Two of the most acclaimed actors working today, Oscar winners Holly Hunter and Tim Robbins have joined forces to star in SoHo's Here and Now, the highly anticipated new drama series from Alan Ball, the creator of Six Feet Under and True Blood.
Hunter and Robbins play Audrey and Greg Bayer-Boatwright, ageing liberals who head a large multi-ethnic family living in Portland, Oregon, the hipster capital of the world.
Audrey and Greg's brood consists of a teenage biological daughter, Kristen (Sosie Bacon), whose three older siblings were adopted from countries that America has had controversial dealings with: life coach Duc (Raymond Lee), from Vietnam, online fashion retailer Ashley (Jerrika Hinton), from Liberia, and aspiring video game designer Ramon (Daniel Zovatto), from Colombia.
One of the first big shows to be pointedly set in Trump's America, Here and Now leans into the political and social divisions that currently define the United States, and mines them for the kind of intimate personal and family drama.
Robbins' Greg is a celebrated philosophy professor, depressed over his advancing age and his generation's perceived failure to create a more progressive world. In a dramatic speech towards the end of the first episode, he despairingly declares to his 60th birthday party guests that "We lost".
Robbins says he understands why Greg believes the liberals "lost", even if he has a slightly more optimistic outlook himself.
"I'm not a follower of that belief right now," Robbins tells Weekend. "But I can definitely relate to the perspective. I think we've been dealt a big setback, you know? You work your whole life for something, you think you're headed for a more progressive space, and then all of a sudden we're dealing with a force in the society that wants to bring us backwards."
Robbins says it was the show's willingness to address the current climate that made him excited to participate.
"What I loved about reading the pilot script was that it was an interesting group of characters Alan had assembled, but also that he was speaking so clearly to right now. And as an actor that's a really exciting thing to read. I think a lot of material deals with things that were successful last year. And Alan has never been that. He's always been someone who's at the cutting edge."
"[Here and Now] is presenting a reality that exists right now. I think it exists for a lot of people in this country. I think there's a certain amount of betrayal that's happened on both sides. And people are feeling the psychic cost of that."
Robbins has a long history of vocal activism - in 1992 he wrote, directed and starred in the prescient political satire Bob Roberts.
"It's like a daily shit show," he says of the political quagmire the US finds itself in. "What I'm most concerned about is that we get sucked into the negativity to the point where we aren't actually doing anything. I think a lot of people are in a kind of echo chamber of their own beliefs with other people and they're getting angrier and angrier. It's healthy to be angry at what is going on but when that anger is a predominant force in your life, it can often times have an overall negative effect."
Does he think Here and Now can advance the conversation?
"I certainly hope so. I think that art can do that. Art's very powerful. Storytelling can be very helpful. In pretty much every society where there has been a move towards authoritarianism or fascism, one of the first enemies are the artists and the writers. That should give you an idea of the power of literature and art."
Holly Hunter's Audrey is a therapist-turned-educator who has managed to hold on to a bit more of her faith in humanity than Greg.
"When I read the script I went 'Wow this is a conversation I want to be part of'," Hunter says. "I think Alan has an incredible gift. He has this ongoing conversation that he can give us about things that fascinate him and that frustrate him and that disappoint him and that enrage him. And that give him hope. I love the scope of the series. It's culturally kind of huge. It really is sprawling."
Although Here and Now comes from a compassionate place, it's not above mocking well-meaning liberals and their self-congratulatory ways.
"A cool thing about Alan's writing is he can poke fun at everybody to a degree," says Hunter, whose character could perhaps be accused of being liberal to a fault.
"I think that makes people slightly more endearing, because there is an abundance of idealism that is happening, and the idealism collides with failure and reality. That idealism then becomes beautiful because it's a choice to be idealistic, to continue on with your crusade. Rather than to be beaten down and to be cynical. I don't think this is a cynical family."
One of the show's recurring themes is the anxiety we're all feeling as a species.
"What person isn't anxious?" says Hunter. "I think there's a certain kind of anxiety in being alive. Is there a political and societal anxiety? Yes, of course. And I think this series is about that zeitgeist of this particular articulated anxiety that we're living in. And there's a lot. All you have to do is read the paper every day."
Here and Now
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