Diablo Cody’s knack for tackling controversial issues with humor brought her the Academy Award in 2008 for the movie Juno. With her series on Showtime United States of Tara she continues to find laughter in bizarre circumstances.
Toni Collette stars as Tara Gregson, a wife and mother who suffers from dissociative identity disorder (D.I.D.) which was formerly known as multiple personality disorder. Tara embodies several personas including T, a provocative teenager, Buck, a beer-swilling Vietnam vet who is prone to violence and Alice, a 1950s Betty Crocker housewife who bakes pies.
Only a writer of Cody’s credentials could keep these characters under control. I spoke with her recently about the popular series now in its second season.
The alters are manifesting themselves in different ways this season. Can you talk about that and how Tara is experiencing the alters now?
If you watched the first season you know that every time Tara transitioned, she would have to don a new costume to signify to our audience that this is an alter.
Now that we’ve established those personalities with our viewers, we were able to present the alters in a more realistic manner. It’s a little looser. It’s a little more fluid. Buck is a more pared-down version of Buck, as opposed to being this very obvious switch for her. And that was something that we had been looking forward to doing, and I think it’s effective.
I hear there is a new alter this year.
Her name is Shoshanna, Her role in the family is as mentor of sorts. And I think perhaps Tara, or Tara’s system of alters, recognized that the family was in need of help. And so Shoshanna is very resourceful in that way.
And Tara can see and talk with her alters this year?
There’s something that happens very frequently in real life D.I.D. patients, where they have a co-conscious alter, or an alter that they can actually communicate with, or they’re aware of that alter’s actions.
They’re aware of what that alter had been doing. It’s not like a pure dissociation the way we see with someone like Buck, where Tara has no idea what he has been up to. Tara has a relationship with Shoshanna. They talk. She’s able to observe Shoshanna’s behavior in conversations. So it’s a totally different dynamic than we’ve seen before, and we were able to shoot it with the help of effects.
Will we see that with all the alters?
We definitely wanted to establish Shoshanna as the main co-consciousness alter, but there would definitely be flashes of co-consciousness with other alters throughout the season, because it really is an important aspect of D.I.D. that we weren’t able to deal with before because it’s so complex.
Can you talk about the humor in the show? Is it difficult to keep that fine line between drama and humor?
We coined a phrase for this show. We call it a ‘traum-com,’ a traumatic comedy. It’s about some unspeakably horrible things that have happened to this woman. At the same time she’s able to find humor in her life, and I think it’s a very funny show.
In my opinion it’s even more strongly comedic this season than it was last season. We’ve always been walking a tightrope in terms of tone, but that’s what makes it unique.
Is it challenging trying to be creative in the business now?
It’s always a challenge, because in this market, I think people are always looking for a sure thing. We are fortunate to be on Showtime, where we can constantly take risks. I know I’m the envy of many of my peers in the business because I get to work for this network.
I think it’s tough out here. And in this case, we’re able to do stuff that I’ve never seen on television before. And especially this season, stuff that I think is truly profound and shocking and in some cases hilarious. So speaking from personal experience, I feel that I’ve been very lucky. But is that something that happens all the time? Absolutely not.
Because this show has received acclaim and nominations, do awards get you through the door a lot quicker?
That’s an interesting question. Yeah, obviously, when you’ve been rewarded for something there’s more pressure, always. In this case, I thought it was amazing that the television academy was able to recognize this early on with a new show that Toni Collette is the greatest actress on television (Collette won the Emmy last year for her role as Tara).
They saw it right away. It wasn’t a popularity contest. It was true recognition of brilliance and for me that was refreshing and amazing because we are new.
You said D.I.D is something that people struggle with all their lives. Up until this show, the most exposure people had had would be Sybil or Three Faces of Eve. The journey to get better is getting down to one personality. Is it realistic to believe that Tara could ever get better?
Unfortunately, the goal for somebody at Tara’s phase would be integration, which is not a complete healing process. It doesn’t even mean coming down to one personality. It means getting to a place where the personalities can all communicate with each other and cooperate without wrecking havoc. So I think integration is her goal.
Could she ever rid herself completely of this entire system? I don’t really think so.