Tim Robbins Speaks to Greg's Existential Crisis

By Ashley Morton

The actor discusses his character’s marriage, the shock of discovering the truth about Michael, and what’s really on Greg’s mind.


HBO: Who is Greg to you? What is he searching for?

Tim Robbins: Greg is a man going through an existential crisis of faith. It happens to a lot of people, regardless of age, where they have a revelation that everything they thought was true comes crashing down around them. They can no longer hold onto illusions or myths, and they have to reevaluate their own reality. And that's a very hard thing to do. Greg’s journey so far this season has been realizing he was spinning out of control and trying to hold onto the ledge of the cliff.

HBO: What was your biggest challenge when approaching your character?

Tim Robbins: Once we were filming around Episode 6 or 7 I started to feel like Greg emotionally sometimes. I’m a pretty happy and content guy right now so I had to go to misery land when I went to work — which is why it was so great the cast and crew was so easy to work with. One of the dangers of being an actor, is after a while, you start to feel strange emotions that aren’t your emotions. As long as you’re able to identify it, it’s fine. It was a lot more confusing when I was a younger actor, but it’s just part of the job.

HBO: Could you talk about Greg and Audrey’s marriage? Why is there so much tension there?

Tim Robbins: I think sometimes in relationships that last a long time, there’s a tendency to take each other for granted and stop really evolving — to assume a person is going to be the same way forever. And that’s a dangerous stasis. It’s something that can make someone wind up feeling like they’re not seen. Or sometimes you get lost in parenting, where the parenting becomes everything and you forget that you’re in a relationship with a person who needs to be seen and acknowledged, and loved and cherished. It’s a classic problem.

HBO: For Greg, what was his relationship with Famiko about?

Tim Robbins: People act out in different ways when they’re stuck, in life, in relationships. Greg has this sexual arrangement with another woman because he’s lacking something in his own life. To a certain extent he rationalizes it as almost like medicine; he’s not having a full-on affair — it’s just a professional arrangement. People act out in various ways. Audrey acts out in ways that are serving her and not Greg.

I don’t like seeing stories where there are easy good guys and easy bad guys. I think storytellers bear a responsibility for that. Usually the way the story is told, this kind of situation is to create the “bad guy.” It’s very cut and dry: Person cheats on spouse, bad person, punish person. What is the necessity there? That’s the question that has not been dealt with. “‘Til death do us part,” fails on a pretty consistent basis. And I don’t think we have enough of a discussion as a society about why this kind of thing happens.

HBO: What was it like playing the scene where Audrey kicks Greg out?

Tim Robbins: Difficult but easily done with Holly Hunter. Your body goes through it; your emotions go through it. I often wonder if your cells know the difference between real and pretend because often times at the end of the day, you feel like you’ve actually been through it. But all in a day’s work, right?

HBO: Greg struggles at times to connect with his kids, but especially Duc. Why?

Tim Robbins: It’s just philosophical. It’s not that he doesn’t love him as a son: He feels like he’s somehow raised someone that isn’t philosophically in line with him. So it’s more of an intellectual distance than it is an emotional distance, and I think that Duc reads it as an emotional distance.

HBO: How does Michael’s death affect him?

Tim Robbins: I think the biggest shock is almost immediately after the funeral, he’s talking to Michael’s fiancee and discovers that Michael was a completely different person than he thought. It’s another one of those things, “I guess I was wrong, I wasn’t in tune with the world, I didn’t understand what reality was. The reality I believed was completely different from what the truth was.”

HBO: Is Greg afraid of aging? Does that seem wrong to him since he has, in many ways, been deemed successful in life?

Tim Robbins: I think after a certain age, you start to look over your shoulder a little bit. The main thing Greg’s dealing with isn’t necessarily age or aging, it’s that existential question: “Is this it? Am I done? I was relevant and a best-selling author and who am I now? ”

He’s seeing a shift in power and a new rise in racism and nationalistic rhetoric, and thinking about all of the advocacy of social issues he’s done, wondering what the hell happened. “How did that happen? Is my entire life and devotion to these kinds of causes irrelevant?” Greg is processing it in that way. A lot of people are in this country.