Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Meet Tara -- and T, and Alice, and Buck

This Sunday, January 18, Showtime will begin airing its newest season of The Secret Diary of a Call Girl, as well as the final season of The L Word.

As part of that new lineup, the pay cable network will also premiere a new "dramedy," The United States of Tara.  The show, starring Toni Collette as a woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder (multiple personalities), comes from writer Diablo Cody, who this past year won an Oscar for the screenplay to Juno.

The Tara idea, however, originated with none other than Steven Spielberg.  Spielberg and Showtime president Robert Greenblatt then came across Cody's Juno screenplay, nine months before the film even went into production, and, loving her original voice, hired her to flesh out the idea to series.

So, how much about Tara will be as quirky as Juno?  Well, the show definitely is funny, and honest. Tara's alternate personalities (teenager T; Alice, a Donna Reed-like housewife; Buck, a macho man in a trucker hat) definitely know that they're inhabiting her body.  And even more intriguingly, Tara and her family -- including her gay son Marshall, played by Keir Gilchrist, who was so funny as the kid on the short-lived Fox sitcom The Winner opposite Rob Corddry -- are "out" about her disorder; it's not a secret, kept from a nosy Mrs. Kravitz.  "Your neighbor could talk openly about being on an antidepressant, or their kid taking ritalin," Cody theorized.  "So it seemed unrealistic for it to be this huge taboo in town. ...Obviously some people are frightened, but others are intrigued.  And I think that would be the natural response to something like this."

Cody was also careful to explain that the series doesn't spring entirely from her imagination -- particularly the details about the real-life condition DID.  "I've been able in the past to use my imaginations for situations I've never been in, but in this case, when you're dealing with a sensitive topic like this, you absolutely have to do your homework."

"I didn't want to make fun because [the condition] is serious and comes from a sad place," Collette agreed.  "With all the research everyone's done, it's very personal.  I have a friend who had experience with DID who was blown away by how realistic it was."

In fact, Collette pointed out it was the pilot script for Tara that convinced her to do TV at all.  "I never had any aspirations to work in TV but I picked up this script one day from my agent and read it immediately," she explained.  "As soon as I closed last page turned to my husband and said, 'I have to do this.'  It was so delicious to read, so original and unusual, it's a complete dream for an actor.  It is about a woman with a mental illness, but it goes beyond that, into how a family lives and makes that quite normal for their lives.  It's incredibly funny but also moving and very real.  I like stories you can't fit into a box and that you can relate to as a human being."

The United States of Tara
Premieres Sunday, January 18, 2009
10 PM Eastern

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