When Netflix dropped a surprise third season of Master of None this spring, few knew what to expect from the Aziz Ansari, Alan Yang, and Lena Waithe-produced season. The last outing dropped some four years ago. So, when Master of None Presents: Moments in Love premiered, audiences found themselves unexpectedly diving into a deep and poetic rumination on a host of topics.
Focusing mainly on two characters – Denise (Waithe) and her wife Alicia (Naomi Ackie, light years away from her last internationally renown role in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) – this new season begins in the middle of a marriage. Gone are the enticing, romantic, and heady sexual moments of the courtship. Instead, we’re dropped into the comfort zone where Denise and Alicia’s casual moments of closeness and intimate conversations are the focus. We are witness to their decision-making processes around motherhood. We see their unfortunate miscarriage. And we are privy to their devastating decoupling and eventual growth apart from each other.
Guiding us through this delicate territory, Naomi Ackie brings an intense vitality to the role of Alicia that feels unlike anything else on American television. She is raw and understated. She is angry and volcanic. And she is afraid and nervous about her independent choices. Ackie’s performance runs the gamut of the single woman and single lesbian experience, and she’s brilliant in the role.
Here, she talks to Awards Daily about how she and Waithe created the intimacy so desperately needed for the material. She also talks about working with Aziz Ansari, who directed the season. Finally, she talks about her experience walking in the shoes of a gay woman who desperately wants a child when the system (and, at times, her own body) seem entirely opposed to the event.
Awards Daily: We come into the season halfway through the marriage. How did you and Lena connect, build that rapport, and build that chemistry to be able to portray these two characters at that stage of their marriage?
Naomi Ackie: We had like two weeks of prep time before we started filming. When I found out I got the part, we got each other’s numbers, and we were corresponding. She was in LA. I was over in London. The chemistry thing, I think, isn’t something that we did on purpose. I think that was part of the auditioning process. There was just a way that we improvise with each other when we were auditioning that matched. There was the right energy. When we were performing it, it didn’t feel like there was a lot of effort to do that, really.
Plus, the way that the story is framed, literally framed camera wise as well, there was this thing about these little vignettes of time. Instead of playing it with a history that you’re dragging behind you, it was more like playing a situation. This couple playing with the chemistry that we have, and then plopping them into a situation with some given context. There was a lot of ease in it. So, preparation was more about making sure the writing supported the characters. For me, my job with the writing, if there was one, was to make Alicia sound more like me. Originally, Alicia would have been American.
AD: So given how natural the dialogue sounds, were there moments of improv? Or was this all very tightly scripted?
NA: No, there was definitely moments of improv. We would have a really strong structure with the writing, and then sometimes Aziz would be like, ‘Okay, what would you just say in this moment?’ And we would just go, ‘Oh, I would say this. I’m going to throw it into the scene and see what happens.’ So, that was a really nice collaborative vibe, where if we felt like something stuck, we weren’t so wedded to the text that we couldn’t change it on the spot. I guess the conversational part of that happened because, when we were thinking and changing things on the spot, it was coming from our real voices. The main focus with this was authenticity. We wanted people to feel like they were a fly on the wall. To do that, we had to speak from our actual heads and hearts. Those arguments scenes are probably how I argue in relationships. To me, it didn’t feel necessarily like there was acting involved. Maybe I shouldn’t say that. [Laughs]
AD: I mean, it’s not a documentary. It is a performance, and it’s not you as a person. It is a character that you’re playing, right?
NA: It’s a character, but it’s very tight. It’s the closest I felt to me while doing something but with a healthy distance, obviously. I’ve just never done anything like that before.
AD: So what was it like working with Aziz as a director?
NA: He was brilliant. I think I’ve known him as a stand up comedian, and I’ve known him as Dev in Master of None. Seeing him in hyperdrive was like those two things coming together. He’s got such incredible writing skills. He knew the world that he wanted to create, and it was very specific. He said to me… and I think this probably encapsulates his personality as a director… He said, ‘You know, making a show is like jazz. You improvise, and you play different notes. There’s a strong foundation, but you can play on top if you’re in control, I guess.’ I’m guessing that’s what he meant. It was just an extremely collaborative environment that he created. This felt like I had a voice that was very much heard and was part of the conversation and actually effected change within the story. That was really lovely.
