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Molly Shannon on 'Divorce' and that dark, pivotal pilot scene

Molly Shannon talks about the challenge of building a sympathetic character in the dark comedy of 'Divorce.'

HBO's "Divorce" is like a modern sequel to "Scenes From a Marriage," but with way more gunshot-sparked heart attacks, dirty lawyer tricks and teen bathroom sex. Frances (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Robert's (Thomas Haden Church) union was far from perfect before the first episode. But after witnessing the "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"-style antics of their friends Diane (Molly Shannon) and Nick (Tracy Letts), they head down the road to a marriage settlement agreement and beyond.

Diane and Nick go through wild vacillations in their relationship, from open contempt to a gunshot, through a second honeymoon phase, and finally to a murkier, rockier roller-coaster ride. Shannon's striving Diane emerges over time as one of the more sympathetic characters in the show.

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"She's feeling lonely," says Shannon on a visit to The Times video studio on Monday. "Even though the outside picture might look like, Oh, look at her fancy life; she's got this glass house and all the money in the world, and a husband who … 'loves' her, I guess. But really, she's feeling lonely and a little sad and lost."

Shannon, a longtime "Saturday Night Live" veteran, allows that there were discussions about how sympathetic the characters might be. This may have led to the essential change in the pilot from Diane shooting Nick and killing him, to Diane accidentally shooting near Nick and inducing a serious but not-fatal cardiac incident.

"In the pilot episode, when I shoot my husband, I remember feeling so embarrassed about that, like, 'Oh, this is too dark. I don't know.' A friend of mine said, 'You know, I think a lot of people will relate to that.' It was interesting to hear the reactions. People really did like it: 'I felt like I could do that to my husband!' People coming up and saying stuff to me relating to dark nights, feeling frustrated … I mean, she goes to a very extreme level.

"I didn't want to make her one note, like Betty Broderick-crazy," she says, referencing the suburban housewife convicted of the murders of her husband and his second wife nearly 30 years ago, "because I thought we want to make her sympathetic too. She's pushed to that."

You can watch the entire interview, complete with an explanation of what she calls "dramatic comedy" as an approach, and some savvy advice for actors just starting out, below.

You just don’t know when it comes to marriage, says Molly Shannon, who plays one part of a volatile couple in HBO's 'Divorce.'
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