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In Hulu’s first-year noir thriller Chance, Gretchen Mol stars as Jaclyn Blackstone, the wife of an abusive Oakland detective who meets forensic neuropsychiatrist Eldon Chance (Hugh Laurie) at a time of desperation. In the series, based on the book of the same name, Mol also plays her alter ego, Jackie, the tougher, more free-spirited antidote to the vulnerable and afraid Jaclyn.
Although taking on the role of two such wildly different sides of a character may have been daunting for some, Mol was “excited to work on the character because of that duality,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter.
“That was a fun sort of puzzle for me to work on and I was really excited once we got into the shooting, when we finally got to really explore that aspect. Because it was in the book and it was always kept, in a way very vague. It was kept — I think on purpose — sort of ambiguous.”
Ahead of the drama’s season-one finale, which lands on Hulu on Wednesday, Dec. 14, Mol also spoke with THR about her research into associate identity disorder, the impact Eldon has had on her and vice versa and why she won’t be returning for the show’s already greenlit second season.
As you’ve been working on the show, have you developed your own opinion as to whether she’s really suffering from this disorder or not?
Yeah, I think by the end of the season, we’ll sort of understand more about her and really what’s real and what isn’t so I don’t want to give too much away. I can only say my own approach had to be that it was real even if she was pretending, I knew she had to be a very good actress otherwise it would be silly. That was good for me because it left it open, it left room for the writers to sort of play with the idea with what they were going to do. I’m not sure that they were, that it was written in stone when we started filming. So my approach was always to just make it come from a real place. I spoke to people who had worked with patients who had the disorder and came to really sort of believe that it’s a real thing for people who suffer that much trauma at an early age. The mind can really fracture and create these other personalities for survival.
What else was involved in your research for your role?
I talked specifically to one woman who had a patient who had a lot of personalities, like 20, and they had actually written a book together. That was really helpful, she was based in Texas so we just had conversations on the phone a lot about it and I read the book which was…it was just awful, it was just horrifying what had happened to this person and how they had created these other people to kind of deal with it, with all the pain and suffering and physical pain and everything. So I came to really have an understanding of it and I wasn’t sure how much it would really be used. The show really isn’t about dissociative identity disorder — it would have been fun to explore that further — the story itself feels more like a noir where you’re not sure who to believe and what’s happening.
How has having Eldon in her life impacted Jaclyn and her struggle?
I think she’s a person who’s been searching and looking for help and so both to have someone like him who is so…I think from the very first beat of their relationship, he was paying attention to her and so warm and so trying to understand her and forgiving of these inconsistencies and she seems to be constantly testing those things to see if he is for real. If he really would be there for her, or if he really is strong enough to handle her, really, and everything that comes with her. I think this is a turning point for her really, because I don’t think she’s ever had to face her own history and who she really is, and I think she’s been selective about her history and has just been in survival mode for most of her life, and finding people like Raymond to be with who can sort of protect her in a physical…and then ends up turning that on her. So I think to have someone like Eldon in her life is something she’s not sure she really trusts is for real but he keeps drawing her back.
Looking at that aspect of Jaclyn in terms of her relationship with her husband, how much pressure did you feel to do that story justice for all those women who have suffered at the hands of domestic violence?
I think whenever you have a character, that’s your job. To try and make it feel as real and authentic as possible even if the world being created has a heightened aspect or has a kind of genre to it. It’s sort of the opposite of something like Manchester by the Sea, which is just absolutely real. There’s nothing in that film that…what they tried to create in this show is a sort of world that you doubt, that you don’t know who’s telling the truth. I remember when I read the books, knowing that it could all be in his mind, that all of these characters could be in his mind. But, that being said, each situation as an actor, it’s your job to make it feel and be as real as possible.
Despite this ambiguity about whether Jaclyn really suffers from multiple personality disorder, does the script distinguish when you’re playing Jaclyn versus when you’re portraying Jackie? Or does it always say Jaclyn?
Yeah, they would say “Jackie” when it would be Jackie’s turn, so to speak. It would say that she was Jackie. When Eldon tries — early on, I think in episode four — he tries to communicate with her and calls her Jackie and she doesn’t really respond to that. But we saw a glimmer of that character early on and the end of episode seven when he’s following her into the massage parlor, now you see this sort of dual world of this character.
You mentioned Jackie’s tougher than Jaclyn. What are some of the other big differences that you see having played both of these sides of the character?
Well, I think that Jackie leads with her sexual power, with her confidence and with what she’s feeling. She has to be tough. Then when I was sort of researching this disorder, there’s sort of a host person, if you will, there’s a person who is the original person and they’re usually quite delicate and vulnerable as a person and I think that’s how Jaclyn is. She’s scared, and then there the other personalities would come in and be strong in those moments where abuse was happening or where she needed to be strong enough for some kind of a situation. Almost like, I approached it as Jackie Black was a bit of a superhero. I could sort of see her having a cape or something. (Laughs.) She comes in to protect her. And also, she’s trying to be clever and sort out how to kind of get away from Raymond, I think, ultimately.
Looking ahead, you said that the audience will come to understand more about Jaclyn as the season comes to a close. How will that change your approach to the character when you come back for season two?
Well, I’m not sure I’m going back. I think it’s really a one-season character. I think it’s still open in that way but I was only contracted for one year. But I’ll say that there’s room for something to continue, I think, but I’m not sure what they’re going to do. (Laughs.) Always the case with television.… I’m pretty clear that I’m not going back but I think that in the story, you could see more of her.
Given Jaclyn and her arc is going to be this one season, what impact do you think that she will have on Eldon going forward and into season two?
I think it’s a big impact, I hope. (Laughs.) I mean it’s kind of turned his whole world around, and his involvement with Dee. He saw something in her that made him want to help her. And I think, in that, he’s going on this spiral into this very dangerous world and he seems to be very drawn to it and repelled by it and scared of it. But she seems to hold that key to that world for him, and it’s good because there is this sort of light in the dark. There is Jackie Black who is really…I don’t think if he had met her first would he have gone there maybe. But I think because he met Jaclyn first, and she’s vulnerable and in need of help, and they had this sort of chemistry that put him on this journey.
Will you still be watching next season to see what happens?
I will, yeah, I mean I’m curious about what the rest of the journey will be for him. I kind of imagine they could even do five seasons.
We did it this season in a way so I feel very complete on the journey that I had with it, so I’m super curious to see how they spin it into another season, or two or three more. But I certainly think all the talent involved can manage it just fine. (Laughs.) And I’ll be watching.
New episodes of Chance hit Hulu on Wednesdays.
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