The Knockturnal got to speak to the amazing Zoë Chao about her new show streaming only on HBO Max, ‘Love Life’.
She plays the character Sara Yang and stars alongside Anna Kendrick. You may also recognize her from her role in Downhill opposite Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell.
Read our exclusive interview below where we talk all things rom-com, exes, Love Life, and dish our secret love of crocs!
The Knockturnal: One of the things I love most about the show was how refreshing its portrayal of love was. In your opinion, what’s something you tried to steer away from in terms of a cliche in pop culture?
Zoë Chao: Well I mean, I give a lot of credit to Sam Boyd, Bridget Bedard, and the writing team because they wrote such amazing scripts that we could then be inside and they never wrote anything that felt canned or cliche or derivative. I think that’s what’s cool about Love Life, it examines love at a lot of different angles and many different kinds of love and I think we are often fed, you know you grow up and you have this idea of how it’s gonna go. Nothing goes the way you think it’s gonna go, love being one of the things you can’t control or predict, I think Love Life does a good job of painting a messy portrait of the many different ways we can love.
The Knockturnal: On that note, there’s a brilliant scene where Darby runs into Augie and she’s wearing her crocs. Without getting too specific, I’m curious to see if you’ve ever had a similar situation with an ex?
Zoë Chao: *laughs* You know, let’s see. I mean I keep thinking I’m running into an ex in New York, and I go into a full-body flop sweat and it turns out to never be that person, thank god *laughs*. No no, I’ve dated some great people. I haven’t been caught in crocs, although crocs are really comfortable and I think crocs convey you’re taking care of your feet, that you have a lot of self-love. So I think it’s cool to get caught in your crocs.
The Knockturnal: Everyone should walk confidently in their crocs!!
Zoë Chao: Yes! Like, “I’m doing fine, ex lover I’m taking care of my body by wearing comfortable shoes.”
The Knockturnal: Exactly! Another thing I loved was that this wasn’t your normal portrayal of a love story in a rom-com, it takes place over ten years. What’s something you wish you could say to yourself ten years ago?
Zoë Chao: *Exhales* Phew, coming with it with these questions! Okay Uhm, Zoë ten years ago- baby Zoë. Well, baby Zoë didn’t listen to anybody so I would say, “Hey, you’re probably not going to listen to this but..” I don’t know man! I don’t even know I think I’m still learning about love. I mean every single time I think I’ve gotten to the next landing or graduated to a deeper understanding of how relationships are supposed to work and how I’m supposed to work inside of them. Something happens and I’m like, “Oh my gosh I know nothing.” I think dedicating yourself to another person however you may do that is challenging no matter what, so I don’t know if I would’ve done anything differently. In which case I’ve always tried to lead with curiosity and trying your best. Tons of mistakes for sure but no regrets.
The Knockturnal: No no that’s great it’s good to know there’s no mistakes or huge missteps, not a lot of people can say that.
Zoë Chao: *laughs* No yeah yeah sure and I’m sure ten minutes after this interview I’ll be like, “What were you saying?” That was such a crock of shit. No, but I think the hardest thing is, to be honest, and true to yourself and good to the other person consistently and to be communicative. I think I’ve gotten better at communicating and I think one thing I’ve learned is it’s better to talk about it than not, and the sooner the better is probably something I’d tell my younger self.
The Knockturnal: Well said. How would you characterize your character, Sara?
Zoë Chao: Sara Yang is kind of like the life of the party, she’s super fun and funny and kind of wild. She’s Darby’s best friend, they’re roommates and have been friends since the first day of college. They’re kind of each other’s yin and yang and we get to watch them grow up and watch their relationship grow and like many relationships there comes a point where you find out you’re not necessarily heading in the same direction. With Sara, we see she’s having a hard time growing and facing some of her demons like around substance abuse. Sara’s cool cause you think she’s one thing when you’re watching the show and is actually something different, like most people often do in life, in real life. You can’t always predict who someone is.
The Knockturnal: The relationship between Jim and Sara is so prevalent throughout the whole story, the relationship goes through some pretty intense hardships, how was that for you to be able to portray?
