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May 20, 2021

Meet Brad of Berwyn – creator of HBO’s hit show 'Mare of Easttown'

Brad Ingelsby talks about family and growing up in the Philly suburbs and how those experiences are woven into his crime drama series

TV Mare of Easttown
Brad Ingelsby Mare of Easttown Courtesy/Brad Ingelsby

Brad Ingelsby, creator of HBO's 'Mare of Easttown' says his experiences growing up in Berwyn, Chester County, and having family in Delaware County inspired the plot and characters of the hit series. He also praises Kate Winslet for her 'careful construction' of lead character Mare Sheehan.

Baby Blue is long gone, probably just a heap of scraps by now. The light-blue Oldsmobile Cutlass with the rusted holes through the wheel wells was once Brad Ingelsby's mode to stardom.

Now that stardom has arrived for the Archbishop Carroll and Villanova graduate, his mode of travel still hasn't changed much – he gets around in a 2008 light blue Acura MDX with the stuffing coming out of its torn-up, tan interior and a Blue Book value of about $5,000.

That's just who "Brad of Berwyn" is, replete with flip-flops, T-shirts and shorts. His Notre Dame attire has been traded in for University of Delaware blue, where his older brother, Martin, coaches the Blue Hens' basketball team. The omnipresent, deeply creased, green-marble copybook has been replaced by piles of various-colored notebooks that sit on his desk.

It's where the creation of "Mare of Easttown," the critically acclaimed HBO miniseries, emanated.

Ingelsby, now 41, is the writer and executive producer of the riveting, seven-part, who-done-it limited series based in the Philadelphia area. The drama has garnered great attention nationally, and internationally. It's even been spoofed on "Saturday Night Live" for the characters very Delco accents (We know how to say "wudder!").

If you're from here, especially Delaware County and Chester County, the series strikes a particular, visceral cord with its references to Wawa hoagies, Coco's pizza, and Ingelsby's deeply textured, gruff, embittered characters who inevitably remind you of at least five people that you know.

Oscar-winning actress Kate Winslet is amazing as Easttown lead detective Mare Sheehan, a former high school basketball star trying to solve crimes that have rocked her hometown, while trying to escape from her past. Winslet refused to wear makeup for the part, bringing her character alive through the lines of languor in her character's face.

This all came from Ingelsby's imagination and compulsion to write about the rhythms of life where he grew up in Berwyn, Chester County.

"I wanted to write about home, and we had done a couple of things that we were close to shooting at home," said Ingelsby, who speaks with a boyish exuberance and whose scripts have attracted A-list Hollywood talent, starting with the first screenplay he wrote, "The Low Dweller," which eventually became "Out of the Furnace," starring Christian Bale in 2013. "A lot of the details in "Mare" are based on my life, not that I was ever involved in a murder investigation with cops," he added with a laugh.

"I do think the picture of domestic life that's depicted in the show is pretty similar to how I grew up, going to my aunt's house, going to my grandmother's house in Drexel Hill and Springfield. My wife grew up in Aston, and I wanted to capture that in an honest way. These are the way they live and talk, and what the interior of their homes look like."

Brad Ingelsby Mare of Easttown setCourtesy/HBO

Brad Ingelsby, creator of HBO's 'Mare of Easttown,' is shown above on the set. The show was filmed on-location locally in Coatesville, Downingtown, Aston, Drexel Hill and Philadelphia, among other places.

Ingelsby has written "Run All Night," which starred Liam Neeson and Ed Harris, "The Way Back," about a troubled basketball coach, starring Ben Affleck, and "Our Friend," starring Jason Segal, Dakota Johnson and Oscar-winner Casey Affleck.

None of this would have been seen on any screen if Ingelsby did not get up and make a life-changing decision in June 2003, leaving a job as a computer teacher at St. Patrick School in Malvern to attend graduate school at the prestigious American Film Institute in Los Angeles.

He made a cross-country trek with his cousin Bryan Paterson in that beat-up, baby blue Oldsmobile Cutlass, the thing chugging along, heaving and lurching the entire journey.  The car broke down three times, which meant stays in fleabag motels.

