‘The Diplomat’s Rufus Sewell on His Series About Politics and Marriage

Apr 24, 2023

[Editor’s note: The following contains some spoilers for The Diplomat.]From creator Debora Cahn (Homeland, The West Wing), the Netflix original series The Diplomat follows Kate Wyler (Keri Russell), the new US Ambassador to the United Kingdom, who’d rather be diffusing an international crisis than forging long-term relationships, but bigger powers have bigger plans for her. On top of that, as if being in a job she doesn’t want and isn’t particularly suited for isn’t enough, her marriage is unraveling at a time when she needs personal and professional alliances that she can trust.

During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Rufus Sewell (who plays Hal Wyler, Kate’s husband, a fellow career diplomat and a political star with enough charm to win over just about anyone who doesn’t already hate him) talked about why he found this project so appealing, enjoying the messiness of this marriage, the fun he had with co-star Russell, the fight in episode three, and whether he’d be game for another possible season.

Collider: I’m obsessed with this show, I’m obsessed with these characters, and I’m obsessed with this couple. I love every little messy thing about these people and this world. When this project came your way, what was it that reeled you in? Was it a world that you were fascinated with, or was it just the fun messiness of all these people?

RUFUS SEWELL: It was not the world so much. It was the messiness. It’s not that I’m not interested in that world, but if it had just been that world, I’d have thought, “Oh, I’ll watch a documentary about that.” So, it was that world populated by real messy, trash-talking, witty people who want to get through their day, as (show creator) Deb [Cahn] says, spill coffee on themselves, and forget to take the tag off their clothes. It’s the difference between the front of house and backstage, and this very real, complex, messy, funny relationship. And I love the fact that it was a mixture of styles that, to me, makes something very, very real. It’s this political intrigue, but with a naturally occurring screwball dynamic in this relationship.

Sometimes banter, in quote marks, is something that I find a little nauseating. When it’s self-conscious and knowing and too overtly stylized, it can become a playing style. When people think they’re doing screwball, it just becomes irritating to watch. This is very organic because it literally is people who think very quickly, and their way of dealing with the situation, because of their intellect or because of the situation, is very humor-based. It seemed very real. And I just love the fact that it genuinely made me laugh. I felt like I was in good hands with the writers. I was very willing to take a leap. It’s the best thing I’ve read in a very long time. Keri [Russell] had obviously thought the same thing. I was a big fan of hers. So, I was delighted to be given the chance to do it.

Image via Netflix

Once you started figuring out this relationship with Keri Russell, did actually working with her on it change anything for you, or change anything within the dynamic?

SEWELL: No, I think we were lucky enough that what you see is basically just what was there. It was based on my personal reaction to the script, and Keri’s personal reaction to the script. We did a little rehearsing, We sat and talked through it with Deb. We had conversations. But the first time we read any of the scenes, the relationship was pretty much there. We basically responded in a way that just made sense when it came together. That’s something that we don’t really deserve commending for because it’s just a natural thing, but it’s very hard work, if it’s not there. The amount of acting around it you have to do, if that’s not naturally there, is very hard work. So, that part of it was very easy because it was just fun working with each other.

One of the moments that stood out for me in the whole season is in episode three, when Kate finally asks her husband if, two weeks prior to all of this, when he told her their marriage was really over, whether he really believed that, and he says no. I actually shouted at the screen, “Please punch the bastard in the face!,” and then she did, which was just so satisfying.

SEWELL: I know. But also, the amount of computational thinking that it takes to work out what the right answer is to that, he gets it wrong.

In that moment, there really was no right answer.

SEWELL: He’s screwed either way, absolutely.

Image via Netflix

What was it like to shoot all of that, with getting punched, and then rolling around in the grass while you’re fighting? Did you work that out ahead of time?

SEWELL: There were stunt people that we didn’t really use. We worked it out. You work it out, so that no one actually gets hurt. If it’s not worked out, it makes you very inhibited. You have to know what you’re doing, so you can have freedom. Someone just saying, “Go for it,” means that you pull your punches, which she did not. It was a riot. We had so much fun doing that because it’s such a funny scene. We enjoyed doing it. The scene leading up to it was so well-balanced and well-crafted that it took you there quite naturally. We were aware that it was that the turning point when you realize what the show is, and we were looking forward to that. When you’re watching it, getting to at least the end of episode three is recommended because, by the time you get there, you’re either in or you’re out. I love it. We loved it. When I read that, I was so happy. People have been saying, “This is an unusual relationship. I don’t think I’ve seen a couple like this.” Yes, you have. You just haven’t seen one on a show like this. People have ridiculous [fights] and they end up rolling around, and people love each other and hate each other, and they take turns in who’s the loved and who’s the lovee, and who’s less interested and who’s more interested. All of these things go on. The armpit sniffing, and all of this stuff, is very, very real. Whether people have actually been in the same situation or not, I just think that is what makes this so relatable. It’s why I loved it, certainly.

Your character is not blind to the fact that there’s something clearly developing between his wife and her British counterpart, Austin Dennison. How does he feel about that happening? Does he prefer to just ignore that and let it work itself out?

SEWELL: At one point, he actually suggests it. He says, “While I’m away, you could maybe, with this guy.” It’s open to interpretation whether, consciously or otherwise, that’s an attempt to spoil it. There’s nothing worse than your mom saying, “Why don’t you go off with that girl?” That’s like, “Well, that killed that one.” I think they actually do want to be able to have separate lives. He goes and tells her about his dalliance, but then he says , “As usual, it didn’t really work with someone else,” which is endearing, in a way. They are very honest with each other. They are open to it going where it goes, but they just can’t help that there are other complex feelings. And he really loves her. He does. It’s so unusual to see that represented. When I say it’s very familiar, I don’t mean that everyone’s relationship is like this, but everything is so gray. It’s so easy to make bad decisions. It’s so easy for people to look back and say, “I shouldn’t have said this,” or “I shouldn’t have said that.” In the fog of love, it’s very difficult.

Image via Netflix

At the end of the season, we get a couple of back-to-back reveals, but we’re then left with questions. Are you game to learn what those answers are and to further dig into this world? Do you want to keep exploring this guy and this couple?

SEWELL: I think we’re all game to learn. I’m definitely game to learn, should learning be an option. People seem to like it. Even Keri and I like what we’ve seen. So, I’m very much hoping that we get to do some more.

The Diplomat is available to stream at Netflix.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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