In My Own Words with… Modern Love’s Sophie Okonedo and Tobias Menzies: ‘I demand a lot of romance in my life'

The British actors talk about the rekindled romance at the heart of their episode of Modern Love season 2, and their views on love and vulnerability.

By Becky Gamester-Newton Published: 5 August 2021 - 3.48pm
Amazon Prime Video Tobias Menzies and Sophie Okonedo in Modern Love season 2

Sophie Okonedo and Tobias Menzies share one of the Modern Love season 2 episodes – and it’s an emotional take on healing and second chances.

In Second Embrace, With Hearts And Eyes Open, they portray a separated couple who unexpectedly find themselves wondering if they can rekindle their romance.

In an interview with BT.com and other press, the British actors discuss their views on love and second chances.

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On the two main themes of the episode - healing and second chances…

Tobias Menzies: I think [second chances are] definitely possible. That's why I think it's quite a romantic episode actually. The idea of second chances of being able to go back and maybe heal something, maybe the mistakes you've made. It's hard not to be moved by that idea because I'm sure everyone has stuff in their lives that you probably regret. I guess that's what the episode is digging into, that kind of area. I certainly hope I'll get some second chances.

Sophie Okonedo: There's always opportunity for healing, but it's whether you take them or not. And in this story, they're given that chance. Then they grab it.

Love stories in a pandemic are important because…

Sophie: I think the stories that people that are craving now are slightly different to pre-Covid times. You do want to have to have healing stories. It feels quite powerful at the moment, about the coming together and healing and hope. I feel like that feels quite a powerful story at the moment. It's also nice to watch things where have a bit of a laugh. I think laughing at the moment, it feels really important. I'm very attracted to things that make me laugh.

Tobias: I think I think we're all in need of a bit of encouragement, aren't we? For so many reasons, the last year-and-a-half has been difficult. The show that John [Carney, the director] makes is a celebration of different relationships in all the different shapes, but generally looking at it from an angle of love and hopefulness, I think. I hope our episode is a nice contribution to that.

Sophie Okonedo is in Modern Love season 2 Getty/2019 SOPA Images

On using my own life experience when creating characters…

Sophie: I think I always draw on myself in absolutely everything I do. I'm quite lazy, so I'll go for the easiest part, the thing that's closest to me is what I'll use. And then I'll start reaching out to the things that are further away from me and then having to do a bit more than that. But I always start with myself anyway. And even though they end up being quite different for me, I think I just start with myself.

Tobias: I work in a similar way to Sophie in that regard, to make it as real as possible you draw on your own experiences of those kind of events in your own life. They don't have to be actual, the same thing - but everything is in that same area. For this episode around relationships that have fallen apart and then, but you still have feelings for that person and are there opportunities to rebuild things? Most people after a certain age, it's hard not to look back at certain relationships and wonder if there was still life in them.

Sophie: I think I think it's also that the notion that you can just see someone differently. Like one day you're just walking along and you see them in one way, and then suddenly you see in a different way and then you can't unsee them that way. That's it. You're on that next thing now, and that part of the story I really enjoyed. Once she crossed that line, it was very difficult to step back.

On my views on love changing over time…

Sophie: Yes I suppose it's changing all the time. I'm really romantic. I demand a lot of romance in my life. I don't always get it, but I demand it.

Tobias: I don't know if I am a very romantic person by nature. I think I can be but sometimes I'm also a bit of a cynic.

Tobias Menzies is in Modern Love season 2 Getty/2021 Dave J Hogan

Why it’s important to show vulnerability to loved ones…

Sophie: So much of life is about that, to be human and to show your vulnerability. It's extraordinary to watch someone do that and be a witness to it. Everyone hopes that you feel brave enough. And I suppose when you see them do it at the Olympics, it gives licence to other people to to be able to say: "Actually I'm not OK with this, and I can't quite cope with this right now, and I don't have to be superhuman". Thank goodness. What relief for us all. We don't have to be superhuman.

Tobias: I'm definitely not superhuman. One of the ways that you get to know someone and you get close to someone is through seeing their vulnerabilities and them trusting you and showing you that. In a way, that's probably one of the fundamental things about how to get closer and love someone. Hopefully the vulnerability and tenderness that's in the episode, that felt like a really necessary ingredient to tell that story - obviously because of what his character goes through, but you get a sense that he has had to go through a journey in order for her to meet a slightly different person than she remembered in a way. Part of that journey is him becoming a little more porous and a little more.

Sophie: You could really see that in the scene. And I haven't watched it because I don't like to watch myself, even though I'd be intrigued to see the episode but I haven't watched it. But I can remember the filming of it, and I remember in the scene when I'm taking the bandages off and all I was really doing was watching your face. And then I could experience the experience by watching you watch me. And that felt very powerful.

Tobias: Some of the most revealing stuff that couples can go through is significant illness. And so we can either bring you much closer or pull you apart.

On working with young actors…

Sophie: These two kids [Savannah Skinner-Henry and Ellie-Mae Siame, who play the two daughters in this episode of Modern Love] were complete naturals. They weren't theatre children. I don't think they'd ever done anything before.

I really just let them get on with it, because they just did their own thing and they had so much energy, and they're so real that you didn't really want to interfere with that. It wasn't about them having a technique or anything.

And John is brilliant with filming kids. He just really knows how to do it. So that made it very easy. And the way the set was, in the way they're allowed a lot of freedom and they weren't having to sort of stand in a spot and say a line there and all that. Everything was just freed up for them. I think that made it a lot better.

Sometimes we maybe have to say, "perhaps don't eat so many sweets before lunchtime, otherwise you'll go through the roof".

John Carney directs Modern Love Getty/2016 Jim Spellman

Tobias: I think it's definitely not about giving them advice or making them aware of the process at all. The more we can just distract them, so they're almost oblivious to when they were being filmed or how it was working, that helped them to be as natural as they were able to be.

I wanted to be in Modern Love because…

Tobias: I really liked the format because it's unusual in that it's short, half-hour and they're vignettes. So you just get a burst of atmosphere, almost. The stories are not that long. I think also it's a really nice opportunity for good actors to do really good acting. I saw some performances in [the first season] which I just really enjoyed.

The atmosphere is a really nice, relaxed, collaborative experience. So I suppose the mixture of those things are just slightly different than a lot of other stuff out there.

Sophie: I didn't watch any of season one before we started. There were three reasons I took the job: I loved the script; Tobias; and John [Carney] - I'd seen some of his previous work, not Modern Love. So that was why I went to it.

Modern Love season 2 is available on Amazon Prime Video from Friday, August 13. Season 1 is streaming now.

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