Zoë Chao: Oh yeah, well once again, I’m thankful for the Love Life creative team because they gave us such meaty arcs and scenes and dialogue. It was just a joy to work with Peter Vack, it was the second time we played partners in a tv show, and acting with him was very fun. I just feel like we give each other the permission to do the thing, you know to go wherever and try things on and if that doesn’t work to do it in a different take and to play with each other. Yeah, and I think if you’ve lived long enough you’ve encountered some really dark moments with loved ones whether it’s romantic or familial or friendships. I think we just came to those scenes with feeling the responsibility of portraying it in a grounded way because all relationships are hard.
The Knockturnal: I loved how honest and vulnerable it was in explaining all of this you did such an amazing job!
Zoë Chao: Awww, thank you!
The Knockturnal: Of course! So, what are some of your favorite rom coms?
Zoë Chao: Oooh. There are some really good ones, I grew up on old movies, my mom loves film. We started off with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies like Swing times. It’s cool cause Ginger Rogers is such a badass female protagonist and they were making films in the 1930s and ’40s and she is magnetic and Fred Astaire, you know who’s like the most charismatic person ever. I only watched Ginger, they did a lot of rom-com duets together. Uhm, Jane Fonda, and Robert Redford in Barefoot in the Park, so good. Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole in this movie How to Steal a Million. It was like an art heist film, but they fall in love while in the middle of stealing this sculpture. Then like contemporary romcoms, J. Lo and Matthew McConaughey! The Wedding Planner spoke to me, I was somewhere and they were playing it and I was glued to the screen the whole time.
The Knockturnal: So what’s like your go-to movie? For me going forward this is definitely a comfort series, what show provides that comfort for you?
Zoë Chao: That’s so nice! Oh man, well I watch really weird things. Oddly things that are salve to me are like, The Great British Bake Off well it’s not that weird it has a huge following. Well, I got a hold of a few seasons that aren’t available in the US and my friend sent them to my dropbox and I was like this is the best thing anyone’s given me. I also really love this discovery on Hulu. There’s a show on Hulu called Alaska the Last Frontier and it’s about a homesteading family in Alaska, three generations of people who live off the land. I really love it, I’ve watched all nine seasons. I also really like dark Scandinavian mystery genres, those are oddly comforting for me. *laughs*
The Knockturnal: You mentioned narration so I have to bring up the amazing narrator you have, Lesley Manville is so incredible to have throughout that whole series. On that note, if you could pick someone to narrate your life, who would it be?
Zoë Chao: These are great questions! Uhm, oh my god probably my sister. She’s funny and super smart and understands me sometimes I think better than I understand myself. So I think she’d be a very accurate honest witty narrator for my life.
The Knockturnal: Is there a specific moment would you dread to see narrated by your sister?
Zoë Chao: Oh my gosh. Uhm, I mean I crashed three cars in the time I lived in LA, it was my fault every time. So anyone of the car crashes would be a time I would not want to relive or have anyone witness. Two of those crashes involved PT cruisers that I owned, one involved a rental car on the way to get a PT cruiser. It’s not my favorite chapter in life.
The Knockturnal: What’s something that you feel you’ve been able to learn from your portrayal of Sara and incorporate in your personal life.
Zoë Chao: Oh wow, well I think Sara exists in these kinds of extreme pockets and has a zest and zeal for life. She was demanding to live inside of but very exciting because she doesn’t hold back, and as a performer to be inside of someone who doesn’t censor themself and cant was a really freeing exercise personally and as an actor. I feel like I grew a lot working on Love Life, really because Sara gave me the permission to go for it. I think sometimes working in TV and film there’s a lot of pressure to you know keep things moving along and there’s tons of people on set or you’re on location and there’s tons of people watching and it’s hard to really give yourself the time and space to figure something out. I really got to play with Sara and I give credit to Sam Boyd who was always championing me along the way saying yes yes more! So yeah I’ve taken that with me into life and hopefully into my next projects.