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[Warning: The following story contains spoilers about Girls‘ fifth season.]
Peter Scolari was cleaning his house when his manager called to tell him, a week after the 2016 Emmy nominations were announced, that he now would be up for guest actor in a comedy series. Scolari, 60, who was recognized for his role on Girls as Hannah’s (Lena Dunham) recently-out gay dad, scored his nom after Veep‘s Peter MacNicol was disqualified for appearing in too many episodes to be considered a guest. (Scolari was the next-highest vote-getter.) Ironically, Scolari says that for Girls‘ fourth season, he was eliminated from guest actor contention because of the same rule. Now, with Girls filming its sixth and final season, Scolari is up for the HBO series’ only nom for its fifth season. He spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about his character, Tad, going from Hannah’s father and foil to a gay man on his own journey.
Did you pay attention to the nominations when they were announced?
I did. I had sort of allowed myself to entertain the notion that I might slip in there because of my accumulation of work on Girls and how proud I am of it.
How do you feel about being Girls‘ only Emmy nominee for the fifth season?
It’s a little freaky. I was just there [on the Girls set], filming my last episode for season six a little more than a week ago, so I got a chance to connect with everyone, and they were taking it, I think, gallantly. I was very impressed with how everybody had their heads up and were going about the business of shepherding this project through to its series finale. I can’t say that it was a blow to them, but it feels like you’re not being seen, I think. Girls in the past has been nominated as a series, for writing, for Lena, for Adam [Driver]. … So all of that slipping away. Such is the way the business goes and perhaps the whim and fancy of voting TV Academy members. In fairness to everybody, we are I believe in a golden age of television so there’s not a dearth of really fantastic creative product out there and everybody gets a turn. In a nearly perfect world every worthy show gets some kind of attention and I think that’s gotta be true this year as well.
So we’ll see more of Tad in season six?
Well, I’ll be around a little bit. You know, I really feel like, without giving away too much, just in terms of my own story arc, I think what we’ve learned about Tad is ample, and we will know him and likely know that he’s OK. But I’m particularly thrilled about this nomination because my last really vital, integral-to-the-show contribution is in season five, and the show is called Girls, and they’ve got a tremendous task in servicing all of these regular characters.
You said you filmed your last episode. So in terms of how Tad’s story ends — I know co-showrunner Jenni Konner said that she thought the characters would be “midflow” at the end of the series as opposed to the ending being a “wrap-up” — was that what you thought would happen with Tad?
Well we talked about — there were conversations in the middle of the season about some other developments and what might play out — and there wasn’t really enough available story time to dedicate to Tad and [Hannah’s mom] Loreen [Becky Ann Baker] and the man in Tad’s life and all of that. We are seen and we are acknowledged and you can glean from that, to echo what I think Jenni is saying, what the state of affairs is with these folks. There’s no spoiler alert because I’ve already done the spoiler alert and said, “Don’t be looking out for climactic stuff.” It’s there, but it’s there in the series regulars.
We talked a bit, in connection with the episode in which Tad comes out, about how you found out about that storyline, but that development wasn’t part of your initial understanding of the character?
No, absolutely not. That’s correct.
What do you think when you reflect on your experience with Girls, starting out as one of Hannah’s parents and having your character go on a bit of a journey?
It’s been a hell of a ride, and I have to characterize it with tremendous gratitude because it didn’t have to go that way. Becky Ann Baker and myself could have been serviceable characters who helped move the storyline along and were merely or only Hannah’s parents. But that’s not what happened. They really gave us a tremendous ride in terms of story and development. I have a pet theory that what happened with Tad connects specifically to [Andrew Rannells‘ character’s “Your dad is gay” retort, mentioning Tad’s earring in the third episode of season one]. Some of that was written, but some of that, I know from being on the inside, was improvised. And I’ve talked to Andrew about it. In the pilot episode, I accidentally left an earring stud in my left ear while we were filming — not anybody’s choice. And when I saw it onscreen, I said, “Oh shit!” I know [Rannells] saw it and got a kick out of it, but it’s not something in the pilot episode that anybody talked about.
Looking back on your time on the show, is there a scene that stands out as the most challenging or most rewarding?
In the fourth season [in the episode where Tad comes out just as his wife, Loreen, is celebrating getting tenure], when I try to propose a toast to my fantastic wife and she will have none of it, it was the most difficult scene to capture up until that moment. I was really struggling on that day because I was thinking, “Why am I getting so much specific direction when I usually have such free rein with Tad?” But it was because the writers were saying, “This is a flash point here. We need to really be strong with a point of view about what’s going on here.” And they didn’t want me to sentimentalize Tad’s experience very much because then maybe you’d have more feeling for Tad than Loreen about it. So as easy as it might have been to break down and cry and be humiliated by her, the focus of that scene needed to be on her humiliation. So it was a chance for me to really be working in an altruistic fashion. We all have an obligation as actors to be true to ourselves and our best instincts, but often there’s a higher purpose, which is to serve the text and in the grander sense, serve the series, even if that means to fall on your sword and take the hit. And I did, and the work certainly didn’t suffer from me taking very strong direction. When I look at the episode, I’m very proud of it, and it’s not my work alone, it’s an amalgam of a bunch of opinions and a very strong sort of “executive producer” thinking of what was happening here in the series writ large. There I was sitting at the dinner table in this home out in Brooklyn or Queens — I’m not sure where we were — and really suffering. I was really having a terrible time. I was really uncomfortable. I was having an experience that I would share with my wife over and over again in season four, which was that suddenly after 40 years in the business, suddenly I’m feeling all of the feelings of my character. What the hell? And I’m not one of those guys who plays a selfish bastard on stage or in a television show and comes home and feels like a selfish bastard and acts out in some way, but here I was playing this guy who was turning over and disrupting everything that had been known and familiar in his life and times with his wife. He’d really just knocked over every bit of furniture in their living room. And I felt terrible. I felt insecure and unsure and emotional and pained. It was really quite something. That’s sort of continued. I’ve been able to draw upon that, particularly for these episodes in the fifth season. I didn’t have much work to do, I just had to sort of open up and connect to what I knew to be true about this man, which is that he was brave. I had to be told he was brave, by the way, by Jenni Konner, in the season finale of season five, when Tad knocks on the door to the apartment where he’s had this tryst and was scared, in the second episode, to even go back and get his wallet, and he sent his daughter. He finally knocks on that door at the end of season five, and I was knocking on that door in rehearsal with fear and uncertainty and Jenni Konner, who was directing that episode, said “No.” She said, “No. You’re not scared anymore. God damn it! Enough with everyone else’s version of your life. This is your real life. Go have it. Go take it.” So again I took direction that went against what my best-laid plan was. I had very, very close family friends who saw the episode and said, “I loved what you did when you knocked on the door and the look on your face.” I can’t even tell you what the look on my face was, because it wasn’t my plan. I can just tell you that I just listened and I just did what the series director was asking me to do. Sometimes as actors if we work hard enough and stay at it long enough and are malleable and directable then good things can come of that.
A version of this story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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