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'Love In The Time Of Corona' Stars On The Truth And Light Of Making Art Amid Pandemic

Aug 22, 2020
Originally published on August 22, 2020 6:21 pm

A new show, called "Love in the Time of Corona," is a series of interwoven stories about people in quarantine trying to find love and stay connected. And the cast are actual couples, families or friends, in real life, who have been quarantining together during the pandemic.

One of those couples is the Tony Award winning actor Leslie Odom Jr., who originated the role of Aaron Burr in "Hamilton," and actor Nicolette Robinson, who starred in the Broadway musical "Waitress" and the television show "The Affair." They play James and Sade in the show, a couple deciding if they should have another baby.

Because the scripted mini-series was filmed, and set, during the pandemic, the filming took place predominantly inside Robinson and Odom Jr.'s house, which Robinson says she was "excited" about.

But the timing of the show also gave her pause.

"If I was hesitant about anything, it was really just signing on to do it at all when we had first heard about it because the offer came in for us right in the thick of the Black Lives Matter movement and we were really going through it in our household," Robinson told NPR's All Things Considered. "Just even the idea of stepping out of the real world to make something that was mostly focused on the positive side of this time, we were nervous about it."

But Robinson said once she talked to the show's creators more, she became "excited to then dive into the truth of this moment as well as the light of this moment."

"Our plate was kind of full like everyone else's was," Odom Jr. said. "We're parents, and we're children of people that are in the vulnerable population, and we're Black people in America, you know, there's a lot of things that we're dealing with in this house and unpacking every day, so if we are going to make art right now, what is our responsibility to this moment?"

The four-episode series was created by executive producer Joanna Johnson, known for her work on "The Fosters" and "Good Trouble." It premiered Saturday on Freeform and will be available on Hulu on Sunday. The show follows James and Sade, played by Odom Jr. and Robinson, respectfully, and three other partners, friends and families quarantining through COVID-19.

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In order to maintain social distancing, the crew had to figure out unique ways of shooting. Odom Jr. said the crew stayed in individual tents, and the director would use a walkie talkie to communicate with them inside.

Actors did their own hair and makeup, handled their own props and wore their own clothes. The small crew predominantly worked outside of the house, and Marco Fargnoli, the director of photography, would set up cameras on dollies that actors and production assistants who were in the actors' quarantine circles would operate inside the house, according to the Washington Post. And, of course, everyone was tested for COVID-19.

"We really decided in the beginning of this quarantine that we could either be driven apart or brought closer together due to these circumstances and so we really focused on the latter and really committed to building our communication in a better, stronger way and really just enjoying this time that we get to spend together," Robinson said.

Correction: 8/22/20

A previous version of this story said the show premiered on Hulu on Saturday. It premiered on Freeform on Saturday and is also available on Hulu on Sunday.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, a television show made by and about this moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOVE IN THE TIME OF CORONA")

NICOLETTE ROBINSON: (As Sade) Avoid crowded aisles. Stay 6 feet away from everyone at all times. Do not let your mind wander. Do not touch your face. Do not forget to wipe your credit card down with sanitary wipes.

LESLIE ODOM JR: (As James) Got it.

ROBINSON: (As Sade) Are you sure you're up for this? I usually do all the quarantine shopping. I know where everything is. I can get in and out.

ODOM: (As James) Just give me the list. I'll cross everything off. You're not the only one who wants to get out of the house. Give Charlie (ph) a kiss for me. Goodbye.

ROBINSON: (As Sade) If you don't come back, I'll tell her how brave her daddy was.

ODOM: (As James) Got this.

MARTIN: Sound familiar? The show is called "Love In The Time Of Corona," created and directed by Joanna Johnson. It's a series of interwoven stories about people in quarantine trying to find love and stay connected and probably stay off each other's nerves. And the cast are actual couples or friends in real life who've been quarantining together during the pandemic.

