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July 10, 2018

A Not-So-Blithe Spirit

After her character died, Ray Donovan’s Paula Malcomson spent a season playing her ghost.

Melissa Byers
  • Showtime
  • Showtime
  • Showtime
  • Showtime
  • Showtime

Usually, when a character dies in a series, that is the end of the work for the actor.

Not so, in the case of Paula Malcomson, who spent five seasons playing Liev Schreiber's tough-but-vulnerable wife Abby Donovan on Showtime's Ray Donovan.

In the fourth season, the character was diagnosed with breast cancer. As the fifth season opened, the audience learned that Abby had died. However, many questions remained about how and what, exactly, had happened, so the season revolved around those questions and how her death affected the whole Donovan family. Abby was very much a part of the season, appearing both in flashbacks, as her story was revealed, and in visions as Ray tried to cope with his loss.

The flashback scenes were fine with Malcomson, but she wasn't as happy with the ghost scenes. She says, "Honestly that part I wasn't too fond of. If I'd gotten to do like bad things or something or sort of be a vengeful ghost or haunting - but it was just kind of a revenant. It wasn't very much activity involved, it was just me kind of swanning around, looking over my shoulder, so, that's fine.

"It was fine because I didn't have to say goodbye to everybody yet,  but it sort of prolonged the pain.

"That was fine but it was not my favorite thing, I sort of begged them not to do that but they wanted it, they had to get him to that place at the very end where the soundtrack could play 'Rock n Roll Suicide.' David Hollander is so good at picking music for that show and I thought that one was just so perfect. You know, who doesn't want to hear David Bowie at the end of a season? It was amazing."

Abby's final storyline, however, was far more meaty for the actress. It turns out that Abby had made a final choice to end her own life, with some help from her daughter and her brother-in-law.

It took Malcomson a bit of struggle to come to terms with that. "At first I was dead against her taking her own life, I was absolutely dead against it. I said she would never do this and leave her kids. And then I started to think about the idea of assisted suicide and how this is a good thing, how that we don't really talk about it that much. So it was sort of an opportunity to shed light on it.

"A friend of mine had passed five years ago, and it was a terrible end, it was just a terrible end. The hard part for me was I wanted her [Abby] sick enough and so ill that she didn't really have a choice. So that was hard, that was hard.

"And then I was trying to lose weight and then gain weight back because we were playing fast and loose with time. So one day I was healthy Abby and the next day I was sick Abby, so it's hard to do all that. But I wanted to do it justice and take it very seriously because I know there are so many people who have lost loved ones and are survivors.

"It was tough. There's only so much when something's being written where I can get in there and try to force certain points, but at a certain point this is what was going to happen. And I needed to feel what that would be like for a while. And then I got behind it. The sort of Abby that I had been playing for all those years was not someone who would go gentle.

"I think at that point too, finally she gets her own agency, because she hasn't had that her whole life."

Leaving was also difficult for Malcomson, but she is looking forward.

She says, "It's painful but it's sort of exciting. We could've kept doing it and that would've been great too but I feel like I've got a little bit of energy left to do another show and maybe tell some different stories. And sort of looking forward to that as well. But it was painful, you've built the show, Liev and I built that show together, we felt like we put a lot of our heart and soul into it. So, yeah, it was a tough one."

The character's death was tough for the audience, as well, for which Malcomson is pleased. "I'm really glad. I mean it's very heartening to hear that. I get a lot of love from people and I'm glad it sort of mattered. It's funny to think, I've said it before that she kind of is the feeling one, where Ray can't feel. She organizes the boys and they all come to her. I think her missing will be felt. I think quite a lot."

Now that her Ray Donovan chapter is closed. Malcomson is looking forward to the next thing to come her way.

She says, "I'm reading lots of detective novels. So I'm looking for a female. It'd be great. There are so many great characters actually, female characters. Sometimes the plot gets a little wonky but who cares about that. It's just sort of building the character and then going from there. I just think things are changing and it's time to get in there and develop a bit. It's always nice when someone tells you where to be and what to do. But sometimes you have to think a little harder.

"I'm reading and I'm looking and I'm just taking my time. Immediately after Ray I went to the U.K. and I did some work over there. BBC stuff and that was great. That was great but I'm sort of looking for a project that's going to sustain me for a while but I just know that I need to spend a little time thinking about what it is I want to do, because it's going to be, typically it'll be for several years so I want to make sure I'm doing the right thing.

I have different expectations than when I started Ray. I loved that experience but I want to do more female driven stuff. I think we need it. So things come to me and I'm like, 'Well no, I'm not playing to be the wife,' so that's what 90% of these things are.

"But I'll find the right thing. I always do."


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