‘Love Life’ Season 2 Star William Jackson Harper on Marcus’ Mia Mistake, That Obama-LeVar Burton Issue

“Whether or not they end up together is beside the point,” “The Good Place” alum tells TheWrap

Love Life

(Warning: This post contains spoilers for HBO Max’s “Love Life” Season 2 premiere.)

“Love Life” opened its second season with a gut-punch of an episode that introduced us to “The Good Place” alum William Jackson Harper’s Marcus Watkins. Marcus is 30-something Black book editor who is married to Emily (Maya Kazan), a white woman, and becomes infatuated with Mia Hines (Jessica Williams), a Black woman whom he meets at the wedding of Season 1 lead Darby Carter (Anna Kendrick).

Noting the races of Marcus, his wife, and the woman he begins crushing on and even almost cheats on his wife with during the “Love Life” premiere, is important, as the episode ends with Emily finding text messages between Mia and Marcus that show him joking about pictures of “ugly” white babies and bonding as they see how much they have in common, and how little his white spouse understands him.

Marcus and Mia being Black and Emily being white is far from the only reason Marcus believes Mia “gets” him, but it is something that makes him begin to question the choices he’s made in life. And as he’s drawn more and more to her throughout the episode, it becomes harder for him to walk away from a potentially intimate situation, to the point where he goes to her apartment in hopes of wooing her, only to find her boyfriend Amar’e Stoudemire (yes, the NBA star himself) answering the door.

Though Marcus never actually cheats, Emily’s discovery of his intimate texts with Mia is more than enough to lead her to ask for a divorce. We see the fallout from that choice in the second and third episodes of “Love Life” Season 2, which also launched Thursday on HBO Max.

See below for TheWrap’s Q&A with Harper about the first three episodes of “Love Life” Season 2.

TheWrap: Do you see a future for Marcus and Mia now that he is divorced and says their friendship is what “blew up” his life, but Mia — who has a boyfriend — claims that spark between them was just a passing moment for her?

Relationships are messy and sometimes there’s a lot of push and pull. Whether or not they end up together is beside the point. The thing that I think we’re setting up and that really sticks out to me is that she is a very important person to him, even if she’s a brand new person to him. And I think that he’s as surprised by that as anyone else is, and as certainly as the audience will be. So it’s when you’re looking at the world through his eyes, this short encounter carries great significance going forward. And it’s weird how life does that. You have a chance encounter, you meet someone randomly, and it may not even be a long, protracted experience with this person, but it carries a significant amount of meaning. And for me, that’s what [“Mia Hines,” the season premiere’s] title is about. It’s that this person is really important as far as what his journey is going to be. And at this point, especially in the first couple of episodes, it’s far more important to him than it is to her and it’s far more meaningful to him than it is to her at that time.

Viewers were introduced to Marcus in a much more complex way than Darby in “Love Life” Season 1, with him getting dangerously close to cheating and having his relationship crumble in the first episodes, rather than attempts at finding love from scratch. What are your thoughts on what Marcus did and how you think the audience will see him as the protagonist going forward?

For me, it’s still a transgression because you’re hiding a significant part of who you are from your partner. But I think to full-on cheat, that’s a thing where, at least to me, as a viewer, I would have come at it from a point of, it would have taken on a much stronger significance in the story, for me. I think it would have been, how does this person learn to not be a cheater? It’s a [bigger] bomb to drop for someone to cheat than it is for someone to somewhat stray and sort of reveal things to a person who isn’t their partner. I think that Emily has every right to be as upset as she is, because it’s that question of, we’ve been together all these years, do I not know you? That’s a lot to carry and it’s a big hit. For me, I think that is enough because once you introduce a real transgression, like breaking the contract socially and legally and morally in that way by cheating, I think it becomes a ballast on what you want the story to actually be. I feel like it’s really important to kind of root for Marcus in some way. And I think that it’s better for him to be flawed in the way of just sort of hiding things and not opening up to Emily about all the things that are inside. That’s a flaw that could also feasibly not be a flaw, because he didn’t really do anything, but it’s enough to feel like a betrayal. And I think it is a betrayal. But I think that even from Marcus’s standpoint, he didn’t actually cross the line. If she never knew about it, he would have forgotten about it. He would have just left it alone and been like, “I did that one time, I almost messed up, but I didn’t mess up, and I’m glad that we moved past it.” Because I think that he does love Emily, he’s just sort of in a weird space in his life where he’s a little more settled and I think that there’s certain things about himself that he hasn’t really fully examined. And I think that with Mia, he did start to do that, which is why that relationship takes on such a strong significance.

The first episodes feature conversations about how Marcus is seen by white people, with comparisons made by his own wife Emily to President Barack Obama and former “Reading Rainbow” host LeVar Burton. These comments make Marcus uncomfortable, as do Mia’s remarks that it makes sense Marcus is married to Emily, a white woman, and her criticism of him never having been in a longterm relationship with a Black woman. Will Marcus continue to be affected by these things throughout the season?

When it comes to the view that the world has of him, I think that it’s somewhat at odds with how he would like to be viewed. Granted, I think LeVar Burton is a national treasure. I think Barack Obama is also a national treasure. But there is something about that, which, I don’t know, for me personally, it’s this question of white acceptance. And I wonder if there is a part of him that bristles at being the kind of Black person that white people just tend to gravitate to — and what is that? And just questions about what that is. And it’s a long conversation. And I think that it’s a journey that he’s on. And I think that there’s a frustration … This is the way I interpreted it, is there’s a desire to have a certain level of — I don’t ever want to be the person, personally, that ever feels like they’re vying for white acceptance. And I think that there’s a question in his mind of, am I that kind of person that has vied for and gotten that? It’s one thing to be who you are and the world in general, at large, just accepts you, regardless of race. It’s another when you feel like you’re pursuing the acceptance of a certain group. And I think that, in Marcus’s head, there is an idea that those two men in particular have probably garnered that acceptance in a way that maybe was pursued. And I think that he bristles at it a bit. Now, I don’t think that Barack Obama and LeVar Burton have pursued white acceptance, by any stretch. But I think that there is an idea of that and there’s an idea that maybe they have, or maybe that there’s a part of that in their status that Marcus sort of bristles at, in certain ways. He doesn’t want to be the guy that is looking for white people to like him. And he wonders if that’s how he comes across. And that’s a tough place to be. And so it’s a hard question to ask yourself, it’s a hard question to answer. It’s a question that I have not answered at all, in any sense, for myself. But I do think that that’s sort of where Marcus is and why it sort of kicks up weird things, because he doesn’t want to be pursuing that, he’d rather just people come to him on his terms. And he’s not sure that that’s what’s happened. And so it kicks up some weird feelings for him. And it’s really hard to unpack that with a white partner, I guess. It’s a tough thing to talk about. I mean, I’m having a hard time talking about it right on the phone with you, and I’m talking about a character. But it is something that resonated with me in a certain way. And I haven’t really opened up about it at all. But there is something there that feels truthful. And I think that we really start to try to unpack that in some way.