One of those couples is the Tony Award-winning actor Leslie Odom Jr., probably best known for originating the role of Aaron Burr in "Hamilton," and actor Nicolette Robinson, who starred in the Broadway musical "Waitress" and the television show "The Affair." Odom and Robinson also serve as co-executive producers on "Love In The Time Of Corona." And Leslie Odom Jr. and Nicolette Robinson are with us now from their home in Los Angeles.

Thank you both so much for being with us. Congratulations on everything.

ODOM: Thank you so much.

ROBINSON: Thank you.

ODOM: So we're talking to you from our house/the set.

MARTIN: The set, yes. And...

ROBINSON: Yep.

MARTIN: Are you...

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: So a little tricky playing a fictional couple when you're a real-life couple. I mean, people do do it. But was there any kind of hesitation about maybe bringing some of the real stuff in or too much of the real stuff in? So, Nicolette Robinson, I'll ask you to start. Any hesitation about it?

ROBINSON: There wasn't so much hesitation with doing it with each other. I mean, we've been together now for 12 years, so we have worked together professionally. But also just on our own, we've learned a lot about how to communicate and how to collaborate and how to - how the other one likes to work. And so that was actually more exciting for me.

But I think if I was hesitant about anything, it was really just signing on to do it at all when we had first heard about it because the offer came in for us right in the thick of the Black Lives Matter movement, and we were, you know, really going through it in our household, as I'm sure you were in yours. Just even the idea of stepping out of the real world and to make something that's mostly focused on the positive side of this time - it was - we were nervous about it before we had actually met with them.

But when we met with them, and they had told us what their focus was on the show and their desire to reach towards the light and to tell important stories in this time, we were excited to then dive into the truth at this moment as well as the light of this moment.

ODOM: I wanted to add to what she's saying that our thing was, our plate was kind of full, like everybody else's. We're parents. And we're children of people that are in the vulnerable population. And we're Black people in America. You know, there's a lot of things that we're dealing with in this house and unpacking every day. And so if we are going to make art right now, what is our responsibility to this moment? What should we be telling stories about? Because if at this moment right now in the country, if it don't feel right, we shouldn't do it.

MARTIN: I was just fascinated that it did kind of deal with what's on a lot of people's minds right out the gate. You know...

ODOM: That's right.

MARTIN: ...One of your early scenes is about what's going on with the Black Lives Matter movement. The specific issue that he was talking about was the death of Ahmaud Arbery, and it was just fascinating to see that - it's interesting that a lot of series, the traditional way of dealing with these issues has been to wait until you fall in love with the characters, right, and all their normal domestic issues before you then bring in a political issue that they might be dealing with.

And I was just curious about that - whether that was an artistic decision that you all had something to do with.

ODOM: Oh, yeah.

ROBINSON: Yeah.

ODOM: We have to try to meet this moment. The world is different. We deal with it head-on. I mean, the Ahmaud Arbery killing rocked us. You know, it rocked our household, watching that young man. He's a kid to me, Ahmaud Arbery, and for him to be pulled - for - as an American, for two other Americans to pull him over on the side of the road and demand proof of his legitimacy as an American, as a man, his humanity - they demanded proof. They wanted to see his papers, and he answered them. He answered them with his life.

And so, you know, for us, we go, art is how we process as part - as artists, it's how we process what's happening to us. And so we're, like, if we're going to make art, we need to be talking about this.

MARTIN: Well, talk if you - I don't want to get - do all the kind of the sausage-making behind the scenes, but I do think people might be interested in how you pulled this off. It is very nicely shot. Did you shoot it yourselves? I mean, how did that all work?

ODOM: Yeah, it was just - it was done remotely. The crew had - there were, I don't know, six or seven tents outside, personal tents, and each person was in their own tent, Joanna included. And there was a walkie in the house, and they would communicate with us through that walkie if they wanted us to move something.

