Familiar faces and big names headline a new season of an Amazon hit

Modern LoveAmazon Prime VideoLove may be timeless, but when assembling the second instalment of Modern Love, there was no way to ignore the times we live in. The series based on essays from a New York Times column, which are then turned into 30-minute standalone love stories, acknowledges that Love in the Time of Corona was its own special thing. “We very quickly realized we’d be mad to try and not acknowledge what’s happened, in the direction of the show,” says series creator John Carney. “If we’re all holding hands and running into rainbows, people are going to be like, ‘Didn’t they make that during mass death and awfulness?’ ”

An episode titled “Strangers on a Train,” starring Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington and Bohemian Rhapsody’s Lucy Boynton, takes viewers back to the early days of COVID, when everyone thought it would be a two-week ordeal. “Once that story was pitched to me, it was like, that’s interesting, because it’s kind of about the pandemic without it overshadowing the show,” says Carney. “That episode was a clever way of saying, ‘Look, we know that we’re in this awful thing. We’re going to go on telling the jokes a little bit and being the romantic guys. But we get it.’ ”

Modern LoveAmazon Prime VideoOther stories this season tackle grief, circadian rhythm conflicts, love after betrayal, squandered potential and second chances. “I feel like the show has a nice tone to it that makes you feel like it’s real,” says Carney. “It doesn’t feel like it’s just a fantasy love story. And that does come back to the column obviously, because you go back to the truth of the fact that it really happened to people.”

Unlike book adaptations, where the process of picking the narrative apart to better suit television has sometimes been described as “consensual violence,” Carney and his writers go out of their way not to alter the source material. “The discipline of that, I’ve relished,” says Carney. “It’s really good as a writer to be told, ‘No, you can’t just change this. You have to work with what you’ve got.’ A number of times, myself and actors have been on set, and an actor has said something like, ‘I don’t believe in getting from this step to this step.’ Numerous times we’ve been figuring out what that leap is, and after an hour of time-wasting discussion, we’re like, ‘It doesn’t matter, because it happened.’”

Portraying a returning soldier whose marriage refuses to follow the plan he’d envisioned is Mudbound’s Garrett Hedlund. For an actor who usually tackles feature films, the format presented some unique challenges. “It’s the obstacle of trying to condense two people’s full-fledged chaotic journeys in life into one wonderful combination,” says Hedlund. “It was hard within our desires of wanting to keep exploring these characters to just condense it into 30 minutes. When you’re enjoying something, you never want it to end.”

His character finds love closer to home than he could ever anticipate, in a woman played by Anna Paquin. “She never ceases to amaze you or surprise you,” says Hedlund of the Oscar-winning New Zealand-Canadian actress. “She was wonderful to work with. I wish it could have been a full-fledged feature, but there was nobody I rather would’ve went on this journey with.”

Modern LoveAmazon Prime VideoHedlund, like many other actors on the show, did not contact the real-life person his character is based on, but could not resist browsing online for more information. “I happened to look up an interview of the man I was playing and there was a unique little element that I could hear in his voice, which made him, to me, seem like at this particular time he felt very undeserving of love,” the actor explains. “I think that’s a very universal feeling that a lot can relate to, but you’re thinking, ‘This guy just came back from serving his country,’ being capable of so much, yet he can still feel undeserving of love. I thought that was very unique.”

As a fan of the first season, and now a passenger on the Modern Love train, the material continues to feed Hedlund’s appetite for love in all its forms. “It leaves you to your imagination of what the destiny of these characters was after the last sentence was read. What happens to them? You always want to find out,” he muses. “And I think that’s a wonderful thing about Modern Love—it’s so good at tugging at your heartstrings that you can’t help but wonder if the characters stay together or if the ones who are at a loss of love ever find love. That’s a wonderful dilemma, which is the terrain the show traverses.”

Modern Love streams on Amazon Prime Video