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Girls’ Peter Scolari on His Big Reveal: ‘That Familiar Place I Had Lived in Has Been Taken Away’

Photo: Brad Barket/Getty Images

Sunday’s episode of Girls started with a shock for longtime fans of the show, when [spoiler alert] Tad Horvath (Peter Scolari) came out to his beloved wife, Loreen (Becky Ann Baker), and later (in a fashion) to his daughter, Hannah (Lena Dunham). While it seemed clear throughout season four that something was brewing for Tad, few could have predicted where the story line was headed. It does, however, offer a chance for longtime television veteran Peter Scolari to explore new depths with the character. Vulture spoke with Scolari about what precipitated this admission from Tad and where he hopes things are headed in the future.

How long have you known that Tad had this revelation in store? Was it something outlined for you from the beginning, or did it develop more organically?
I guess in the classical sense it developed organically, but the comedy of it, personally, was that Becky Ann Baker and I were taken aside during the filming of the first [season four] episode, not having any prior knowledge. We were taken aside and asked to clear our schedules. “We think we should make it known to you that there’s going to be a new sheriff in town and we’re taking you on a journey.” We were just shocked. There’s the organics of it for you. Becky Ann had a commitment to do a play in Williamstown at a prestigious theater festival in New England, and I was on the ropes about some project in Los Angeles, and we both — during the course of the next minutes and hours of the day — contacted our representatives and bailed out of our commitments to be onboard and take this journey.

Oh wow, that’s really interesting. This season, as far as the internet comment sections of the world go, viewers seemed to have a pretty good sense that there was something big in store for you.
And we weren’t going to dodge that. Nor were we, I don’t mean to use the royal “we,” just speaking as a team player, we felt we owed it in the literature of the character to begin to lay some groundwork, to get a vibe out there that we’re not really in business as usual with this man and his wife.

And actually a lot of those theories centered on the thought that you might die, given Hannah’s age.

Yes, I’d heard that!

Were you ever afraid that’s where Tad’s future was heading, to an untimely death?
No, shamelessly, as an actor, when Lena [Dunham] and Jenni Konner took Becky Ann Baker and I aside on that day and said, “We’re going to make a dramatic change here,” I thought, Oh, I hope I get to be very, very sick. [Laughs.] Terrible. We love it as actors. “Oh, please give me a life-threatening illness. My job will become so much easier!”

[Laughs.] This must have been such a disappointment for you, then!
Well, no, it was really an incredible jolt, and I have not recovered, lo these many months later. I’m still electrified at the life that lies ahead. I don’t know where it’s going. I know that we end the season in a place that does not answer questions. Though we know the answer to the big question. [Tad]’s said what he said, and he means it.

From what we’ve seen, much of Tad’s coming-out process has centered on what it means for his loved ones, for Loreen, for Hannah. Because the character is such a caretaker, how long do you think it will take for him to come to terms with his own feelings about coming out?
I’ll answer that in a sort of inverted way, which is to say that my experience in playing what is written is to manage shock, shock that no amount of preparation could have connected him to what he would need to know to process the effects, the consequences, of his very personal, self-determinant action. Nothing made him ready for that. In part, the answer to your question will lie in that resolve.

So now that you’ve torn the house down, where exactly is everybody going to live? How’s this going to be okay? Because the paradox of ending this marriage and coming suddenly to this very self-aware, painful, truthful place does not negate or take away the terribly awkward truth that they have been very, very close. They know each other better than they know themselves. This does not go easy. This doesn’t make sense. There’s the paradox, I think. It just doesn’t make sense. It’s true, Tad is gay and arguably — not an argument I’ll enter into — always was, but that’s not the life he lives. I’ve known a couple of people like this, to be honest with you. I’ve thought about them, tenderly, being an actor going on 41 years in November. I knew a playwright once that probably remained until his dying day, hopelessly in love with his wife, and it was easy to see that this was someone who was living in a comfort zone outside of himself. That’s something that doesn’t make sense, but is true.

