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Imagining Adele

Adele thoughtful

HBO

What went into your decisions about making Adele's style different from Paul's?

Anya Epstein

When we first started to think about her, we were thinking more about how her style should differ from Gina's. But I think the answer applies to both of them, which is that Adele, in our minds, is in some ways more of a traditional psychodynamic therapist who just plain says less and is less prone to crossing boundaries than Paul is. And though Gina had some intention of being that kind of therapist and may have been with other patients, with Paul that relationship was so complicated that the lines were blurred from the beginning. So we thought, wouldn't it be interesting to see how Paul reacted if we put him in a room with somebody who was much more remote and who he didn't get as much from?

HBO

She takes notes, whereas Paul doesn't.

Anya Epstein

We wrote that into the first episode because many psychiatrists would take notes when asking the intake questions, particularly when it has to do with medication and dosage and past history. And that was something that Amy Ryan, in conjunction with Gabriel [Byrne] and Paris [Barclay, director and EP], continued to cook up for her character. Gabriel was very interested in how it made him feel when she started scribbling in that note pad - what is she writing, why is she writing? And that was something Amy was quite expert at - finding those moments when she might take a note. And she was spare, so when she did it, it held some power. Then we ended up adding those moments in ourselves, but it really came off of the actors and director.

HBO

How much do you have to work with the actors on subtext in this show, since how a character delivers lines can hugely impact a scene?

Anya Epstein

It's a big issue. Particularly for Adele who has less text than anyone else, so the subtext becomes that much more important. Amy was great and was willing to rehearse. And Paris was excellent at talking through, moment by moment, what was going on and how much of her personal feelings are revealed to Paul, and to the audience - which is not always the same question.

HBO

Did you have to fine tune that in the edit as well? In terms of choosing takes?

Anya Epstein

Absolutely. Amy is such a subtle performer and the subtext is so subtle that literally whether she has a blank expression, or there's a slight flush, or nod, or smile is important, particularly as the tension between them increases. We had a lot of back forth about whether she should swallow in a certain moment as an indication that he is getting to her in some way.

HBO

Adele is such an intense and specific listener.

Anya Epstein

That was hard to find. We auditioned a lot of people for this part. I think it's almost harder than the speaking. My dad was sitting in on a sound mix towards the end of shooting and he said, "How does she listen like that?" 

HBO

Did you make up a lot of back story about Adele's training?

Anya Epstein

 

We knew because of Paul's medication that she had to be a psychiatrist and have a medical degree as well. And we also thought that would be interesting for Paul, who isn't a doctor, but had a father who was a doctor - would there be some component of respect, or intimidation, or a power dynamic that shifted with her having a more advanced degree than he had? It was also very important to us that she be an intellectual match for Paul and that she contrast with Wendy, who he's feeling a bit bored and unchallenged by. So we see her degree from Columbia University Medical School on the wall, before we even meet her. We did make a switch based on Amy Ryan, who grew up in Queens. We liked the idea that maybe Adele had come from somewhat humble beginnings. Someone who was incredibly smart but didn't have the means to go to Columbia as an undergrad but had worked her way up in the world. So I think we were able to get a degree from SUNY Binghamton.

In Paul's mind these feelings are very real. And that becomes part of the story: Is this what happens in therapy?

HBO

When Paul professes feelings for her in this episode from week four - is that real? Or is he toying with her?

Anya Epstein

I don't think he's consciously toying with her. In Paul's mind these feelings are very real. And that becomes part of the story: Is this what happens in therapy?

HBO

Some kind of transference?

Anya Epstein

In terms of the origins of this storyline, we felt that given the dynamic with Laura and a bit with Mia as well, we wondered what it would be like to reverse that dynamic with Paul and have him in the position of the patient who was starting to have feelings for his therapist.  So this question of whether it's real or not real is very much a component of the story and something that Paul is struggling with.

And there's also what is happening on Adele's end.  Is she merely able to maintain professional composure or is he getting to her on some level?  In upcoming weeks you do get a glimpse of Adele's life outside of the office...so the audience will get to know more than Paul does.

HBO

Have people talked to you about what they're drawn to about the show?

Anya Epstein

People always have their favorite storylines. But overall, the treat of being able to see behind the scenes and have that add to the dynamic of what goes on, and being able to see inside Paul's head, and how that works to inform all the rest of it.  You're being let in on the secret. How much would you pay to be able to see your own therapist in therapy?

HBO

Is writing about the therapeutic process a different kind of storytelling from other shows you've written for?

Anya Epstein

Structurally we found it a bit intimidating. Neither Danny nor I had written for theater before and I think the show has more in common with little plays than other TV shows or movies. The idea of having to sustain a single conversation and have the subtleties rise to the surface without being able to cut to a car chase or different characters, we found scary and challenging.

HBO

Danny's mother is a therapist, and you'd started at a graduate program in marriage and family therapy. Is there anything in particular you wanted to say about the process to put your "mark" on the season?

Anya Epstein

We know the show has a somewhat elite audience and that probably a large percentage of viewers have been in therapy themselves. I thought it was important to show someone in therapy who didn't necessarily believe in it, or have any prior exposure or preconceptions about what it would be like in order to maybe make it accessible to a wider audience. That sort of lead to the Sunil character.

HBO

It's striking in all of the sessions, that a therapist can see things about a person that the person is blind to - that it is very difficult to know oneself.

Anya Epstein

It's very true. And then the question is, does therapy really help you in that process at all? And are you ever done? And when you are, do you know yourself any better than when you started? That's something that as a viewer I always appreciated about the show. It doesn't oversimplify that process and it seems to ask the question more than try to answer it in the affirmative. And we wanted to step up that debate this season and step it up in Paul's mind too, of whether he's effectively helping people.

HBO

What is the value of the lie in therapy?

Anya Epstein

I think there are two answers to that. For a therapist, I think it's invaluable to see what the stories are that people are telling themselves when they come in. And the particular lies they choose to tell themselves or the therapist is very revealing about what the truth actually is. Dramatically, it's a whole other question. Those are the big moments on this show: The discrepancy between truth and what the patient is presenting. Often you get to see the layers peeled away in the course of one episode, and sometimes it takes the whole season.

Anya Epstein

Writer, Executive Producer

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