On the surface, This Life‘s Nicole Breen may seem like a control freak, but actress Marianne Farley says she immediately sensed there was more going on beneath her character’s uptight façade.
“For some reason, I just got Nicole,” explains the Quebec native. “I got where her pain came from, her need to be loved and be part of the family and just feeling like an outcast all of the time. I don’t know why, but it touched a deep place inside of me, and I really wanted to make her a complex character.”
Season 2 has been difficult for Nicole, as she’s been forced to deal with the thorny aftermath of her husband Matthew’s (Rick Roberts) affair—which resulted in a son. Things get even more complicated in this week’s episode, “Communion,” when Matthew makes one last ditch effort to win Nicole back.
“I feel like I was really lucky because I got to go through this incredible roller coaster of emotions,” says Farley. “It’s one of my favourite episodes to date.”
Farley—who will also appear in the upcoming CBC series Bellevue and 21 Thunder—joins us by phone from Montreal to discuss what makes Nicole tick and whether her marriage to Matthew can be saved.
What do you enjoy most about playing Nicole?
Marianne Farley: I love playing Nicole because she is a bit of everything. She’s very emotional and she’s very much in control—or she tries to be in control. I don’t think she succeeds much. But that is part of her trying to control her emotions, but she can’t deal with it and have a perfect life. I think Nicole wanted to be a princess when she was younger. That’s sort of how I saw her when I read the first episode of Season 1. She wanted to have the perfect life with Matthew and, fortunately for me as an actress, that’s not how things ended up being. So I think the complexity of Nicole is really interesting for me.
Speaking of complex, Matthew’s betrayal of Nicole runs very deep. It’s not just that he had an affair with Beatrice (Victoria Sanchez), but that she had his child—something that Nicole was unable to do. What part of his betrayal is the worst for Nicole?
For Nicole, the lie about the son is the worst part of it. In Season 1, she tells him, ‘I will accept that you had sex with someone as long as it’s over and as long as you want to be with me.’ But I think it’s the betrayal of knowing that he had a double life for seven years. I think that’s the reason why she can’t forgive him and she can’t let go . . . Her heart wants to forgive him, but she can’t. She’s really split in two, I find, in the beginning of Season 2. There’s anger, there’s pain, but there’s also love, so she’s lost. She’s trying to find her way back, and she can’t.
Last week, Matthew asked Nicole to search his computer, and she found nothing incriminating. However, she chose to move forward with separation plans. Why?
I think looking through his computer she realizes that whether she finds something or not she’s never going to trust him again. It’s really about the trust being broken. So I think at the beginning of Season 2 she’s taking baby steps and Episode 203 is that moment where she sort of says, ‘OK, I’m going to stop taking baby steps and start walking a little bit faster, because I can’t stay put.’
Is there anything Nicole is waiting for Matthew to say that could sway her, or does she just need to sort the situation out on her own?
I think she needs to figure it out on her own. She needs to figure out who she is. I think that’s the main thing. It’s like her whole universe, her whole dream life just fell apart and she’s trying to put the pieces back together, but it keeps falling apart. Because the illusion of it is not there anymore. She will never be the perfect wife, and Matthew will never be the perfect husband, and they will never have a perfect family because of this thing.
And I think there is also the fact that she wanted to be a mother, that was really important to her. And they couldn’t have a child on their own, so they adopted. Now Matthew gets to be a father and she is still not a biological mother and that’s very painful to her. It’s like it’s something that they will never be able to share, but now he has that experience with another woman. So it’s very complex . . . I don’t think there’s anything that Matthew could say. I think she’s waiting for him to say something that will make her feel different, but there’s nothing.
What can viewers expect from Nicole in this week’s episode?
It’s called ‘Communion,’ and it’s the first time that Nicole faces the whole family. It’s the first time that she is sitting with Matthew’s family and she knows that everybody knows. So it’s a very hard moment for her and it’s very humiliating . . . It’s that thing when you realize that everyone knows your husband has been cheating on you, everyone’s known, and you were basically the last one to know. It’s like the elephant in the room that’s just very hard to live with.
You share some tough scenes with Rick Roberts in this episode and throughout the series. What’s he like as an acting partner?
He’s a brilliant actor, very generous, very much in the moment. First day last year, we just clicked. And we had a sex scene that first day, which I think makes you feel like it’s us two against the world. So it creates that connection right away, and we’ve had that since the beginning and we’ve become great friends. We have the same way of doing things, and we talk a lot about the characters and the scenes. He’s the best scene partner anyone could ask for. It’s easy to be in love with him, and it’s easy to hate him. [Laughs.]
What’s coming up next for Nicole in Season 2?
She goes in search for herself. She’s trying to find herself. She’s trying to find out who she is, what she wants out of life. She’s trying to redefine her life, if she’s not going to have this perfect relationship, this perfect family life. She’s also trying to find a way to forgive and move on, but that’s tough.
This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBC.
Images courtesy of CBC.