You may not (yet) know Jovan Adepo by name, but if you’ve spent time in front of any kind of screen in the past handful of years, you’ve likely admired his work. Though still a relatively new addition to the IMDb rolls, Adepo has fought big-screen Nazi zombies in the J.J. Abrams-produced Overlord, and starred opposite Denzel Washington in the Oscar-nominated Fences. In the television space, meanwhile, he has courted prestige audiences as Michael Murphy in HBO’s The Leftovers, charmed the broadcast bunch as Lionel Jefferson in CBS’ live All in the Family/’The Jeffersons special, and squeezed streaming hearts as the grown-up Antron McCray in Ava DuVernay’s devastating limited Netflix series, When They See Us. When the second season of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan drops on Prime Video this November, the versatile young actor will add another streamer to his portfolio. When CBS All Access’ limited series adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand bows in 2020, he’ll add one more still.
These are all excellent projects, and Adepo is a bright spot in every one, but here at Paste Magazine, Adepo’s role taking up up the greatest share of our collective emotional real estate right now is the one living in the skin of Danny Greer, grieving brother-in-law to Elizabeth Olsen’s widowed Leigh Shaw in Kit Steinkellner’s differently devastating Facebook Watch series, Sorry for Your Loss.
The critically beloved half-hour drama, whose first season turned an excruciatingly intimate lens on Leigh’s hiccuping journey through grief after the sudden death of her husband, Matt (Mamoudou Athie), returned for its second season earlier this month, and while Leigh is still the focal point of the story, her immediate family—ex-brother-in-law Danny most especially, but also her adopted sister Jules (Kelly Marie Tran) and their single mom Amy (Janet McTeer)—all find their own arcs given significantly more oxygen. This narrative expansion is due in great part to the state of mind Leigh is in now that she’s six months out from the initial blow of Matt’s death, finally able to make slightly more room for other people’s problems and grief to exist alongside her own. As the season has built, though, Danny’s experience of living in a world without his older brother (but with Leigh) has unfurled into an ever-thornier shape, and it has become clear that just as much of the emotional impact of this season’s shift in focus comes directly from the magnetic honesty Adepo brings to the role.
Adepo was gracious enough to take some time before jetting up to Vancouver to work on The Stand to hop on the phone with us. While he refrained from dropping any hints about where Danny’s thorn-filled journey might end up, he was more than happy to talk about what drew him to the series, what fan feedback has been like given the emotional intimacy inherent to the story, and about Danny’s expanded role in Season Two.
Note: The conversation that follows has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Paste: Before we get into the weeds of the new season, can you talk a bit about how you got involved with the project in the first place? On its face, Sorry for Your Loss isn’t a huge departure from other modern, high caliber dramas, but Facebook Watch is such an unlikely platform.
Adepo: Well, my agent called me and explained that Elizabeth Olsen was doing this show that was going to be on this new platform for Facebook. The platform caught my attention, [but also] the subject matter was really interesting to me. I always like to pursue characters who are underdogs, or who have to go through some type of life trauma, just because there’s so much to be discovered in that, so I wanted to at least go in and read for the part, and do a chemistry read with Lizzie. Then when I spoke with Kit and James [Ponsoldt] and Robin [Schwartz] and all the other producers on the show, they explained how the story was about a close knit group of people who are all trying to grieve together over this one person they all loved, but how in doing so, it kind of puts them all in these weird places. I was just really interested in being a part of all of that.
Paste: What has the platform experience ultimately been like, having this show be on Facebook Watch where it’s not just a streaming service, but there’s also a social element? Part of the promotional materials this season included information about the official (private) Facebook group dedicated to the show, and how it’s become a place for fans to build community around their own experiences of grief, which is obviously not the kind of integrated experience other streamers include.
Adepo: I think it’s an interesting challenge for all of the streaming platforms, to try to stick with what works but also try to find a way to separate themselves from one another, you know what I mean? I don’t think that Facebook really wants to aggressively compete with anybody, I think that they just have this really unique kind of platform where the show is available for audiences to watch at any moment, [but also] to then talk about it with like-minded people, all in one outlet. Like you can watch the show, and then as soon as the end credits are over, you can comment, right under the video itself. So it makes it really easy to have those kinds of support groups and to get conversations started.
Paste: The first rule of the internet is Don’t Read the Comments, so hopefully you’re not reading any of those conversations firsthand, but what have you noticed fans resonating with when you’ve interacted with them in other arenas?
Adepo: No, I’ve been warned! I stay away from the comments as much as possible. But I would say, just from the screenings that we’ve done and the conversations that we’ve held for individual episodes, it’s been really cool to see how these really difficult circumstances that our characters are experiencing are allowing people who are watching to kind of come to peace with their own issues, whether it be with friends or families. I think the fact that we are so open about the conversations that our characters are having, it gives people a safe place to join in on the conversation.
Paste: Season Two is much more Danny’s season than Season One was. What was it like to go from playing Danny’s grief more behind the scenes/through Leigh’s warped perspective then, to what it’s like now when we’re getting more of it firsthand, unmediated?
Adepo: It was exciting to transition into that. I mean, I had a lot of fun last season. It was cool to have them set this rhythm with Leigh, everyone experiencing this tragic moment through her eyes, and then to be able to just pop up in scenes with her and give fans a taste of another kind of variable. Not that I got in the way of her of her mourning, but just kind of… it was like Danny was a wrench that got in the way of her weeks of recovery, you know what I mean? So it was really cool to switch from Leigh’s perspective and how she saw Matt, how she remembers him, to now getting to see how Danny remembers him. Now, whether it’s 100 percent accurate or if it’s his imagination kind of getting away from him because of his emotions or whatever, who knows, but it’s been cool to give a different taste, a different beat. I think just the rhythm of each episode is different than it was last year because, like you said, it’s from a different perspective, from a different set of eyes, from a different sort of body chemistry, even.
