What was it about ‘Getting On’ and the role of Dawn Forchette that appealed to you?
It’s so funny. I’m always asked, “What appealed to you?” as though I have this huge buffet in front of me and I get to pick and choose. I’ve spent most of my life writing and developing everything that I’ve wanted to be in -- which is why I started writing in the first place. I was busy developing something else with the BBC when this came up. I had just had a baby a week before the audition came up, and I was like, “You guys are ridiculous! I just had a baby!” But then I pulled up the British version and completely lost my mind over it. It was exactly what I would want to do -- walking that fine line between drama and comedy and getting to be a real three-dimensional human being, and not, at my age, just playing the mom or the voice of reason or the wet blanket or just a woman looking for love. This is a real f*cked-up character! [Laughs.] Dawn’s just a beautiful mess. I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to play her.
As the season progresses, you realize there’s a lot more to her than meets the eye.
I think of her as that tree that’s growing crooked in the forest. You think something’s wrong with it, but then you realize it’s doing that to get some light. It’s got to bend that way to live. Dawn just bends whichever way she has to, to get what she needs.
Were you given any backstory on Dawn?
As an actor, you create your own ideas. Sometimes you talk it over with the showrunners, and sometimes you just keep it to yourself. I’ve done the latter. I believe Dawn was in a situation where she was forced to play mom to her brothers and sisters and was always the caretaker. She never had a childhood, so she’s really stunted, stuck at age 13 or 14. She never learned how to be a woman or learn how to have a real relationship -- even a friendship. I suspect her mom was a piece of work because daddy was kind of a schlub -- unemployed, didn’t help out, drank too much. Dawn worshipped daddy and saw mom as the evil one who left to go to work and bossed her around.
Did you do anything special to prepare for the role like learn about nursing or extended care for the elderly?
Yeah. We spent time at senior care centers. We went to an Alzheimer’s center. I followed a nurse around for a couple days. One thing that stood out to me was the politics between doctors and nurses. The doctors come around maybe once a day and check in, but the nurses are the ones doling out the meds and responsible for the actual care. It’s a real interesting system, and it’s amazing that it works at all.
Is there anything about this show that’s different from the way you’ve worked in the past?
It’s very different in a lot of ways. The biggest difference is that I’m playing a complete character, running a gamut of emotions. It’s not a drama, it’s not a “punch-line, punch-line” comedy like a typical sitcom. Mark [V. Olsen] and Will [Sheffer], the showrunners, are artists. They know exactly what they want their painting to look like, and they’ve hired actors they believe can create the brushstrokes they’re looking for. I never get to work like that on other things. People rarely have an actual vision of what they want the end product to be. The closest experience I’ve had with this kind of rawness was working on ‘Good Night, and Good Luck’ with George Clooney.
Do you have any favorite scenes that stand out in the first four episodes?