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Writer-Actor Conversation: Sarah Treem and Dane DeHaan

Jesse and Paul fist bumping

HBO

In the week six episode we see Jesse sad and alienated, screaming to Paul that "Nobody gets it." What does nobody get?

Sarah Treem

I don't know that we want to answer that. I'd rather let the audience fill it in. One thing I'll say is that Jesse's a teenager, and he feels that nobody knows what it's like to be him in a way that teenagers usually feel.

Dane DeHaan

One of the things that Dr. Weston does is offer up easy-seeming solutions to a deeply troubled person. Jesse's problems are so complicated that it's impossible for anybody to "get" him. No one else knows what it's been like to go through the things that he's gone through.

Sarah Treem

In that moment, Paul is half talking to Jesse and half talking to his son. On some level, Jesse understands that the answer isn't really intended for him.

HBO

What is Jesse hoping to get out of his sessions with Paul?

Dane DeHaan

First of all, Jesse is thrown into this situation against his own will. He has to go to therapy or he'll get thrown out of school. Ultimately though, he doesn't have a real authority or parental figure in his life that really stands up for him and truly loves him. Paul is the first person in his life that actually sits and listens to him speak -- whether or not it's his profession. Every time Jesse pushes him away, Paul is still there, week after week.

Sarah Treem

Jesse says at the end of the episode that this is the only place he feels safe, where he can be himself. He's reaching a point, perhaps prematurely, that a lot of people reach, when they realize that their parents are flawed; they can't save them, don't understand them, can't protect them. Most people going through this already have a certain level of self-sufficiency in place, so it's easier for them. Jesse is stuck. His adoptive parents don't understand him and his birth parents don't want him. The only person in his life who is both stable and receptive is Paul.

HBO

How is the Jesse that has emerged on screen different than the one that was written on the page?

Sarah Treem

It's not, really. Dane and I worked very closely together. The only episode that had been written before Dane came on board was the first one. By the time I was writing the second one, I was writing it for Dane's voice.

Dane DeHaan

One of the unique things about this show is that it allows its cast to have time with the writer and the director and actually rehearse the material and have an open conversation about what works and what doesn't. It's a fully collaborative process.

Sarah Treem

What was cool about working with Dane was that he had the lines memorized and the emotional beats down before rehearsal. That allowed me to see how the episode was going to play beforehand and then go back and do some rewrites.

Dane DeHaan

It would've been terrifying to me if I had to show up without having that dialogue before. It's only fair that if you have the material a week beforehand, then the people working on it should be able to see the performance at that time. That allows the writer to say, "What about this?" And I can say, "Well what about this or this?" And that's how you get the episode.

Sarah Treem

There was one moment in week six's episode when Jesse speaks to another one of Paul's patients, a girl with an eating disorder. Originally, I had written that moment to be very sarcastic. But when Jesse came in, he played it very earnestly, as if this were another person Jesse was trying to make a connection with. And it played much better that way. It gives us a sense of his vulnerability, a sense of how far he's come, and since we know he's not attracted to this girl, it was just a nice thing to do.

Dane DeHaan

He does put up a front with her at first, but when he recognizes her as another person his age who is feeling deep sorrow, he catches himself and has a real genuine moment with her.

Sarah Treem

At that point in filming, Dane had spent so much time in the character he knew Jesse just as well as I did, if not better.

HBO

What was the process of putting together Jesse's character? When we spoke to Anya earlier she mentioned that the later episodes were being written as the earlier ones were filming.

"At first I felt like I didn't have a way into Jesse. But at some point, I realized that this character is just a person who is searching for his identity." -- Sarah Treem

Sarah Treem

We were definitely doing that. The funny thing about 'In Treatment' is that you always get down to crunch time at the end, no matter how well you prepare. When you're shooting two and a half episodes a week, as well as writing, shooting, and editing them, it's exciting. You could be writing episode six while shooting episode five, editing episode four and outlining episode seven. When Danny and Anya first came to me for this season, I had thought, "Oh, they probably want me to do the Debra Winger character." When they said they wanted me to write Jesse's instead, I thought, "Why?" I'd been writing these young girl characters for the last two seasons, and I felt like I didn't have a way in to Jesse. But at some point, I realized that this character is just a person who is searching for his identity. The things he had grown up believing about himself have been stripped away, leaving him with an identity crisis. I get that; I think everyone does.

HBO

How was writing Jesse different than writing the past characters?

Sarah Treem

Well first, we had been working off of episodes in the past from the Israeli version of the show, which we didn't have this time. With Sophie and April I felt that there were parts of their stories that I had lived through myself. With Jesse, I hadn't really lived through any of that. I got to do a lot of research, talking to people about growing up gay, growing up adopted. I ended up using a lot of that in Jesse, until he more or less began writing himself.

