Angourie Rice’s Siobhan Sheehan might be the only character in HBO’s hit detective drama Mare of Easttown who isn’t actively languishing. In other words, the daughter of titular character Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) might have gone to therapy willingly, and it shows.
Mare‘s central mystery revolves around the death of a young woman named Erin McMenamin and the earlier disappearance of another teenage girl named Katie Bailey, both from the Pennsylvania township of Easttown, where Mare works as a detective. But while these events provide the puzzle pieces of Mare’s case load, the emotional core is Mare herself, and the characters she spends the most time with: most importantly, her family. She lives with both her mother (Jean Smart) and daughter under the same roof, all three of them coping (to various levels of success) with the death of Mare’s eldest, Kevin (Cody Kostro), and Mare’s subsequent spiral into divorce, depression, and drinking. They’re also collectively raising Kevin’s young son, Drew (Izzy King), and fighting desperately to keep him as Drew’s mother, a recovering addict named Carrie (Sosie Bacon), launches her own battle for custody.
In the midst of all this chaos is Siobhan, a high school student who doesn’t fall into the trope of embittered teenager ravaged by her family’s traumas. Instead, she seems remarkably well-adjusted, if, understandably, a little pissed at her parents. She’s the textbook parentified child, afraid to leave home for college lest the place fall apart without her. She processes her grief by making tender video projects about her brother. She’s queer and seems to have no qualms about showing it. She’s falling in love with a girl who likes the music she makes in her band. She seems, if not happy, at least not actively miserable.
Some think it’s all a guise, and Siobhan is actually the murderer who killed Erin (and perhaps even kidnapped Katie). It would certainly make for a riveting twist in an otherwise stale television genre. But it’s much more likely that Siobhan is simply a good example of what happens when people do the mental work of grief processing—and give themselves the time and space and energy to heal, however long it takes and however unfinished the work may be.
To learn more about the inspirations behind Siobhan’s ray of light in the dark Easttown universe—as well as what might be next for the show—ELLE.com asked Rice to spill as many details as she was allowed.
How did Mare of Easttown first land in your lap?
I auditioned for it first here in Australia; I sent my tape in. I didn’t think it would go anywhere, because I had played nice girl-next-door characters, and Siobhan isn’t that. I felt like I probably wouldn’t get it. And then I was in LA for something else, and they asked me to do a callback, then they asked me to do a meeting with the director and writer, and I thought, Okay. They’ll probably give me notes and I’ll go and do another audition. They offered me the job, and I was so pleased and really shocked.
What was your impression as you were reading the script and as you started to rehearse?
I had read the first two episodes, and I obviously knew that Kate [Winsley] was attached, and I knew it was HBO, but I really connected with Siobhan and her story. I got so invested in the whole community of characters—not only the mystery, but everyone [in Easttown].
What really interested me about the story was, you’ve got these three generations of women living in a house together. We went into a rehearsal process where we would get all the characters who interacted with each other or who were related into a room and speak about their history, their background, their family dynamic and also, I think, the timeline of what happened.
I really loved that process of sitting down and talking about the characters, but also how we related to them and what aspects of our own lives paralleled the characters.
How did you relate to Siobhan?
We talked about this during rehearsals: She is the one holding the family together. She’s the go-between with her mom and her dad and her grandma. She’s caring for her nephew who’s, like, five.
I related to the fact that she wants to dissolve all conflict, and she’s had to grow up really quickly, because she’s a carer for this kid. She’s also taking care of her grandmother. She’s making sure that her mom and her dad don’t have this huge fight in the middle of the yard that’s embarrassing to everyone. I really related to that, feeling like you have to be fine and mature all the time because everyone else is behaving immature or falling apart.
Siobhan certainly seems well-adjusted, all things considered.
She has found a way to cope with everything in a way that her mother has not. That doesn’t mean that she’s totally fine and perfect, but it’s out of necessity. She’s found a way to understand and process her grief and her trauma out of necessity, because no one’s been there holding her hand through it.
Everyone kind of went their separate ways dealing with this big tragedy. I think, like, all the things that Mare is dealing with, in terms of the death of her son? Siobhan has already gone through it and found a way to understand it. That’s another thing that I loved about her character, is that she is a bit of light in the show. She’s got a love story.
I was talking to our writer the other day, Brad [Ingelsby]. He was saying like, “I don’t see this as a show that’s dark necessarily. I see it as a show about grief.” That’s the thing, I think Siobhan has realized you just have to keep going.
Siobhan is proudly, openly queer. It’s relatively rare in TV to find a queer character whose entire story arc isn’t about them struggling to come out, or them facing homophobia and trauma. What was it like, for you, exploring such a relationship?
That’s also what I loved about Siobhan’s relationship, that in this story you have an established queer relationship that doesn’t have to be made into a big thing. It’s part of Siobhan’s life; it’s part of her story, but it’s not the most important part. The most important part is that she’s falling in love.
Also, the fact that her established queer relationship [at the beginning of the show] isn’t perfect; it’s not this amazing thing to be upheld.
