Monday, May 15, 2023

Recasting 2021 (supporting): "Mare of Easttown"

For the penultimate selection in this series, I thought it appropriate to note that of the last ten selections, seven of them have been from television. Of those, five of the shows originally premiered on HBO. I've touched on this phenomenon several times in the past, but I think the trend is an example of where the good parts are moving (or have moved), not only for women over 50, but for women in general. If it's not about a superhero or is a sequel primarily known for its special effects, it's quite possible the project's greatest audience will be found on the small screen. 

I've also commented on my affinity for limited series. I enjoy that they have a clear arc from start to finish, and yet they're longer than a feature film and so we get to go deeper into the story and, more importantly, into the characters' lives and minds. Mare of Easttown is one such example of why I'm so drawn to and glad for the reemergence of the miniseries/limited series as a venue for the best performers. I watched it when it came two years ago and found it to be one of my all-time favorites. The great Kate Winlset stars as Mare, a detective in a suburb of Philadelphia trying to solve the murder of a teenage girl while navigating the challenges of her own complex and painful personal life. The role I'm recasting is that of Mare's mother, Helen Fahey, originally portrayed by the splendid Jean Smart. 

The very nature of a "supporting" role is that it's not necessarily all about them. The story is all about Mare, and everyone else is an extension of her world. With that in mind, it may seem like Helen's character doesn't have a lot to do, other than to be in the background with a few wisecracks and perturbed looks in response to her daughter's somewhat questionable decisions. After having recently watched the series in full for the second time, I realized I had sort of forgotten that Helen, as a character, has plenty for an actress to showcase. She's a woman who's lost both her husband and adult grandson to suicide, she's moved in with her daughter to help care for her great-grandson (of whom Mare is attempting to maintain custody), and she has to sort of delicately walk the line of trying to fight for keeping the little boy while not alienating his troubled mother so as to lose him forever. In one of the lighter moments of the series, she's outed after a neighbor's funeral as having an affair with the man's husband. 

Above all though, I think the trickiest and most interesting work for the character is summarized in the last episode of the series (the one Smart submitted to the Television Academy and for which she ultimately received an Emmy nomination), where she tearfully reveals to her daughter the struggle she had in managing their mother-daughter relationship in the wake of her own grief. I apologize I was unable to find a suitable clip of the scene. But it's a touching (if a bit comically awkward) scene, and it provides the audience a sense of perhaps some closure for both Mare and Helen. 

Similar to what I mentioned in last week's post with Succession, it would just be a lot of fun to be able to insert Meryl into this world. It's a vivid tapestry of characters in a close-knit clan that is as quick to forgive each other as they are to knock-down drag-out fights. Like one big, dysfunctional family. The region also has a very distinct accent, one which I've read that Kate Winslet insisted on the entire cast nailing for authenticity purposes. I think some of the actors were more successful than others with that. And I think we could've expected Meryl to have enjoyed and excelled at that piece. 

Mare of Easttown was lauded by critics. It holds a whopping 95% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 81 on Metacritic. As mentioned, Smart earned an Emmy nod, while Julianne Nicholson won in her category, as did Evan Peters in supporting and Winslet of course in lead. The show was also nominated for Outstanding Limited series, Directing (Craig Zobel) and Screenplay (Brad Inglesby), losing the first two to my favorite show of that season, The Queen's Gambit. 


  1. Yes! Between this and Succession, this is exactly the writing we need Meryl to get, and it's only really happening on television. My fingers are crossed for an HBO miniseries all of her own before all is said is done.

  2. I just saw Winslet won the TV Bafta for "I Am Ruth", glad to see she's getting back to being in great projects. I also love the idea of Meryl and the C/Kates working together. Although she was technically too young I would have enjoyed Meryl and Cate in "Notes On A Scandal".

    My choice will be the highly acclaimed "Mass", a movie very few people seemed to have seen (at least in theatres) concerning a meeting between the parents of a victim and the perpetrator of a school shooting.

    The role I chose was originally played (wonderfully) by Ann Dowd who is about 7 years younger than Meryl but I don't see a problem with the change. I have always wished that Meryl had got the chance to play opposite Tom Wilkinson in "In The Bedroom" as grieving parents as I liked how well written and raw it all was. I feel this was something similar and offers all 4 actors a chance to shine. If Meryl had been offered a role the movie would likely have got more attention than it did, as it deserved to.

    1. Charlie, I was very close to choosing Mass, but I decided that I'll be choosing that when I continue my lead recasting series year by year (spoiler!). I know that Dowd was submitted for supporting, but I totally believe that had Meryl been in that role, she would've gone lead. I love that movie...the wonderful dialogue, the emotion, the timely sociopolitical topics it traverses, and of course the wonderful performances. I agree it would've been bigger had Meryl done it.

  3. Yes, Jeff, I am with you: “it would just be a lot of fun to be able to insert Meryl into this world.” And into so many other worlds, movies, roles. One of your readers recently wrote, “we can't always assume Meryl's the only actress everyone wants to work with.” Of course, we can’t. And yet, one can dream.

    And so, beyond the (so far) elusive team-ups with the Scorseses and Almodovars of this world, I dream of Meryl being directed by any or all of these five brilliant but underrated (or still “unpopular”) female directors whose recent works prove they are some of our finest filmmakers today: Charlotte Wells (“Aftersun”), Celine Song (“Past Lives”), Nicole Holofcener (“You Hurt My Feelings”), Kelly Reichardt (“Showing Up”), and Mia Hansen-Love (“One Fine Morning”).

    And the list (my dream) goes on: Dee Rees, Lulu Wang, Joanna Hogg, Lisa Cholodenko, Sarah Polley, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Jane Campion, Claire Denis, Ava DuVernay, Chloe Zhao, Ruba Nadda …

    Having said all that, I also know times have changed and Meryl is 73. I myself am not getting any younger. Whether or not I (or any of us) live to see our dreams for her come true, she has already done and given SO MUCH professionally and personally. I am grateful she is alive and healthy and working and still enjoying — and letting us enjoy — her incomparable career.

    — Danny

    1. Wonderful suggestions, Danny. I couldn't agree more. I wonder if for Meryl to get the types of roles we dream of for her that she'll need to start producing more. I thought Places Please might be a start to that. Alas, no.