Paste: Talking about rhythm, from the start, the episodes have rarely been told in a traditional three-act structure. They don’t follow the beats you would expect, especially going back and forth in time as often as the story does—which, maybe partly that’s because grief and mourning don’t follow any rules. What was the experience like on the other side of the camera, telling a story that’s so non-linear?
Adepo: I think I think it just makes it more real. The thing that I really have appreciated about the writer’s room on the show is that they understand that life doesn’t work out neatly. Some issues are so deep-rooted and so traumatic that you can’t just resolve them at the end of the day. Specifically in this case, if we’re talking about the loss of a loved one, sometimes you can have a really good day, you know what I mean? If you need grief group, you go to grief group, you talk openly with your peers, you feel good, you stand on a routine, and you say, like, okay, I’m taking positive steps toward moving all of my life in a good direction. But then, for no reason at all, you’ll have a bad day.
I always remember one of the earlier episodes last season, where Leigh was going to grief group, and she was using a lot of those sessions just to have a donut. Because even though she was there to try to move on from the loss of her husband, she also knew, hey, I’m always going to get to have a little treat, and that’s what I’m associating with his grief group! So when they switched it up and they brought vegetables—you remember, when they brought carrots? And she flipped out! She had been having a pretty efficient day up until that moment, you know what I mean? So it’s really cool to get to show that it’s okay to slip up and take a step back sometimes. Everything isn’t always going to be advancing, sometimes you’re going to hiccup, sometimes you’re going to trip and fall, but as long as you get back up… And that’s what all our characters are doing, last season and this season, always stepping. Sometimes we fall, but at least we’re moving.
Paste: Season One ended with the voicemail Danny left on Matt’s phone about being in love with Leigh, which Danny wouldn’t necessarily know Leigh has access to. The most recent episode (2.05, “Norway”) found Danny communicating that feeling more directly, so obviously some things have changed between then and now, but can you talk a bit about Danny’s headspace when he recorded that first message? Were these feelings that he really had, and leaving the voicemail was a way for him to start processing them? Or was it more that he was mixed up in grief, and leaving that voicemail was more of a way for him to exorcise them before he said something out loud to someone who could actually hear it?
Adepo: I think I think it was a combination of all of that. At the end of the first season, Danny was dealing with a lot of emotions that he didn’t know what to do with, and I think even going into the second season that’s still true. I mean, it takes awhile to get over losing somebody who’s close to you, and then while you’re dealing with that and having to share grief with other people, you’re going to feel a lot of emotions. And like we were talking about earlier, we can’t control how that plays out, because feelings also aren’t linear. So I’m not sure if I can totally say that yes, he made the voicemail because it was something that was really on his heart and he needed to say it. I do think he wanted to entertain the feeling—all the feelings he was experiencing, which seemed to hit him all at once—in a place that seemed safe. Because as far as he knew, nobody was going to get access to the voicemail, it was almost like having like a cone of silence, like he could say what he needed to say without judgment, and without a rebuttal. So I think by the end of last season, he’s at least said what he thinks he’s feeling, and then okay, it’s out of his head, he can try to move on.
Paste: In terms of how Danny tries to move on, talk a bit about the appeal of the brazenly abrasive stranger he meets at his work friend’s Christmas party in the second episode. What drew him to her?
Adepo: I think the thing that attracted him to her more than anything was the fact that she kind of provoked that urge that he has to just live life without thinking too much, and not living inside of a box, and really just enjoying the time that he has on this Earth. And I think it can get annoying when somebody really just wants to start enjoying life—like all day, all me, all 2020 baby, this is my year, eff it!—because there are people who are around him or her who aren’t in that same space. So I think Danny running into that young lady, she was kind of speeding into that, and he was like, yeah, whatever this feeling is, I’m trying to chase some more of that shit, you know?
Paste: It’s interesting that the person who then picks him up after that all goes down is Jules (Tran), who’s on the other side of that curve, having lived a lot of her life with the most dangerously extreme version of that sort of perspective before now working to figure out a more balanced approach. Their connection is even more tenuous than the one between him and Leigh, but there’s clearly a lot of tenderness there.
Adepo: Danny and Jules have this weird understanding of each other. You know how some folks, you don’t have to be around all the time, but every time you’re in each other’s company, you just vibe? I feel like that’s what it is with Danny and Jules, because they’re both the younger siblings and they got—these are my words, though maybe perhaps also a little bit Danny’s—like they both have older siblings who are kind of tightwads. [laughs] So it’s like whenever I see Jules, it’s like, you know, ’sup? and she’s like, ’sup? and that’s it! We know what it is.
Paste: Without spoiling anything, what opportunities do you think there are for a third season?
Adepo: I have no idea, you have the wrong person for all that! I think there’s always room for a third season, but I just don’t know. But I will say, what I can appreciate about really good storytelling is that sometimes the stories that I really, really end up thinking about long after I’ve watched them are the ones that don’t seem to have an ending, you know? The ones that give room for audiences to figure out what’s going on next? It drives me crazy, as a viewer, but that’s what tells me the storyteller did their job.
Sorry for Your Loss is available streaming now on Facebook Watch. New episodes from Season Two drop every Tuesday.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.