Maura Tierney, The Affair

SHOWTIME

Maura Tierney is dipping her toe into unfamiliar waters, and we're not talking about those off the shore of Montauk; the Emmy nominee is heading to cable with The Affair.

Tierney spent almost 10 years on ER, NBC's hit medical drama. Before that there was nearly 100 episodes of the comedy NewsRadio. Stints on Rescue Me, The Good Wife and a short-lived legal drama The Whole Truth followed, but now Tierney is heading to Showtime for the provocative new drama costarring Dominic West, Ruth Wilson and Joshua Jackson.

"Initially, I had really wanted to work on cable television. I was on network TV for about 15 years or so, which I loved. I was on two amazing shows on network, but I've never worked without those kinds of constraints, so I really wanted to work in that environment," Tierney said.

The Affair tells the story of, well, an affair. Tierney plays Helen, the wife to Noah (West), and mom to four kids. The show tells the story of Noah's affair with Alison (Wilson) from their two points of views. And for Tierney, her first cable drama starts off with a bang.

You kick it right off with a sex scene.
Yes, I know, I know! I was more thinking about the subject matter freedom, not that, but that was really interesting to me. Sarah Treem, who wrote it, I think is really talented, she's a playwright. I think she's a wonderful writer. I like that the show is built around the two different perspectives of the two characters.

Will we ever see your perspective?
I believe…I'm not sure because I don't ask any questions. Some of the other cast members ask questions, I don't just because, I don't know, I'm OK not to. But I do believe if the show continues to next season…the viewpoints will expand. Not just to me, but to some of the other characters.

Ruth Wilson, Dominic West, The Affair

Steven Lippman/SHOWTIME

Right. As I watched I was wondering, "How many seasons can this last?"
I think the whole thing is going to be a memory piece. That's what's special about it, I think. I think two things: It's special that it's a memory piece and that it's a difference between a feminine and masculine perspective on events, a memory. I like that.

When I watched, I vaguely knew what the show was about, but I didn't realize it'd be split. Everything, down to the clothes was different.
That's what's fun about it. It's not just they remember different—everything's different. I get to play two different characters, sort of, which is really fun.

Do you prefer one perspective to the other?
I like it when I'm in Ruth's [Wilson] perspective because it's more of a stretch for me. In her character's perspective, I'm very chic and intimidating and kind of cold…It's fun to play. It's not like me, but it's more fun because she's a little bit of a bitch. I like that. Not so much in the pilot, but down the line.

The Affair seems like something I have ever seen on broadcast or cable.
Yeah! I think it's really, really fun.

Is that what kind of drew you to the project specifically?
Yes. I liked the writing a lot and like that I essentially get to play two different versions of the same person.

It's definitely provocative.
Totally.

I think that's the right word.
No, I think it is.

What's your elevator pitch to people?
This is what I say: It's called The Affair, it's about an affair. [Laughs.] It is what I say!

Maura Tierney, Dominic West, The Affair

Mark Schafer/SHOWTIME

The subject matter, adultery, can turn people off in a way. Did that worry you at all?
No. Does it turn people off?

I feel like it does sometimes. Like, happily married people?
But sometimes happily married people—someone has an affair. There are weird statistics that sometimes when infidelity occurs, the person who cheats says, ‘I was happy in my marriage.' It's a mysterious thing what keeps people together...I think infidelity is difficult, monogamy is difficult and marriage is difficult. It's sort of like, what's that little trip wire that makes the thing happen, that goes wrong?

At this point, do you prefer drama or comedy?
I've been doing dramas for a long time. Actually, this year I was looking to do a comedy. I thought it'd be really fun, that's the stuff I was reading. Then I was offered this role and it was too good to not take. I do miss comedy, yeah. But I try to be funny on the show. You'll see, my character is kind of funny. 

ER, Season 11

Robert Sebree/NBCU Photo Bank

TV revivals are all the rage these days.
Mhm.

Would you ever do an ER TV movie?
I mean, probably not. I don't know, it depends on who wrote it...They did it already!

The 20th anniversary is coming up. [Note: This interview occurred prior to the 20th anniversary of ER's premiere in September]
Yeah, but when they ended the show everybody came back. I feel like they did that already.

You never know. Strange things have happened, especially lately.  Do you want to add anything about The Affair?
I think it's going to be a really fun show. The idea is to have the audience not know who to root for, which couples to root for. Hopefully we'll do that and hopefully it'll be fun.

The Affair premieres Sunday, Oct. 12 at 10 p.m. on Showtime. You can watch the first full (edited) episode now below.

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