But they - yeah, they - everybody got tested - right? - for the virus, and thank goodness nobody came back positive. And so they'd done a fair amount of preproduction, so they knew where they wanted to - the cameras set up, and then they would just operate them on the day from outside the house. But it...

MARTIN: That's wild because it feels...

ODOM: ...Pretty smooth.

MARTIN: ...Really the thick of it. It feels very intimate. I just want to play another scene from the show that describes that. This is a scene with you, Nicolette. This is a scene where your character, Sade, is having a video chat with her friend Adia (ph). And you're telling her that you and James are thinking about trying to have a second child during the pandemic. And here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOVE IN THE TIME OF CORONA")

ROBINSON: (As Sade) James being gone so much the last few years, this is the first time that he's been home this much since Charlie (ph) was born.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Adia) But it's good, right?

ROBINSON: (As Sade) Yeah. I mean, especially now that we get the chance to do this whole baby thing differently. I mean, I was alone for so much of my pregnancy with Charlie and then after. I've been flirty and sexy, and I feel like we're more connected than ever.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Adia) Oh, I love that.

ROBINSON: (As Sade) Thanks, me too.

MARTIN: That whole line of feeling more connected than ever - I think a lot of people's connections feel tested right now. And I was just wondering what this has been like for the two of you.

ROBINSON: There are some definite similarities to our lives and to Sade and James. I mean, that was part of why we were excited to tell this story - because we recognized how wild and unique this time was for - not just for our household, but on a global level, for everyone.

And so to be able to time-capsule this and remember how this felt - I mean, for us, we - similarly to James and Sade, we don't spend anywhere near this amount of time together in our normal lives because Les is often, you know, traveling and on the road for a good portion of the month. And, you know, we're both working, and our lives are busy.

And so, for us, we really decided at the beginning of this quarantine that we could either be driven apart (laughter) or brought closer together due to these circumstances. And so we really focused on the latter and really committed to building our communication in a better, stronger way and really just enjoying this time that we get to spend together.

MARTIN: So it's so lovely talking with you both. I'm so happy to have a chance to speak with you both. Leslie Odom Jr., you know, I can't end this conversation without talking about "Hamilton." I mean...

ROBINSON: (Laughter).

MARTIN: The original...

ODOM: Sure.

MARTIN: ...Cast performance released on Disney+ - huge response. I mean, I don't even know what to ask you about it except that - I don't even know to ask you...

ROBINSON: (Laughter).

MARTIN: ...About that except what about that? You know, like (laughter)...

ODOM: Well, I'll say this - in absence - this moment without a question...

ROBINSON: (Laughter).

ODOM: You know, Tommy Kail - that's the director, for those of you guys - and the first thing I said to him was, as a father of a young, little Black girl, I tell you, I am always on the hunt.

When you look at all of entertainment - especially from - we're home now - right? - so we're watching TV and movies and stuff. You look at the history of film, and you would be hard-pressed to find me five to 10 movies that I can show a 3-year-old - family-friendly movies that reflect this little girl back in the way that her mother and I see her, in a way that is smart, brilliant even, and beautiful and the center of her own narrative and all those things.

Usually, little Black kids have to - we learn empathy early because we have to learn to see ourselves through Macaulay Culkin or Haley Joel Osment or - you know, we learn to imagine ourselves as Harrison Ford or Tom Cruise because the stories just haven't included us in that way. So I just thanked Tommy Kail for ushering these beautiful images of Black and brown people that I could show my kid. A long answer, but, you know, it just really made me emotional. I'm just so grateful that it exists.

MARTIN: Well, that is Leslie Odom Jr. and Nicolette Robinson. You can see them tonight in Freeform's "Love In The Time Of Corona." And if you missed tonight's episode, the show will be streaming on Hulu starting tomorrow.

Leslie Odom Jr., Nicolette Robinson, thank you so much. I do hope we'll talk again. Congratulations on everything.

ROBINSON: Thanks for having us.

ODOM: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.