Behind the Scenes of "The Big C"


Series creator Darlene Hunt talks about her Showtime hit as Season 2 begins

By Susan Toepfer
Darlene Hunt image

More: Who else would you like to see on the show?

DH: We were just brainstorming that. For me, Lily Tomlin—I worship the ground she walks on.

More: Some of your writers are cancer survivors, or have close family members who are. Was that done deliberately?

DH: They were not hired specifically for that reason. It’s just because it’s hard to get a group together and not have someone affected. So they just bring moments to share. We got a unique perspective on what a moment of diagnosis felt like from one writer. And a guy who wanted to take care of his wife, the ways he overdid that. Their contributions are so personal and unique.

More: What did you watch as a kid? Were you influenced by any particular shows?

DH: M*A*S*H. First run, reruns.

More: M*A*S*H would definitely be a precursor to The Big C, considering the way it moved between humor and pathos or tragedy. And as funny as your show is, it ended last season on an extraordinarily sad note, when Cathy’s teenage son finds the storage locker of future birthday, Christmas, graduation presents she has wrapped  for him. As a mother of a son, I found it very realistic—the boy’s refusal to deal with his mother’s illness, then just collapsing all at once.

DH: That goes back to my inspiration for the show, the point of view from being a mother. I hope the finale of Season 2 is as funny and as moving.

More: What can we expect this season? How will the show evolve?

DH: There will be more to the relationship between Paul and Cathy—I’m so proud of that. We get to see them working together as a couple, and how much he cares about her, wants to take care of her.

More: I love what he calls being the caretaker—“I’m your cancierge.”

DH: We used that joke until we couldn’t do it anymore, too much!

More: How about Cynthia Nixon’s character, who ends up having the homeless brother Sean’s child. Will she be back? And will she be as awful?

D.H: Yes. Rebecca—we had her back for Season 2. We always saw her as a narcissist, but a friend of mine with cancer told me about her friend who made the diagnosis all about herself, and it made me think we didn’t go far enough with Rebecca.

More: Yes! That happens a lot—people glomming onto your illness to make it about them.

DH: She plays an important and true role.

More: I was surprised that you killed off the mean neighbor, Marlene, last season.

DH: It was heart-breaking for us, because we love her. We’re bringing her back in Season 2. She’ll be around. But we’re tackling the taboo of death. The more death the better. I have a personal goal of getting over my own fear of death. I’m 40. My best friend just had a double mastectomy, another friend was just diagnosed with cancer.

More: What reaction do you get from viewers battling cancer?

DH: So far, it’s mostly positive. I’ve read a couple of reviews from people who said they had cancer and felt it wasn’t enough about cancer. They wanted more. I definitely appreciate that, but that’s not what our show is. I feel like we’ve just kind of opened the door on this subject matter. If someone else wants to create a cancer show, great. There's room for more.

More: Is this the first year The Big C will be eligible for an Emmy?

DH: Yes. I mailed off my ballot today!

More: Did you vote for yourself?

DH: I voted for myself in every possible category.

More: Well, I hope you win a batch of Emmys—there are a lot of possible nominations. But you’re also an actress. You were in I Heart Huckabees—with your idol, Lily Tomlin—and Hung and Parks and Recreation on TV. Do you plan to continue acting as well as writing?

First Published June 27, 2011

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Fred Nathan06.29.2011

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