Filming the last season of Girls, Peter Scolari felt the most uncomfortable he'd been as an actor. "The playing, the acting, has been effortless. From the first week, everything about it has been easy, because they've created this safe, intelligent place to come and play," Scolari explains. "I feel quite fortunate that I've come to this place in my life where I can be naked -- both emotionally and physically. But there has been a level of discomfort that I did not anticipate. I was taking the character's emotions home with me -- which has never been my experience as an actor. This feeling that I was a betrayer, that I had let the team down. I said to my wife: 'What the fuck is the matter with me?' I couldn't sleep, I felt sad. It felt like a grieving period."
That might seem odd for a man who, typically, conveys a supportive dad and husband, the good guy who wants to come to the rescue of his daughter Hannah and never spoil anyone's good vibes. But something was brewing in even-tempered Tad, who seemed to have a happy, sexual relationship with his wife Loreen (played by Becky Ann Baker), even getting frisky on their anniversary in that Season 2 episode until he's left naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.
So it came as a shock to some when watching this week's episode, titled "Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz," that Tad tells his wife he's gay. There's no transitional material, no build-up, they're leaving a supposedly productive couple's counseling session, and he drops the bombshell.
"It was not so funny," Scolari says. "A lot of times in real life and in television and fiction as well, when a character comes to this place of self-awareness and determination, things go well for the character. This is what's right. You can hear the Rocky music in the background. But it's not what we've done and gone after. I hold no small amount of respect and pride in it, that we're going after this. Although I miss being funny."
Regular viewers have known for a while that something's been changing within Tad. He's tried to talk to his daughter on multiple occasions, but she's often too self-absorbed to notice that he might need some support. When he visited her in Iowa earlier this season, it seemed he might be about to reveal a skeleton in his closet, but Hannah wasn't empathetic and ignored his needs.
Scolari says he never could have predicted that Tad was gay, although some of his actor friends predicted it more than a year ago. In fact, it may have all started from an accident. During the first season, Scolari left a stud in that he wears during a day of filming. "It wasn't makeup or a writing decision," Scolari admits. "I thought, Oh, shit, but Lena loved it. And Andrew Rannells, before he came on as a series regular, he was a fan of the show and was watching. So when he came on and had that spitball fight later on, he ad libbed an argument, and started talking about Tad being gay. It was a very fun bit, and I got some feedback that it was the germ of the idea."
In some way, the revelation of Tad the dad being gay doesn't feel so earthshattering. In the past few years, storylines in TV and movies have hinged on parents' late-in-life coming out about their sexuality or gender identity. Christopher Plummer won an Oscar for his role in Beginners about a man begins living his life as a gay man once his wife dies. And Jeffrey Tambor was celebrated in Transparent for portraying a father who reveals his true identity as a woman. Scolari agrees that this isn't some new trend, or simply shocking storytelling.
"It's in the zeitgeist of our culture, people getting their hearts and minds around it. These stories need to be told. It's the great gift that our artistic universe has to offer up: We're going to give you the means through these stories that we're going to tell, what the reality is," he says. "It's trending because it's necessary. Even to a frivolous extent, just to be funny, to soften the blow. No one need be injured as they evolve out of their ignorance. This is where the arts really serve a greater good. It sounds pretentious, but I believe in it."
Of course, anyone who has followed the veteran actor's career will never forget his breakout roll playing opposite Tom Hanks in the '80s sitcom Bosom Buddies. Although it's been over 30 years since the hit show aired, it's impossible not to try to make a connection to the straight guy dressing up in drag for easy laughs to the emotionally charged role of a middle-aged gay man he's now suddenly playing on Girls.
Scolari says that he and Hanks studied those who had done it in various forms before.
"If you are going to dress up in drag, you have go to school and look at the homosexual actors who had to hide in the closet in our popular culture: from Paul Lynde to Charles Nelson Reilly, who played these goofy, eccentric dads in the '70s because that's all we could handle. We have to honor that history of in-the-closet performing as well, to steal from the drag revue and cheat and break the rules and to be shameful to get our laughs in drag."
But he says we've "evolved too much" for that sort of show now. "There's no reason why we couldn't enjoy it, but we've come too far. You'd just have to be so good at it; you'd have to have a better story now."
Which is why we'll be looking to see how this story develops on Girls, a more serious look at a man who wants to continue being a good father, and husband, and friend, while trying to pursue his own truth. "I had an exquisite discomfort of what my actions and my truthfulness has in effect wrought," he says. "I hadn't thought that far ahead as to get the ramifications and consequences of my actions." Scolari says it reminds him of people who have good intentions and want to make amends. "All the accomplishment of getting your shit together, it's a personal choice, a life action, there isn't anything that goes to a greater depth of self-determination, and then someone says, 'Oh you're being truthful with me? Go fuck yourself,' " he says. "It's not that Tad can't understand the effects of his actions as they are being revealed to him, as this very angry woman begins to fight back. He has no management skills. No mechanism to address this."
So Scolari says there's no spoiler in knowing that Tad, Loreen, and Hannah's relationship isn't necessarily resolved in a tidy fashion by the end of this season. "We don't know if these characters are going to be OK or come to a place of understanding," he explains. So what does he hope for Tad as the show continues?
"There's a Disney answer to that, and it's not mine: It's that I hope everything works out and is OK," he begins. "But I'm going to sidestep your question and say that I hope he gets to keep getting to tell the truth, and I know he will. I just don't know if it will be pretty."