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Top Tierney

BY Cristina Cuomo | August 29, 2016 | Feature Celebrity Features

As the star of Showtime's hit drama "The Affair," Maura Tierney explores a character so many women can relate to, all the while finding herself. Beach caught up with the New Yorker, who takes comfort in the serenity of Montauk while filming the emotional highs and lows of the must-watch show.
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Maura Tierney, the television queen we’ve grown up with, is all grown up herself. At 51, her filmography lists some of the greatest sitcoms and dramas in TV land. She played a newswriter in the mid-’90s on NewsRadio; a nurse turned doctor for a decade on ER opposite George Clooney; had stints on the Good Wife and Rescue Me; and landed her Golden Globe-winning role as a woman dealing with the emotional fallout of her husband’s liaison on one of Showtime’s most popular series, The Affair. Sarah Treem’s beautifully crafted series, which takes place between Montauk and New York City, features Tierney’s most haunting and powerful performance to date, as Helen Solloway, ex-wife of writer Noah Solloway, played by the equally powerful Dominic West. The show’s structure, using four points of view—usually two perspectives per episode, unfolding four different ways—is not hard to follow, thanks to the great talents of Tierney and her co-stars, who also include Ruth Wilson and Joshua Jackson. But “sometimes it gets very confusing when we are shooting multiple things in one day,” Tierney admits. “You have to figure out if we are in the present or in the future or whose point of view it is. It’s four actors, but it’s really 12 characters.”

On top of the challenge of playing one scene though multiple perspectives, Tierney has inhabited her role as a wife and mother of four turned cuckolded woman differently in each of the show’s seasons so far. “Helen started off as a perfect, saintly type of woman,” says Tierney. “In the first season her perfection was kind of off-putting. In season two, we got to see a more human character, and I had fun exploring that other less perfect side of her.” Her choices are intentional: “I don’t like to know too much in advance, so I just take the script page by page. If I knew the whole arc of what was going to happen, it would have been a little more challenging for me.”

At the end of season two, Helen is involved in a harrowing hit-and-run; it’s been, to date, Tierney’s hardest scene, though not in the obvious ways. “While it was highly dramatic, so much pretending was involved. There was a lot of acting like getting in a car that wasn’t moving, and that was really hard to translate into a real moment.” The cataclysmic event also represented a pivotal point in the relationship between Helen and Noah, her ex, as they are bound by it. It’s also a scene that is seen through three different points of view—hers, Noah’s and that of his new paramour, Alison, played by Ruth Wilson. “The last episode of season two showed the most interesting use of the points-of-view device. From Alison’s point of view, Noah did see her, so that signifies Noah’s terrible behavior. But if he didn’t see her, that’s heroic behavior, taking the rap for his ex-wife.”

Even though Tierney doesn’t have many scenes with actor Joshua Jackson—who plays Cole, Alison’s ex-husband—they are close off-set. “We’re all friends; we all hang out together in Montauk even if we aren’t actually in scenes together. Josh and Ruth and I will be in big scenes, like the wedding scene, but we don’t work one-on-one together, which makes me sad.”

While her portrayal earned Tierney her first-ever Golden Globe win earlier this year, she didn’t feel an immediate connection to her character. “My reaction to the script when I first read it was that the device was interesting to me. This was a very interesting wife part. There are a lot of wife parts out there and they aren’t always all that great, and I was struck by that. Then it evolved into something even more fun.”

And memorable too. Another striking scene is one in which Tierney and Wilson face off for the first time at the doorstep of her brownstone in Brooklyn. “I really liked the scene between Helen and Alison—I like seeing those two characters together, having this kind of confrontation. That was satisfying to play and to watch.”

Season three, which returns at the end of November, proves to be even riper with plot twists and turns. “It’s quite a jump in time—about three years later—so a lot has happened to some of the characters. There are new relationships for Noah [and] a new relationship for Helen, and everyone has kind of moved on a little bit in time, but they’re still dealing with the consequences of their actions. There’s a big question mark between Noah and Alison. Helen has a boyfriend, and Cole is fully ensconced with his new wife.”

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