If there’s a breakout star of the HBO Max original’s second season, it’s Jessica Williams, who shines as Mia.
After debuting on HBO Max in October, Love Life season 2 easily surpassed the surprise that was season 1 thanks to a well-crafted and smartly written story centered on Marcus (William Jackson Harper), who finds himself unexpectedly dating again in his 30s, as well as the addition of Jessica Williams as Mia, who finds herself in a When Harry Met Sally type of relationship with the newly single editor.
While the 32-year-old has previously starred in The Incredible Jessica James and Booksmart, Williams shines in what she hopes lives up to so many rom-com classics that have come before it. While speaking to ET, she breaks down Mia’s journey, the importance of her solo episode and why she loved having to vomit in front of Harper.
[Warning: Spoilers for the final four episodes of Love Life season 2.]
Having just returned from London, Williams first learned about the second season of the anthology series, which was switching focus from Darby (Anna Kendrick) onto Marcus. Excited about how layered and complicated it seemed, she became intrigued by Mia and her journey, which plays out over the course of eight to 10 years.
“Her journey this season is going from someone who is typically kind of guarded in her relationships and with intimacy, I think she has the habit of kind of shying away from it, which I do personally relate to,” Williams says. “And then, over the course of time, she meets Marcus. She develops this relationship with Marcus, the friends start dating, they break up. Then they reconnect during the pandemic and then we kind of go on this journey with them, as they get married, have a kid and kind of settle into being each other’s person and choosing to be each other’s person, which I think is a really big part of her journey.”
While Marcus and Mia initially meet in the first episode, as Marcus gets separated from his wife, it’s not until after things with Becca (Leslie Bibb) fall apart years later that the two find themselves at the same place in their dating lives and finally give it a go. But as soon as they get together, Mia finds herself returning home in episode 7, “Suzanné Hayward & Leon Hines,” and forced to see her life through the lens of her dysfunctional parents, played by guest stars Blair Underwood and Kimberly Elise.
As she has trouble dealing with her parents’ mess, Mia makes out with a childhood friend before returning home to a surprise birthday party thrown by Marcus. And by the end of the night, she breaks up with him, claiming he knows nothing about her.
“I was really excited to explain her a bit more because she is so guarded and she does flit into and out of Marcus’ life,” Williams says, noting how she pops up when he needs her but that doesn’t really mean he knows her. “And I feel like it was a great chance to show where she comes from and how sometimes your family and your habits can shape how you love.”
From the beginning, the writers had always planned for Mia to get her own episode and a chance to explore life through her perspective. “Ultimately, it just shows how hard it can be, even when you like a person, to get it right because you have your own demons,” says showrunner Rachelle Williams, who co-wrote the episode. “And a lot of the Mia-centric episode is pulled from my life because my parents are a disaster, in terms of love and money and all that stuff. And I think it can mess you up. It can make you not believe that you deserve to be happy.”
The showrunner continues by saying, “I think you have to see that in order to earn the ending. I think you just need to get that side of it because otherwise she’s just this dream girl that’s perfect in every way.”
Despite the flaws, which both come to appreciate by the end of the season after the pandemic brings them back together in a wonderfully written coda (“Epilogue”) that caps off Marcus’ journey, it’s not hard to imagine why Mia is Marcus’ dream girl. (“The ending is fitting because it shows their growth in that love is a choice. Like, you’re actively choosing to love your partner and I think it says a lot about Mia’s growth,” she says.) The chemistry between the two characters is palpable, growing more intense throughout the season as Harper and Williams share more scenes together.
“One of the reasons I was really excited to do this season of Love Life was because I really wanted to work with William,” the actress says. “A lot of the season hinges on him and it hinges on the two of them together... and I just wanted to make sure that we worked well together.” (And when Harper previously spoke to ET about the cast and Williams, in particular, he said she is “someone you always find yourself flirting with in order to make a good impression.”)
Luckily for everyone involved, the two got on instantly and were able to pull off this modern version of a “will they or won’t they” vibe. So much so, that for Williams, one of her favorite moments of filming came in the finale, when Mia pukes outside of an Uber as the couple returns home after a long night out.
“It was really fun to do... I had to do, like, 20 takes and no problem doing that,” Williams says, adding that she “just wanted to shoot it out of my mouth.” But as much fun as it was to film, the real pleasure was improvising a line that broke Harper, who was reduced to fits of laughter. “That to me was one of the best compliments and it was one of my favorite moments: just making him laugh by puking.”