by Jennifer Hamra
Have you seen the new romantic drama Love Is ___? It’s featured on Oprah’s OWN channel and many fans are lovin’ this new African American-based television show. Loosely based on the real-life marriage between producers Mara Brock Akil (Girlfriends, Being Mary Jane, The Game) and Salim Akil (Black Lightning), Love Is __ is about characters Nuri and Yasir, a young black couple who are trying to make it in the entertainment industry. The show takes you on a journey of love as Nuri and Yasir look back on their relationship after celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary.
I was so excited to catch up with actor Will Catlett, who plays Yasir on the show, and learn more about Love Is ___. Talking to Will felt like I was talking to a friend who was offering me encouraging advice on life and relationships. Hence, the title of this article.
Will shared his thoughts with me on the importance of knowing the character of your partner; being attracted to films and TV shows that “go beyond the screen”; and what it is like working with Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil, the creators and executive producers of Love Is ___.
And you already know, I had to ask Will if he met the one and only Ms. Oprah Winfrey! How could I not? Will told me meeting Oprah was a life-changing experience for him that he does not take for granted. “We sat down and talked for 25 minutes and it changed my life,” Will told me. “Oprah is a true gem, and I know that people will never meet her in their lifetime and I don’t take that for granted.”
Hope you like my interview with Will Catlett!
On working with Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil:
“It’s like walking into a museum or looking at a Picasso painting or a Basquiat painting. There’s so many different layers to them. Salim always, every time I see him he looks at me: Are you having fun? And it’s like a code into the Matrix. It just grounds you right away to know okay, Yeah you doing this. Yeah your show is coming out. All this is going on but are you having fun? Let’s bring it back down to the reason you started doing this in the first place.”
Mara’s bubbliness and how she looks at you — it’s just love, you know, and it’s real. You don’t feel like you’re dealing with people that is trying to pull one over your head. It’s just real, and they don’t need anything from anyone. They’re great within themselves. It causes you to be even more grounded and balanced.”
On the character Yasir:
“Salim all he needed was an opportunity. Will Catlett all he needed was an opportunity. Yasir all he needed was an opportunity. So we all walk that same line. Although Yasir is between two different women and down to two unemployment checks he’s broke financially, but he’s not broke mentally. And he’s in a space right now he’s trying to figure it out and when he meets Nuri (played by actress Michele Weaver) he realizes okay, this woman was broke and chasing a dream last year. Now she’s writing on this show Martin. The dream is real. It can happen.
So hopefully, when people see Yasir they don’t see someone trying to use somebody, but they will see somebody looking at Nuri and seeing an opportunity, not as an opportunist, but seeing that she has went ahead and she has captured something that I haven’t captured.
And Nuri — even though she doesn’t believe in my dream because she’s dealing with her own issues trying to figure her life out. You know, even though she’s saying, No one will ever read your script. She’s pushing me (Yasir) closer and closer to that opportunity. She’s serving a purpose, as well, and Yasir also loves this woman and came down from the bay with this woman and he still wants her to be happy even though they can’t have that sovereignty together.”
On how he thinks Yasir and Nuri’s relationship on Love Is ___ relates to real-life relationships off-screen?
“I think it’s going to relate well. I think people are going to say, Man, I overlooked this guy. I overlooked this woman. Love does not play by your rules. Love cannot be put in a box. It just is.
Hopefully, [Love Is ___] will cause people to say, You know what? I had all these list of things my partner has to have in them and it has nothing to do with a potential.“
I always tell women and men, You want to look for the character. Does the person have great character that you can bet on. You can’t bet on the car, the house, or the money. Does he have a job? They may have a good car and a good job, but he’s beating your ass every night. You know what I’m saying. Or a woman could have a good car and a good job and be verbally abusing you telling you ain’t ever gonna be nothing. Not knowing that her power can change the world because she has the power to influence. The man is the head and the woman is the neck. She can turn that neck, either way she wanna go. That’s why it’s so important for people to pick the right people to be with. Not just your soulmate. It’s the one that you choose and then your souls intertwine and that’s how you become a soulmate.”
On Nuri being more successful professionally than Yasir:
“I know that thought can go two different ways. You know, some men might say, Here we go again with another show and the woman’s successful. What about the man? When he gonna get up? That you have to wait for, you know. I think it’s great. I love women who are independent and who are working and going after their dreams and their aspirations. As long as each person knows their position.
I don’t mind if my wife makes more money than me. That doesn’t bother me at all. That’s cool but know your position. I’m still the protector. Allow me to be in my domain. Don’t talk in my face that you make more money than me because that means you want to be the man and not the woman. It’s not about the dollar amount that you make because at the end of the day, I understand what’s my money is your money and what’s your money is your money. You follow me. (laughs). What’s my money is your money and what’s your money is your money. It’s all one, you know.
And we can be on that concept men would have no problem with it because you would partner with that woman and you would eventually get to the place that you wanna go. Now it becomes a problem when a woman is making more money and that man is sitting on the couch and ain’t doing nothing. That’s when we go back to character. Okay, his character is not where it needs to be.
