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Brendan Gleeson, Patricia Clarkson got personal in 'State of the Union'

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Brendan Gleeson, Patricia Clarkson got personal in 'State of the Union'
Scott (Brendan Gleeson) and Ellen (Patricia Clarkson) argue before marriage counseling. Photo courtesy of Sundance TV

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Brendan Gleeson and Patricia Clarkson said their characters in Season 2 of the Sundance TV/AMC series State of the Union, premiering Monday, unlocked painful memories. The actors play a married couple who meet at a coffee shop every week before their marriage counseling sessions.

"You have to take part of your own experience and your own soul and kind of embroider it into the fit that you're kind of portraying," Gleeson, 66, said in a Television Critics Association zoom panel. "So, obviously, you draw on your own experiences, your own mistakes, your own shortcomings."

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Scott (Gleeson) is retired and looking forward to a life of golfing. Gleeson has been married to his wife, Mary, since 1982. They have four sons together, including Star Wars actor Domhnall Gleeson.

Ellen (Clarkson) is finding spirituality in a Quaker community and questioning whether she wants to remain married. Clarkson, 62, who has never married, said the State of the Union scenes encompass many emotions and tones.

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"It moves so quickly between the emotional and the poignant and the poetic and then into brilliant comedy," Clarkson said. "It's just all in one quick breath sometimes, and it's an actor's dream. It'll kill you, but it's an actor's dream."

Episodes of State of the Union run 10 minutes each. Gleeson said they were directed to speed up the dialogue to fit the brief run times.

"We were summoned to a kind of rapidity by our esteemed director, who kept us within limits," Gleeson said. "But there was a kind of vitality and a drive in the writing, anyway, that kind of insisted on that. And it was exhilarating.'

Clarkson said the time constraint didn't allow any rest.

"We have to cut to the chase," Clarkson said. "There's no fat. There's no wasted time."

State of the Union Season 1 premiered in 2019 with Chris O'Dowd and Rosamund Pike as a young couple in crisis. Stephen Frears returned to direct and Nick Hornby to write Season 2.

Clarkson said Frears kept her and Gleeson focused on the rhythm of the speech Hornby wrote. Clarkson said the sharp dialogue Ellen says to Scott was upsetting, but that Frears directed them to move forward rather than lingering on the painful parts.

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"We knew some of these scenes and some of these words we had to say were brutal," Clarkson said. "It's never easy as an actor, ever. It is about moving through it, and forward."

Clarkson said the difficulty of State of the Union extended beyond filming days. Clarkson said she took Ellen home with her.

"The homework that Brendan and I had to do, of course, to play these characters was scar-making," Clarkson said. "We're still a little wounded."

The counseling comes as a surprise to Scott. When Ellen suggests the possibility of divorce, he is blindsided.

"There's one particular aspect of Scott that I found very easy to access, which is his confusion," Gleeson said.

Scott's confusion extends to characters outside his marriage, too. During their conversations, Scott gets distracted by the barista (Esco Jouley), who is non-binary.

Scott spends much of the 10 minutes debating their pronouns. Gleeson said the show, and Jouley, were informative to him as a person, as well as an actor playing Scott.

"It wasn't something that I was overly familiar with in terms of pronouns," Gleeson said. "It was very liberating to explore how gender has become such an imprisoning definition."

All episodes of State of the Union are streaming on Sundance Now and AMC+.

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