Jackson White’s favorite episode of his new Hulu series “ Tell Me Lies ” was also the hardest for him to film. His real-life mom, actor Katey Sagal, played his mother on this week’s fifth episode.
We meet Sagal's character, Norah, when White's Stephen returns home from college for Christmas break. He's the middle child of three kids who were raised by their single mom. Throughout the episode we see Norah's manipulation tactics and distortion of reality. She uses her own children as scapegoats and deflects any focus put onto her own behavior.
It immediately clicks why the Stephen character is the way he is, calculating, often dishonest and usually maintaining an upper-hand with those around him.
Meaghan Oppenheim, the showrunner, said her mother was “obsessed” with the Sagal-starring sitcom “Married... with Children” and when it came time to cast the Stephen character's mother, she had the idea to ask Sagal to play the part. First, she wanted White's blessing.
“I felt I had to ask Jackson before anyone else. So I texted him. I said, ‘How would you feel if your mom played Norah?’ And he didn’t respond for a while and then he was like, ‘I love it. Let’s talk to her.’”
Sagal says all it took was a chat with Oppenheim and her response was an “immediate yes."
White describes the experience as "insane" but also says she was “perfect casting.”
“I'm friends with my mother, and we had to be extremely passive aggressive and tense, but it was so fun and exciting to build that relationship and talk to each other how we’ve never really talked to each other," he said.
Sagal agreed: “It was a challenge to leave our very close relationship at the door, and take on the extremely toxic dynamic between Stephen and his mom. Jackson shows up fully on set, ready to play, present and collaborative,” she added. “It was beautiful.”
White's co-star, Grace Van Patten, who portrays Lucy, Stephen's love interest on the series, who is often making excuses for him and feeling disappointed, also says it was her “favorite episode.”
"It's such a good middle mark because you can't hate Stephen really any more than you do before episode four, so then five comes in and it slaps some empathy on, you reboot your feelings and possibly understand him a little bit more.”
Sagal and White are not the first parent and child actors to share scenes together. Other examples include Ryan and Tatum O'Neal in the 1973 film “Paper Moon,” Will and Jaden Smith in “The Pursuit of Happyness” in 2006 and Donald and Kiefer Sutherland in the 2016 movie “Forsaken.”