Why Grace From American Rust Looks So Familiar
The easiest way to make prestige television is to hire prestigious actors. Showtime’s new murder mystery “American Rust” wasn’t a favorite of critics, who dinged it for its slow pace and dull central mystery. As Nick Allen writes of the central victim for RogerEbert.com, “I never cared who killed him. And I didn’t care about finding out,” a sentiment echoed by many other reviewers.
However, one place they couldn’t knock it was its performances, especially the two actors who played the show’s two central adults: Jeff Daniels and Maura Tierney. As Del Harris, police chief of the floundering Pennsylvania Rust Belt town of Buell, Daniels is “the ideal actor to deliver a tragic backstory monologue,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. “He’s at his most appealing in scenes with Del’s sometimes girlfriend, a seamstress named Grace played by Tierney with low-key sweetness and an appropriate level of world-weary resignation.”
It’s an interesting stop for Maura Tierney, whose career journey in terms of her major roles has been remarkably linear. She got her start performing in the ensemble of a cult classic comedy, and ever since has been moving steadily toward weightier, and grimmer dramas, with “American Rust” being no exception. Here are some of the other stops along her career path that you might recognize her from.
Maura Tierney broke out on NewsRadio
Maura Tierney got her start in sitcoms, playing Lisa Miller, a high-achieving, high-strung reporter and producer at AM news station WNYX, on the NBC sitcom “NewsRadio.”
Lisa is the subject of lots of office crushes, but she spends much of the series conducting a long and rocky office relationship with the station’s news director, her boss Dave (Dave Foley). Their initial efforts to hide it from their coworkers eventually fail, and the pair spend much of the series in varying states of concordance and conflict even as they negotiate their jobs and (especially) the crazy cast of characters that make up the rest of the station’s personnel, which featured actors such as Stephen Root, Phil Hartman, Andy Dick, and Joe Rogan.
“People have said recently the show was ahead of its time, but I remember it was more unique than anything,” Tierney told Vulture. “There was nothing really like it on TV. We tried to cram in as many jokes as we could into each episode.” That uniqueness factored in when she went looking for her next regular gig after her “NewsRadio” stint ended. “I definitely knew I didn’t want to do another sitcom because I’d had such a special experience on ‘NewsRadio.‘ I’d hoped to do a drama like ‘NYPD Blue.'”
Maura Tierney told it like it was on Liar Liar
But first, in 1997, before her tenure on “NewsRadio” came to an end, Maura Tierney jumped to a starring role on the big screen with a role in the Jim Carrey vehicle “Liar Liar.”
In the film, Tierney played Audrey, the ex-wife of Carrey’s Fletcher Reede, co-parenting their son Max (Justin Cooper) together even as Fletcher is constantly making excuses to put his career as a lawyer first. It’s Max’s birthday wish that gives rise to the film’s premise. He asks that Fletcher be unable to tell a lie for a day. This proves incredibly inconvenient for a trial lawyer, but does help him realize that his true priority is Max, who is preparing to move to Boston with Audrey and her new fiancé (Cary Elwes), in time to make her reconsider the move.
Despite filming with Carrey at the height of his popularity, Tierney told Entertainment Weekly’s Couch Surfing that she didn’t remember too many instances of getting cracked up by Carrey’s antics, but that there was a good reason for that: Their moments together as divorced parents were rarely played for laughs. “Our scenes were kind of dramatic, so he was very focused on being that and not goofing off. So there wasn’t a lot of time to mess around in our stuff.”
Maura Tierney got serious on ER
It wasn’t “NYPD Blue,” but Maura Tierney did end up finding herself a part on a series that was quite the opposite of “NewsRadio” — the medical drama “ER.”
Tierney’s Abby Lockhart joined the series well into its run, first appearing in a guest role in a Season 6 episode and then returning as a regular for Season 7 in 2000. She begins the series as a medical student unable to complete her training due to the financial difficulties of her ex-husband, so she takes a job as an ER nurse until she’s able to save up the money to finish medical school. Like everyone at County General Hospital, her training, her judgment, and her safety are constantly put under stress during her time in the ER. She reaches an understanding with her mother Maggie (Sally Field), who has been diagnosed as being bipolar, and navigates a years-long on-again, off-again romance with Dr. Luka Kovač (Goran Visnjic) that culminates in their having a child and getting married.
Tierney told Women’s Health that for all her time spent playing an ER professional on the series, she didn’t think she’d make a good one in real life. “I’m extremely flappable. That’s something I like about the character. She’s seen it all. I worry about everything, which is silly, because there’s very little you can control anyway.” That said, when asked what medical knowledge she acquired working on “ER,” she did note that she was able to figure out when her real-life husband had appendicitis, and — despite his protests — convinced him to go the hospital, effectively saving his life.
Maura Tierney went back to comedy for Welcome to Mooseport
Having a role on “ER” didn’t keep Maura Tierney from dipping back into comedy occasionally, as she did when she appeared in the 2004 political satire “Welcome to Mooseport.”
The film sees former U.S. President Monroe Cole (Gene Hackman) recruited to run for mayor in the small Maine town he’s retired to. Competing against him is local hardware store owner “Handy” Harrison (“Everybody Loves Raymond” star Ray Romano), who only stays in the race after Cole hits on his girlfriend Sally (Tierney), who has felt neglected by Handy’s focus on his work.
“Welcome to Mooseport” did poorly at the box office and received mostly negative reviews, so these days it’s perhaps best remembered for being the final role of Hackman’s legendary acting career. Speaking to the The A.V. Club about what it was like working with the legendary actor, she joked that it wasn’t her fault that the movie infamously “forced” him to retire, and said, “I found Gene Hackman to be incredibly delightful to act with, one of the most relaxed, engaging actors. I loved working with him so much.” She added. “He was nice to me. He didn’t like the director. But I don’t think he likes directors. I think that’s his schtick.”
Maura Tierney got caught up in The Affair
In 2014, Maura Tierney expanded her television horizons again when she took a lead role in the Showtime drama series “The Affair.”
Tierney played Helen Butler, whose husband Noah Solloway (Dominic West) engages in an affair with diner waitress Alison (Ruth Wilson). The series is told from the perspective of each of its protagonists, with the results often failing to line up. Originally the dueling perspectives belonged to Noah and Alison, but they were expanded in Season 2 to include Helen and Alison’s husband Cole (Josh Jackson).
Tierney’s performance in the show’s second season would also earn her a Golden Globe award for best supporting actress –– series, miniseries, or television film. Still, Tierney said working on the show could be difficult because of how heavy the subject matter could be. “At the end of a season, you can get very drained, because you’re going to have to be in that kind of despair for so long,” Tierney told Vanity Fair. “Pretend despair — but your body doesn’t necessarily know the difference between [the two] when you’re manufacturing it. So that can take its toll … But professionally it was great for me. Also, everybody I met — but especially Dom, Josh, and Ruth — they’re just, like, wonderful people.”