“The Big C” has its second season finale Monday (9/26) — with a third season already guaranteed for the acclaimed, risk-taking dramedy that stars Laura Linney as cancer patient Cathy. They’re winding on a note of tragedy and of hope, with the latest episode (SPOILER — SKIP TO NEXT GRAPH IF YOU’VE YET TO SEE THE SEPT. 19 EPISODE) having included the death of Cathy’s beloved Lee (Hugh Dancy) and the return of her bipolar brother Shawn (John Benjamin Hickey).
“I can’t say what’s coming at the end. There are shockers,” Hickey tells us. “And it’s too early to be meditating on what is in store for Cathy and her merry band of dysfunctional family members in Season 3.” He does admit, however, that considering its weighty storylines, “There’s a real challenge ahead in the next year or two in keeping the funny.”
Hickey’s certainly had his share of laugh-inducing moments. “It’s been such a blast to play a character as original and as unexpected as Shawn,” he says. “I’ve heard from a lot of bipolar people and their families, and the thing I get so much is that they love that he’s a funny character. His illness is very real and very, very serious and causes a lot of problems and concerns. But this is a show that dares to have a sense of humor about disease and tries to find the funny in the human condition.”
Hickey is also amused by the fact that “though it’s born out of his illness and instability, lot of what Shawn espouses — about veganism and environmental problems, for instance — isn’t so crazy after all. He makes a lot of sense. And he is weirdly, deeply moral. In many ways, he’s a very conventional guy, but he’s got this wildly unconventional way he lives his life. I love that contradictory aspect of him.
“As the series progresses, if we get to do a couple more years, I hope Shawn finds the right kind of medication that allows him to function and be the kind of brother he wants to be to his sister — who is his lifeline, his tether to the world.”
Hickey still sounds surprised about having even made it through the season’s production — since he was performing eight shows a week on Broadway in The Normal Heart while shooting the Showtime series.
“It was a crazy confluence of events that made it the exact same time. I’d be shooting all day, get in that van or train and get back, jump in the shower and then make it on stage by eight o’clock every night,” he recalls. “Laura, who has known me forever, said, ‘You have no idea how your exhaustion is feeding you.’ There’s no time to think. I believe there’s something to that — when you have less time to consider your options, you can only perform.”
Obviously, Hickey did something right, since he wound up winning a Tony for his work in the play this past June. He should have been nominated for an Emmy as well. Maybe next year. In fact, the series warrants more Emmy love than it got — with no writing nods and nominee Linney going home empty-handed.
But Emmy night was certainly not a complete loss for Hickey, who was also on hand to cheer on his life partner, Jeffrey Richman. Richman and Steve Levitan won writing Emmys for their “Caught in the Act” script for “Modern Family.”
“Emmys are so much bigger than Tonys. I may have to put my Tony on a platform,” says the actor with a laugh.