Part of the brilliance of Girls has always been that life carries on for the characters even when we’re not with them, as opposed to them being stuck in suspended animation until the camera returns to them. In your mind, what happened to Tad when we weren’t watching that led him to making this decision at this juncture?
Wow, what a great question. You’ve just won all the points that are available. I won’t tell anybody else because it will throw them off their game …

No, you can. It’s okay.
[Laughs.] Yeah, what happened? I think I can answer the question. Which is that, and I may be giving away some things about myself, but I’ll say that in life, sometimes when things go well is when the wheels come off, when the train is derailed. My mother sent me a lithograph many, many years ago at the height of my early success as a television actor. It was a horn of plenty, a cornucopia, and the subtitle was “When your cup runneth over, watcheth out,” and I think it applies here. I think this may be the answer to your question about Tad.

Their daughter soars and gets accepted into this MFA program in Iowa, Loreen and Tad come out of a really healthful couple’s therapy session, and it’s at that point in time, in a very adult place where they’re really looking at their shit and really getting it together and coming to grips with their difficulties. It’s then, strangely enough, that Tad feels compelled to say what he has to say. It’s an ugly bit of timing and very, very painful. And not a revelation and not “I’ve had this epiphany”; he does not give way to this great sensitivity in sharing his personal truth. He doesn’t get home and sit her down and say, “I have some difficult things to say.” There’s no transitional space, there’s no interim agreement or understanding. And in real life, typically there isn’t.

I think it’s safe to suggest what probably happened over the course of time was that a lot of the difficulties began to resolve, a lot of the things they faced as parents, in terms of looking at their daughter and trying to be on call and available and have a realistic perspective, to give up the ghost a little bit, too. To say, “Let’s let her have her adult life.” A bit of their personal empty-nest experience was that suddenly they were left with each other and could see each other. What Loreen saw was the man that she loved and an advance in her professional career, the arrival at a tenured position, so coveted in the academic world, taking so much pressure off and sharing this with her partner. Conversely, what Tad sees looking through his very personal prism is the worst kaleidoscope imaginable, which is “This is not my life. This does not hold. I can’t do it for another minute.” What a shock.

Arguably, he might have been more shocked than anyone, at the sudden insistence of his will upon himself and what suddenly became a very, very awkward relationship with himself. What I think is so unimaginably truthful in what Lena and Jenni and Murray Miller and Paul Simms and Bruce Kaplan crafted, which is to say, “We’re going to take this man to this incredibly truthful point, and there’s no glory in it. There’s no glamour in it. There’s no safe place.” What? That’s where you go for your safety. You say, “This is what I am. I am woman hear me roar, or I’m gay, deal with it.” Throw off the shackles, no, he puts them on. This imprisons him in a way that I could never have imagined possible. It’s not comfortable to play. It’s easy to play; I have no trepidation about going in and playing it, but personally, it’s very unsettling.

I’m okay with that, but what I have learned in living with this wonderful woman who’s my wife through the filming of this, after all these happy years on Girls, I just came home over and over again during the six episodes feeling very unsettled. Some grievous thing had settled upon me. While filming Girls?! Playing lovable, adorable, gentle, kind, compassionate Tad? Silly, goofy Tad? Saying teasing, sarcastic things where Loreen has to say, “Oh Tad, stop it. Oh, she didn’t mean that.” That familiar place that I had lived in has been taken away.

Knowing that you don’t know where we’re going with Tad, where do you hope we’re going? Where would you like to see his character arc go?
Well, there’s almost a moral calculus here, which is that it can’t get worse. And sometimes in life we find out that before anything can get better it has to get as bad as it can be. I don’t know where that bad is, but we sure have crept up on it. You haven’t seen the tenth episode, but I filmed it. I have a little advance knowledge. Speaking personally, things will get better. I don’t know how that will develop, but I know that it will.

Girls’ Peter Scolari on His Big Reveal