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Sharon Horgan on Ending Catastrophe With Love, But Without Sentimentality

Sharon Horgan. Photo: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Sharon Horgan and I are sitting at what is perhaps the most poorly designed table known to man. “Bonkers table,” she observes. “Such a crazy table.” It’s circular, with the slightest incline toward the center — not so much table, really, as it is a very small hill that’s threatening to send her lamb meatballs and tomato salad sliding directly onto her lap at any given moment.

It’s the sort of table that her gloriously brash and unfiltered Catastrophe character, also named Sharon, would find immensely irritating, though she’d probably express her annoyance with a few more choice words. The Irish actress, comedian, and producer is far more subdued than her onscreen counterpart, whom she’s about to say good-bye to for good: Horgan is in New York on a whirlwind press tour promoting the fourth and final season of the show, which she co-created and co-starred in with American comedian Rob Delaney.

“It’s strange to have anything taken from your life that you love a lot,” she says. “It’s extra strange when you’re part of the decision, so there’s a feeling that maybe it was the dumbest decision of all time and maybe you’ll never love anything as much as you love that kind of thing.”

Vulture spoke to Horgan about what she’ll miss most about Catastrophe, writing Carrie Fisher’s death into the show, and her own preoccupations with mortality.

Did you always know how Catastrophe was going to end? Especially after Carrie Fisher died before season three aired.
After Carrie died, we didn’t really have any idea how we’d deal with her passing because, obviously, she’s just one of those people that the entire world kind of knows about. It’s not like we could surprise the viewer in any way. We just had to figure out a way to do it that felt surprising somehow, and at the same time felt deep enough to illustrate how much we cared about her and how important it was for us to pay tribute to her in the show.
We wanted it to have humor because she was an incredibly funny woman and a brilliantly monstrous character, but at the same time, we wanted to make sure we showed the world that we loved her and wrote it in a way that she might find funny. I hope that she would enjoy the fact that she gets to put the boot into Mike Pence from beyond the grave. I think she’d like that.

There’s a great scene in this season where Frankie embarrasses Sharon by basically outing her for stealing from a store. Do you have any stories like that, of your children just outright embarrassing you in public?
They do it all the time. It’s partly because you sort of can control them, as the adult in the relationship. You’re most of the time telling your child what to do, when to go to bed, what they should eat. There’s a sense of them sort of taking back control when they’re out in public and they can sort of tell it like it is and there’s nothing you can do about it. If my kid has a chance of calling me out in public, saying I said something and then reminding me that at home I had said something completely different, she’ll do that.

How did Sharon end up with a Michigan State T-shirt?
Shit. I don’t know. We just always like to have a mad range of T-shirts, most of which we use in the bedroom scenes. Costume will just bring a shit ton of T-shirts, and I just go through them and choose the ones that I think are the most kind of fun or interesting.

The outfits are so good. Is a lot of it informed by your own personal style?
A certain amount of it is my stuff. We always thought, especially before she met Rob, that she didn’t have much money but really liked clothes. So she would go to sales and stuff and buy stuff. If it didn’t match or it didn’t suit her, it kind of didn’t matter, she just wanted the thing. That’s why it’s all a bit sort of mismatched and eclectic.

What will you miss most about the show?
I’ll really miss writing with Rob. It’s just a really fun environment. I’ll miss the actors that we work with. I’ll miss my character — I’ll really miss hiding behind that ballsy, outspoken brat of a female.

Did you feel like she was sort of your id?
Yeah, definitely. She definitely thinks what I think and what Rob Delaney thinks because there’s equal amounts of him in there. It’s just that ability to not really care what people think. We had this moment where she just says, “People don’t have to like you. You’re not a puppy. I’ve earned the right to have people not like me.” It’s such an amazing state of mind to have. Obviously, I would like to have that, but I care what people think. I care if people like me. It doesn’t mean that I don’t say what I think, but then I’ll sort of worry about it afterward, and I don’t think she does.

Do you want to continue drawing your personal life into your work in the same way?
Yeah, but maybe a bit less. Only because I don’t want to repeat myself, I suppose. Catastrophe wasn’t entirely drawn from our lives, but there’s a certain amount in there. It’s about relationships, and it’s about married people within relationships, and it’s about married people in relationships who have got kids and that impacts on them in various different ways. A lot of the sort of shows I’ve made the last while — like Motherland, Divorce, I just shot this thing for Amazon, Modern Love — it’s also relationship examination. I feel like I want to sort of push myself out of my comfort zone a little bit.

That sort of remains to be seen. It’s all interesting; it’s just that I want to make sure that I’m not repeating myself.

What is it about relationships that you find particularly interesting?
The intimacy of it and how complex it is and how you can disappoint the person you love the most on a daily basis and how you work around that and figure stuff out. I am equally interested in friendships, and any kind of relationship where you’re dependent on the other person I think is all really sort of fertile ground.

I remember at the end of season two you had only said “I love you” once in the whole show. What was the final count by the end of it?
I don’t actually know because we didn’t keep a tally, but I would say it probably remained at one. We didn’t even say it in that last scene. I’m pretty sure we just found other ways around it. It just felt like a bit of a challenge in the end, to have those scenes where you can tell someone how much they mean to you without actually using those words. It just felt like a bit of a game.

