Becki Newton enters a new phase in character evolution on HBO’s Divorce

Becki Newton. Photo: Craig Blankenhorn, HBO.
Becki Newton. Photo: Craig Blankenhorn, HBO. /
Becki Newton
Becki Newton. Photo: Craig Blankenhorn, HBO. /

Becki Newton is making waves on HBO’s Divorce.

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It’s tough being the other woman, but as Jackie Giannopolis on HBO’s Divorce, Becki Newton makes it look easy. As the new love interest for Robert (Thomas Haden Church), Newton is a welcome addition to the world of the show. She infuses the proceedings with a fresh energy and different perspective.

Newton has a history of playing savvy and sexy women in shows such as Ugly Betty and How I Met Your Mother, so she was a natural fit for the role of Jackie. A successful, playful, and radiant real-estate agent, Jackie exudes a hard-earned confidence and a can-do attitude. Once she meets Robert, she’s instantly smitten, and the two tentatively embark on a relationship. However, Robert’s ex, Frances (Sarah Jessica Parker) is still in the picture, and so introductions are made and awkward relationships are forged.

As Jackie begins to weave her way into Robert’s world, tensions hilariously escalate between her and Frances. We caught up with Newton to chat about her first scene with Sarah Jessica Parker, the evolution of her characters over time, and why it’s important for narratives to include frank discussions about sex and consent.

Hidden Remote: How’d you get involved in the show?

Becki Newton: “It was a wonderful surprise. I had just come to New York with my husband who was doing a stint on Broadway over the summer, so work was really not something I was focused on. I just thought we were going to come to New York, okay, we have these two small kids, and we’ll just have this great adventurous summer. Then, the day after I arrived, this opportunity came up on Divorce. There was just no way I could say no. It’s my favorite actresses on the planet, in New York City, and I just jumped at the chance. It was such a great experience.”

Hidden Remote: You frequently portray confident women who aren’t afraid to take control, and Jackie is no different. What specifically would you say drew you to the character of Jackie?

Becki Newton: “I think what I like the most is that she represented, for me, a next phase of a lot of characters that I’ve played. I look back and one of my favorite characters was Amanda from Ugly Betty, and she had all the confidence in the world but it was kind of to cover up for a lot of deep-rooted insecurity. And the thing I really liked about Jackie was that she was all confidence, but she wasn’t really masking a lot. She’s comfortable in her life; she’s comfortable as a single mom; she’s never been married before. So all that confidence was coming from a place of accomplishment instead of a place of insecurity, and I loved playing that.”

Hidden Remote: And she’s got a great therapist too, so there’s that!

Becki Newton: “Right, but she’s someone who admits her shortcomings on the surface. She’s not trying to cover them all up, and I think that’s a big part of the progression that I felt between this and some of the confident women I’ve played in the past.”

Hidden Remote: You’re originally from Connecticut, and the show is based in the suburbs. How do you feel it reflects suburban culture as you know it?

Becki Newton: “I do. I felt like it represented a world with which I was really familiar. [On Ugly Betty] Mode Magazine was in the fashion world in New York City, and I knew nothing about that world, and every day when I was portraying it I felt like I was on a playground. This was a lot more grounded in things that I had experienced, and settings I had experienced, so that was interesting too.”

Becki Newton, Thomas Haden Craig Blankenhorn/HBO
Becki Newton, Thomas Haden Craig Blankenhorn/HBO /

Hidden Remote: You and Thomas Haden Church have such a great rapport. Why do you think Jackie and Robert are drawn to one another so quickly?

Becki Newton: “What worked was that Jackie wasn’t apologizing for who she was, and she didn’t need Robert to do that either. She basically took a look at this guy and said, ‘I’m pretty fond of you the way you are. I don’t need to change you. I think you’re pretty great as is.’ And I think that was probably pretty refreshing for someone who had gone through what he had gone through in his divorce. So she wasn’t there to change him, necessarily, even though she does in some ways in what he wears, she’s not trying to change who he is as a human. She likes him for all his quirks.”

Hidden Remote: What do you think about the age difference between them?

Becki Newton: “We talked a lot about the age difference. I know Thomas, he was very aware of it, and I said Jackie doesn’t have a problem with it! So why should anyone else? That’s very in-line with her character, well, I have no issue with this, so it’s not really my problem. And I love that about her. It was smart the way that it was portrayed.”

