Mare of Easttown first lured us in with its intriguing mystery, but it’s the striking performances from the cast that kept us tuning in and still stay with us all of these months later.
The HBO crime drama explored the collective grief of a small Pennsylvania community where Kate Winslet‘s titular detective uncovers deeply-buried secrets while searching for answers behind the surprising murder of teen Erin McMenamin (Cailee Spaeny). Mare discovers a complicated web that involves incest, an accidental shooting, and a mother’s undying efforts to protect her son.
One of the most shocking discoveries involves Mare’s best friend Lori, played by Emmy-nominated actress Julianne Nicholson. In the final, heartbreaking hour of the seven-episode drama, viewers learn the tragic circumstances surrounding Erin’s death. In fact, it was Lori and husband John’s son Ryan (Cameron Mann) who accidentally and fatally shot his father’s cousin while confronting her about her incestuous relationship with John, which resulted in a baby boy. Although she’s left largely in the dark until the final episode, Lori’s willingness to turn a blind eye and allow John to take the fall for Erin’s death proves her devotion as a mother, no matter the cost.
Once Mare finally puts the puzzle together, the two old friends share a devastating moment that no doubt helped to secure both actresses Emmy nominations. Below, Nicholson opens up her nod for Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Limited Series, the show’s “cathartic” ending, and more.
Congrats on your nomination, how did you feel after hearing the news?
Julianne Nicholson: I felt delighted, I felt so excited by how people responded to the whole show. In regards to my character, in particular, that last episode, I mean, I don’t think any of us knew to what degree this show would resonate with people, so it was just a wonderful, lovely surprise.
Viewers really got pulled in by the story and characters. What kind of feedback or reactions did you receive from people after the shocking finale reveal?
The outpouring of people that felt compelled to share their experience of the show was an exciting thing. Many were surprised by the reveals, but even people who suspected it was John or thought it was something to do with our family were all moved and surprised by the way in which it was revealed.
After being in lockdown and all the emotions of the past year, I think it was pretty cathartic. And then the coming back together of Lori and Mare, and for Mare going up into the attic to face the death of her son felt exciting. People I haven’t heard from in years were just writing to say how much they loved it, and that’s really gratifying.
People were certainly drawn in by the mystery, but at the end of the day, this series shines a light on women overcoming tough situations. If they could overcome the grief and pain they’ve faced, can’t we all?
Yeah, a couple of people mentioned that to me and I just thought that was a beautiful way to look at it and a hopeful way to feel like people could find something relatable in that, something that resonated for them.
You’re no stranger to complicated onscreen families from roles in films like August: Osage County and Black Mass. Is that part of what drew you to this role and Lori’s story?
I thought Brad Ingelsby, the writer, just did such a beautiful job of drawing these fleshed-out flawed human beings. Starting with those characters and then writing the crime into that, he did that in such an interesting way. For me, I grew up outside of Boston, and so I can relate to the sort of suburb of the city vibe in the Northeast. The toughness, the hardworking [people], loyalty, pride, and importance of family within communities like that felt like an exciting thing to explore.
Then of course working with Kate was really an exciting prospect because I’ve been an admirer of hers for so long and friends with her for a long time, so it felt like such a beautiful way to tie those two things together in this relationship that Lori and Mare have.
You two share a range of scenes from quieter friend moments to some of the finale’s most tense situations. Which kind of conversation is easier to tackle? The casual or emotional moments?
I think the whole is exciting. Getting to do both within one character and one show, because that feels like a real person. They’re not all hysterical moments. There’s a lot of mundane in the day-to-day. So much about acting I find, there’s nothing that you can count on. You can do your work, but for me it is unpredictable. I can’t guarantee anything, because I feel like if you can guarantee something, then it’s not alive.
You don’t know what’s happening on the day, you don’t know what the other actor’s giving you, you can’t have it planned out before you show up. So, I would say sometimes those dramatic scenes can feel scarier because of their high-stakes nature. The storytelling depends on delivering those moments in a meaningful way. A scene that feels quiet, but [was] one of the hard scenes for me in this show is receiving the news that Erin has been killed on the phone, and then telling that to John. Those are actually fairly quiet scenes, but it’s what the story kicks off from. A girl has been murdered, so what does it feel like? What does it look like to receive that information? It’s hard.
Did filming during the pandemic add to the emotional toll of these scenes for you?
I expect it did for everybody in different ways, not being able to put the character and their experiences down, extending that time of living in the grief of these individual stories. But for me, the bulk of my heavy work was pre-pandemic. So not necessarily for those particular scenes, but just in terms of actually how I feel about it now, I think it went deeper just having to hold onto it for so long in the midst of what we’ve all lived through in the last 18 months.
Not to send you back to a heavy place, but there have been rumblings about Mare returning for a second season. Should they bring the show back, is that something you’d be interested in doing, or do you feel like Lori’s story is over at this point?
I would be very curious and excited to see what Brad would come up with for Lori. I trust him implicitly, in terms of I don’t think that he wants to tell the story just for the sake of continuing the show. I think it would only be if he felt like there were stories there that he wanted to explore. So, I trust him as far as that goes and would be really curious to see what’s next for Lori.
Yeah, it would be nice to see what’s next, but I could only imagine what would be in store for her.
Can’t we just stick her on a beach in Hawaii? I mean, is that so hard? [Laughs].
Mare of Easttown, Streaming now, HBO Max