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‘Did Lori do it?’ Julianne Nicholson thought she might be ‘Easttown’s’ killer too

A woman sitting on a couch looking forlorn
Julianne Nicholson as Lori in “Mare of Easttown.”
(Michele K. Short / HBO)

This story contains major spoilers from the series finale of “Mare of Easttown.”

“Mare of Easttown” is Kate Winslet’s show. She plays the title character, she’s in a majority of the scenes and, running alongside the hairpin turns of the central murder mystery, it’s Mare’s personal journey we follow.

But there is no Mare without Julianne Nicholson’s Lori, and in the series finale it’s Nicholson, not Winslet, who does the emotional heavy lifting.

From the beginning, Lori has been Mare’s grounding force, a dispenser of calm and common sense, a parka-ed shoulder to cry on; as Mare spun out, Lori held on to at least one of her feet.

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That dynamic wobbled a bit in Episode 6 when it appeared Lori had lied to Mare at the behest of her husband, John (Joe Tippett), to protect John’s cousin Billy (Robbie Tann). Then it flipped over entirely in the finale, when it was revealed that everyone was lying to protect Ryan (Cameron Mann). The sins of the father — John had been having an affair with Erin McMenamin (Cailee Spaeny) — became the sin of the son — Ryan confronted Erin with a gun and in the ensuing struggle shot her.

This left Lori standing among the shards of her exploded family, with her best friend having thrown the grenade.

We discuss the seventh and final episode of HBO’s crime drama, including Julianne Nicholson’s knockout performance and the chances for a Season 2.

No one could have pulled it off better than Nicholson, who is one of those terrific and prolific performers who do not get enough attention; few deserve being part of a big talked-about show more.

“I’m totally shocked and thrilled that people are so into it,” Nicholson said in a recent Zoom interview. “I’ve never had the experience where there’s so much chatter. Isn’t it fun? And I think it proves that it’s always better when you make people wait. I’ve had people texting me, ‘Did Lori do it?’ and they had a lot of feelings about it. Some of them really wanted her to have done it. Some of them really did not.”

Nicholson says she knew who killed Erin before the show began filming but not when she agreed to be part of it.

“I’ve known Kate for many years,” Nicholson said. “She called me and said, ‘I’m doing this show, there’s the part of my best friend and you have to play it. They sent me scripts for Episodes 1 through 6, so I did say yes before I knew if Lori had done it or not. And when I got the seventh, I was a third of the way through thinking, ‘Wait, did Lori do it? Did no one think to mention to me that Lori did it?’”

Keeping the actual reveal secret was, obviously, very important to the show, and, Nicholson says, that helped while making it. “When you have a secret, you want to keep it secret and that’s what everyone in the show is doing — keeping secrets from each other.”

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Two women sit on a park bench, one leaning her head on the other's shoulder.
Julianne Nicholson and Kate Winslet in “Mare of Easttown.”
(Sarah Shatz / HBO)

During much of the series, Lori and Mare are a study in contrasts; Mare is flying around, literally and emotionally, with Lori acting as her still center. Nicholson’s talent for understatement makes the disparity visual as well as emotional.

“I think [the contrast] just kind of happened. As the result of Mare spinning, it just made sense that Lori would be more still. In this part of the world being a wife and a mother means being no-nonsense, and I probably come with that as a person. It’s also just trying to find the no-drama with the drama. Because drama needs a grounded place to be believable. If you have all these things going on, you have to have a place that’s not that.

“I don’t think it’s a conscious thing,” she continues, “but I am trying to go in without ideas of things that are supposed to happen, without indicating what’s going to happen, to just let things happen. If the audience sees it, great. If they don’t, that’s fine too.”

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The revelation that her character’s young son is the killer offered even greater challenges. The finale includes a series of brutally emotional scenes that pivot around Lori, including the climax when all is discovered and Ryan runs home to his mother to tell her that Mare now knows he killed Erin. Their embrace, and Lori’s attempt to reassure her child as the police arrive, is heartbreaking.

“Whenever I’m playing someone’s mom, I try to start a relationship with them from the word go. I bring presents — I got Cameron a book, I think, and Kassie [Mundhenk, who plays Lori’s daughter, Moira] a hat, and I try to hang out with them and their parents so we had a relationship. But I also have a son who is about Cameron’s age and very much the same temperament — very sweet and open-faced — so that made it easier to connect.”

Whether you’re a newcomer or a committed fan, our week-by-week guide to HBO’s crime drama will help you understand all things “Mare.”

As written, Lori and Ryan wind up embracing while lying on the sofa, but Nicholson said, “That didn’t feel right. My son still wants to sit on my lap sometimes, and to have this man-child who still wants to be held like that felt very real and believable, so we did that.”

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She was a bit worried about her final scene with Winslet, in which, after a huge falling out, the two reconnect and, in doing so, Lori collapses into Mare’s arms. “The script said, ‘She falls to the floor’ and I’m always petrified by scenes that are written dramatically. You don’t fall to the floor. Who falls to the floor? How do you do that in a believable way? Fortunately Kate and I know each other and love each other and everyone was open to see what would happen, so I thought about all the weight she had been carrying just being lifted for a minute, falling against her friend. And they wind up on the floor and that felt OK.”

As with many shows, production on “Mare of Easttown” was interrupted by the pandemic, which, given the specificity of the accent and the mannerisms, made coming back a bit tough. “The challenge was to keep a throughline; it was really hard to go back to the accent. I had to work at that. But we had been together for four or five months and no one shed it; you know you still have work to do, so the accent was still around.”

The clothes helped. “Our costume designer would hang out at Wawa to see what people were wearing, and she bought a lot of secondhand clothing so it felt lived in. The little things do add up; I remember saying I wanted to wear a sports bra under the Dave Matthews shirt because that’s what women like Lori would do, right? Be comfortable.”

She was prepared for a big reaction when the finale aired — not that she’s seen it, or any of the series. “I don’t like watching myself,” she says, laughing. “It’s distracting, puts me too much in my head. I did watch Evan Peters’ drunk scene because everyone was talking about it, and it was some of the best acting I’ve ever seen.”


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