HBO

Dane, were you familiar with past seasons of In Treatment and the rhythms of the show?

Dane DeHaan

I definitely watched the show beforehand. My mentor in acting school always said, "Style is knowing what play you're in." I understood the hyper-reality of the show. I understood the pressure put on the actor to deliver and measure up to the amazing writing and the amazing actor that you're sitting across from and sharing a half hour with. It requires an intense amount of focus when there's a camera watching you for a half-hour, especially playing a character that is somewhat removed from myself.

Sarah Treem

We saw a bunch of auditions for this character and Dane stood apart from the pack because he understood that tone of the show. There's actually tremendous subtlety to his performance -- you didn't feel like he was acting. It was breathtaking.

Dane DeHaan

Also the fact that Gabriel Byrne is sitting across from you, and that he's such a giving and truthful person to be acting to, feeds the performance as well.

Sarah Treem

When things didn't work, we were able to change it. There's a lot of rewriting that gets done on 'In Treatment,' both in rehearsal and on set. That happens when the moment looks good on the page, but is hard to play. It's a complicated show to write because there's a lot of exposition that has to come out of the dialogue without seeming like exposition. You're asking the actors to say something that has to be said for the story, but it doesn't really work in terms of the emotional through-line. Dane and Gabriel were both very good and generous about pointing out where those moments needed to be fixed.

HBO

You both characterize Gabriel's acting as generous. What do you mean by that?

Dane DeHaan

He's a listener. In the episodes where he is the therapist, he's listening most of the time. It's incredibly demanding. He's filming three episodes a week, yet he's able to develop a very specific and deep-seated relationship with each of the characters. When you're talking and talking, like Jesse does, to have the other person actually and actively listening is a generous gift.

Sarah Treem

The joke is that the reason 'In Treatment' does so well among women is because Gabriel is playing a man who listens. It's powerful for the other actors as well as the viewers. And it's not an act -- well, it is on some level because he's acting -- but, Gabriel is a listener. He's listening to the scripts and if something isn't working, he knows it. When he makes a note, he's almost always right.

HBO

How would you characterize the relationship between Paul and Jesse?

"Jesse and Paul have a deeply personal relationship that is restricted by the confines of therapy." -- Dane DeHaan

Sarah Treem

People say Paul does really good work with young people in trouble. There's something about their vulnerability that makes him most certain. He has an innate authority with them that suits him.

Dane DeHaan

Paul takes a strong liking to Jesse, and really cares for him, not necessarily as a son but as a patient. When I was playing him, I kept feeling that Jesse just wants Paul to drop the act. Let's just talk, like two people. There's a part of Paul that wants to do just do that, but he can't. He has to help this kid sift through all the shit in his life.

Sarah Treem

That was very deliberate. In the writing, we talked about how Paul had crossed the line with young patients before, like when he took April to the hospital to deal with her cancer and it backfired. Paul has this desire to cross the line again. He wants to father Jesse in some way, but he can't because he's done it before and knows it's a bad idea.

Dane DeHaan

In week six, you can see that Jesse wants so bad for Paul to do something with him on his birthday. I don't think it's just my spin on the character because I played him, but I think Paul deeply wishes that he could be there for him on his birthday. They have a personal relationship that is restricted by the confines of therapy.

Sarah Treem

In week five when Jesse shows up at Paul's door while he's making pancakes with his son, Paul has to choose between Jesse and Max. He chooses Jesse.

Dane DeHaan

And even that has a negative effect, because the next week Jesse comes in and he's expecting even more of him.

Sarah Treem

On the other hand, the decision Paul makes not to go out for Jesse's birthday has a very specific consequence with Jesse.

Dane DeHaan

What Jesse does is push people away to see if they'll come back. He lashes out at people and waits to see if they'll come back. That's a loving relationship to Jesse. Someone who is willing to put up with the shit that actually exists as well as the strain he imposes on the relationship. For Jesse to vulnerably and truthfully ask someone to do something for him, in a genuine way that's not a test, and then be denied, is intensely hurtful.

Sarah Treem

Jesse's primal wound is his birth parent's abandonment. There is this sense that people are just going to leave him, so he pushes them away and tests them beyond what is reasonable. That's why he acts out. Some people don't see that. It's funny, my grandmother, who loves the show, recently asked me, "Why did you make Jesse so unlikable?" And it's shocking to me.

Dane DeHaan

I hate when I hear that too. He puts up such a front and he's so in-your-face. He'll say obscene things and get nasty, especially in the first few episodes. Those are unlikable actions, but there is a genuine hurt and pain and need for love underneath all of that.

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