Unfortunately, Baby Blue never made it to Los Angeles.

But Ingelsby did.

He bartended at night, went to AFI during the day, and in the sparse time he had, wrote.

He always had a passion for movies that went beyond what the audience saw. He wanted to know how they were created, what went into it, and it merged well with another passion – writing.

Ingelsby is the second oldest of Tom and Rose Ingelsby's five children. Brad grew up in the shadow of his father, a local basketball legend and 1969 Cardinal O'Hara grad, who was Villanova's starting guard for the 1970-71 team that lost to John Wooden's UCLA in the championship game.

I do think the picture of domestic life that's depicted in the ('Mare') is pretty similar to how I grew up ... I wanted to capture that in an honest way. These are the way they live and talk, and what the interior of their homes look like." – Brad Ingelsby

He then had the luxury of succeeding his older brother, Martin, a star player in high school at Carroll, who went on to play for Notre Dame, where he became an assistant coach before eventually becoming Delaware's head coach.

Brad wore the tag "Tom Ingelsby's son," or "Martin's younger brother."

Brad's long shed the shadow.

Now, Tom and Martin admit, they've become "Brad Ingelsby's father," and "Brad Ingelsby's brother."

"I can't be prouder of him," said Martin, who Brad always paid homage to by wearing Notre Dame gear when Martin played and coached there, before switching to Delaware caps, which he wore during the "Mare" shooting. "We always supported each other growing up and we still do. The great thing about Brad is that he's still the same laid-back little brother I grew up with. His success hasn't changed him at all."

Tom said at a recent doctor's visit, the technician giving him a medical test brought up how everyone was watching this new show, "Mare of Easttown." She asked Tom if he was familiar with it. He laughed and replied, "Yes, my son wrote it." The technician was taken aback, then shared with her co-workers that the patient she just saw "is the father of the guy who wrote 'Mare of Easttown.'"

"It's been so overwhelming," said Tom, who watched Episode 5 on a large screen in the parking lot of the Rose Bowl with Brad and his wife, Lindsay, on Sunday. "It was very thrilling. We have Brad's movie posters all over the house. I'm waiting for my "Mare of Easttown" poster."

Tom had wanted Brad to go into business. Brad wanted something different.

"I give credit to Brad for following his passion," Tom said. "What I like is how so low-keyed he is about everything. He's been incredibly successful and you wouldn't know it. Brad left everything, and he has a big family back home. He's certainly a family guy, and he's also a very courageous guy. His competitiveness comes from his sports background."

kate Winslet evan peters Mare of EasttownCourtesy/HBO

Kate Winslet stars at Detective Mare Sheehan in HBO's 'Mare of Easttown,' which was created by Berwyn-native Brad Ingelsby. Winslet agreed to do the series after reading the first two episode Ingelsby had written. She is shown above with Evan Peters, center, who plays Detective Colin Zabel and Justin Hurt-Dunkley, who plays Officer Ronald Trammel.

Ingelsby had a character in his head for a long time. A friend of his cousin is a police officer in Marple Newtown. He talked to the officer about life in law enforcement, and he told Ingelsby about a small station where he worked when he first started out. The station was a converted train station with one detective, and Ingelsby began piecing together a story of a past basketball hero, who her local town turns against because of an unsolved crime.

He filled his notebooks with the moments he envisioned.

"I began gathering the details of one detective trying to solve a crime where essentially everyone knows everyone, and I pieced that together with my history with basketball, with my dad and my brother," recalled Ingelsby, the father of three, two boys and girl ranging in ages from 3 to 9. "She was once a hero in town, and how was she going to reclaim some level of glory, or does she want to reclaim that glory, or is she over the glory?

"Of all of the scripts that I have ever written, this started as a collection of moments, and you start writing down those moments in my little notebook that I carry around all of the time. Eventually, you take a step back and look at all of the moments and say, 'What's the connective tissue here?'