AD: The arc over season three involves not only the de-evolution of the marriage but also Alicia’s journey with pregnancy. Was that something that resonated with you personally?
NA: No, IVF didn’t resonate with me personally because I’m not at that point in my life where I’ve really thought about kids. It was, though, almost like a potential peek through into the future. You know, IVF is a very common thing. While I was doing it and going through that process, it did start to make me think about what I would do in this situation and how difficult it is on the body, on the mind, on your willpower. Also coming across a woman who wants something so deeply in this very profound way who is willing to push things to the side, including potentially even her marriage? It’s just quite inspiring for me. I guess that is probably the biggest difference between myself and Alicia is that she’s a person who was considering this for a long time, and I wasn’t. There was a distance from that which, if anything, was slightly intimidating because I’m 29 years old, and I don’t know what I’m doing. To play a character who is very, like, this is what I want was illuminating for me.
I think there’s this thing that I’m now coming out of, which is like this almost arrogance of youth. All of our things will happen when they happen, and I don’t need to plan. Like, I guess if I want a kid at some point, I’ll just have one. It’s not that simple. This is coming from a place of privilege from being a straight cis woman. There are there that people in the queer community are going through, things that people in the Black and brown community are going through. When those intersections start to cross over, you do have to plan your life in a different way. That’s the big thing from episode four that I took away was in the US, and I’m assuming in many other places, there’s so much red tape around if you are a single woman, if you are a queer woman or man… There are a lot of things in place to prohibit and stop people from living their best lives and making their own choices or at least doing it in a way that they can afford.
I know I think when Aziz knew that information he felt compelled to put it in. Obviously, we’re following Alicia’s emotional journey, but I’m happier that people have been talking about the fact that there’s an insurance code for getting swallowed by an orca or getting sucked into the engine of a plane. That’s so strange to me.
AD: So Alicia goes on an incredibly emotional journey through the season which comes to a boil in episode four. There’s a lot of real emotion there. How do you as an actress put yourself in that state? How do you get into those moments?
NA: It’s quite a complex thing. You kind of look at it through the corner of your eye. You’ll get the call sheet, and there will be a crying scene or an emotional scene. Then, there’s this amazing subconscious thing that happens that you start to emotionally prepare yourself, or at least for myself anyway, emotionally prepare myself to be in that state the next day or the next week. Then you let it out. Ideally, it happens. Sometimes it doesn’t, but in terms of preparation for those kinds of ups and downs is really about staying in the moment and feeling. The most important thing is that you feel safe within the environment. That you’re letting the emotions out, and any great director, producer, anyone like that will create a safe environment for you. It just happens or it doesn’t, and you figure it out.
AD: One of my favorite moments in the season happens when Alicia goes back to the IVF office after having the initial failure, and she says, ‘I’m gonna be a bad bitch and I need you to be a bad bitch with me.’ What is it that makes that shift in her?
NA: So I think that the bad bitch stuff came around because it was from the picture that belonged to Alicia. The Goldie Williams picture, which is in this episode. I’ve had that picture for a couple of years. Amy Williams, who designed the house, got us to take pictures of the things in our house. I took a picture of the Goldie Williams, and Aziz loved it. He asked me what it was about, and I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, she’s a bad bitch.’ So I guess the motif of the bad bitch is the thing. If I’m going down like anyone I’m going down like Goldie Williams. You come against these obstacles, and it’s like you can either break down or break through. Luckily, we get to see Alicia break through and try again and succeed.
AD: Given the trajectory of everything that has happened in the episode, were you satisfied with the ending?
NA: Yeah, I loved it. I actually really loved it. There was a continuous conversation about how ambiguous do we want to be with the ending. I was a big, big cheerleader of it being ambiguous. I like that it’s messy. I like that there are questions. I like that not everything is covered because that’s life. Love isn’t a straight line. Love is a scribble from day of birth to day of death. There are a multitude of possibilities when it comes to love and relationships. I’m really happy that it didn’t tie up with a neat bow because that’s just not how the world works. The whole show was about being authentic and real, and so it feels true to its form to continue that with this ending.
Master of None Presents: Moments in Love streams exclusively on Netflix.