Xosha Roquemore and Alano Miller
In the OWN anthology series Cherish the Day, Ava DuVernay — creator, writer, executive producer — plays with structure, form and content as she revels in the kind of love story that television rarely presents.
Her two stars, Xosha Roquemore and Alano Miller, were game for all of it.
Cherish the Day does just what the title says. Each of its eight episodes takes an intimate look at 24 hours in the lives of two people as they fall for each other.
Those eight days unfold months apart, so the entire season ends up spanning five years. Each season will focus on a different couple in its celebration of black love. First up in the series is the story of Gently and Evan, played by Roquemore and Miller.
"Gently is a free spirit and a world traveler," Roquemore says. Her past, however, harbors great trauma: Gently's father was killed when she was a child, and her mother abandoned her. She was raised by her father's friend Ben (played by Michael Beach), and his crew of tough but tender friends.
Gently goes where the wind takes her — until she meets Evan.
"He knocks her off her feet and makes her question everything she thinks she stood for. When we meet her, she's juggling a couple guys. I think that's very cool, and that ain't me, so I'm jealous of her," the actress says, laughing.
"I love how confident she is. I love all these things about her." Gently works as a caregiver for an elderly actress named Miss Luma Lee Langston, and lives with her in an elegant Craftsman house in South Los Angeles.
Miss Luma, played by the legendary Cicely Tyson, is something of a mentor to Gently.
Evan, meanwhile, is all Type A and no-nonsense. A successful businessman who lives to work, he drives a Tesla and owns a home in L.A.'s upscale Venice neighborhood. He has long put his own dreams aside to continue achieving in the manner that will most please his similarly accomplished parents.
Gently and Evan meet cute in a library, and sparks fly — along with some fur.
He tries to help her out of a jam; she emphatically turns him down. But they see something in each other that intrigues them enough to continue. Day turns into night, and every interaction becomes a litmus test — even choosing a piece of cheesecake. As the season progresses, so does their relationship.
"Honestly, any couple goes through this, which is what makes this story so relatable," Roquemore says. "They come from totally different backgrounds. She's bringing her baggage, he's bringing his, and it's about, do these sets of baggage work together?"
Adds Miller: "I think everyone wants to talk about love in the 21st century — what that looks like, and is it possible, with everything based on apps and social media? How real is it?"
His own romance with his wife, actress DeWanda Wise, informed some aspects of his character. The two were married three months after they met in 2009; Miller calls it the best decision he ever made.
He remembered looking into Wise's eyes soon after meeting and feeling "that something-different moment"; he incorporated that into Evan's reaction to Gently.
Both actors are recognizable faces: Roquemore played Tamra on The Mindy Project, where she became a series regular after a guest-star stint, and Miller appeared as Cato on Underground, WGN America's Civil War–era drama.
But Cherish the Day marks their first time at the top of the call sheet. "At 35, it feels right on time in my little late-bloomer journey," Roquemore jokes.
She had recently passed on other projects in the search for a lead role, "and that was nerve-wracking. But this came from that waiting and faith, so it's pretty exciting."
Miller was surprised by the responsibility he felt. "I found myself at times being a little bit of a therapist," he says, "really listening to people and checking in, making sure that everyone was around and present, and keeping that energy going forward."
The two actors have known each other for years, meeting when both lived and worked in New York — Roquemore even went to college with Wise. They were grateful for that familiarity when it came to bringing their characters' relationship to life.
"We knew that this was going to be a space where we could be vulnerable and put everything on the table," Miller says. "And we both knew that we were here to make a statement.
"We were always on the phone, always around each other, finding ways to poke each other and get each other off kilter, so we could stay present, and have fun and enjoy each other.
"Those are real laughs on the show, real moments together. We really enjoyed it and created a place of trust. You have to be intimate and open, and that's not always easy. I was blessed to have a partner who allowed me to do that."
The style of the show — under showrunner Tanya Hamilton, who executive-produces along with DuVernay, Paul Garnes and Oprah Winfrey — gave them plenty of room to explore as well. As with DuVernay's other OWN series, Queen Sugar, the pace is unhurried, and scenes are given the luxury of time to unfold naturally.
"A lot of people rush through moments, and Ava doesn't," Miller says. "Television is fast. It's all about, 'Let's get it and move on.' She's not afraid of that long stare, or those moments that feel awkward. She wanted us to come to them organically. It was a new experience, and it made me crave that more." ...
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This article originally appeared in its entirety in emmy magazine, Issue No. 2, 2020