You’re also generally averse to sentimentality. Do you think that’s a personal thing or a cultural thing? Like, U.K. TV generally tends to be darker.
I think we don’t feel the need to have sentimental moments. I think we don’t sort of worry so much about [that] because I think you can show it. You don’t have to say it. We worry less about likability and that kind of thing, which really frees you up. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t sweet moments. I love a sweet moment.

What do you generally find different about the American sense of humor?
It used to be that I had a difficulty translating myself because it’s such a default position to be sarcastic and to say things you don’t mean and assume that the person gets it — and realizing that that doesn’t always translate with an American as much as it does with an Irish person or a British person, because literally you spend most of your time just ripping the piss out of each other and winding each other up.

In season four, Sharon spirals about mortality after she goes to the doctor and finds out she has high cholesterol — like “if you took a normal-size mannequin and filled it with meatballs and margarine.” Is that something that occupies your thoughts a lot?
Yes, of course. All the time. Especially if you have kids. You just can’t help it. I sort of want to be careful about what I take on next because I am way too aware of my time left on the planet and using it in the right way. I started late in this job, and I’m feeling like there’s a list of things I kind of have to tick off — I think that’s what’s sort of motored me forward for years. Now I’m a bit like, “Shit. What about all the other sort of stuff?”

It genuinely panics me, time passing. There’s a hugely morbid streak in me now that I’m not entirely sure what to do with, like a sense of not being able to enjoy the moment. We were on holiday a month ago and my little one was doing handstands by the pool and shouting over at me to watch her do these handstands. I was watching her and I just found myself really welling up and getting upset. Instead of just enjoying that gorgeous moment of your little one wanting you to watch them, all I was thinking is, This is probably the last year she’s going to want me to watch her do handstands by the pool.
It’s probably hormonal. Maybe it’ll settle down and even itself out. It can’t really continue at this pace because I’ll just, I don’t know, go to sleep for a month.

Like you said, you worked all through your 20s and most of your 30s without becoming successful in your career. As that was happening, was there an urgency that you wanted it to move along faster?
I think I just sort of gave up. I was doing it at such a slow pace anyway that if you were to examine it from a distance, you’d think I was purposely sabotaging myself. There was no possible way I could have become successful because I just wasn’t working in that way. Time went by with such a limited amount of anything possibly resembling success that I kind of thought, Oh, well, just forget about that. I think weirdly it was when I stopped thinking about it that it sort of ended up happening.

Did you always know that you wanted to do four seasons?
We had no amount of them in mind. Once we got past two, I was like, “Well, that beats my personal best.” Then, when we did three seasons, we were like, “This is extraordinary.” Then getting a fourth season commissioned was, again, just like an icing-on-the-cake kind of thing. I think Rob felt that he’d sort of said all he wanted to say or all he could say about relationships within a marriage with small kids. I think that it would have been a real shame to keep going and make something that we weren’t necessarily proud of or just felt like was a bit of a struggle, because season four was hard to write. It was harder than the others.

Harder in terms of plot or getting the jokes out?
A few times during the writing process, we had moments where we went, “Oh, no, we did that in season two,” or whatever. It wouldn’t be the exact same thing, obviously, but it would be a similar theme, or you’d sort of taken that route in a different sort of guise or even with another character. It’s not like we drained the world of stories about married couples, but for that particular couple with those particular personalities, it was feeling like a little bit harder to think of stuff that interests us or that felt like it was worth taking up people’s time with.

So Rob has said all he wants to say about the early stages of marriage and raising young children. Do you feel like you’re all tapped out on that?
I write another show called Motherland, so if I said I was all tapped out I would be a bit screwed. No, but equally they’re different characters; it’s a different setup. I feel I’ve got more to say; I just think I should say a couple of other things in between.

Can you tell me anything more about your upcoming projects?
Yeah, we’re developing a couple of series at Amazon. We’re making a film with Element, who made The Favourite. We’ve got an Irish film in preproduction with them. I’ve just shot a show for Hulu and Channel 4 called This Way Up, and I just did a film with Kristin Scott Thomas called Military Wives. I have my production company, Merman, so this isn’t all me; this is other people and me.

I just want to make sure I find something that I love the way I loved Catastrophe, because it’s really hard work, writing stuff, and I think the only thing that makes it easy is if you love what you’re writing about, right?

So Catastrophe’s been your favorite project so far?
I loved Pulling, but then, when Pulling ended, I was like, Oh, well, I’m never going to find anything I loved as much as Pulling, never. How could I? Then, Catastrophe came along and I was like, Oh, fucking hell. What an amazing stroke of luck. Now, again, I have that sort of pain in my stomach, thinking about what could possibly replace it. It’s exciting to think about sniffing out a new project. It’s always exciting, working with people who are smart and funny, and I work with loads of those. So, yeah, maybe I’ll be okay.

Sharon Horgan on Ending Catastrophe Without Sentimentality