Casual became the first Hulu series to snag a Golden Globe nomination this year — which was especially good news for star Tara Lynne Barr, who thought someone had died when she woke up to a series of texts and calls the morning nominations came out. “That’s immediately where my brain went to,” she tells EW.
Barr stars as Laura, the teenage daughter of Valerie (Michaela Watkins) and niece of Alex (Tommy Dewey), in the Jason Reitman-produced comedy-drama about a trio of family members sorting through the dating world and their own complicated but loving relationships with one another.
“When you describe it to people, it sounds very simple, but I think when you actually sit down and watch it, it’s such a rewarding experience,” she says of the show, which concluded its first season in December. “It’s a really grounded, relatable show, that I think speaks to a wide range of people.”
Part of that is because Laura is a surprisingly recognizable — and refreshingly mature — 16-year-old, an aspect of the show that Barr applauded when she called up EW to talk about what her hardest scene to film this season was, why it’s important to show realistic sex on TV, and what’s up next for her character.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So first of all, what was your reaction to finding out about the Golden Globe nomination?
TARA LYNNE BARR: I woke up to a bunch of pings and dings and texts and calls, so I just assumed someone had died. That’s immediately where my brain went to. But I was very, very pleasantly surprised when I found out the news. Surprised and excited and grateful and giddy.
Your character goes through a lot this season. What was the hardest scene for you to film?
There was the scene that happened on the lawn of my photography teacher’s house. There’s a big blowout, and because Laura really hides a lot of her emotions up to that point during the season, I, Tara, was like, “I need to just scream at the top of my lungs right now. I need to let out all of the stuff that I’ve been keeping inside as Laura.” And our director of the episode gave me a really interesting note, which was basically, this hurts so much that you almost don’t want to reveal how badly it hurts you. So try to keep it inside. And those ended up being the takes that they used. It’s hard, because at that point, it was like emotional diarrhea. I just wanted to let it all out. But she suggested that really interesting choice, which I think made the scene better.
Do you think the teacher, Michael [played by Patrick Heusinger], was actually into Laura?
Absolutely. It’s human when you get the sense that somebody likes you or is attracted to you — unless you’re just completely repulsed by the person — I find that my first reaction is to entertain the idea. Play out scenarios in your head. So I’m sure that was going through Michael’s head. I don’t think that he would have showed as much attention and affection that he did if he didn’t have some small sense of attraction and affection for her. Maybe that’s just me thinking through the eyes of Laura, but I like to give Laura the benefit of the doubt. [Laughs] She seems like she’s a catch enough to gain his affection and attention.
Is there any part of you that wanted them to get together?
No, I’m glad it didn’t happen. I think it would have entered into potentially even more inappropriate territory than it was to begin with. [Laughs] Which wouldn’t have been good. I remember reading the dream sequence where we’re all over each other, and I didn’t get when I first started reading it that it was a dream sequence, and I immediately was like, “Oh no, where is this going to go? This will completely change the trajectory of Laura’s storyline in the show so far.” I was relieved to find it was a dream sequence.
You’ve talked before about Casual’s approach to sex and how it’s really realistic, something that’s still kind of new for television. Can you talk a bit more about that?
As far as my character is concerned, just on a very technical level, the way they approach the sex scenes or any sort of romantic or sexual scene never felt exploitative. It all felt like it was moving the story forward and it served to develop [the character] for the audience. I honestly really appreciate that because a lot of times in TV and film, sex scenes are sort of there, maybe for a purpose, but an underlying purpose is to attract a male audience. You always see in movie trailers, if it’s like an action movie, they always have to have the one flash of the half-naked woman slinking down a hallway. But as far as sex in Casual is concerned, it all moves the story forward. And it never felt cheap and it never felt irrelevant to the storyline and I really appreciated that.
Laura is a teenager, but she’s not necessarily treated like a teenager on the show — it’s something I feel like I would have loved watching as a 16-year-old because of that. Do you think it’s important to have characters like this available for younger watchers?
Absolutely, because it presents teenage girls in a way that’s similar to how they are in real life. One of the reasons why I was so attracted to [Laura] when I first read the script was because I knew that girl. And I’m sure other girls knew that girl in high school, in college. Teenage girls in television and film, in my experience, oftentimes are portrayed as either the sweet, innocent virgin or the super-sexy, experienced, town bicycle. There never seems to be an in-between. I think most girls are somewhere in between those two tropes. I think that’s where [Casual creator Zander Lehmann] smartly wrote Laura, because she’s a human being and teenage girls masturbate and have sex and as long as you’re safe about it, there’s nothing wrong or dirty or shameful about it. And that’s the point of view that our writers took and I think it really made the show and Laura’s character a lot more grounded and believable.
What advice would you give Laura?
I would just say, focus on yourself. Just like, focus on you, focus on self-improvement and bettering yourself and focus on your studies, not so much on boys and what people may think of you. It’s a television show, so it thrives on conflict rather than resolution, so I think that prayer will go unanswered — but if I could sit down and talk to Tara, I would just say, take some time and work on yourself. It sounds like I’m belittling her. I’m not. I’m looking out for her, I really am. [Laughs] Maybe so see a therapist, not her mother. Another therapist.
What’s going to happen next season?
You know as much as I know. I’ve been trying to get information out of Zander, and he’s been a brick wall. But there are times when I’ll try to very coolly and casually — no pun intended — ask him, “So what’s Laura up to next season? Just, I’m curious.” And he’ll smile, and he’ll say, “Oh my God, I love what Laura’s up to next season.” And then he’ll end it there. So I’m really looking forward to what happens to Laura next season, I just have no idea what that might be.
Let’s say someone is on the fence about watching Casual. What would you say to get them to watch?
Sit down and start it. I honestly feel like when I describe the show to people, I always end up just summing it up by saying, “You just have to watch it.” When you describe it to people, it sounds very simple, but I think when you actually sit down and watch it, it’s such a rewarding experience and that’s sort of the only thing I can say to them is to just watch it. It’s a half-hour show, it will rope you in. It’s a really grounded, relatable show, that I think speaks to a wide range of people.
The entire first season of Casual is now streaming on Hulu.