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William Jackson Harper Loves His ‘Before Sunrise’ Moment in ‘Love Life’ Season 2

The Season 2 star shares how a scene of him walking around NYC with Jessica Williams "departs from our idea of romantic comedies."

Jessica Williams, William Jackson Harper

Jessica Williams and William Jackson Harper in “Love Life”

Sarah Shatz/HBO Max

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Welcome to My Favorite Moment! In this series, IndieWire speaks to actors behind a few of our favorite television performances about their personal-best onscreen moment and how it came together.

The gift (and some would argue, curse) of a romantic comedy is it tends to follow familiar beats: the meet-cute, the break-up, the reconciliation, and a glimpse of the couple’s happily ever after. HBO Max anthology series “Love Life,” which centers on a protagonist from first love to lasting love over 10 episodes, delivers on the tropes but also addresses the in-between moments that often go overlooked.

Season 2 star William Jackson Harper is Marcus, a book editor in New York City whose life turns upside down after finding an instant connection with auction house employee Mia (Jessica Williams). Over Zoom, he told IndieWire that the “Becca Evans Part II” episode contains his favorite moment in the series: When he discovers that the work peer he’s casually dating (Leslie Bibb) is accidentally pregnant, he’s compelled to tell Mia, his longtime crush. What happens next surprises them both.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity, and rearranged to enhance the flow of conversation.

IndieWire: Do you have a moment from “Love Life” Season 2 that you’re really proud of?

William Jackson Harper: When Marcus and Mia reconnect over Becca [being pregnant], and they just take that long walk through Central Park and hang out for that day. That’s a pretty special episode in general, but it was great to just exist with Jess, you know? I think she’s fantastic and interesting. But it’s also one of those things that is so rare, to see something on TV where we’re not trying to get somewhere. It’s not like we’re walking and we’re going to get interrupted by the next plot point. It’s just two people existing.

William Jackson Harper, Leslie Bibb

William Jackson Harper and Leslie Bibb in “Love Life”

Sarah Shatz/HBO Max

What were the discussions going into that scene? What sticks out to me is how Mia reacts to the news in a more empathetic way than anticipated. I was expecting her to roast Marcus.

It’s a moment where they really drop in and meet where they’re both [at]. She just shows so much compassion to him at that moment. I’ve had long conversations with people that are just walking and talking for hours. Those always stick out to me as very significant moments where you discover something about yourself or this person. It’s nice to have that be what the episode is, just two people learning about each other, and finally being able to just be raw and vulnerable while being lost. I think that she’s lost in her own way, but takes the time to be there for him. When she tells him that she’s had an abortion and what that did to her, the fact that they can both be there for each other [is] the reason that that moment works so well.

Rather than meeting up at a restaurant and having a finite amount of time, it’s like, “We’re going to talk more. We’re going to talk until we’re done talking.” It’s not taking place in the house. It’s not put in a pressure cooker at all. It’s, “What do you do when the world has tilted on its axis and the only person that you have is the person that’s right there with you?” That that just feels wonderful to me, especially for television. No one’s going to interrupt. It’s just, “We’re going to sit in this moment and just be lost.” That feels really human.

Is that the nice part of this being a TV show — more time for a more nuanced story beat?

Yeah, I feel like the whole series departs from a lot of romantic comedy tropes. Marcus isn’t a guy that has his heart broken because of something beyond his control. He’s a very active participant in how his whole life blew up. It’s his fault. A lot of the things that befall him are on him. Often, in order to build sympathy for your central character, things need to happen to them that are unfair, that they didn’t deserve that. There’s a lot of bad things that happened to Marcus that he fucking deserved that shit and he has to grow up.

I think letting them not be bumbling and cute around each other, but just grownups who are dealing with something that I don’t think anyone is ever really prepared for, is another departure. We take a “Before Sunrise” moment, a breath for us to get to know them a little bit more, and for Marcus and Mia to really understand each other. You get a deeper understanding of where they’re actually coming from and what their fears actually are. It’s really vulnerable.

The scene seems to establish that, regardless of their romantic relationship, Mia is this person that Marcus can go to and be his most vulnerable self.

From the get, when we first meet them, they are just comfortable with each other. I’ve definitely had those moments in my life. Even if we don’t agree, or misunderstand certain things, we still are on the same wavelength and it’s OK. It’s okay to misstep, to misspeak, to maybe reveal something that you didn’t really intend to. It’s a rare thing to have that person that you’re not kind of pre-thinking what you’re going to say and how you’re going to behave. You’re just fully yourself. With Marcus and Mia, they just instantly feel that way. This [scene] just further dives into that.

Love Life Season 2 Jessica Williams William Jackson Harper

Jessica Williams and William Jackson Harper in “Love Life”

Sarah Shatz / HBO Max

How did you prepare for the scene? Was this during a time when you and Jessica were already a well-oiled machine?

We were, yeah. I just feel comfortable with Jessica, and I’m also in awe of her and think she’s really cool, so that feeds into the chemistry. There’s certain things that I feel as Will toward Jessica, that Marcus feels toward Mia, where she’s just cool and she’s really good looking and she’s funny, and “I can’t believe I’m getting to hang out with this person, I don’t want to mess this up,” all those things. Letting the energy that I have toward her come through, and sort of getting out of the way of it. This was something that I think I craved, where we just got to be with each other without it being about another thing — the moment is about us just connecting. I was geeked to get to do that, to just riff and go for it.

How has it been seeing people’s reaction to this season? Because I think a lot of people have said, “I haven’t seen something so true to my experience on TV before.”

That feels great. To know that it landed, that’s really rewarding. It just feels nice to be heard. And it feels nice to be a part of something that is saying so many things that I’ve felt, and so many things that I’ve wanted to explore, so many things that I’ve wanted to see explored on TV. For it to feel salient, and for it to feel different and honest and unique, just makes me feel less crazy. Sometimes I wonder, “Am I just not watching the right things that I just not seeing this sort of stuff? Because it’s got to exist.” This depiction of Black love is not something common or readily available to such a wide audience. For it to feel different and special really just makes me feel seen.

“Love Life” Season 2 is available to stream on HBO Max.

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