Where is Frances in her life?
She's been a widow for a year. She has everything that can be gotten with money. She's very lonely. If she has children, they are grown and not living nearby. I think she's feeling very isolated and repressed. And she has a Calvinistic, "get up and move forward" attitude: She's just going to move on with her life. So she goes to book club, she attends charity functions, she's involved with a lot of social work, but she's lonely.
Why doesn't she just slam the door in Tanya's face?
Tanya talks about loneliness and wanting a man to just pour a glass of wine for you - someone to talk to and go places and be sociable with. When she takes Tanya's card, she's not thinking of a sexual encounter. She sees Richard from a distance and he looks more than acceptable - he looks very handsome and gentlemanly. So Tanya sets it up as a dinner, like an escort service. When Mike shows up in Ray's place, she's incredibly disappointed because Mike doesn't look like Ray. But Mike wins her over. He's very charming and sweet and dear. And that's really what's been missing in her life. It's not about getting laid. She needs to feel the emotional connection. I think she's a bit of an iceberg in the beginning. She's protected herself by keeping everyone at an emotional distance and she begins to thaw.
We really see Frances thinking through so many of her decisions.
This is the first time in a long time I've done anything on television where there was a specific interest in the thought process and in the silences. It was so extraordinary for me. Sometimes when you come on as a guest actor and you have a good-girl complex, you give your face and your lines to the stars in the show - your character is merely a tool for moving the lead people forward. But they asked me to not engage with Jane [Adams, "Tanya"], to take a lot of time. It was incredibly freeing and novel. I just loved it.
What do you mean by not engaging Jane?
If you have a guest arc and you are with a series regular, even if your character detests that character, you still play the scene facing that character. (They don't usually cover the guest actor so the only way to get your reactions is to have you facing the character.) But here, they were telling me to turn away, to not look at her. I was allowed to be an individual, and allowed my own isolated responses. Working with Jane and being in the moment, it's like you're playing jazz. You're improvising. You have the text and know where you're supposed to go, but how you do it is in the moment.
Did you have any qualms about playing a potential client?
No, I'm friends with some women who've appeared on the show. And I think it's handled very well. Maybe because it's co-written by a woman. Women on the show are allowed to have needs, and are depicted at different phases of life. Plus, it's very bawdy and funny. But it doesn't make fun of the women. If anything, Ray gets made fun of a lot because of his ineptness. But that all comes out of him having a big heart - as well as a big, you know - and wanting to do the right thing.
Dream date [person]: My husband
Dream date [activity]: Walk on the beach
Favorite classic book: 'Pride and Prejudice'
Guilty pleasure: "Housewives of Wherever"
You'd never catch me: In hot pants