Master of None star Naomi Ackie talks about that 'ambiguous' season 3 finale
The series newcomer counts herself among the viewers asking "What's going on?" between her and Lena Waithe's character in the show's last episode.
Warning: This story contains spoilers for the season 3 finale of Master of None.
For anyone who's finished Master of None: Moments in Love, the trailer might seem like a massive spoiler, but star Naomi Ackie doesn't sweat it. "It's all out of context, so I guess that works," she says with a laugh.
After a long hiatus, the third season of the show created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang shifts the focus toward Lena Waithe's Denise, who was at the center of season 2's Emmy-winning "Thanksgiving" episode, and her wife Alicia, played by the BAFTA-winning Ackie.
In just five episodes, the series details the ups and downs of their relationship, including impromptu groove sessions, infidelity, a fertility struggle, and... reconciliation? The last point is a question to which even Ackie doesn't have the answer. "Who are we? Who changed their hair? Why? What's going on?" she asks, joking about the ending's temporal vagueness.
The 28-year-old Master of None newcomer talked to EW about the huge amount of collaboration the project called for, the actor who plays her mother on the phone (hint: she's an Oscar nominee), and portraying a character a decade older than she is.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First things first, how'd you get involved with Master of None season 3? I feel like this project was top secret.
NAOMI ACKIE: It was super, super secret. I got involved at the beginning of last year, just before COVID. It was just a normal audition situation. I had been a fan of Master of None [seasons] 1 and 2 when I got the email. I always get surprised when those kinds of emails come in. Because I'm like, "Really? Oh my gosh, what do you want me to do?" The audition was incredible. It was mainly improvised, which I loved. I've never done that before for screen work, and it felt like something I could be a part of and offer something to support the story. I was very grateful.
How many of your responsibilities were figured out beforehand? Did you know you'd be a producer on the project coming into it?
Actually, that happened afterwards. The thing is, I didn't know this going in, but with Master of None, Aziz and Lena and Alan are very collaborative. And so when we started, Aziz was like, "Come into the writers' room and we're going to rework Alicia's stuff so it sounds more like you." So that's how it started. I was kind of going, "Oh, I wouldn't say that, I'm from London. So I would say a bit of that..." And then over time I got more and more involved in the show, and I was helping to block things, and I was offering ideas on costumes and all of this kind of stuff.
I was only doing it because I was like, Great, this is collaborative, this is a team. We're telling a story. Let's do it. And then two weeks after we finished, Aziz called me and he was like, "Yeah, me and Alan have been talking, and do you want to be an executive producer?" And I was like, "What?! That's amazing. Yes, yes, please." And that's basically how it happened. I hadn't planned on it, but it's amazing because I do want to produce in the future, so to have that as my first credit is incredible.
Did you all have Alicia's background figured out before shooting? Although she's new, we meet her in such a settled stage of her life.
Not very well. I think each project is different. Some require a lot of that work and some don't. This one didn't for me, and that was because we were working on the script first, and going through it with a fine-tooth comb. What was interesting was some of the anecdotes from Alicia's perspective are real things that might've happened to me or Aziz or Aziz's friend. And so I was telling stories, and they were finding themselves in the script, even down to Goldie Williams [a woman arrested in 1898 for vagrancy who defiantly crossed her arms for her Omaha Police Court mug shot]. The picture of Goldie Williams is a picture I have in my house. I sent [Aziz] a photo of it, and he was like, "I love it, put it in." And so slowly but surely, it felt like me and Alicia were one in the same. We felt like the same person, so the backstory didn't feel necessary.
And then in terms of me and Lena's relationship and Alicia being settled, I don't know how that happened. We knew each other, we texted, we had voice notes, we had worked together through the process of looking at the script and stuff. But then I think the chemistry was just right, and we understood the story. When you're working with the creators of the show, and one of those creators is one of the actors, it's very easy to slip in. You've begun to know it so well that we just fit.
You're also playing a character a decade older than you. What was that like? Did it feel like a window into your future?
Oh gosh, I have this whole thing where I feel eternally young inside my heart. In my head, I think I'm 15 years old, so playing someone who's married and going through IVF was a real education for me because I'm just not there yet personally. I felt very "adult" doing this role. The process and emotions and dynamics felt very mature. It was really interesting for me because I haven't really had to do that in my work yet. Usually, I'm playing someone pretty young — my age or maybe slightly younger. It was special. I feel like I grew up a little bit.
Even more than Alicia's relationship with Denise, I enjoyed her connection with Cordelia the nurse (played by Cordelia Blair).
Don't you love Cordelia? Oh my gosh. The amazing thing about Cordelia is she came in as an extra and was amazing in the [first] scene she did, and Aziz fell in love with her and was like, "I want to make some more scenes with you." He was telling me, "Making this is just like jazz. You just improvise; you make it up as you go along." And so we did, and she was incredible and had a history in health care, so there was this really special energy. And I think one of the things Aziz had said, and I had seen in documentaries [where] women who have gone through IVF talk about it, is that the connection with the nurses is sometimes the most important bond. Sometimes more than the doctor, because the doctor comes in and gives the information, but the nurses are the ones with you every step of the way. So it was really special to be able to capture that.
Last season Angela Bassett played Denise's mom on the show. This season you have Marianne Jean-Baptiste on the phone as Alicia's mother. Is that like the Black British equivalent of Angela Bassett playing your mom?
Yeah, basically. I was like, "I can't believe I don't get to meet her, man. Gosh damn, it's ridiculous." But she was incredible, so good. And there was something really special about those mother scenes, this nice parallel between Alicia seeking to be a mother and seeking support from her mother. And then we've got Denise with her mom, and there's just this real feeling from this show about the power of Black women, the power of Black women's love for each other, for other people. Having those scenes felt really lovely because of that.
Marianne sounds just like my family members, like she's from the same part of London as me. So it just rung in the air really nicely, imagining I was in New York and hearing someone from the U.K. who brings a bit of home to you.
The show has so many elements, and lingering shots to the point where I was questioning, like, "Wait, are we still rolling?" Did it feel like theater at all?
Yeah, it did sometimes. There were some scenes where I was like, "Aziz, say 'cut.' Aziz, say 'cut.' Aziz!" [Laughs] It brought back into focus some of my old stage-acting days of blocking, and keeping the ball in the air in terms of energy for a scene. It felt like there was a presence. The camera really did become an audience in a more practical way than usual, because we had to bend towards it — the camera never bent towards us. So we had to act accordingly to make sure the camera was always seeing what needed to be seen, but [that it] didn't feel like we were doing it for the camera. That was quite an interesting exercise.
What's your take on the ending — this finale where we can't really tell if it's fantasy or not? It's meant to be super open-ended?
It's great that you felt like that because I think that's the goal — that it feels ambiguous much like any relationship is. Are you ever forever with someone? Are you ever not forever with someone? That love and connection never, never go away. Sometimes it lives in a fantasy, sometimes it lives in reality. So yeah, that final episode felt like a tying of loose ends and an unraveling of others. And yeah, it was a nice way to wrap up the show for us performatively. I feel like we had grown a lot once we got to that point.
Master of None season 3 is streaming now on Netflix.
Master of None