Kiah [McKirnan], who plays Anne, we went out to dinner before starting shooting. We hung out, and that was so lovely because she’s amazing. She was such a great scene partner and we both kind of held each other’s hands throughout it and made each other feel comfortable and that we were in it together. I think, especially when you’re doing more intimate kissing scenes, it’s so important that you have that person with you, and you’re like, “It’s us. We’re in this together. It’s just about us. No one else.”
Speaking of Siobhan’s established queer relationship, that’s with Becca, who’s part of her band. In the scenes where Siobhan is singing, is that really you?
Yeah! I like singing. It was funny actually, in my meeting where they offered me the job, they were like, “Can you sing?” I was like, “Yeah,” which is true. I can hold a tune. I can harmonize. I wasn’t sure if they wanted me to sing or if they wanted me to lip sync to someone else, I didn’t know.
Then, in the rehearsal process, they were like, “No, we’ll get you to record all these songs.” And then I said to them, “You just trusted that I can sing when I said I could sing?” All the other band members had to audition. I didn’t have to do that. They just trusted me that I could sing. [Laughs]
All the songs are by a band called Mannequin Pussy. They’re a local Philly band. They’re amazing. They were all recorded in a studio in Philly by the legendary Will Yip. He is an amazing producer—I was so stoked to work with him. He’s worked with Lauryn Hill. He’s the real deal. So yeah, it was super fun. I loved it. I had a great time.
It’s interesting watching reviews of this show roll in, and seeing critics suss out the central “message” of it—whether it’s a feminist show, or a show chiefly about grief, or more about morality, and so on. As someone who spent hours working on this story, what do you think it’s about?
The central message of the show, I think, is an exploration of how people deal with grief and trauma individually and also collectively. The individual’s journey to healing is impacted and influenced by how we heal as a community.
When we see, especially in that group of three women, how each of them individually has coped, we see they can’t really reach that point until all of them reach that point.
I think the show is also about mental health and mental illness and communication in that, and how lack of communication can have disastrous consequences. I think that’s what the family learns by the end of the show. They learn how to communicate, how to talk about what happened, and how they feel about it.
We know that their story continues. We know that there will still be a long journey to healing as a community, but we can leave them as an audience and know that in the end they will be okay.
How did you and Kate Winslet develop that sort of communication as a mother-daughter pair?
We had the rehearsal process. We had a cast dinner before starting filming, which was really lovely. That was mostly to also meet Izzy [King], who plays little Drew, because he was four when we started filming and everyone wanted to be comfortable with him and make sure he was comfortable with us.
I felt very well taken care of and looked after [by Winslet]. That was really, really nice. I feel like it came quite naturally to us. And then exploring that tension as well, the root of the tension between mother and daughter. Episode six, you really see where the tension comes from with Mare and Siobhan—where the root of that disconnect is.
You know everyone’s talking about your accents. The SNL parody leaps to mind. How did you work to make yours authentic?
I know. I’m like, “Oh gosh, we have three generations of women living in this house and we’re from three different countries.”
Siobhan’s accent is the lightest of everyone, which in some ways is easier and in some ways is harder. For me, the challenge was when it’s so subtle, it’s hard to remember the points to make it strong.
Previously when I’ve done stuff in accents, like with a standard American accent, I don’t really think about it. It feels like second nature and once I get into it, it’s just natural. With this accent though, I was working on it every single day. Every night before I went to set, I would call the dialect coach and we’d go through our lines. Every morning in the trailer, we’d go through our lines again. We’d do voice exercises because Australian placement is very up in your nose. It’s very annoying, I hate it. [Laughs]
The show is billed as a limited series, but I’m curious, if there were to be a second iteration, whether that’s another season or a spinoff, would you be interested in returning?
Someone asked me that yesterday, and my immediate response is, “Yeah!”
But then, the more I think about it, the more I think, actually, I’m so happy to leave those characters where they are. The more I think about it, the more I’m like, “No, no, no.” I kind of love the power that this standalone story has.
But, of course, if Brad wrote an incredible second season or an incredible spinoff, of course I’d be like, “Yeah!” I don’t know how he feels about it. When it was pitched to me, it was always going to be just seven episodes.
This is just all Brad’s writing, I think, but I also love how we get to a point where the [characters are] okay by the end of this series, but we know that there’s still stuff to do.
Leaving Mare for a minute: You’re also returning as Betty Brant in the third Spider-Man movie. Marvel is, of course, notorious for keeping lips sealed when it comes to spoilers. But what has it been like to work within the Marvel universe for these few years and to finally wrap this series?
It was quite emotional, actually. I signed on to the first one when I was 15. By the time this one comes out, I’m going to be almost 21. That’s six years of my life in the MCU. I really do feel like I grew up with that character. I feel like I had my coming-of-age with that character. While she was going to her first school dance and going overseas and getting her first boyfriend, I was doing all those things at the same time.
The formula was, one year we film and then the next year we do press. There was never a year where I wasn’t talking about Spider-Man or where it wasn’t a part of my life. It was quite an emotional thing to say goodbye to Betty. But it kind of feels like the right time to say goodbye.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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