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August 18, 2015

He Says, She Says

As the spouses of Satisfaction, they’ve stepped way out of bounds. But off screen, Stephanie Szostak and Matt Passmore share a happy rapport. And golf? Not really.

Amy Amatangelo

As family shows go, it's far from The Waltons.

On USA's Satisfaction, returning this fall, Matt Passmore and Stephanie Szostak play a married couple with a twist. Or two.

Having given up her career to raise a now-teenage daughter, Grace Truman is struggling to find fulfillment. When her disillusioned corporate-exec husband Neil discovers she's been cheating on him with a male prostitute, he doesn't confront her. Instead, Neil becomes an escort himself.

Passmore was cast in Satisfaction soon after his A&E series, The Glades, was canceled. "It was great," he says. "I don't like to keep my hands under my bum for too long."

The Australian import, whose next movie is the Lysistrata-inspired Texas comedy Is That a Gun in Your Pocket, grew up in Brisbane, Queensland. Wanting to be an actor wasn't common in his hometown.

"You opened yourself up to public ridicule to actually voice it out loud," Passmore says. So he joined the army and started performing at a local theater company while working as a welder. When he realized acting might work as a profession, he says, "It was like a little light went off in my head."

French-born Szostak, perhaps best known for playing Vogue editor Jacqueline Follet in the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada, graduated from the College of William & Mary with a marketing degree and went to work for Chanel. She was modeling part-time when she realized acting was her calling.

"I feel so lucky doing what I do," Szostak says. "Being an actress gives me a chance to explore all the sides of me."

They hadn't met before Satisfaction. And while their characters may have trouble communicating, these two share an easy rapport off screen.

"It's kind of sickening, the good things I could say about her," Passmore says. "She's gorgeous. She's wonderful to work with. She's beautiful inside and out. She's got such a mysterious little glint in her eye, and she's got a wicked sense of humor. We have a great trust."

Szostak says it helps that they both love to talk about the work and the scripts. "We admitted to the fears we have and the questions we have," she explains.

"Once you get on set, you're able to play and relate to the other person. You've talked so much about the material that you're at ease with each other."

Passmore and Szostak recently shared some of their thoughts about the series, its racy sex scenes and... golf.

The show's premise is very unusual. What did you think when you first read the script?

Passmore: The thing that really leapt out right away was the sociological aspect of this post-modern life, combining with mid-marriage and mid-life for both of these people. I thought it was a really nice mirror [image of] what we're all going through today. And then, of course, taking it to an almost absurd level in the world of male escorts.

It really intrigued me that Neil, after smashing this prison of his own making, goes to tell the person that he cares most about — and finds out about her infidelity. But then he doesn't smash the marriage. He doesn't confront her and blow it all out of the water. He goes inside himself.

As I talked with the creator, Sean Jablonski, he kept saying it's a post-modern love story, and that intrigued me. In our moralistic society, in the way we see things, it looks like these guys have gone too far. Is there any way of coming back from this?

And so to call it a love story absolutely reflected this relationship and this marriage. I realized they had lost a sense of themselves even before they lost each other.

Szostak: I loved the pilot. It's a fascinating subject — married life, happiness, honesty… with other people, with your spouse, but also with yourself. All these things are fascinating to me. So I loved that and I thought it was really well written.

There was a good balance between the husband and the wife in terms of their storyline. I was very excited. I wanted to know what was going to happen to these characters.

How do you relate to your character?

Szostak: I think a lot of us women can relate to becoming a mother — there's a new part of you that comes alive, and it's fantastic. But all of a sudden you're like, "Where am I in this?"

It's hard to keep all of you alive. You get caught up in the domesticity and motherhood, in trying to be the best mother and the best wife. Sometimes when you’re trying to be good in everything, a part of you is not really alive.

When we get stuck in the routine of life, we forget to be curious, to embrace the unknown — and that's really what gives you a high. Both Neil and Grace forgot how to do that.

I get frustrated sometimes because I just want those two to talk. I'm someone who talks a lot and says what I feel. It's hard to be in Grace's skin sometimes.

What do you think the show is trying to say about marriage?

Passmore: What I started to realize is, there's a sneaky hidden optimism throughout the show: the fact that Grace and Neil are sticking with it and sticking with each other. They're dying for hope. I think that's where the show says something about relationships.

The quest to be true to yourself, and therefore bring that truth to someone else, is part of the whole equation — not only for a successful marriage, but a successful life.

When there's denial — sticking your head in the sand, throwing yourself into work and losing touch with your marriage, your family, your partner — it's all symptomatic of losing touch with yourself. I think there's something in there for all of us.

Szostak: The thing I like about the show is, I don't think it's telling you anything is right or wrong. I think it's just exploring marriage and how difficult it is.

The show's sex scenes are quite racy for basic cable. What was it like to film them?

Passmore: It's always funny and uncomfortable. I like to joke my way through it. That's my way of doing it. You've got to go, "Well this is just a ridiculous job in this moment. Let's just shoot it."

