Go Behind the Scenes with Kerry Washington on the Set of UnPrisoned's Second Season (Exclusive) (2024)

Deep in the heart of Hollywood, Kerry Washington is eking out a few moments in between shooting scenes of UnPrisoned’s second season to munch on dinner — a Tupperware brimming with steamed vegetables — while she chats about the show. As she nibbles in one of the bedrooms on set, intricately staged with framed photos, rich fabrics and furniture to actually appear lived in, the actress is careful not to fuss with her make-up or black knee-length tulle dress, knowing that filming this cool, breezy day in early April will go well into the night.

For Washington, UnPrisoned is a labor of love, not just because the Emmy-winning actress stars on the Hulu dramedy and serves as an executive producer, but because UnPrisoned is one of those relatively rare opportunities for her to flex her comedy skills. Washington has long since carved out a name for herself during her decades-long career for memorable dramatic performances in TV and film projects like Scandal, Little Fires Everywhere, Ray and Django Unchained, but even now, her aptitude for comedy can be easily overlooked.

“I haven't gotten to do a ton of it [comedy] in my career, but I always say my two favorite weeks in life — not including anything with my kids, because they're amazing — are my honeymoon and my week on SNL,” Washington tells PEOPLE, referring to the episode of Saturday Night Live she hosted in November 2013. “I just loved it so much. I love doing comedy, even as a director, having directed Insecure. I really gravitate toward comedy, and I love getting to exercise those muscles here.”

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Go Behind the Scenes with Kerry Washington on the Set of UnPrisoned's Second Season (Exclusive) (1)

UnPrisoned offers plenty of opportunities for comical moments, even if the show’s premise strikes a more serious note. Washington’s character on the show, Paige Alexander, a therapist, must figure out how to reconnect with her formerly incarcerated dad Edwin (Delroy Lindo) while raising her teenage son Finn (Faly Rakotohavana). While the show sticks to half-hour episodes, it deftly captures the dynamics of single parenting while navigating the complex relationship between an unreliable, emotionally immature father and the generational trauma of his daughter.

Last season concluded with Paige giving a viral TED talk that veered into an emotionally revealing monologue about Edwin, who was arrested again, this time while driving home with Finn. (“What do you owe a parent whose best wasn’t good enough?” Paige wondered aloud onstage.) In the finale’s last moments, Edwin moves out of Paige’s home, admitting he never should have moved in to begin with, acknowledging, “I hadn’t proved to myself that I could stay out of trouble.”

UnPrisoned’s second season, which premieres July 17, will see the Alexander family try their best to move forward, while each family member works through and processes their own set of issues. Paige’s therapy practice is in jeopardy, for instance, and she must eventually confront her intimacy issues caused by father, who was absent for much of her life, and his selfish behavior.

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Go Behind the Scenes with Kerry Washington on the Set of UnPrisoned's Second Season (Exclusive) (2)

“Paige is now dealing with the reality of trying to be who she wants to be, which was the thesis of her TED talk, because it's easier to ‘talk the talk’ than ‘walk the walk’ sometimes,” Washington says. “I think who you want to can be a moving target.”

“When we meet her at the beginning of the season, she's really holding onto that sense of who she wants to be by maintaining these very firm boundaries,” she continues. “But I think a lot of this season is about figuring out that relationships are about balancing boundaries with intimacy, and you can't just put walls up. You have to also let people in.”

According to Brenda Strong, Edwin will learn how to “develop” his life outside of prison and navigate his relationships with her character, Nadine, and his family. Nadine, for her part, will become a “sounding board” for Edwin while confronting her relationship with Paige, whom she had a hand in raising, in an “honest way.” That leads to challenging moments in which Strong, 64, says her character must at times “choose between what she wants, what's best for that family and feeling like she's on the outside of the family.”

Jordyn McIntosh, who portrays a child version of Washington's character, says young Paige will be mellower this season. "She's more chill, because she's channeled her anger into words and humor," the 10-year-old actress adds.

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Mental health will be a big theme explored on the show this season. As all of this familial drama unfurls, Finn develops anxiety — a condition Rakotohavana took seriously, preparing in part for each day of shooting by seriously asking himself, “How does Finn feel today?” The 21-year-old actor isn’t a “very anxious” person by nature, although he shares that he has had his moments in the past.

“It's just interesting when a character has to carry such a large burden of having to represent a mental illness like anxiety,” he explains, adding, “I have been anxious before, and so tapping back into that is kind of nerve-wracking. … But it's important, and it's important to shine light on it.”

Adding levity to the season is John Stamos, who guest stars as Murphy, a bestselling author, reality star and self-proclaimed “family radical healing coach,” who will lead the Alexander through unorthodox family therapy sessions. While there are “tough moments,” the scenes with Stamos will also offer up comical bits as well.

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Go Behind the Scenes with Kerry Washington on the Set of UnPrisoned's Second Season (Exclusive) (4)

Working with Stamos also made for a memorable experience for Rakotohavana. “He brought this energy to set every day that was just so awesome,” says the actor, who introduced his friends to Stamos when the cameras weren’t rolling. “He made me break every scene. I could not keep a straight face working with that guy.”

While UnPrisoned’s second season has yet to air, Lindo, 71, believes the audience will recognize the show’s characters as deeply, authentically human — strengths, flaws and all. The Alexander family won't always get things "right" in their journey towards healing and togetherness, but that, the actor says, is what makes the show so noteworthy.

“I hope the audiences see human beings in all of their humanity," he says, adding, “We stumble, we fall and we pick ourselves up, and we're always trying to get it right for each other, even in the face of significant obstacles, which are personal, internal, and external. We're trying to get it right, man, which is human.”

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UnPrisoned season 2 premieres July 17 on Hulu.

Go Behind the Scenes with Kerry Washington on the Set of UnPrisoned's Second Season (Exclusive) (2024)
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