Produced by Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil, Love Is ____is based on their real-life relationship and tells the story of their rise to fame in Hollywood starting in the 1990s. When they meet, Nuri (Michele Weaver) is a sitcom staff writer who longs to work in drama and Yasir (Will Catlett) is an aspiring, out-of-work writer/director. Playing young Nuri, Weaver was enthusiastic about her role in the project, especially considering the fact that Mara Brock Akil herself was involved in the show’s development.
“The show is loosely based off Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil’s relationship in Hollywood in the ’90s. So, there’s a love story, but you also get to follow two people going after their dreams and the isolation that becomes a struggle in your personal and professional life… [Mara] is the showrunner. She’s a writer. She’s the creative director. She was very heavily involved in [the series].”
With Akil’s active participation and influence in the series, one might think there would be added pressure on Weaver to get the character ‘right’. In fact, the two women had an instant rapport with one another. Weaver believes that their relationship was extremely positive due to the many things they have in common.
“Even when I went through the audition process, I didn’t really research her,” she recalls. “I knew of her and I knew of her work but, when I read the script… I felt like I knew this girl. I felt like I knew her. So, I wanted to just play her truthfully from my own experiences. Then, through the testing process, she kind of added to it and then, from there, I felt like I got it. But it was really important for me to not try and force anything. I think it is hard to play someone real, especially someone that you’re seeing, but the more that I would be around her, I would see why she did choose me in a sense because we have a very similar personality.”
“Of course, we’re both two different human beings with different experiences but we’re both joyful, hardworking believers. We both are dreamers and women who laugh a lot, so we’re underestimated. But, at the same time, we won’t let other people’s underestimation keep us from doing what we want. We go after what we want. So that was the key to really bring to life in Nuri those things that I saw in Mara. Then, she was on set so I could always ask her questions and she was a really encouraging person so I didn’t feel as much pressure as maybe people thought. It was good pressure. It wasn’t bad pressure, if that makes sense. It wasn’t negative. It was always very collaborative. So, it was a good experience to work with her.
In a world where we’re constantly bombarded by the media, one of the reasons that Weaver found Love Is ____ so appealing was the show’s commitment to bring authenticity and wholeness to its characters.
“I think people in the essence are very simple and yet complex… In our era right now, there’s so much fake news going on,” she explains. “There’s so much advertising and so many things thrown in our face all the time [but] we’re more drawn to [what’s] genuine more than anything. So, I think people are hungry. Look at the shows that are very successful, like This Is Us and, even shows like Stranger Things which, even though it’s a strange world, there’s something very authentic and just simple. We see people and people are complex. They don’t always understand why they’re doing what they’re doing but we all are the same. We’re all connected.”
“That’s one thing I do appreciate about Mara’s writing in general. If you look at her repertoire, she brings characters that aren’t always doing the right thing because none of us always do the right thing. We make mistakes. We don’t know the end result because, in the moment, we only have limited information. In this show, every character is complex. You see them on a good day. You see them on a bad day… It’s just human. It’s refreshing and it encourages us that so that we cannot beat ourselves up so much. It’s something we all [have to] endure.”
By moving the story’s timeline between future and past, Love Is ____has the opportunity to explore social issues in both contexts. In light of this, Weaver recognizes that many of the conversations that were taking place twenty years ago are still major points of discussion today.
“Naturally, when you go back in time, you’re going to comment on the current time because everything that has happened currently is an evolution of what already has happened,” she begins. “So, we do deal with the things that were happening in black Hollywood in the 1990s and [it’s] interesting to see what things have improved and what things are still the same. You will get to see that. Are there still the same issues or is there actually evolution? You’ll see that there has been a progression. But you also see some of the same things that people cry out for now, they were crying out for back then. I think it all goes back to authenticity. People want to see truth on screen, not just characters.”
“[Because I] was playing a woman in the 1990s when the writers were mostly filled with men, you do see that kind of balance. You do see that there was definitely a double standard, even if it was very subtle. It was there, between a woman and a man. You can see that right now with what is happening in Hollywood, with the cry for women’s voices be heard louder than ever. It’s finally making movements. So, you kind of get to see how it was still there back then.”
Since the series examines the complexities of love, Weaver realizes that there are numerous layers and perspectives that come within any committed relationship.
“I think love is so confusing to people because sometimes you feel like you’re in love and then you feel like you’re not in love,” she claims. “Then, you think is this still love? What is it? So, [the show] really does dive into that. What if the person who you think you’re in love with actually has baggage. Are you still in love with them? Or suddenly you can’t be in love with them anymore… When people fall in love, there are the people watching it happen and the people that are in it. It looks different from the outside than from the people inside. So, you also get the feedback. You get to see it from Nuri’s mother’s perspective. We get to see the family, the friends and that’s a real experience too. When we fall in love, we want everyone to fall in love with the person that we’ve fallen in love as well. But then some people, for their own reasons, might be hesitant or might not be hesitant.”
Of course, having said this, the ultimate question becomes what love really is. With this in mind, Weaver believes that the nature of love is difficult to pin down and that it grows and changes over time.
Says Weaver, “I think Nuri is still really figuring out what love is and I think that’s allowed. You’re allowed to explore what love is. It’s not a single definition, meaning or feeling. It’s also not one moment. It’s something that grows. It’s something that is worked on. It’s something that’s added to. You add to love throughout time, if that makes sense. So, for me, personally, I think love is a journey. You’ve made a decision to journey with someone through the good and the bad, and that’s what love is. If you can love them on their worst day, then you can love them on their best day.”
Love Is _____airs on OWN on June 19.
For complete audio of our conversation with Michele, click here.