Every actor and actress who came on the show was incredibly professional and incredibly sweet. There's an acknowledgement when you go in: this is so unrealistic, this is uncomfortable. I mean, I couldn't have sex for six months after this show without someone lighting me and directing me! It was embarrassing.

Szostak: I watch HBO and Showtime a lot, so I'm very happy with how tame the sex scenes are. My character never had to go through anything drastic or uncomfortable.

Stephanie, you're a lifelong golfer, and Matt, your character on The Glades loved to golf. Did you two ever play a round of 18 holes together?

Passmore: I'm a terrible golfer, and there is no way I'm stepping onto the green with that girl. She's a monster. She's a shark. Frankly, in order to feel like I still have testicles I made sure that we would never ever play golf together.

Szostak: I watched the pilot of The Glades, and his swing looks great. He totally fooled me. He looked like a golfer.

Passmore: All I did was swing the club. The ball was actually cutting off to the right, and thanks to the beautiful power of television, they were able to draw the ball in to make me look good.

Stephanie, growing up in France, how did you start golfing?

Szostak: My dad was a scratch golfer, so my mom started playing. My brother and I started playing just by default. I started competing as a teenager, but none of my friends played golf.

I tried to quit many times, but my dad was always telling me “No, you can't quit.” I'm so happy now that I still play. It's really taught me a lot — honesty and perseverance.

I love to talk about this! Golf is a lot like life. It's 18 holes, and it lasts four hours. You can have three great shots and two terrible shots, and you just have to keep going.

I remember as a kid my dad telling me if I had a bad shot, forget it — all you need to think about is the next one. When you think about life, that's such a good attitude. Stuff happens, and instead of dwelling on it, I just have to keep going.

How did you end up coming to America?

Passmore: I had an American manager. He was constantly saying, “Just come over here and give it a decent shot.” He was like the long-distance girlfriend I had to keep calling, saying, "Ah, sweetie, I've got to do this one last job and then we'll do this…."

Fox had been looking for someone for a pilot, and I was in Prague by the end of that week.

That was my transition over to the States, to see if it would go to series. It didn't, but because A&E had seen that pilot, The Glades came out of that. I found myself in Florida, and the rest is history. Now I've got a place in Los Angeles and am very happy to be an L.A. resident.

Szostak: My dad is American. He's from Iowa. I have family in the States, and we would come and visit. I always loved the United States. I remember writing in my diary when I was eight: "One day I hope I will live there."

Is that why you decided to attend the College of William & Mary, here in the U.S.?

Szostak: We don't have liberal-arts education in France. You have to really pick what you want to study, and I didn't know. We also don't have college sports, so I wouldn't have been able to play golf. I think my heart wanted to come here, and it made sense, too.

Did you ever live in France again after college?

Szostak: I went back my sophomore year. I had kind of a hard time my freshman year — a bit of a culture shock — so I went back and did a year in Paris, where I met my husband. Then I went back to William & Mary and graduated — and never lived in France after that.

You both have American accents for the series. Matt, your character on The Glades, Jim, sounded very different to me than Neil.

Passmore: Jim didn't have that full Chicago accent, but I wanted to put a hint of it in there to make him that fish out of water in Florida.

With Neil, I just wanted to standardize it, put it more down in my chest and make him more everyman — so you couldn't listen to him and go, "Oh, he's from Georgia.” Or, “He's from New York." I'd say he could be from anywhere in America.

Stephanie, how did you approach talking like Grace?

Szostak: I work with a dialect coach. It's kind of great, because it's also part of building a character — if I didn't have an accent, I don't think my voice would change that much.

For the different characters I do with an American accent, the energy is very different in the voice, so it's almost like an additional tool.

In the series, you're the parents of angsty teenage Anika, played by Michelle DeShon. Did you bring any of your own experience as parents?

Passmore: My fiancée has a boy, so yes — I'm kind of in that world, the world of a stepdad. My learning curve is pretty much a 90-degree angle, so I'm going straight up.

There's definitely one easy part of playing a parent: you're worried all the time. No matter what's going on with Anika, Neil's probably worried. There's a beautiful parental guilt as well. It will be really interesting to see in the second season where that goes.

Szostak: Michelle and I get along really well, which makes it easy. But if I wasn't a mother [of two sons] I think it would be very different. I feel very maternal toward her.

What Neil and Grace are going through, you could see the impact on Anika. She doesn't know exactly what's going on between her parents, yet she's feeling it. We all affect each other.

What do you hope will happen for your character in season two?

Passmore: I'd like to see more wins for them as a couple. I think they will start to experience that more. Moving together on the same path, as opposed to doing it completely separately. So maybe they unconsciously start to bounce off each other.

The show will move into its next chapter, so to speak. The essence will remain the same — two people on a quest for truth — but how they go about it may differ vastly from the first season. I'm rooting for Neil and Grace, and I think that's part of the strength of the show.

These people can do morally questionable things, yet we still are rooting for them. We still want the best for them.

Szostak: I would love for her to speak her mind, open up her heart and be confident in the woman that she is deep down. I hope she gets in touch with who she is and is able to be who she is with the people in her life.

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