This article deals with a major plot point on the current season of Girls. There are spoilers here.
Sunday night's episode of Girls brought one of the show's biggest epiphanies — one that promises to change the show's trajectory. Hannah's dad, Tad Horvath, played by Peter Scolari, came out as a gay man.
Girls softened for the night to tenderly (for Girls) reveal Tad's sexuality. The episode felt honest and thoughtful, but still true to the show. Girls has been glib and satirical at times this season — Marnie's record deal and Shoshanna's interviews come to mind — which is why it was a little surprising to see Tad's coming out handled with a genuine humanity, though that doesn't mean it happened without serious conflict or friction.
I talked to Scolari about the revelation. In our conversation, he explained why this unexpected moment and moments like it are when's he most proud of the show. And according to Scolari, Tad's sexuality is going to be something that not only allows us to see a different side of Tad, but also will allow us to see Loreen (Becky Ann Baker) and Hannah (Lena Dunham) in situations we're not using to seeing them in.
Tad's coming out is going to change his life, but will also alter the lives of the people who love him — and the rest of this season of Girls.
Alex Abad-Santos: When did you find out about Tad's coming out?
Peter Scolari: When we began filming the first episode of season four, which places us sometime back in late spring of 2014. Almost a year ago, Becky Ann Baker and I — mom and dad — were reprising our pilot episode venue, where we took Hannah out to dinner at the Warwick Hotel. And we were celebrating her and excited for her. With what we know is happening here in season four — her acceptance into the writers' program in Iowa — Tad is typically a little more enthused.
At one point in the rehearsal — for camera — I pointed to Becky Ann [to her character], and said, "Well, we know your mom wasn't really too supportive, but I always was."
AAS: Tad is always seen as the more lenient parent.
PS: We laughed about it. It seemed to prompt Lena and Jenni Konner, a writing executive producer, though I think she's Lena's more-than-right hand. She's another whole sort of author of the series. They invited Becky Ann and me to come over to what we call the "video village" — this area where every scene is watched, monitored, and discussed.
They said, "We want to talk to you guys before we go any further, because we have some plans for you this season. And we wanted to do something in season three like this, but we didn't pull the trigger."
Suddenly there was discussion of, "We want you to clear your schedules. And make sure you're available. Because we're going to take this storyline at this whole season."
Becky Ann and I were shocked and excited. And it was further shared with us that the marriage was going to come to an abrupt halt.
We were both shocked about that, because in our minds we were always playing a couple who didn't agree on all things but were entirely compatible. And I think that's actually true. But Lena and Jenni both turned their attention to me and said, "Tad is going to come out."
And I said, "I didn't know he was gay."
I don't remember who it was, but Lena or Jenni said, "Well, he didn't know, either."
AAS: That puts those scenes in a whole new light.
PS: It put some electricity into how we thought about what we were doing.
I should say, in fairness to all of us, we didn't then make some big turnabout and play our characters in any substantively different way. We thought that would be, in a sense, a little cloying and too close to a TV version of where we might go.
AAS: For a show that's often steeped in satire, the way Tad's coming out was handled felt perhaps surprisingly respectful and human. How important was it to you to get that across?
PS: Really important. It always has been. One of the great joys of working the character and, really, always in collaboration, is to be able, to some extent, to improvise the character's wit. And also his silliness, which is an offset sometimes to the seriousness of how we might think he really feels about his daughter, which is very deeply.
We went into a transition this year with that aspect of the character. I think we find now by the end of the season, as this issue arises, that a lot of his joyfulness has abated. For Tad to come out and make this self-determination and make this huge step in his life is not an easy walk.
It's not going very well. And he's not funny anymore. I'm very touched by that. I should say, with some pridefulness, that I'm very respectful with what we're trying to achieve with this personal change.
AAS: Tad's coming out was a bit of a contrast with how the show often treats its "big moments" for the four main characters. The scenes were disarming.
