HBO Max launched in late May with the weight of the HBO catalog and a little known show called Friends to entice viewers. But fresh content like Sam Boyd’s Love Life keeps viewers hooked. Originally intended to gradually roll out weekly, HBO Max accelerated the series into three batches, making Love Life a bingeable and buzzy smash. Much of that, of course, is due to the compelling performance of star Anna Kendrick, Oscar-nominee for Up In the Air, as Darby. The anthology series explores Darby’s loves and friendships and the impacts they have on her personal growth.
One of those life-changing friendships is with Sara Yang, her outgoing but eventually troubled roommate played by the outstanding Zoë Chao. Chao inhabits the role of Sara with an enthusiasm and verve that transcends the traditional best friend role. This series doesn’t focus on Sara, but it’s near-impossible to take your eyes off her and Darby’s world feels more empty when she’s not in them.
While she admits to many similarities between herself and Sara, Zoë Chao is indeed not Sara Yang. This is a fully realized, flesh and blood performance – one of the very best of the year. Here, Chao talks to Awards Daily about her work in Love Life and her growing friendship with co-star Kendrick. She also talks about Sara’s inevitable troubles and rebirth by the end of the series.
And I’m going on record right now: I would love the second season of Love Life to focus on Sara Yang and give us the story not told in season one.
Awards Daily: What was it about Love Life that attracted you as an actress?
Zoë Chao: I loved that it was an anthology series. I loved that each episode examined a different love relationship spanning romantic love, familial love, and friendship love, and ultimately, these loves end up shaping you. I thought that was a fresh idea.
AD: When we look at your character Sara Yang, is there any Zoë in Sara or vice versa?
ZC: Yeah, it was funny. I was quarantining with my sister, so we were able to watch the show together when it came out on HBO Max. She was like, ‘Wow, this is the first time I see a lot of you in a character.’ I’d say Sara is the rambunctious, outrageous, and spontaneous part of me. I have not experienced her substance abuse issues personally, but yeah, I think some of that lightness and darkness I have inside me for sure.
AD: So it’s easier for you to keep up Sara’s energy going through multiple takes because it’s inherent within you as a person?
ZC: I’m really psyched about life. I’m not that person who is super chill. I get excited, and I think Sara does too. Also, I’m getting to do my dream job, so whenever I’m on set, I’m super excited.
AD: That’s a great way to be. One of the things I love the most about the series is the chemistry between you and Anna Kendrick. You two feel like lived-in best friends.
ZC: Oh that’s a nice compliment. Thank you.
AD: It’s really true. As actresses, how do you bond so quickly to replicate that history?
ZC: That’s a good question. It often times comes down to chemistry and, of course, great writing. I really credit the writers and creators for giving us such great scripts week after week. I also give a lot of credit to Anna. From day one, it felt like a really warm, easy connection. She’s such a pro, and I think we just have a lot of respect for each other. There was this magic there, and we were both open to that. That’s the key, right? To remain as open as possible to your partner, and we just found that together and with Sam Boyd. I’m really grateful because now we’re really good friends in life. That’s my favorite parts of the show, their friendship.
AD: Absolutely. So, one of your best scenes in the series happens not with Darby’s Anna but when Sara’s long-time boyfriend Jim (Peter Vack) takes her to his recently inherited house in New Jersey. There, he proclaims his desire to move in permanently. Tell me about playing that scene and your very expressive facial reactions to the surprising moment.
ZC: Well that’s so nice. Thank you, Clarence. I think that scene is pivotal because it marked, I think, tangibly the moment that two of them are going in different directions. There’s been stuff leading up to that moment, but this is the moment where it comes to a head. I’ve been in that place in relationships before where you think you’re on the same page with your partner, and then all of a sudden you realize you’re not. It’s such a lonely feeling, an alienating experience. For the person you’re closest with to feel so far away is terrifying. She wants to brush everything under the rug and say, ‘We’re on a good path here. Let’s just keep doing what we’re doing.’ This marks the beginning of all of her friends seemingly graduating into adulthood while she’s still kind of floundering. I think this is where she feels left behind and overlooked and misunderstood.
It was a great scene. They added that, and we would get scripts right before we would shoot. It was always surprising.
AD: It’s a great addition even if it was last minute. It’s a very necessary scene between the two of you. Following that theme of being left behind, I assume all of that culminates in that ill-fated mountain trip where Sara becomes a giant hot mess. Is there anything else going on there under the surface within Sara?
ZC: I think she clearly hasn’t recovered from her breakup. I think she has not processed her heartbreak, and I think she’s gotten attached to quick fixes that ultimately harm her more. You can sort of get into a pattern of self-harm that feels good and bad at the same time. We’re just really in her demise in that episode. There’s even heartbreak that she hasn’t processed between her and Darby. I think she feels that relationship slipping away too. Her life feels completely overwhelming to her, and I really get that. Sometimes, it feels like, ‘I don’t know how to do this, and everybody else seems to know how to do it.’ She feels like she can’t get out of this hole that she’s in, and it’s heartbreaking.
AD: We don’t see Sara again until the season finale. When you were performing the wedding sequence, did you work out what Sara’s rehab journey might have been like between the mountain retreat and the wedding?
ZC: Yeah, I think you kind of have to because there’s a big chapter that happens offscreen. I think she finds a new community of people in which she finds strength. That makes the reunion between Darby and Sara so bittersweet because they acknowledge how much they care about each other and how important they’ve been in shaping each other. You do get the feeling that they will not return to what they were, which is a good thing. But that closeness is maybe no longer available to them because their lives are in different directions and there have been big steps made without each other.
AD: Last question for you: since seeing the whole series, I’ve wanted to go back and revisit the events of Season 1 in Season 2 but through Sara’s perspective. Is that something that would appeal to you?
ZC: Oh, Clarence. You are going for it! I love Sara Yang so much. I love her journey in season one. I think the creative team gave me such an arc. You really think Sara’s going to be this one thing – the source of levity and comedic relief – but then there’s so much more to her. I really feel grateful for getting to play that out, and I feel like it’s been a full robust journey. I haven’t really thought of season two. I’m just excited about the show no matter where it goes. I’m really proud of what we’ve done with season one.
AD: As well you should be! I loved the show. I loved how the characters evolved over its course and never remained stagnant. It’s really good show.
ZC: Thank you, Clarence. That’s so sweet. And thank you for this interview!
Love Life is now streaming on HBO Max.