8:00am PT by Jackie Strause
Why Tig Notaro Took on Sexual Assault in Her Amazon Series
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the full second season of Amazon's One Mississippi.]
Tig Notaro says the second season of her Amazon series, One Mississippi, was motivated by truth.
After following a loose version of herself (also named Tig) as she relived a version of the events from the most traumatic year of her life — when she was both diagnosed with cancer and lost her mother in 2012 — the end of the first season of One Mississippi revealed that TV Tig had been molested by her step-grandfather during her childhood. That simmering secret, once spoken out loud, steered the course for the show's second season (now streaming its six episodes on Amazon Prime Video).
Initially in the second season, Tig is reluctant to discuss it further and hides behind her humor, but the topic never goes away. Notaro's wife, Stephanie Allynne, is also a writer on the series and plays Tig's love interest and radio producer Kate. Through their on-air conversations, Tig realizes that Kate appears to be confused about times she has been assaulted in her past.
Then something undeniable happens.
In the fifth episode, "Can’t Fight This Feeling," Kate goes into a pitch meeting with her male boss, Jack (played by Timm Sharp). At this point, Jack had been flirting with Kate but it seemed harmless. While an excited Kate sits down and starts talking, she gradually notices that Jack is masturbating while he listens. The scene shifts to bring viewers into Kate's point-of-view, as she is frozen in shock upon realizing what's happening. When he finishes, he acts like nothing ever happened.
"We wanted to show that you can be assaulted without even being touched," Notaro tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Nothing can be said and you are still horrifically violated and scared."
The use of this specific act has raised questions about the inspiration behind the storyline. Notaro recently gave an interview and when pressed about a similar allegation that has been leveled against Louis C.K. — an executive producer on One Mississippi, which is produced under his FX Productions-based Pig Newton banner — the comedian said: “I think it’s important to take care of that, to handle that, because it’s serious to be assaulted. It’s serious to be harassed. It’s serious, it’s serious, it’s serious.”
Though C.K.'s name is still credited in each episode's opening credits, Notaro has since said he has nothing to do with the show. She confirms below that the pair haven't spoken in nearly two years, not even after their names shared headlines when C.K.'s Saturday Night Live sketch resembled one of Notaro's.
Below in the chat with THR, Notaro opens up about the inspiration behind the courageous season, what it was like to shoot the disturbing yet powerful scene and the impact she hopes the creative choice will have: "I know it’s very uncomfortable. But it’s not not happening."
When I asked you last year why, after everything your character has been through, you decided to reveal that Tig had been molested, your answer was that people don’t get a finite amount of painful things in life. At what point did you decide that you wanted to explore that trauma and make it the thread of the entire second season?
It’s just relentless in the news, and I’m sure you’ve read things, and maybe experienced things or know people who have experienced things. Our entire writers room is all female and everybody had a story of assault or abuse or harassment on so many different levels and it just was one of the themes that we felt was really, really important to show. To show the different layers and levels to it. People think all assault or abuse is one particular thing, where there are several shades of it.
What were some of the biggest debates you had in the writers room?
The biggest debate was over the assault that happens with Kate. There was a lot of discussion about that and how to handle it. We spoke to people outside the writers room that experienced that particular type of assault. It was a very in-depth and long discussion about: How does this happen and why does this happen, and how do people react to it? And then that annoying, ongoing question of, “Why doesn’t the woman leave?” Or, how and when do you tell, and who do you tell and, why do you not tell. What happens if you do tell? There was so, so much discussion around it.
When did you write this season and when did you begin filming it?
We started writing it in January 2017. We came into the writers room very fueled by the recent election and so much of that had sexual assault and other themes from the second season, like racism. It’s astounding how on-the-nose everything is in the second season, because it really feels like we really quickly wrote it and filmed it two weeks ago.
What was your inspiration behind the masturbation scene with Kate and did you have hesitations about it?
When people haven’t lived through that or experienced it in any way, for some reason this particular act is really tossed aside as though it’s just this person exposing themselves and they’re “just or a weirdo” and just “leave the room.” It’s that kind of vibe. We wanted to show that you can be assaulted without even being touched. Nothing can be said and you are still horrifically violated and scared. We wanted to take people through the motions and actual time of this to show how confusing and scary it is. You can always, always have whatever stupid argument you want to have of how people should react. I remember when my brother was held up at gunpoint and people had a million responses like, “Dude, you should have done this” or, “Why didn’t you do this?” And it’s like: Shut your mouth.
It is a specific act, and a powerful scene that viewers won't be quick to forget.
It’s not casual. It’s not no big deal. To go back to season one, when my mother dies and you go through this long process of what you see on TV or movies — which is what I thought was going to prepare me for my mother’s death — that she closes her eyes and then the wind blows out of whatever window and the curtains fly around and whatever symbolism. But the reality of these things are extraordinarily uncomfortable and difficult and not what you think it is, or is going to be. I had a lot of people thank me for showing that drawn out process of death. And I hope people appreciate seeing this scene. I know it’s very uncomfortable. But it’s not not happening.
