Severance is a workplace drama like you’ve never seen before. The Ben Stiller-produced series follows Mark Scout, played by Adam Scott, who works at the mysterious Lumon Industries and has undergone a severance produced, which surgically divides their memories between their work and personal lives. Jen Tullock stars in the series as Devon, Mark’s sister, who is one of the few characters who is not severed.
Jen spoke EXCLUSIVELY with HollywoodLife about how Severance is a “full-circle moment” for her and creator Dan Erickson. She also revealed that the series will peel back the layers for why Devon is so concerned about Mark’s decision to be severed and her curiosity will eventually reach a “fever pitch.” Read our Q&A below:
This show is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. What was your first impression of the script?
Jen Tullock: My first impression was abject intrigue because I think it’s very rare that something accomplishes such a tonal marriage and does it well, where you have at times outright comedy and at times it’s a deeply felt, nuanced relationship drama. And then at other times, it’s a Hitchcockian thriller. And the way that I think it bobs and weaves between those is so seamless and virtuosic. Dan Erickson, the writer and creator, is a savant I think. I just was so intrigued by also the concept of the inside and outside world because, obviously, that’s at the heart of the story and the heart of the theme of the show. And so, especially for me, I’m playing a character who lives at least at this point in the season, completely on the outside with very little knowledge of the inside. I’m one of the only people in the main cast that that’s the case for, so it was cool for me and Michael Chernus, who plays my husband Rickon, to get to have this sort of satellite experience. All of the other characters, because they live in Lumon, they were shooting on soundstages super far away from us. So we had a really interesting experience because a lot of our stuff was on location out in Westchester in the Hudson Valley. Michael and I and then Adam [Scott], when he was with us — and then down the line maybe a couple of other people I can’t tell you about — would come in and out. We sort of joked that we had gone to space, like zooming into the same party from space. It was great. I actually knew Dan years ago. We both worked for a streaming platform called Super Deluxe, which doesn’t exist anymore. It was a Turner company. I was making a series there that I wrote and started with my friend, Hannah, and Dan worked there on the production side. I remember him saying, “Oh, I have this pilot.” He gave a very brief elevator pitch for it, and then we fell out of contact and didn’t see each other for a couple of years. When I came in to read with Ben [Stiller] and Adam, they were like, “You know Dan?” And I said, “Oh, my God, of course. This is that show.” It was such a cool, full-circle moment.
I haven’t been able to shake this show since I started it. You’re right, Severance marries so many different genres, which puts me on the edge of my seat because I truly don’t know if I’m going to laugh or be gasping in the next scene.
Jen Tullock: I feel the same. I read the earliest versions of the scripts before we started shooting, but then when we paused because of COVID and the scripts kept changing, I actually let myself keep most of the stuff outside of my character a mystery because when I come into a new job, I like to know as little as possible beyond what my character knows. I’m watching the episodes weekly. Dan Erickson asked a little bit before they were released if I wanted to see some and I was like, “No, I want to wait. I want to watch it with everyone else.” There are things that are happening inside of Lumon that are still a surprise to me, so I’m with you every week.
The first episode danced around the reasons behind Mark’s decision to get the severance procedure. We see Devon’s concern about it. Clearly, she’s not on board with it. Will we dive deeper into the motivations that led him to make that decision?
Jen Tullock: Yes. I think when we meet Devon in that first episode, we sort of lay the groundwork for why it is she’s concerned and what the backstory may or may not be for that decision. As the season progresses, you’ll learn more about how she is involved, the backstory, how she has a personal stake, and exactly what it is Mark’s going through beyond just loving her brother. Also, I think it’s a really interesting tandem storyline to go with a bigger mystery of the season of what’s happening in Lumon. You do have this grounded human relationship between these two siblings that I love so much because in the middle of all of the other brilliant goings-on in the show, you have these pockets of some empathy. I really do feel in some ways that Devon is sort of the audience’s eyes when we’re on the outside because she’s saying what we all want to say, which is like, what is going on here? And can you tell me why? I’m excited for you to see through the rest of the season and how she is involved in all of that.
Will we get to see what Mark was like before the procedure? That could give us some insight into more of Mark and Devon’s relationship.
Jen Tullock: I can’t say much, but I will say that you’ll get some blanks filled in about their past as brother and sister, and specifically about Mark’s. More will come to light. I will say you definitely start to learn piece by piece more of what led Mark to this decision.
Both Devon and Mark are grieving somebody, and there’s an anniversary approaching. I think this show has an interesting take on how we process grief and what drives people to make decisions in the wake of loss.
Jen Tullock: I had always said from the beginning that Devon to me represents the emotional sobriety of choosing to experience your pain. She represents the emotional sobriety within the show of having not severed. She and Rickon are the only two people we really get to know that haven’t undergone this procedure. To watch them be in the same emotional orbit as Mark and potentially share some of the same grief as Mark while having to sit in it every time they’re awake, as opposed to every time their consciousness disappears behind the door of Lumon. I think it’s interesting when you have two people like siblings that have such a close bond and an emotional intimacy. Time is a thief in our lives as it is, but when you add the variable of half of Mark’s time being raptured by this place, and not being able to share that time with Devon, not only is she coming from a place where she’s deeply concerned for her brother and his mental health, but all of a sudden, she only has access to half of it. As someone who is a caretaker — and she’s very much a caretaker — Devon is always clocking everyone’s behavior, especially the men in her life. She is constantly taking care of them in her life. I think because of that, there’s definitely an internal struggle that she has when we meet her, and especially more through this season as far as not knowing what’s happening with Mark.
When Mark cuts that chunk of time out where he doesn’t remember what this loss was, it’s almost like that weight goes back on Devon in a sense because she’s carrying it all. That could be adding tension between them. Devon could see it as Mark refusing to accept reality.
Jen Tullock: The metaphor too of Devon being pregnant I loved because the idea of her being a person that’s carrying a child, while also carrying the emotional weight of her brother’s grief and the emotional weight of her husband inhabiting a lot of space in his career, it was such a tangible extension of how she moves through the world. I also thought it was such a brilliant choice to have her physically carrying the weight of another person while we meet her in the context that we do because it definitely speaks to who she is.
I feel like we haven’t even touched the surface yet when it comes to answers about Lumon. Will Devon on the outside continue to question the motives and what is going on? Or does she want to keep herself at arm’s length?
Jen Tullock: She definitely enters a process of deeper and more intense curiosity. I think, as with anything involving concern with a family member, it reaches a fever pitch at a certain point.