"... And I really wanted to tell a story about home, and I wanted to share with an audience the rhythms of life in a very specific part of this country. Then you have this character you really like and that was the second narrative piece. You start to build out all of these moments, and eventually the aggregate of those moments is quite a lot.

(Kate Winslet) read the first two scripts and she signed on ... Kate created Mare. She imagined the hair, and every detail of her character. She carefully constructed it." – Brad Ingelsby

"That's how it comes to me. It begins to solidify and finds a message and theme."

Filming for "Mare" began in 2019, and scenes were shot in Coatesville, Downingtown, Aston and Drexel Hill, among other recognizable locations. Then due to the pandemic, scenes had to be altered, because restrictions were placed on how many actors could congregate on set. COVID-19 shut down shooting in March 2020 for six months.

Some scenes had to be reimagined. For example, in Episode 4, the audience sees Mare's daughter, Siobhan, played by Angourie Rice, meet her new girlfriend at a college radio studio. As Ingelsby originally wrote it, they were to meet at a sorority house at a huge party.

It actually manifests Ingelsby's versatility, being able to change a scene on the go.

"It was a massive hurdle, but the key was what was the emotion of the scene," Ingelsby said. "If we couldn't have the scene at a sorority house, how do we create the intention of the scene and how do we achieve that on a smaller scale. It wasn't enjoyable, because I like having scenes with some scope, and I think it adds to the experience.

"At the end of the day, it was about keeping the crew safe, which was the highest priority. You have to think on your feet. Screenwriting is a collaboration. If you're someone that only wants your words to appear as they're written, then you should write a book or a play. If you write a screenplay, there are the actors, the directors, the set designer, so many people involved that you have to help that collaboration."

Getting Winslet was huge for Ingelsby.

"Kate brings Mare to life in so many ways," he said. "I wrote the first two episodes. My agent brought up Kate, and I didn't even think that she would read it. What happened was being at the right place at the right time.

"With Kate, she looked at Mare as something totally different from anything she's ever done. She wanted a challenge. I think she even told me she never held a gun in any movie or part she ever played, which I was shocked by, because Kate has had such an amazing career.

"She read the first two scripts and she signed on. I have to give Kate a ton of credit, because I only had written the first two scripts. It's a testament to Kate's commitment and conviction. Kate created Mare. She imagined the hair, and every detail of her character. She carefully constructed it.

"The beauty of Mare is she's incredibly resilient. Mare says things you don't care for, does things we don't agree with, she's funny, she's a pain in the ass, and she's someone who you eventually root for – and Kate made that all come to life. It's a story about grief. Here's this character that refuses to confront this thing that's haunting her. Her way of avoiding that is to throw herself into these cases.

"I have to say working with Kate has been my greatest experience on a personal level."

Mare's journey is still unfolding. It's a question of how she gets there over the series' final two episodes.

Ingelsby's own journey will bring him back home. He's made serious inroads in Hollywood. "Mare of Easttown" is deep-blue, Emmy Award-winning stuff.

Ben Affleck knows Brad of Berwyn. Kate Winslet knows him; Casey Affleck knows him.

Though Brad says his life hasn't changed that much. His joy comes in being able to write the screenplays he wants. It's just him staring down a computer screen each morning and referencing his pile of copybooks.

In January, Brad, his wife and three children, will be moving back to Berwyn into the home he's having built. He's light years from being a "Hollywood guy." In fact, Brad of Berwyn is about as opposite a "Hollywood guy" as could be. And now he no longer has to live in the vicinity of Hollywood to have the A-list be interested in his work.

They gravitate to him.

"I'm grateful at the end of the line of some of these projects, seeing Ben Affleck or Kate Winslet, and grateful to work with these incredibly talented people," Brad says. "I love the writing, crafting the story and coming up with the dialogue. That's the part that I love the most."

Brad still wears flip-flops. He still wears T-shirts. He still loves the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers and Flyers – and Delaware and Notre Dame. He still has his same cell number. He promised his wife he's going to buy a new car once he gets back to Berwyn.