be exciting when you are writing and pitching the first series of a show and going into the unknown. But, when you were commissioned for a second series and you all of a sudden have a broadcast date, schedules and expectations – does that added pressure make it harder for you?

‘There was massive pressure – it was kind of horrific! They wanted the show so quickly but the great thing about Channel 4 is that they gave us a get out clause of sorts. They said the only thing worse than not getting the show when they wanted it was getting the show and it not being on a par with the first season. So, they said that if it got to a point where the scripts were coming in and they don’t feel right, they wouldn’t force us to make the show. But, as it happened, we put our heads down and did nothing else for four months and Rob and I were happy with the scripts. But, yes it was very pressurized and a lot of hard work and I haven’t had a holiday in quite a while [laughs]. I’m really tired!’

And you are not resting now either as you are currently in New York working on HBO’s ‘Divorce’ which you created and will Exec Produce…

‘Yeah, we are in pre-production of that and it will start shooting on November 16th. We have a really great cast (Sarah Jessica Parker who also Exec Produces, Molly Shannon, Thomas Haden Church) and an incredible writing team. It’s the first time I have ever worked in a writer’s room with a big group of writers and it turns out that it’s a really good idea [laughs]. It’s great fun to have so many clever people and amazing writers in one room – people who I really admire. The whole pre-production process of ‘Divorce’ was a lot of fun – getting the scripts right, watching the sets being built. Watching it all come together has been quite nerve-wracking but very exciting.’

That idea of a writer’s room is interesting as it seems to be the norm in the US but Irish and UK shows do not adapt it at all…is it surreal to see something you created being thrashed around in so many talented minds?

‘Yeah it is but I suppose we originally shot the pilot which I wrote on my own so at least we had that to go from in terms of tone and style. We then spent a month together working out where we wanted the story to go and everyone brought what they had to the table. Slowly, material goes up on the wall and it becomes tangible. Off the back of that work, the writers are given an outline for the episode they were writing and it was exciting to see them all come in and 99% of the time it was a pleasure to read what they had written.’

‘What I still can’t get my head around is why the writers care so much about this idea that I had [laughs]. It becomes really gratifying to have so many of them work so hard on something like this and give so much of a s**t on making it as good as it can possibly be. It means that the show – despite being part of a group writing process – ends up having one voice which is quite incredible considering everyone is quite different. They all worked so hard to capture the tone but also brought their comedic elements to it too.’

It’s interesting as you seem to be adding another string to your bow with each passing project – writer, actress, producer, Exec Producer, director – is that something you are conscious of or is just something that has happened naturally?

‘The only challenge is the timing element – there isn’t enough hours in the day! But, it has all just kind of happened really. Even with ‘Pulling’ back in the day, Dennis Kelly and I were so involved in the workings of it – from the locations to the schedules to the music and the mix and the grade. I don’t think there is a point in creating something and then just give it to someone and say “Ok, this is your thing now” and just walk away. I can’t understand that – it’s not something that comes easily to me. Any directors that have worked with me on stuff I have written know that I like to have a little whisper in their ear and offer ideas on performance. So, it has been progression – I am not just trying to pick up titles as I go along [laughs].’

Your feature directorial debut will be ‘Meet Me In Ten Years’ – is that still in development?

‘Yeah, it turns out films take a long time! It’s from a script by a new writer called Frances Poletti but yeah, it’s taking a long time as there are lots of people to please. You have get your finance in order as well as a distributor and a cast and all that. But it’s taking a long time but that’s OK as I am quite busy at the moment! In saying that, film is definitely something that I want to get more involved in. Television is probably the best medium for writers at the moment but I guess a lot of stuff that has influenced me along the way creatively has been film so it would be nice at some point to make a film that I could be proud of.’

Might sound like a silly question taking into account all you have on at the minute but is there anything else in the pipeline in the near future?

‘Well, I have my own production company now called Merman and we are developing a lot of stuff with other writers, performers and comedians. I kind of do all that stuff in the morning before anyone gets up [laughs]. I am working on something at the moment with Aisling Bea for example as well as projects with Dennis Kelly, Graham Linehan and Holly Walsh as well as Ailbhe Keogan who I previously worked with on a film called ‘Run & Jump’. That’s the great thing about this line of work – you meet all these great minds along the way.’

The second season of ‘Catastrophe’ is currently airing on Tuesday nights at 10pm on Channel 4.

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