Filmmaker John Carney has made a career out of love. Known for films about love (and music) such as Once, Sing Street and Begin Again, his latest project has been serving as showrunner and writer for Amazon Prime Video’s popular 2019 anthology series Modern Love. Based on the popular New York Times column and podcast of the same name, Modern Love tells real love stories about real people.
The second season of the show releases on August 13th and features fresh faces and eight new fables of love. Aside from a promising new cast including Kit Harington, Anna Paquin, Tom Burke and Minnie Driver, Season 2 takes the proceedings outside New York including stories set in Dublin and London this time around.
Ahead of the Season 2 release, over Zoom, the filmmaker spoke about his learnings from Season 1, having his heart broken reading the Modern Love column, the possibility of a Modern Love: India and why love continues to remain a mystery to him.
Usually with a narrative show, the focus of going into Season 2 is to go bigger and better and deeper into the characters. But that’s obviously not the case with an anthology like this. What were the challenges of going into Season 2 and what were your learnings from Season 1?
The key to being good at my job is that you make something originally, and then you go through a period of time during which you watch the response to it, you listen to what people have to say about it, and then you decide what you got wrong, what you got half-wrong, what you could fix, what you could learn from the process. This was the biggest show that I had ever been involved with. It was so different from a film because when you release a film, the information trickles in slowly if you’re lucky enough to have an international release. There was an immediate response to the show all over the world, which was fascinating. It really taught me a lot about the process of making a television show. With this show, what we could do that was unique was that we didn’t have to stick to a show bible. This wasn’t a thriller, or horror, or comedy – it was very fluid. There were no particular rules we had to stick to. So something that was looked upon as a weakness or a drawback was actually our strength. We are the only show in town that can go out, listen, respond, interpret and change and evolve and that’s a good thing.
This show isn’t authored by any one person. It’s based on a series of essays written in The New York Times by real people and so that should be a strong element of our show moving forward. We have the ability to think on our feet, to expand a little bit and say, ‘Okay, when we’re doing Season 3, we’ll set up 4 episodes in India or in Dubai, or Japan or Ireland.’ We can be that show, that’s a luxury. We want it to be a show that’s useful and helpful to people, a show that’s not just about entertainment, but a show you could watch if you’re bereaved or sad or if you’ve broken up with somebody. Or even if you’re happy and have just met somebody. If you have a psychological issue, you could watch the Anne Hathaway episode and there might be something in there for you beyond just entertainment. I’ve always been a believer in the idea of television as having a use, not just a distraction or entertainment. So, Season 2 is quite different and I hope Season 3 will be different again, and Season 4, while it has the same DNA, will definitely be something that evolves and changes over time.
What I love about the show is that everyone has a different favourite episode depending on the kind of love they connect with or aspire to. What’s your favourite episode from Season 1?
I really love the specific little scenes more than whole episodes, but I love Sharon Horgan’s episode, the hospital one. I love the one-liners from that one. There’s some great stuff in the final episode that Tom Hall did – the scene in which she jogs at the end, after she’s lost her husband, is incredibly powerful. So I would say there are more scenes that kill me as opposed to episodes. I’m being the diplomatic showrunner who doesn’t want to play favourites.
Has your relationship with the idea of love changed over the past few years as a result of working on the show and living with these stories?
Well, I’m a married person. I have two kids. I’ve been in a relationship for over 20 years, nothing in my romantic life is going to change and that’s the way I want it. I look at dating now, I look at romance now and I’m so glad I don’t have to do any of that. Now, in 2020, I look at my nieces on their phones, dealing with all this stuff on social media – It seems like a terrifying prospect and I’m glad that I’ve gotten over that. But making the show has made me reflect on my past stories or past versions of myself – the relationships I’ve had, the friendships and the intimacies. And I’ve seen myself in these stories, in certain things I’ve read while researching Modern Love. The essays have made me consider reflecting on relationships I’ve had years ago, and who I am romantically now. To try to find some romance in the family unit seems so different to me from the Season 2 episode with Kit Harington and Lucy Boynton meeting on a train. I’m like, ‘People meet on trains? And look at each other and smile? Oh my God, that is so romantic and impossible.’ People watch the episode and think, ‘That doesn’t happen, nobody meets on trains anymore. That’s for Hitchcock movies.’
What we’ve really learnt while making Modern Love is that the more data you have about love, the less you really know about it. You could be 98 years old and have made 50 films and TV shows about love and you’d know as little as you did when you were 15 going to your first school disco. There is nothing to know because each person you meet changes you and each story is unbelievably bespoke. That’s why Modern Love is so brilliant. There are a million different ways to meet and connect with people. There’s no one way, there is no one hookup, there is no one type of romance. We live in Ireland and so many things have changed over the past few years and have liberated and opened up this country. It’s incredible to see. For years, we were living in the Dark Ages. It’s such a positive time to be living now. I can only be a better person for being more tolerant of other forms of love, or expressions of love, and being more open to listening. Being closed off to anything is a ridiculous way to live your life. And that’s what I’ve learnt making Modern Love. I’ve been opened up and I’ve had my heart broken by reading so many different stories and accounts of love, all of its different manifestations. In terms of taking my work home, sometimes I come home, we have dinner and then talk about some scene we’ve filmed but we’re both so exhausted from having children and cooking and cleaning that we just fall asleep.
Love stories are such a big part of who we are in India, and it’s an intrinsic part of the stories we tell. Have you ever had the chance to watch an Indian film?
Tons. Right from Satyajit Ray. I think there could be a Modern Love: India version, which could be interesting. The show isn’t about coming up with these new stories, it’s about seeing different cultures and different ideas of love and how cities and cultures change and affect the way we fall in love. But love, the human heart, and its connections are the same everywhere. It’s the same in any time – if you read love poems from 2,000 years ago, it’s the same story over and over again. It’s just that the cities we find ourselves in, and sometimes the technology that we find ourselves up against, changes the way we behave, but not deep down who we are.