Because I’ve been broke and I’ve been lucky to meet so many beautiful women and I remember one young lady, she was paying my cell phone bill at the time and helping me out you know and I know there could have been a place where things could have been used. Could I have gotten anything out of her? Yeah. But see my character wouldn’t have allowed me to do that. I appreciate the help, but I’m not going to use you because that’s not me. Because If I use you then alternately I’m using myself.”
On being the most attracted to films and television shows that “go beyond the screen and you should feel something when you watch it.”
“If it’s not doing that, then I won’t do it. It has to live beyond me…It has to go beyond. It’s almost like ministry. If not, then you just watch something to watch it and there’s no change.
People should look at Love Is ___ and be like, Man, Love Is ___ achievable. I can do it. Okay, I’ve been divorced twice or four times. It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be trying again. I shouldn’t be bitter. If it can be an antidote to bitterness and to the hurt and the pain, then we’re doing something.
I believe that the world is getting back to that — the world meaning that the people of the world — are getting back to authenticity. No one is looking for the “microwave generation”. No one is looking for the instant likes and I’m only going to put this picture up because it’s going to get likes and when it doesn’t I’m going to take it down.
We can no longer live in that environment. We gotta go back to the roots. Even Instagram, the root of why it was made was to be for families to share their photos Now there’s people who are verified. It became a whole thing. That’s not a knock to Instagram and Facebook. That’s a knock to how we consume content.”
On 90s music hits featured in Love Is ___:
“The music of the 90s there was that authenticity. It was real. You’re going to be able to feel that. Music is the only thing that passes straight through the subconscious. That’s why you’re able to remember a song that you heard 25 years ago and know the lyrics to it. The 90s was a beautiful time.”
On Love Is ___ being a story about Black Love and not being a stereotypical depiction of Black characters we normally see on TV:
“I don’t like to get into a colored thing of Black Love. Love is love. Love doesn’t have a color. I think the question behind the question is liberation. It’s going to liberate people. African Americans – us – seeing each other. Seeing ourselves on television normal.
You’re going to see two black men having a conversation. Two black women having a conversation. You’re going to see love. You’re going to see it as raw as possible. You don’t even think about this person is black. This person is white. It just IS.
On Love Is ___ helping police officers drop the stereotypes of African Americans:
“And hopefully, Love Is __ will go into the police department because now people will identify and see us differently. And won’t just be afraid when they pull us out of the car, pull us over. To this day, I still drive and when a cop is coming behind me or perpendicular to me, you still think, Am I going to get pulled over? That’s psychological warfare.
If I was a white man, I don’t know if I’d have that conscious of thinking because they don’t have that same pressure. If I get pulled over in this day in time, it even goes back to the 60s you don’t know what can actually happen, and that’s a fear no man should have to walk within this life.
A man should be able to walk the world at any time he wants to. California is not mine. The world is mine. I should be able to set up shop wherever I want to go. I should not be afraid to drive down the street in my car and a police officer who is supposed to serve and protect is so afraid of me reaching for my wallet or whatever and kill me. Hopefully, this (Love Is ___) will change that. That people will see us differently.
Athletes made us famous around the world. You go to China, which I’ve been, and you’ll see Kobe Bryant and LeBron. You’ll see all these people. We’re already operating on that. We’ve been operating on that since the beginning of time. So now it’s us getting back to us.
When a situation like that happens, maybe that officer will have watched Love Is __ and pulls that black man over and say, How you doing man the reason I stopped you is because you got a tail light out, but how’s your day going? It’s going good, Okay, cool. I have to see your license and registration. And then go from there.
Why are we not having that conservation instead of, License and registration, please? You know, you’re not above me. We’re still human. Especially for the young guys out there, that they will know protocol, too. When a police officer stops you, you have to know the protocol. You can’t be irate because that person that’s coming in is coming in already irate. You can’t be, Naw, Naw, I’m not getting out the car because then you know what it is. You know what it is, you know what I’m saying. Relax. Be at peace.”
On meeting Oprah Winfrey:
“You hear about Oprah, whether you hear it’s good or you interpret who you think she should be, but she is Love Is ___. She is Nelson Mandela, Sydney Portier. She is Maya Angelou. She is everything and more, and she understands who she is and when you’re in her presence it’s like WOW. And it’s not wow in awe wow. It’s: Man, talk to me. Help me. Because you been through and you’re still standing and you care so much about humanity.
You know, just looking in her eyes when she looks at you, she LOOKS at you. It’s not all this game. She doesn’t care about the Emmy’s and all this other stuff. Oprah knows clearly what she’s doing and what she wants to do and it’s genuine and it’s real and you can feel that. Anyone who has met Oprah in person, they will understand what I mean. It’s like you can’t put it into words. It’s just: Thank you, you know what I mean. Thank you.
There were times I was sitting in that meeting and I wanted to cry. It’s almost like when Muhammad Ali’s wife looked at him and said, I saw God. That’s how it feels because you see love and that is God.”
You can catch the next episode of Love Is ___ on the OWN network on Tuesday, August 21st at 9 p.m. Central / 10 p.m. EST
Special thanks to Will Catlett for taking the time to interview with Good Life Detroit!
All photographs are courtesy of Will Catlett by photographer Troken George.