Janelle Monáe on Not Living ‘Life in a Binary Way,’ Working on ‘Homecoming’ Season 2

Danielle Turchiano

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Janelle Monáe doesn’t “live [her] life in a binary way.” Therefore, she doesn’t look at her body of work as being a musician first and an actor second, or vice versa. Instead, she just wants to “tell stories that need to be told,” she said at the Television Critics Assn. press tour panel for her upcoming season of “Homecoming” on Amazon Prime Video.

“I consider myself a storyteller and when I saw Season 1 and I listened to the podcast, I was a fan,” Monáe said of her new gig. “I’ve always tried to get rid of all of those things — any labels — and work on my journey, wherever that may be. I do feel like I am an experience, I am on self-discovery, and I just want to continue to show love to everyone who continues to live outside of the binary.”

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Although her schedule is very busy, when this new role of Jackie, a woman who wakes up in a rowboat in the middle of the lake with no memory, came about she “moved my schedule around, and I made it happen.” The biggest difference for Monáe working on a series rather than an album, she shared, is that “when I’m working on music, everything is under Janelle Monáe. I get judged from what the baseline sounds like to the cover art. It’s very personal to me, and I lead with honesty. When you’re working on a film [or TV] you don’t get the final say for the final cut.”

Monáe is far from the only new element of “Homecoming” Season 2. While Sam Esmail, who executive produces, directed all 10 episodes of the first season that launched in November 2018 on the streamer, Season 2 sees Kyle Patrick Alvarez step behind the camera to helm the story.

Alvarez admitted that as a fan of the first season, he didn’t want to “deliberately put my own stamp on it” as a director. His mission was to use the first season as inspiration for the second, and he said he believes that “aesthetically, people will find a lot of similarities.”

The mystery of the second season, though, is “generated from a different place,” than the mystery in the first, Alvarez continued. “It’s less literal and more how did these characters get to this place, how did they end up here?” he said. And the music for the show will be notably different, as well, as rather than trying to recreate the vintage musical cues of the first season, Alvarez shared they were going for “flavor [and] a new quality.”

Additionally, co-creator Eli Horowitz said that the second season is “much more expansive in its location and in its energy,” with “many characters trying to find their way home, so to say.”

One such expansion is with the role of Audrey Temple (Hong Chau), who at the end of the first season brought bureaucrat Colin Belfast (Bobby Cannavale) to his knees.

“We find out more about how she got to be in that position,” Chau said. “I look at Audrey Temple’s journey this season as sort of a coming-of-age of a young professional and looking at why we do the things that we do: Is it because we want to do them, or is it because we feel this is something we’re supposed to do?”

The second season is set during the “fallout of the homecoming program,” said co-creator Micah Bloomberg. In some ways, the season will go “far afield from where we were in Season 1,” he admitted, but in others it will be intimately tied to where they left off. Veteran Walter (Stephan James), whose journey in the experimental homecoming program was a big focus of the first season, is back, for example.

Bloomberg noted that the writers’ room wants the “entirety of the arcs to be informed as we go along. We don’t have a bible that stretches out to Season 5.” When they’re not focused on working on “week by week” stories, they do look back at the journey of the season and the show as a whole. It is important to them to keep the “feverish feeling” established in the “puzzle box” mystery of season one going in Season 2 — and beyond, if they are lucky enough to get more seasons, he noted.

“Homecoming” Season 2 wants its audience to be “desperate to find out what happens next, and no single episode gives you that satisfying feeling until you run through to the end,” he explained.

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