‘Modern Love’ director John Carney: ‘All about being romantically truthful’

Ahead of the second season of the popular ensemble-cast series, director John Carney says the ‘modern’ in the title refers not to the type of love but to a lifestyle in a big metropolis

August 05, 2021 10:05 am | Updated 10:06 am IST

Celine Held and Logan George

Celine Held and Logan George

Modern Love, based on the eponymous The New York Times, column explored different shades of love in New York. The first season written and directed by John Carney featured a bunch of A-listers including Anne Hathaway, Tina Fey, Andy García, Dev Patel and John Slattery.

Season two, which streams from August 13 on Amazon Prime Video, has its share of stars from Tom Burke and Minnie Driver to Kit Harington and Tobias Menzies.

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“It feels like you will find the right actor for the right job in this show,” Carney, who reprises his writer-director duties for season two, says over a video call. “It is half an hour of their time. If the actress is free, she comes and plays for a week and a half. While it is not a huge amount of money or prestige, they feel like ‘I connected with that script and got to make these cool episodes’. There is no more commitment and that is attractive to some actors in certain phases of their careers.”

Carney enjoys the half-hour format of the show. “I find that challenging and enjoyable. I am getting a little tired of TV going on and on with these long shows that require you to watch everything in order. You can dip in to Modern Love at any stage in the series.”

Anna Paquin

Anna Paquin

Pick and choose

‘Modern Love’ is a weekly column, which started in 2004. It is also a book, a podcast and a show. Picking articles that would work as television from 17 years of matter is a mammoth ask.

“There are two kinds of criteria that I look for. The first is a personal connection with the piece. That can be a dimension of a character, a relationship or a friendship that hits me. The second is when I am struck by something about a particular essay as a filmmaker. I could imagine things in a scene playing well. Or I could imagine, directing four or five things that would be fun, challenging and interesting. I don't usually go ‘Oh I love that essay so therefore I love that piece of TV.’ That is not the way it works. We have actually found that often the best essays should remain written. I have struggled often to shoehorn an essay that I love into a half-an-hour screenplay that has not worked.”

About time and ‘the one’

Aparna Nancherla

Aparna Nancherla

Though the show is called Modern Love , Carney says, love is timeless. “Obviously the circumstances in which we find ourselves, with cell phones, iPads and computers affect our expectations of love. At the end of the day, what we looked for in these stories is less about being super-current and more about being romantically truthful, regardless of geography.”

The ‘modern’ in the title, Carney says, refers not to the type of love. “It is people living a modern lifestyle in a big metropolis. The love they find themselves in our stories is not one they would have chosen for themselves. Their stories happen through their lifestyles as they ride the subway or are on their phones.”

The 49-year-old director says, in the city one does not necessarily pick the person one ends up with. “If you live in a village, there are three other people, you are likely to pick. If you live in a city of 3 million, you don't get to choose who you find a connection with. It happens because that modern setting opens you up to things that you didn't know about yourself. I am not trying to make a cool or modern show that ticks boxes, but rather a show with the classical viewpoint of love and romance, which we juxtapose by setting in these incredibly modern cities.”

New York state-of-mind

Modern Love brings to mind that other show based on a column set in New York— Sex and the City . Unlike SATC , Carney says he hopes New York is not a character in the show. “I always loved the idea that Modern Love can be set anywhere and that it is more of about character than location. That said, I am the kind of filmmaker who unintentionally lets the environment creep into the work. I hope this show can be made anywhere, on an airplane or between two cities. I hope the show does not become a New York show, because that would be limiting.”

The Dublin-born Carney illustrates his point with James Joyce’ Ulysses . “It is a famous story set in Dublin. The novel is forensic about location. What Joyce has done is write a massively universal book, that people read all over the world. I don't think Dublin overshadows the characters in the book. I would like to make this show without New York or Chicago or Dublin overshadowing the characters.”

All you need is…

Director John Carney

Director John Carney

Speaking of the toll Modern Love has taken on him as a writer and director, Carney says “You do absorb all of those romantic stories when you are in production and take your work home occasionally. It does make you reflect on who you are and your romantic story. The show has made me be grateful for the fact that I have a partner and a family. Sometimes when I have read 50 of these stories in a week, I am glad I am not looking for anybody right now, because it is exhausting. Nowadays when I hear what my 20-year-old nieces and nephews are going through with social media, and dating, I am so glad it is over for me.”

Carney admits one would occasionally like to relive being in love. “In a way, making this show, allows you to vicariously relive little romantic episodes.”

Modern Love Season 2 streams on Amazon Prime Video from August 13.

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