The role of Robin Perry in ‘Council of Dads’ means a lot to Sarah Wayne Callies. The actress spoke with HL about Robin’s journey and telling stories about ‘people who show up for each other like it’s an Olympic sport.’

From a mother trying to survive the zombie apocalypse to a prison physician, Sarah Wayne Callies has played a variety of characters in a number of different worlds over the years. However, her new role as Dr. Robin Perry in NBC’s Council of Dads is uniquely special to her. “In some ways, this role took more courage than anything I’ve done before because there’s nothing to hide behind,” Sarah told HollywoodLife. “There’s no concept. There’s no zombie apocalypse. There’s no prison. There’s no alien invasion. You just have yourself and the work, and you do it as honestly as you can. I was actively looking for something to put hope into the world. I think we know who we are by the stories that we tell as a culture. I’ve been a part of some really bleak and violent stories, and there’s a place for that. That’s important, too. I feel like our culture got weak and violent — politically and environmentally and economically — and I wanted to tell stories about people who show up for each other like it’s an Olympic sport. I wanted to tell a story where at the end of it, you may have cried, you may have laughed, but hopefully, you feel like, okay, we can do this. We can get through this and we can get through it together. That mattered a lot to me to put that out in the world.”

The Council of Dads premiere featured the introduction of the council in the wake of Scott’s death as Robin struggled with 5 young kids and coping with her grief. Sarah discussed how Robin’s feelings towards the council will evolve over the course of the season. “I think it’s up and down,” Sarah said. “This is a lot of what plays out in the second episode. Robin is like a lot of working moms. She’s bought the line of bullsh*t that says if you ask for help, you’re a failure. I think initially Robin’s very resistant to the council and to their help, and even maybe to the idea that there are parts of her husband that they know differently than she does. The reality of all of our lives is that none of us get through this alone. It’s finding the balance of the council. That’s very much the story the whole season. How do you make this work? How do you go from one dad, who’s in the house all the time, to three dads who kind of come in and out? That’s hard. I think stepping on each other’s toes is tricky, too. That’s a tricky balance, especially for men who didn’t choose each other. These guys didn’t know each other until Scott put them on the council together.”

Anthony, Oliver, and Larry will each bring something unique to the council of dads. “The cool thing is the dads all know him from different points in his life,” Sarah continued. “Anthony and Scott came up together when they were in college when they were both drinking still before Scott got sober. Oliver knows Scott because he was his oncologist but also my best friend. He knew Scott in the last stages of life. Larry knows him because Scott was Larry’s sponsor. I think they’re each able to represent different parts of him. The kids have different needs. Theo is 16. What a 16-year-old needs from his father is very different from JJ who is 8. Theo needs someone to teach him how to be a man. JJ needs someone to teach him how to ride a bike.”

The show isn’t just going to focus on the sadness aspect of grief. Council of Dads will explore grief in its many facets. For Sarah, she experienced grief in her personal life right around the time she took on the role of Robin. “Grief is an interesting beast. Actually, within a year of filming the pilot, I lost three of the most important men in my life,” Sarah revealed. “Scott Wilson, one of my closest friends, passed away and I was living with him and his wife in the final weeks of his life. I also lost my father-in-law who’d really been the father figure in my life for the last 20 years, and then an uncle. What I find is that grief is nothing like you think it’s going to be. There are the tears, of course, and there are moments where you just feel like you can’t get out of bed. There’s numbness. There’s also sometimes an appreciation for the beauty of the moment that you’re in. When there’s kind of a crack, the light shines through and you go… Oh my god, that sunset. That sunset is everything right now. You stop and you sit with it.”

She continued: “I think trying to navigate one’s own grief changes when you’re aware that your children are watching. So there’s something about acknowledging it and saying that I’m hurting today. Are you hurting today? That doesn’t have to be all we are. There are moments of laughter, there are moments of joy.” Sarah stressed that the show is not about exploiting the pain that grief causes. “I think very much the show is about moving forward and not living in the grief,” Sarah told HollywoodLife. “The show is about healing, not pain, and how a family heals. Hearts heal and hearts are strong.”

The show will celebrate a number of holidays in the first season. “It’s an interesting dilemma for Robin because, on the one hand, this is an opportunity to do the things we always did with dad and keep his memory alive that way,” Sarah explained. “On the other hand, it’s pressure to do it as well as dad did and it’s confusing to do it without him. In that first year after somebody passes, it’s the first Christmas, it’s the first New Year’s without him. They’re trying to find a way of honoring who he was without getting lost in the past. I think that’s a real challenge.”

In the premiere, Robin’s mom refused to accept that JJ is transgender. Robin’s relationship with her mom will continue to be explored on the show. Sarah admitted that this is the first time she’s played a character that had a mom present on the show. “I’ve never had a television mom before,” Sarah said. “In over 200 episodes of TV, no one’s ever written me a mom. I think that speaks a little bit to what it means to have a writers’ room that’s got as many women in it as men, and a showrunning team that is both a man and a woman. I think every woman knows that one of the central relationships in your life for good or ill is the relationship with your mother. You can’t really tell the story of a woman without getting into the story of her mother at some level. I love that we hit that right off the jump and we hit it with something that lands in a generational space. It goes to the heart of Robin’s feelings about how her mom is judging her children. We do get more Becky. Robin’s mom is a really interesting character. I think telling her story is telling the story of people evolving an understanding of gender issues that maybe didn’t even exist in their awareness when they were growing up.”

On the way to film Council of Dads, Sarah drove across the country from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Savannah, Georgia. Along the way, Sarah stumbled across some beautiful places: “My first night I left British Columbia and I was making for Bozeman, Montana, because I’ve got some really good friends there from college. I just didn’t quite make it. It’s like a 17-hour drive and I made it 14 hours or something. I racked out for the night in an Airbnb and it turned out that the woman who owned it was from Canada, so we had this cool conversation about the people who live in Canada. On my way out of town, I stumbled upon this place called the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas. It’s this huge Buddhist shrine/monastery in Arlee, Montana. It’s nestled in this teeny little town and surrounded by these gorgeous mountains. I ended up meeting a monk there and we had this long conversation. He’s a refugee and I’ve done a lot of refugee work. It’s just this incredible place. There were these huge tents made out of prayer flags up on a hill and these massive statues surrounded by these little ones. Every little statue was inscribed with the words: ‘May all beings everywhere be free from suffering.’ It was such a simple but massive message that I find myself even now coming back to it.”

Council of Dads will air a brand-new episode on April 30 at 10 p.m. on NBC. In the weeks following, the show will air at its regularly scheduled time of 8 p.m. on Thursdays.

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