Actress Stephanie Szostak stars in new US drama Satisfaction as a seemingly happily married housewife whose life takes a dramatic turn following an affair with a male escort. She speaks exclusively to Top 10 Films editor Daniel Stephens.
What happens when the seemingly perfect marriage begins to fall apart? That’s what new US drama series Satisfaction, which begins in the UK this week, aims to address. It questions our understanding of “perfection”, our perception of the ideal marriage and a basic human desire to find comfort as well as excitement, life fulfilment and a bit of adventure.
Starring Matt Passmore as Neil Truman and Stephanie Szostak as his wife Grace, season 1 follows the aftermath of a husband’s discovery that his wife is having an affair with a male escort. As the couple begin to spend time apart, the provocative drama looks at how domesticity – even when things appear idyllic on the surface – can curtail the ambitions and appetite that once framed our sense of individuality.
Szostak told me: “They’ve confused making a living with ‘living’ for far too long. They feel unfulfilled and don’t know how to communicate that to each other.” In the pilot episode, we see Neil living life as if everything is normal but after work pressure forces him to consider quitting, he returns home to find Grace having sex with Simon (Blair Redford) whose services he later discovers were paid for because Grace feels under appreciated.
“They’re a very nice couple, who do love each other very much – but not all is well,” says Szostak. “All of a sudden, ‘nice’ isn’t enough and the relationship falls apart. She meets this other man who makes her feel alive for the first time in years.”
While season 1 concentrates mainly on Neil’s character, its themes are universal and relevant, appealing to a broad audience of both men and women. Its success in the USA is a result of people being able to relate to this on-screen relationship, says the show’s co-star.
“The producers described it as a postmodern love story – for me that translates to wanting it all in the 21st century. We want love, trust, honesty and security, but we also want excitement, fun and surprise. It’s very easy to let domesticity and the mundane business of running a home and a family take over our true connections with each other.”
Szostak, who made her Hollywood debut alongside Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, describes her character as a very loving person, both devoted as a wife and mother. But she’s someone who has arrived at a turning point in her life.
“Her daughter is older now and she’s thinking about getting back into work and doing things for herself. She goes for a job interview and is told they’re looking for someone who has experienced an exciting life and can contribute something different. Grace has enjoyed a very normal life.
“She could have got on with the rest of her day but she realises she’s been living the life of someone else – the life of a mother, the life of a wife; she has forgotten who she is.
“She realises her marriage is not ‘happy” even though it has everything Grace once thought she wanted. She tries to speak to her husband but he’s too busy with work and doesn’t really listen to her.”
Most interestingly, Satisfaction concerns itself with “happy ever after” and what comes next. With our TV’s cluttered with shows about an idealistic view of romance, Szostak and team deliver a far more cynical approach.
It’s certainly worked in the mind of the critics. Diane Werts of Newsday wrote that it’s “nice to finally see a show nailing what it wants to be and say”, adding the “exploration it promises is profound. Both Neil and Grace take deep dives into secret lives that swiftly trade their far-fetched particulars for wider-scope emotional truth, and volatile intra-marriage ammo.”
David Wiegand of the San Francisco Chronicle was equally impressed. “The cynical part isn’t that this discovery [of infidelity] blows the marriage to kingdom come – it’s the opposite: Neil and Grace find ways to pursue their own interests while maintaining the mirage of marital perfection.”
Viewing figures in America have been impressive enough to see a second season commissioned. Szostak feels viewers have enjoyed an alternative take on the modern marriage. “That’s the thing I liked about the show when I read it. I haven’t seen one like this before.”
Now, following the conclusion of filming on season 2, the actress is hopeful her next job will see her return to film. She’s already appeared with Hollywood heavyweights such as Steve Carell and Paul Rudd in Dinner With Schmucks and Jeff Bridges in R.I.P.D and she’s eager to get back on the big screen.
I asked about a highlight from her movie career so far. She was unequivocal in her response: “Working with Robert Downey Jr.,” she said. Szostak played Ellen Brand in Iron Man 3, henchwoman of Aldrich Killian, who tries to apprehend Tony Stark but is killed when Stark realises her intentions and evades capture.
“He’s just a wonderful artist who gave me the courage to not give a darn about what people think. It was a huge movie and it would have been easy to be intimidated but he really encouraged me to go for it. It was a fun shoot,” she says.
She’d love to work with Alejandro Iñárritu after being impressed by his work, especially Birdman recently, but there are other directors on her wish list including Woody Allen and Quentin Tarantino. The actress, who was born in France before moving to America, made her Hollywood feature film debut in The Devil Wears Prada where the experience shooting with Meryl Streep fuelled the courage to pursue her acting dream.
“Working with Meryl Streep was fantastic,” she enthuses. “I worked on it for only a few days but she was wonderful with me. She was so sweet when she really didn’t need to be.”
Satisfaction begins on Sony TV (Sky 157 / Virgin 193 / BT and TalkTalk 331) at 9pm on Wednesday September 23.