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HBO’s Mare of Easttown Brings Villanova Grad Brad Ingelsby Full Circle

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Photos courtesy of HBO

Kate Winslet worked hard on her Delaware County accent to play a local detective in this HBO limited series by Ingelsby, premiering April 18.

Despite Brad Ingelsby’s insistence that he isn’t a great storyteller, there really is a plot to Mare of Easttown. In the new seven-episode HBO limited series, Kate Winslet stars as Mare Sheehan, a local hero who won a state championship basketball game in high school way back when and is now a detective in her small town—just like her father was. As she struggles to crack a tough missing-person case and the locals get restless, she must deal with a personal life that’s decaying all around her. “It’s really a story about a character,” says Ingelsby during a recent Zoom chat about the series, which premieres on April 18.

Brad Ingelsby

Though he may downplay his ability to tell a tale, Inglesby is quite adept at examining a character’s motivation and ability to handle conflict. He did a great job of it with Ben Affleck’s troubled basketball coach in last year’s The Way Back. He folded it into a three-person package with 2019’s Our Friend. Now, he’s exploring the family and community dynamic in Mare. “At the core of the story is a woman having to deal with grief,” says the 41-year-old Berwyn native. “I hope it’s an honest character study. I hope that’s what you’d say about anything I’ve written.”

For the longest time, Ingelsby and his four siblings were known as “Tom Ingelsby’s sons and daughters.” The elder Ingelsby was a starting guard for Villanova University’s basketball teams in the early 1970s and part of the 1970–71 outfit that reached the NCAA championship game. He played three years of pro ball—one for the NBA’s Hawks and two in the now-defunct ABA.

When any of his children would take the court, there was some pressure to live up to Dad’s accomplishments. Brad’s older brother by 16 months, Martin was able to handle the hoops legacy stuff. He was a guard at Carroll and then started four years at Notre Dame University. These days, he’s the head coach at the University of Delaware. There’s a simple reason why there wasn’t any pressure on his younger brother. “[Brad] wasn’t any good,” Martin says.

But while Tom is proud of all five of his children—daughters Christine and Colleen and son Tom round out the quintet, with Brad second in the hierarchy—he admits these days that his identity has been shaped somewhat by his second child. “Now, I’m ‘Brad’s father,’” he says with a laugh.

Not that Brad would ever dare return to the Ingelsby family orbit with any kind of Hollywood attitude. He might not survive. So he remains the same, relatively unassuming person he’s always been—more comfortable in flip-flops, jeans, a T-shirt and a Phillies hat than in anything that might be appropriate for a studio pitch meeting. “That Hollywood stuff is uncomfortable for him,” says Martin.

“He’s a down-home guy.”

Inglesby has always been hugely interested in movies. Growing up, he shared a room with Martin, and though there were posters of NBA and NFL players on the wall, there “was always a section for Brad’s movie posters.”

Graduating from Archbishop Carroll, Inglesby had his eye on a career in business until he took a screenwriting class at Villanova. After graduation, he studied at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, debuting with a script for the short film The Honeyfields in 2006. He’s since been responsible for a string of scripts that have attracted some pretty impressive talent: 2013’s Out of the Furnace, featuring Christian Bale and Woody Harrelson; 2015’s Run All Night with Liam Neeson and Ed Harris; Affleck in The Way Back; and Jason Segal, Dakota Johnson and Casey Affleck in Our Friend.

Inglesby wrote and produced Mare for HBO. It’s the first time he’s had so much sustained input on something he created. “It was all second nature to him,” says Mark Roybal, Mare’s executive producer, who’s worked with Ingelsby for 10 years. “Brad is a real gentle soul, and he knows human nature. He connects with people, and people connect with him. For him to be the show runner, people [on the set] were there for him and wanted to rally around him and his vision. He was like a hometown hero coming back to bring a show to life.”

Ingelsby finished the script in 2018. Roybal says Winslet read it and joined Mare’s cast about 48 hours later. “Brad is a brilliant writer,” he says. “We knew we had something good.”

Filming started in 2019. Due to the pandemic, the process lasted longer than planned. The series was shot in Coatesville, Downingtown, Aston and Drexel Hill— and not Easttown Township. “The people of Easttown are going to be mad at me,” Ingelsby says with a laugh.

For the role of Mare Sheehan, Winslet adopted a Delaware County accent, which she has acknowledged was “up there with the hardest accents I’ve ever done” (although she didn’t have any trouble developing a habit for Wawa coffee). Born in England, Winslet does nail the idiosyncrasies, right down to “wudder.”

Her character is trying to find a young woman who disappeared a year before, and she feels the community’s dissatisfaction with her failure. That exacerbates her own difficulties (divorce, strained family relationships) and makes that big basketball shot she made seem like a century ago. “She does feel an obligation to the town,” Roybal says. “But at what point does she feel an obligation to herself, and will that obligation to the town get in the way of her healing? To solve the case, she has to make sure she’s OK.”

Kate Winslet as Mare Sheehan.

These days, Ingelsby is more than OK. “I’d imagine [what’s next] would be something in this vein—another character story,” he says. “If I can, that’s what I’m going to do for the rest of my career.” Ingelsby is leaving the West Coast later this year to reconnect with his roots. He and wife Lindsey and their three children—Lily, Luke and Henry—are having a house built and will return to Berwyn this December. “I love coming home,” he says. “I think it’s just a sense of belonging there. Every time I land, I say, ‘This is where I belong.’”

Visit hbo.com/mare-of-easttown.

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