Spoilers for tonight’s season finale are ahead.
In early May, when Vulture spoke to Mare of Easttown star Angourie Rice over Zoom, the 20-year-old Australian actress was back home in Melbourne, while I conferenced in from my New Jersey residence. We had technical difficulties. Sound bites were lost. In the time it took to reschedule our call, the limited series took twists and turns that no one saw coming as it reached the conclusion of its successful, much-discussed run on HBO. In the penultimate episode, Rice’s character, Siobhan Sheehan, the queer daughter of town detective Mare (Kate Winslet), finally confronts her mom about the tragic death of her older brother, Kevin (Cody Kostro). And in tonight’s finale, despite her attachment to the family unit, Siobhan decides to be one of the few to flee Easttown and attend UC Berkeley.
Written by Brad Ingelsby and directed by Craig Zobel, this series accomplished the rare feat of delivering thrilling (albeit upsetting) endings to all of its main players’ story lines throughout the season. Fan-favorite detective Colin Zabel (Evan Peters) is shot and killed after he and Mare corner the culprit responsible for the disappearances of two young women in the community. Then, when circling back to Erin McMenamin’s (Cailee Spaeny) case, Mare learns that her own close friends, brothers John and Billy Ross (Joe Tippett and Robbie Tann), have something to do with the teen’s death. In a finale twist, we learn that John fathered Erin’s son, DJ, but attempted to frame Billy for Erin’s murder to throw the scent off his 13-year-old son, Ryan (Cameron Mann), the actual killer.
Yes, Ryan, the innocent-seeming child of Mare’s best friend, Lori (Julianne Nicholson), ends up being the Peeping Tom the detective has been searching for all season. In the show’s heart-wrenching final moments, Mare sends a remorseful Ryan off to jail and tries to repair her relationship with an understandably distraught Lori.
“I was very surprised by the ending,” Rice told Vulture when we reconnected over Zoom last week during her break from filming the high-school comedy Senior Year in Georgia. “I love how it’s a shocking twist, yet it doesn’t feel gimmicky; it feels grounded. It’s satisfying to solve the mystery, but then once you get past that satisfaction, you’re heartbroken because you care about the people in Easttown and you don’t want to see them suffer anymore.”
In conversation with Vulture, Rice further dissected the Mare of Easttown finale, commended the brilliance that is Jean Smart, and ruminated on how her time in coronavirus isolation allowed her to further explore the character of Siobhan.
So are you, like me, still reeling from the finale?
Yeah. I was hesitant to watch it because I obviously knew what was going to happen, and I didn’t really want to watch it by myself. I was like, “Oh, it’s a bit sad.” [Laughs] It’s kind of my second bout processing it because the first time was when I read the script and then I had to actually do it, and now seeing it all come together, it’s like reliving both of those experiences.
You were filming and then stopped because of COVID-19 and then went back months later. You’ve been living with this story for so long.
Yes, for such a long time it’s been in my head as memories, and now it’s out in the world and it’s all from the camera’s perspective. It’s strange to see bits of it and to talk to people about it because when I watch my bits, I don’t really watch it as part of the story. I just remember, you know, what day it was and what I was doing and what I had for lunch. [Laughs]
During the break between shoots, were you able to change anything about the way you approached Siobhan or the way you wanted to portray her?
I think we all had moments of self-discovery in lockdown. It was a very interesting time in my life to be locked down, especially having filmed half of this show. I didn’t want to lose the character; that’s what I was worried about. But I also found that in lockdown, I didn’t want to watch anything sad or dramatic. I was seeking escape in things that comforted me because anxiety levels were running so high already. With a show like Easttown and having that world and that character in my brain, I almost wanted to keep it there in my soul and in my heart but not give it brain time all the time. I kept thinking about Siobhan, but at that time, the thing that took precedence was taking care of my mental health in this crazy time where it felt like the world had changed completely. So it was a difficult balance to strike, and I was worried about getting back on set and thinking, Oh my gosh, I don’t know who Siobhan is anymore. But without that closure of “Will we be back in three weeks or three months?” — it turned out to be seven or eight months — I felt like I couldn’t let go of her. She was always there until I wrapped and then it was like, Okay, I can let it go now.
That’s a long time to keep a haircut or stunt your growth!
I know. I let my hair grow out and then they cut it off again. But thankfully, you know, little Izzy [King], who plays Drew, didn’t lose any teeth. That’s what they were worried about!
Did the script change at all in between the first and second shoots?
Logistically, things had to change for COVID. Originally, my band was going to perform onstage at a gig in a bar, then when we came back from COVID, they were like, “Well, now we can’t have 150 people packed into a bar.” So that was rewritten to all the stuff we see at the recording studio at the university.
It was funny, actually, rewatching it. That scene in episode seven that I have with Kate where she’s come back from the courthouse, I think, and she confronts Siobhan about Berkeley — that was one of the first scenes I shot with her. And watching it, usually I remember the dialogue, but that happened such a long time ago I didn’t remember!
