When you first read the script for The Affair, whose side of the story did you believe more?
Well, it's partially out of chauvinism and partially because it comes first but [I believed Noah]. [When] I got into Alison's half my first reaction was 'Oh, I made a mistake.' So I went back to the first part of the script and read the scenes again. And then I realized I wasn't misremembering and I was like, 'Why is she lying?' And that's the whole point of the thing—that we live inside our own narrative and to a degree we're all seeing things with our own biases. Or, in my case, chauvinism.
Of course, when I watch it I believe Alison's side and I think that Noah's totally exaggerating.
You're not the first woman who has told me she comes down on that end. And I'm not the first man who comes down on the other side. Ultimately that's the grand intelligence of the device. It's not so much what it tells us about the people we're watching, but about your biases.
So do you have to play your character two different ways since we see him from two perspectives?
If you're telling split narratives like this, it's situational. But because I'm the other man, when he remembers me, he remembers me extremely differently. Just the way Cole is introduced into the story. We got together and decided that's because he's rationalizing why it's okay for him to sleep with another man's wife—so he remembers me as this brutish, violent Neanderthal. And she has a much deeper knowledge of the person so she has a fuller version of me. It's her version of the man she's married to.
The premiere episode showed two versions of a pretty graphic sex scene, one of which was pretty aggressive. What was that like to shoot?
It's aggressive, but the truth is that it's just like doing a fight scene as an actor. You're not really beating someone up in a fight scene. The sex is aggressive. The hardest part of the scene was not so much what the sex would be but what the fight between them would be because it wasn't written in the script. We had to get the scene to a place where it would match on both sides.
How choreographed is a scene like that?
The truth is that the scene was reshot later so it isn't even my ass against Ruth on the top of the car. It was some stand-in who probably got paid 20 bucks to hump away on the roof of a late model car. But it was highly choreographed like all sex scenes are, frankly. You're putting a woman in a very vulnerable place when you're doing scenes like this so the more upfront about it you can be and the more choreographed it can be, the less opportunity there is for awkwardness or anything else bad to happen in that space. I always try to be as conscious as possible of that fact. For a man, walking around in your boxers or even those stupid codpieces they give us is one thing. But for a woman to be completely exposed on a film set is an uncomfortable space. So you try to get it done as damage-free as possible.
How does being on a Showtime series compare with your past TV experiences?
It's much less time. There's so much less to do. By only doing 10 episodes and having nine or ten days to shoot each one in, it's an unbelievably luxurious amount of time coming from the schedule I had on network TV. It's also a character-driven story. We're not blowing up cars. There's no guns. No chases. It's just time to concentrate on getting the character right.
When you finished Dawson's Creek did you have a goal for your career going forward?
Actually at that time in my life what I wanted to do was not be an actor. I was quite burnt out. It's a lot of work. And on that show we were doing 22 episodes a year. It's a grind. Truthfully, the process of making 22 episode of television a year is not very pleasant. I just wanted to stop. It wasn't until the following year when I went and did a play in London that I actually enjoyed being an actor again.
TV might be a very different place now if you'd quit then.
I think pop culture would have survived without me! But that's very nice of you to say.
Are you still interested in making movies as well?
I'm more picky. There hasn't been anything that's crossed my desk or that's been offered to me that I've been dying to do. I finished Fringe, I took six months off on purpose and then we shot The Affair. And now I have some down time before we find out if The Affair's going to come back. At this point, it would have to be something good. I want to enjoy the process as much as just go to work.
What do you do when you have time off?
Well, right now I've come to visit my lady in the south of France. But it depends on the time of year and where I am. Like, in three to four weeks, every time I have a free day I will be some place snowy on skis. I'm a Vancouver boy and I grew up outdoors so any time I can be outside everything is good.
You stirred up some talk when you mentioned the concept of chivalry in an interview recently. Do you put chivalry into play in your daily life?
I hope so. [Asks Kruger if she agrees and then laughs.] She says she's driving and can't answer right now. I mean, it's not the patronizing, patriarchal version where women aren't competent and capable. But maybe I just inherited my mother's version of feminism. But to me you can be simultaneously kind and chivalrous without being patronizing. I feel like there's a degree of grace with which you can live your life when it comes to the opposite sex and you should. It comes easy. It's actually a net benefit to your life, right? When you behave well towards somebody regardless of what you're receiving, you feel better about yourself. So be decent to people.