Claire Danes' "Fleishman Is in Trouble" premieres Thursday. Photo courtesy of FX
NEW YORK, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- Emmy winner Claire Danes says she was looking for a completely new type of story to tell when Fleishman Is in Trouble, Taffy Brodesser-Akner's novel about the dissolution of a contemporary New York marriage, landed in her lap.
"The first thing I did after Homeland was a show that was very different called The Essex Serpent, where it took place in Victorian era, and I played an English widow. And I was doing reshoots for that and reading this book when the offer came in," Danes said during a recent virtual press conference.
"I was literally in a corset reading this, getting lost in between set-ups in this other story. It was a book that my best friend insisted that I read -- actually bought for me with real urgency," the actress recalled.
"It all felt a little cosmic and I didn't choose it. It chose me, and I was already a big fan. So, it was an easy 'yes.'"
The eight-episode limited series premieres Thursday on FX on Hulu. In it, Danes plays Rachel, who suddenly drops off her two young children at ex-husband Toby's apartment and then disappears.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Toby, a doctor who was just starting to date again when his life is upended by full-time parenting and wondering if Rachel is ever planning to come back.
Danes said she and Eisenberg have spoken at length about how people seem conditioned to sympathize with men in stressful family situations, while they judge women.
"That is so kind of subtly demonstrated here, because we just are so aligned with Toby and his biases, right?
"And then it's not until the very end that we realize how much of that, how skewed our understanding of the story is, because we've only heard a particular side of it, a side that we are more open to, generally," Danes said. "I thought that was very subversive and very challenging."
The story also taps into what the actress described as a lot of people's biggest concerns: How well do you truly know your most intimate partner? And how well do you know yourself?
"That anxiety about that potential alienation within very close proximity is spooky," Danes said.
"And tragic, right? But they're all wrestling with the big stuff and have to go through their little crucibles and go through a lot of discomfort. But, you know, maybe at the end, they're a little closer to their truth with themselves and each other -- therefore, a little closer to each other."
Eisenberg likes that Toby and Rachel are seen from each other's point of view, not their own.
"So, when Claire is viewed from my perspective, she appears ambitious to a fault, vindictive, negligent. And then, when the show flips perspectives and you see me from her point of view, you have similar feelings toward me," he said.
"One of the challenges that we faced was just kind of modulating how villainous and how heroic we are as actors," he added. "Or how kind of aloof to create our characters when you're in the other person's perspective."
Eisenberg said he also was intrigued by the world depicted in the novel and screenplays that Brodesser-Akner wrote based on it.
"This is something that feels so culturally specific to something I know very well, and I'm familiar with and grew up in, but at the same time, probably accessible to somebody who grew up in a completely different set of circumstances," the actor said. "That's the kind of beauty of the show and the book."
In the series, Toby reunites with old friends Libby (Lizzy Caplan) and Seth (Adam Brody,) whom he has long neglected.
"The reason we get back together is because I'm going through this horrible experience, and so I'm dipping my toes back into my past, but I really have one foot outside the door of the relationship. I'm so self-involved because I'm going through this, you know, horribly fraught divorce," Eisenberg said.
"It's kind of an interesting way to backtrack into an old relationship, kind of not in the most responsible -- not as a complete, committed friend, but as somebody who really needs people at this horrible moment."
Brodesser-Akner said she had some reservations about adapting one of her books for the screen for the first time.
"I'm a person with a lot of concerns, so I would say that one, at the top, was being a burden on my partners, on the actors, on the crew for my inexperience and for not really knowing what I'm doing," the writer said.
"But that should have been the last of my worries because everyone was so kind to me and patient, and everyone taught me on the crew level. The camera operator showed me how they did their job, and I learned about script writing from luminaries and savants over here, and the actors were also very nice to me."
Producer Sarah Timberman described Brodesser-Akner as an insanely quick study.
"It's like a joke in my house with my husband," Timberman said. "It's like a science-fiction movie, and she's like a creature or a machine that learns. And I'd come over every day, and I'd tell him what happened, and he'd say, 'It's learning.'"