PS: I don't think we're that unique with what they're doing with my character, but it's been a hallmark of the show. The show can be glib, almost sarcastic — and I think, as you say, satirical. The characters, the girls particularly, can be self-absorbed and self-obsessed and, to some extent, self-serving, even to a degree where critics pile on and get upset about it.
And then something a character can say, often Hannah or in her story — someone who cares about her, Adam or Alex's character — it's suddenly so moving and so penetrating, and the honesty is so searing and unsettling. That's when I'm most proud of the show. And I feel that's the show I've been invited into after all these years — it's that place where we're having a lot of fun or having our way, and then you say "Whoops, guess what, these are human beings. How are you feeling now with what you thought you were seeing?"
And that's the show I'm really proud of. I'm proud of the rest of it, as well, but I think you know what I mean.
AAS: Though this is a huge development in Tad's life, it also affects everyone around him. Can you talk about the effect it had on you and Becky Ann Baker [who plays Hannah's mom, Loreen]?
PS: For me and Becky Ann, the interplay is as easy and as productive as it's ever been, if not even a little bit more. I have always fancied myself a team player. My relationship with Becky Ann Baker began in an audition room almost five years ago now. She already had the part, and they paired me with her to see what kind of chemistry we had. And we started ad-libbing and improvising, and that was that.
I remember coming home and telling my wife I had this experience with this actress, and that it was so easy. Becky Ann's work in this season and this storyline — that is ostensibly about what happens with Tad — is every bit as much about what happens with Loreen in Becky Ann's capable hands. My wife and I watched an advance screener of the coming out episode — for lack of a better term — and we couldn't believe how brilliant Becky Ann was.
That's one of those incredible gifts you shouldn't expect to receive often, if ever, in your career, when you have rapport with another actor like that. And it feels like, in the greatest possible way, an entirely believable continuum of what happens to these folks that's so disruptive.
AAS: It doesn't go well.
PS: It's really disruptive to both of them. The safe version of the story is that Tad comes out, and he goes and does his own thing and says, "I'm sorry, and you just don't understand."
But that's just one half of the dialogue. And it just doesn't go that way for Tad and Loreen.
AAS: It's the first time we see Tad and Loreen really get hit with something heavy. And it allows you to tap into emotions and places that we don't really see with them. How was that for both of you?
PS: A bit more of the inside aspect of it is we were both very uncomfortable. We both experienced real distress on a personal level because we were so comfortable with each other. We continued to get the work done, but as we got the work done we felt a divorce amongst us.
We felt there was this stranger in the room who was changing. ... This storyline was really affecting our characters and us as people.
AAS: What can you tell me about how this will affect the rest of the season?
PS: In typical fashion, I should say I'm the wrong person to ask, which is fine with me. I have such a high regard and respect for Lena Dunham, my young friend, and for Jenni Konner, who at least has the decency to be a little bit older.
It's not much of a teaser. But there is not a clear and typical TV sort of resolve or place that we arrive at where we say, "This is how this story goes, this is how it's going; assume certain things and a resolution to come."
That's not where we're at. Jenni and Lena both said to me, "Hang on. Hang in there, because we're not going to leave your story and your character alone. We have some things we need to really look at, and take him and Loreen and prolong the journey a little further."
As Tad goes after his real life, after all these years and with what an incredibly courageous thing it is, it's not funny. And it's not fun. And it's not going well. And you just hope there can be understanding and some evolution. Which is such an honorable thing from the authorship of Lena and Jenni, and I should say Bruce Kaplan and Murray Miller and people who are captaining this ship as writers.
AAS: How does Tad's coming out affect his relationship with Hannah?
PS: We joke about it a little bit. Becky Ann and I arrive at this feeling, this near consensus. Well, guess who has to be the grownup now? Guess who has to pull their shit together and dig the parents out of their hole?
Who's standing by, but Hannah? Isn't that a kick in the head?
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.