Perhaps ironically, Oscar-nominated actor Thomas Haden Church fell in love with Westchester while filming a show about divorce. “Thank God Divorce is set largely in Westchester,” says Church. “I’ve worked in New York while staying in the city before, and it’s just not really my scene. I’m not a big ‘Let’s go out and eat at trendy restaurants and have a drink!’ kind of guy. I live part-time in a small town, and I have a ranch in Texas. So, to work in New York and be able to live in Westchester — that was a dream come true.”
Church rented a home near the border of New Rochelle and Eastchester while filming the show’s first season and in Scarsdale through the second season’s shoot, which wrapped in June. With a filming schedule that spanned two years — largely in Tarrytown and Dobbs Ferry — Church became a virtual local by the time production ended.
“I loved Scarsdale,” he says. “My girlfriend was with me, and on the weekends we’d just drive around, exploring the area. We even had our favorite spot, the Scarsdale Metro Diner, which is over by the train station. We became regulars there, knew everybody, and were on a first-name basis with many of the employees and the owner.”
This Rockwellian experience is in sharp contrast to Divorce’s plot, which features the dissolution of a couple’s lengthy marriage. The show, which debuts its second season on January 14, was the brainchild of its star, Sarah Jessica Parker, as well as actor-writer-producer Sharon Horgan, who has since departed the comedy for other projects. The first season was a decidedly dark yet surprisingly tender and humorous investigation of modern marriage. The new season, however, brings a bit more light into the gloom.
“There was a discussion of how the characters’ divorce was going to play out when [former showrunner] Paul Simms moved on and Jenny Bicks became the main executive producer,” shares Church. “When the new writers came in, they made the decision to just get the divorce out of the way and see what their new lives were going to be like. S.J. [Sarah Jessica Parker] and I were totally aligned on this, and I think everybody was. We didn’t want it to be like the first season, with the bickering, the fighting, and the finger-pointing.”
According to Church, Parker often acted as a guiding voice to the show’s new tone. “S.J. has quite a bit more impact on how the stories are written as an executive producer,” says Church. “But with S.J., it’s always supremely collaborative. She’s so sharp-minded when it comes to character and dialogue and story. She’s just so smart, and man, I just really respect her.”
Should there be a third season (Church says HBO is waiting to see how the current season fares), Parker won’t be the only actor doubling as producer. “We finished shooting in June, and about two months later, they asked me if I wanted to be a producer on the third season,” says Church. “I was really honored that they asked me and that they were acknowledging my contributions beyond just being an actor on the show.”
Yet, as an actor, Church has excelled in his portrayal of Robert, a brusque but well-intentioned contractor who’s fallen on hard times as he undergoes a divorce from his wife, Frances. “I feel like I was involved in the construction of Robert, as well as Robert and Frances’ relationship, from the ground up,” says Church. “I really push myself in the role. I try to challenge myself to figure out how to make Robert compelling and interesting and different.”
The new season also afforded Church an opportunity to explore a softer side of his character. “In the first season, Robert was keeping a lot inside. What is really cool about the second season is that he is able to exercise a lot of that,” says Church. “By the end, I really felt like we had created an authentic story about doing the work to put a family back together.”
The new season of Divorce is an undeniably brighter affair, one that explores the difficulties of separation while maintaining a more upbeat and entertaining tone. “I think that compared with the end of the first season, this season is way more hopeful and way more life-affirming,” says Church. “After all the wreckage, betrayal, and, ultimately, the sacrifice, the characters are able to pick themselves up and brush it all off. We want to get back to a place of peaceful coexistence that is healthy for everybody.”