The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Rob Delaney of ‘Catastrophe’ on what makes a marriage work on-screen and off

Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney in season three of “Catastrophe.” (Mark Johnson/Amazon Prime Video)

Rob Delaney’s character on “Catastrophe” has a lot in common with Rob Delaney the actor. They’re both married parents to small children — and both of them are recovering alcoholics. But the part of the show that feels the closest to home, Delaney says, is the financial fear that comes with raising a family in London. The third season of the Amazon series, which focuses on the relationship Delaney’s character has with co-creator Sharon Horgan’s character, is released Friday. (Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos also owns The Washington Post.) Lisa Bonos of Solo-ish spoke with Delaney about love, marriage, parenthood — and the ability of humor to get a couple through almost anything. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Bonos: You and Sharon Horgan play a couple who barely know each other before getting married and having kids. Even on the second kid, Sharon and Rob are in a state of: Should we stay together? What do you think keeps these characters together, and what is it that’s pushing them apart at the same time? 

Delaney: They make each other laugh, which is important. I couldn’t be in a marriage where my spouse didn’t make me laugh a lot. They care about the same things, so they connect intellectually as well as with sense of humor. Yeah, they make stupid decisions and there’s problems, and life stresses intrude. But I think that they like each other in addition to love each other.

Bonos: I’m single; most of my readers are single. Is there some element to marriage, that no matter how long a couple has been together, they’re still kind of strangers to each other?

Delaney: My wife and I have been together for 13 years, and yeah, I suppose there are areas of great intersection and where you sort of bleed into each other. But then there are areas that are separate. Sometimes you’re in the same car, headed down the same road. And sometimes you’re in separate cars, headed down the same road. That’s probably healthy. There are times when you keep some distance in certain areas. I have to imagine that’s normal.

Bonos: What do you think this show gets most right about real-life romantic relationships and what part of it maybe feels more performative?

Delaney: I think Rob and Sharon’s relationship is interesting. There’s intrigue; there’s curiosity, and I think that’s really real. Sitcoms that I don’t like just make [relationships] look like a drudge or make them look like a one-note thing. And the fact is: Marriage is a pretty rich tapestry. We try to do that, and I think in our best moments, we’re successful at that. What is most silly and fantastical? I can’t think of an answer to that one off the top of my head, but surely there are things that people watch and think are ridiculous.

Bonos: Sex in public places? I don’t know what your marriage is like.

Delaney: That’s funny. I hope people in a marriage, once in a while, try to have sex somewhere that they shouldn’t. I think that is a good idea to have sex in dangerous places. I recommend it. Do I practice it? Almost never. But should people do that? Yes, they should.

Bonos: Getting a tad more serious for a moment, your character on the show is a recovering alcoholic and you’re also open about your own struggles with alcoholism. What was it like to play a character who is an alcoholic? 

Delaney: Honestly, it wasn’t a huge a deal because I have been sober for a long time. Whereas there’s one scene in the third season where Rob’s gym card doesn’t work because his balance is out. Shooting that made me incredibly nervous, because I am a married father of three paying rent in Central London. So financial fear is something that I can absolutely relate to. When we shot that I was like: “Oh my god, this is making me nervous.”

Bonos: That felt more real than the alcoholism?

Delaney: Literally when we shoot the drunk stuff, no biggie. When we shot that [gym scene], I was like: I will assiduously work to make sure that I never feel this type of fear.

Bonos: I want to talk about Carrie Fisher for a moment, because it’s a delight to see her on screen again. What was it like to work with her?

Delaney: It was an incredible pleasure. We know she’s brilliant; we know she’s hilarious. She’s also very kind and interesting and just fun to be around.

Bonos: You’re very active on Twitter; you’ve credited Twitter with saving your career. Have you and Sharon ever talked about weaving Twitter into the show at all? 

Delaney: I don’t think so, only because Twitter … who knows how long those types of things will be around. We would like our show to not be too heavily dependent on any kind of technology that sort of places it in a specific time.

Bonos: In the second season, your character takes a leave of absence from his advertising firm after being accused of sexually harassing a colleague. And in the third season, Rob is still having trouble getting another job because of that. Viewers are watching this now, as they’re also seeing Bill O’Reilly ousted at Fox. How much is the sexual harassment story line just a plot device on the show, and how much are you and Sharon seeing this as a chance to make a wider statement?

Delaney: I don’t want to say too much now, but we do deal with that more in the third season. The Bill O’Reilly stuff came out in between the show’s release in the U.K. and in the U.S., so I’ll be very curious to see what people say and think about that. We try to do more with it in the third season than the second. Not that we’re saying: This is an issue we must now address, but I think we are more cognizant of what that stuff can do and say.

Bonos: Do you have any relationship advice for singles who might want to get married and have a family someday and who might watch “Catastrophe” and think: “Whoa, is that what I’m getting into?”

Delaney: I know that I don’t want to tune in and watch a show where everything is just hunky-dory. What’s fun is to watch characters screw up and talk with your friends or your partner and be like: “Hey, how might we avoid that type of thing?”

I’m certainly happy in my real-life marriage. I love being married to my specific wife, and having children is awesome. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s challenging. Yes, there are overlaps between “Catastrophe” and the real lives of Sharon and myself and other people. We hope it resonates. I hope people’s marriages have elements of the good stuff of “Catastrophe” and less of the bad stuff, but we’re not trying to say: “This is how it is.” We are trying to make people laugh, and we are trying to do it in the most realistic manner. Don’t let “Catastrophe” push you in either direction.


The false promise of being a ‘cool aunt’

After years as a single mom, adding a partner can be a challenge

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin on ‘Grace and Frankie,’ aging in Hollywood and female sexuality