That’s a big scene because, at the beginning of the show, Mare wouldn’t have been as open to Siobhan leaving Easttown for Berkeley. It’s such a moment for both your characters’ development. It just shows that Mare maybe isn’t as attached to this town as she was — or she at least wants her daughter to get out.
I think that scene is such a nice moment of seeing the difference between mother and daughter and seeing that Siobhan needs to leave and Mare needs to stay. That’s really beautiful. They recognize that they both have different needs and that they can support each other in what they need as well, even if it is different.
I really loved the ending of the show. You really see that these characters will be okay and that life will keep going in Easttown even after we leave it. They’ll keep rebuilding their community and their relationships.
Episode six is a big one for your character, as we kind of understand more about why Siobhan is the way she is or why she feels a certain way about her mother when we discover that Siobhan was the one who found her brother in the attic. When you read the script, how did that fill out your character and your performance?
That knowledge and that scene stayed with me throughout the whole production. Every single scene where Siobhan is talking to her mother, that is always the subtext — no matter what they’re talking about, there’s always that knowledge under the surface. They almost can’t look at each other without remembering what happened.
Even just reading that scene for the first time made me so emotional. To have that character backstory, and for Siobhan to carry that with her throughout the whole show, is really great because we have a concrete understanding of why her relationship with Mare is so tough. Sometimes you don’t get a concrete reason; sometimes it’s little things, or they’re nagging at each other for the sake of it. But with Mare and Siobhan, they can pinpoint this exact event that changed their relationship forever. As an actor, that is so helpful to have to really understand their history together.
There are a lot of mother-daughter dynamics in this. I’m sure it was fun to watch Jean Smart and Kate Winslet perform together.
They’re so brilliant. Oh my gosh, Jean is so funny.
The Jean Smartaissance!
It’s like, should she be this funny in this show? But it works! It was just great to watch them bounce off each other, at least in the scenes we were in together. I remember what they ad-libbed and what was improvised. And so then, watching the scenes with just them, I was looking for those moments that I think might have been improvised. Their instincts are so great, and it’s so wonderful to watch them honor those instincts and play off each other in that way.
Brad Ingelsby is so good at quickly introducing well-rounded characters and worlds so you feel invested as a viewer right from the start. This is a detective show but, at its core, a family drama.
Yeah. If people go into it expecting a family drama, they’ll be surprised and intrigued to find how central the mystery is. But if you come into it expecting just, like, a thriller, you’ll be so surprised and invested in the family drama aspect of it as well. I think that balance is so well done. Also, you care about the mystery because you’re invested in these characters. If you didn’t like them, if you didn’t care about them, you wouldn’t care what happened to Erin, you wouldn’t care who confessed, you wouldn’t care who was sent to jail.
The writing and the editing and all the performances really make you understand and sympathize with everyone in the town. I loved all these parallels of mothers and daughters, and mothers and sons as well, and seeing which characters in each family feel like they’re always picking up the pieces and can’t break down themselves. I think that’s what makes it feel like such a community — you have multiple young women with children, you have multiple stories of addiction and depression. It just makes these things a part of the real world, rather than one-off plot points to get your attention. It’s all woven into the complex world and community of Easttown.
That strong base of community lends itself to the finale because we see all those dynamics break down at the end when we find out who killed Erin. The Ryan twist is really heartbreaking.
I was very surprised by the ending. I didn’t get episode seven until they made me give them my theory — and my theory was not true at all. [Laughs] So yeah, I was very, very surprised. But you know, it’s such a fine line of making sure the audience is shocked and then also giving them that moment of like, Oh, of course. You know? Like, it can’t be so shocking that it’s unbelievable, and I think that balance is struck really well.
That’s what makes it so difficult. We’ve come to know Mare and Lori’s relationship and understand how hard it must be for Mare to do this to her best friend, despite its being the right thing.
I feel like in thrillers or an Agatha Christie mystery, you’re always like, Oh, well, you know, I’m glad we found the bad guy. But in something like this, where it’s so much a family drama, you’re kind of like, Did I even want it to be solved? Because it’s just so sad! But, I mean, that’s good writing, right? It makes you feel conflicting emotions.
Being alongside Kate Winslet as not only a performer but a producer was probably thrilling. How did she support you through this role?
We were very fortunate that we got a week of preproduction rehearsals, but we also had discussions before we started filming. That’s when we sat down with the writers, producers, and director, and I remember I said to them, “Do you have a timeline that I can look at?” They weren’t thinking of giving it out to people, but I got one of the events both before the show and then what happens in the show, which was so helpful. Because there are flashbacks, and we learn more information about what happened to the Sheehans in the past so it was great to see it all laid out like that. And then we sat down with the whole Sheehan family [of actors] to talk about the years before Kevin died and the years leading up to his death and how the family functioned then, especially talking about Mare and Siobhan’s relationship in those years and how Siobhan might have been neglected a little because it was always taken for granted that she was okay.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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