“The two characters connect, and you can tell they connect, and age had absolutely nothing to do with it. It’s really cool that there is this age difference, and on the surface it could play into this big cliché like second wife, much younger. But Jackie isn’t looking for anything. She’s got a great career, she’s raised a girl on her own, and if anything she wants to share that with someone. She’s a fully realized person separate from Robert and her relationship, and that’s where I think the age different is irrelevant.”

Hidden Remote: Right from the get go, we see that Jackie is a such a sex positive character, she’s not afraid to speak frankly about sexual situations, and in a later episode, we see how her attitude reflects on her kids. What do you think it means to have a character act in this manner, especially in the #MeToo era?

Becki Newton: “While it may create discomfort at first, it lets people around her become more confident in the discussion as well. When someone gives you permission to have a discussion, it’s like, oh wow, we don’t have to be scared of this topic, and that’s what Jackie is trying to impart upon Robert. Like, it’s sex, let’s talk about it. And I do think that reflects upon what’s going on now. It’s sex, let’s talk about it. Let’s not be so taboo because that taboo is not helping anyone right now.”

Hidden Remote: I fully agree. More discussions about sex are good, and the way in with Jackie interacts with her daughter is definitely eye opening, especially since she’s a teenager.

Becki Newton: “Right, and that’s what she says, loud and clear. This is gonna happen, so I’d rather she talk to me about it. And I think she also wants her daughter to be aware of the fact that she’s an equal participant in all sexual relations. She should never feel passive or be passive for someone else’s benefit.”

Hidden Remote: This season, Divorce is about moving on from past relationships and starting new ones. The upcoming episode focuses heavily on Jackie as Frances finds out about her existence. How did you approach finding the humor in that situation?

Becki Newton: “It all comes from the fact that Jackie has nothing to apologize for. The humor is dancing around her at this point. Molly Shannon, one of my idols, and Sarah Jessica, always an idol, the humor comes from their discomfort with it, and Jackie’s comfort with it. She shows up in this fabulous hat, and she’s like, yup this is what I’m wearing. The humor is that everyone is spinning around her, but she’s not, and I love that. Because in the past I’ve played the one spinning around, so this is neat to cause all the drama but not really participate in it that much.”

Sarah Jessica Parker, Becki Craig Blankenhorn/HBO
Sarah Jessica Parker, Becki Craig Blankenhorn/HBO /

Hidden Remote: In particular, that scene with Frances on the ice is pretty uncomfortable. What was it like filming it?

Becki Newton: “You should know that was the first time I worked with Sarah Jessica Parker, so I was already super excited and super nervous, and then they told me I had to wear skates for this scene. I’m not a skater. I can’t even move two inches on skates. [laughs] The scene when I first read it was, ‘Jackie races up to Frances, stops quickly, and confronts her.’ So I had to pitch to them, because, again, I can’t really skate and I definitely can’t stop. I can only stop if I go into a huge circle. So I had to pitch to them, ‘can I circle her like a shark, and then stop?’ so that we could still sell the fact that I was confronting her, but hide the fact that I can’t really skate. They all went for it. There were some Ugly Betty crew members there in the camera department, so that was really helpful. It was a great team effort to mask the fact that I actually can’t move on skates.”

Hidden Remote: So in terms of filming the actual interaction, even though it was the first time you were filming with Sarah Jessica Parker, the whole back and forth is just so electric between your two characters. How did you play that scene?

Becki Newton: “It was perfectly nerve-wracking. Facing off with someone I’ve idolized for so long, all of the nerves helped with the scene, because even Jackie, the most confident person on earth, would be nervous when she was facing off with her boyfriend’s ex wife, wanting to be respectful, wanting to still be confident, so there’s so much going on that it all works together really well, both for me personally and for the character I was portraying.”

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Hidden Remote: People are getting together in the show, but Jackie actually loses an important person in her life in this episode, her therapist, Dallas. It’s such an interesting and unique storyline. From what we’ve seen in her sessions, Dallas is one of the most important people in Jackie’s life, so how did you feel when you saw that as a part of Jackie’s character?

Becki Newton: “It was necessary so that Jackie didn’t just seem like this uber confident person with no vulnerabilities. So I think it was really important to show that she had a therapist, that this was really important to her, and that she recognized that she needed that outlet. I think that, in typical Jackie fashion, the loss of that person in her life almost forces her to become more powerful and more self-reliant. You’ll see in the rest of the season how that plays out.”

‘Divorce’ airs Sundays at 10/9c on HBO.