What was it like to shoot that scene? Did you have a closed set that day?
We invited everybody. We were just trying to get as many people in the room as possible: “Everyone bring a friend.” (Laughs.) But no, we definitely had a closed set. Obviously there’s a certain amount of people that we need there. Timm Sharp is just the best. I guess this is where I don’t relate to actors because if somebody asked me to do this scene? I can barely bring myself to kiss on camera, I’m so private in certain ways. Tim was definitely like, “Alright, going to have to work up to this scene.” But he was also excited to be met with this challenge and he was just such a champion. I would have had so many false starts. But with him, you just called action. I thought he did a great job with that scene. And then Stephanie, my wife, she was phenomenal.
Assuming this came from some truth in the writers room, how did Allynne prepare and did she speak to a person who has had this happen to them?
It was so many months down the line of sharing this information and these shared experiences. I’d rather let Stephanie share what has or hasn’t happened to her directly, but it was a decision that we made with the version of this person. The way Minkie Spiro, who is an amazing director, shot it was really through the perspective of Stephanie so you could really get into her head and how stunned and confused and out-of-body she was. “What is happening?” That’s the angle we were deciding to go with because I think it is more likely that it would stun somebody rather than the typical reaction of, “I would have just gotten up and punched him in the face!”
It catches the viewer by surprise, because there really was no indication that he was a pervert before that moment. Was that intentional?
I think that’s what common with these predators. We didn’t want to tip that off. We just wanted to show him taking an interest in her and giving attention, and then man, when they turn, they turn.
Is he meant to represent how these type of people are hiding in plain sight?
Right. It’s not just some weird person walking around naked under a trenchcoat, hiding in your bushes. It’s not a cartoon. This is real life.
Is your intention with this scene and storyline to be aimed at the predators who think they are untouchable?
I would love a conversation to happen from this. I would love for people, not to walk around paranoid, but to think twice about what might be going on or what someone might be up to. That it’s not always a cartoon character of an evil villain.
And that it might end up as a TV storyline.
Louis C.K. is a credited producer, but you have said he's not involved in the show. You recently gave an interview to the Daily Beast where you said C.K. should "handle" the similar sexual allegations that have been lodged against him by anonymous sources and by Roseanne Barr. Have you spoken to him?
I have not spoken to Louis in probably going on two years now. I will never hear from Louis C.K. again.
Not even after you called him out for the similarities of his SNL sketch?
No. I never heard from him. I will never hear from him.
Why is his name still attached? Is the intention that after this season, he will remove it?
I don’t know. There are so many things I don’t know.
[C.K. did not respond to THR's request for comment. After this article was published, C.K. declined to discuss the allegations in an interview with the New York Times, saying, "They’re rumors, that’s all that is." He similarly addressed the allegations in a 2016 interview with Vulture. ]
What about in terms of people in positions of power. Do you hope this season spurs victims to speak out against them?
I hope so. That’s always the hope is that people speak up for themselves, that they protect themselves and whatever helps them to do that can only be seen, I think, as positive. It’s funny. People are like, “Yeah, tell the truth, tell your story!” Sometimes if it’s not the right story, people don’t want to hear that truth. It’s really interesting and fascinating to me.
There is a line in the show where your character is about to tell Kate’s story and she says that it’s not your story to tell.
And that is true. There are people that have experienced assault and they are not comfortable or in a position to speak about it. And you have to respect that and just support them in other ways.
You also show the reaction when Kate and Tig tell their boss about the act. His response is to ask if maybe she was misinterpreting it. How does this illustrate what victims face?
We just wanted to show all those different levels of the walls you run into and doors that are shut. The doubt and ignoring. It’s crazy-making. It truly must be a sickness because all of these people have a mother and a grandmother, maybe a sister, maybe a daughter, or more daughters than one. A wife. Pull it together. Go get serious help.
You said your hope is to have more seasons of One Mississippi. In the end, Tig gets her happy ending with Kate and they start a relationship. Was that ending also politically motivated, amid a season full of post-election Trump jabs?
It was probably a little bit of both, where it was political and also us telling our story. I can’t deny or not accept anything you read into it.
There was a hint about babies with Tig this season...
That’s the new show, "Babies With Tig."
Is your family story where you would tap material for season three, if the show returns?
I wish I knew. Obviously, anything is a possibility. We have six writers in the room and I’m definitely going to be bringing little strands of experiences in my life to use as threads, if there is a next season. Whoever knows, but we’ll see. It’s a possibility.
Head here for more from Notaro on season two of One Mississippi (now streaming on Amazon Prime Video) and her plans for the future of the series. Share your thoughts on the season in the comments below.