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Exclusive: Stephen Mangan Discusses How The Split Became A TV Hit

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Forget Ross and Rachel. Devi and Paxton from Never Have I Ever? Those on-screen couples have nothing on Hannah and Nathan from The Split. Brought to life with incredible vigor and nuance by Nicola Walker (Last Tango In Halifax, Unforgotten) and Stephen Mangan (Episodes), beleaguered Hannah and Nathan have become the most intriguing, have-to-watch couple on the BBC. The show, which follows a family of all-female lawyers and unfolds in the fast-paced world of London’s high-end divorce circuit, is a multi-layered if not witty examination of modern marriage and the legacy of divorce. It’s one of the most-watched dramas overseas and now, of course, American audiences are steadfastly catching on—and tuning in.

What’s the allure? Relationships. Nothing is as rosy and murky as that, eh?

Season Three of the acclaimed drama recently dropped and there’s plenty at stake creatively. For starters, this is the final season. After spending several years watching Hannah and Nathan—and their families—ponder the states of their lives and the importance of their relationships, the intensity dial is suddenly turned up. “[Creator] Abi Morgan always had three seasons in mind,” says Stephen Mangan

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, who infuses Nathan the Barrister with realistic devotion. “It’s sort of rare for a writer to know specifically how long a story should go. This business is often driven by economics. So, if something is a hit, you’re encouraged to roll it out for as long as you can. But Abi has always had three seasons in mind. It’s going to finish after this season, even despite being one of the most popular dramas in the UK.”

We find Hannah and Nathan at a new low point in their relationship this season. Sure, they’ve “split,” but prepping for divorce suddenly occupies the picture. From the get-go we find Nathan, unbeknownst to Hannah, having met somebody, and it’s a blow that Hannah must deal with right at the top of the season. “I don’t want to give any spoilers away, but it’s such a beautifully written and compelling piece of drama,” Mangan muses, noting that he believes everybody can relate to the series, whether they’re married or parents or partners or delving into intimate relationships. “It’s such a focus of all our lives, whether we desire a relationship or don’t have one or we have one and it’s going well, or we are in the middle of our own sticky mess of separation,” he explains. “It’s real, and it’s a real treat for me to be part of this series.”

With Morgan at the helm of the drama, the creator has given audiences a bevy of flawed characters to savor. The Defoes are a powerful family of all-women London divorce lawyers, and when we first tuned in, Hannah quit the family firm, joined a rival firm, and began working alongside an old flame. High-stakes divorce settlements are part of the game, but so, too, becomes Hannah’s sudden diverted interests. Emotional volleyball between mothers and daughters and sisters brought out the drama, too, of course, but from the initial introduction to Hannah and Nathan, audiences were given a complex couple to route for. When asked what audiences are actually “relating” to and connecting with, Mangan says it’s the “human” story.

“Nice people living nice lives doesn’t make good drama,” he notes with a chuckle. “There’s a range of people struggling to get through that crap life throws at them. I think everyone can relate to that in one way or another. Because it’s so beautifully written by a woman writer, which has to be said—and I’m not speaking out of turn here, because Abi has written a book about her challenges—I think she did what a great writer does. Which is take those incredibly tough life situations and turn them into art. She’s filled the scripts with compassion, love, depth, understanding, and rage. And it’s very powerful.”

Morgan is a remarkable storyteller. Her recent memoir “This Is Not A Pity Memoir,” sailed up the charts. In it, she reveals the grueling challenges she faced when her partner of 20 years suddenly thought she was a stranger. That’s impactful enough. Add major health scares into the mix, and it becomes quite a bit to manage.

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