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Shooting “Scenes From a Marriage”: ‘I Cried Every Day’

There were days on the shoot for “Scenes From a Marriage,” a five-episode limited series that premieres Sept. 12 on HBO, when Oscar Isaac resented the crew.

The problem wasn’t the crew members themselves, he told me on a video call in March. But the work required of him and his co-star, Jessica Chastain, was so unsparingly intimate — “And difficult!” Chastain added from a neighboring Zoom window — that every time a camera operator or a makeup artist appeared, it felt like an intrusion.

On his other projects, Isaac had felt comfortably distant from the characters and their circumstances — interplanetary intrigue, rogue A.I. But “Scenes” surveys monogamy and parenthood, familiar territory. Sometimes Isaac would film a bedtime scene with his onscreen child (Lily Jane) and then go home and tuck his own child into the same model of bed as the one used on set, accessorized with the same bunny lamp, and not know exactly where art ended and life began.

“It was just a lot,” he said.

Chastain agreed, though she put it more strongly. “I mean, I cried every day for four months,” she said.

Isaac, 42, and Chastain, 44, have known each other since their days at the Juilliard School. And they have channeled two decades of friendship, admiration and a shared and obsessional devotion to craft into what Michael Ellenberg, one of the series’s executive producers, called “five hours of naked, raw performance.” (That nudity is metaphorical, mostly.)

“For me it definitely felt incredibly personal,” Chastain said on the call in the spring, about a month after filming had ended. “That’s why I don’t know if I have another one like this in me. Yeah, I can’t decide that. I can’t even talk about it without. …” She turned away from the screen. (It was one of several times during the call that I felt as if I were intruding, too.)


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