“HTGAWM” Star Aja Naomi King on Michaela’s Evolution, Lila’s Death, and Season 2!
Michael Rowe

Michaela Pratt came full circle as a character on How To Get Away with Murder.

She started out as an obsequious and arrogant overachiever whose main goals in life seemed to be marrying a man with questionable sexuality and winning the trophy in her law class.

But when the ABC drama’s inaugural season came to a close, Michaela was speaking her mind and suffering no fools. In one scene, she cursed out and threatened Rebecca and in another, she told her ex-mother-in-law to be (the incomparable Lynn Whitfield) that she loved herself too much to marry Aiden, a man who doesn’t love her.

Just as the Viola Davis helmed series closed the chapter on season one, Essence.com caught up with Aja Naomi King (Blue Bloods and Emily Owens MD), the actress and Los Angeles native behind Michaela, to talk about Michaela’s evolution, who killed Lila and what fans can expect in season two when HTGAWM returns in the fall.   

What was it like shooting the comeuppance scene between Michaela and Aiden’s mother?
First of all, I love any scene involving the fabulous Lynn Whitfield. When I read that scene during the table read, I thought this is so amazing. Finally, we get to see a little bit more of the real Michaela – like the part of herself that she missed but was hiding for so long. The whole mindset of it was that there’s so much going on. We’re all still in law school. They’ve passed the point of no return and dealing with the moral ambiguities of what they’ve done with Sam’s body and dealing with having kidnapped Rebecca. There’s no trust in the group and there are so many balls in the air and Michaela could not hold that one ball up in the air any longer. It’s one of those great moments of complete honesty. She couldn’t deal with Aiden or his mother, even though she was acting like she wanted Michaela to be around now. Michaela got to the point where she realized she had to let something go or else she wasn’t going to survive.

That’s when Michaela says, ‘I love me.’ That was a great line, wasn’t it?
Yes, because that is the one sure thing she knows. Michaela is always trying to protect herself. We all, because of human nature, want to protect ourselves. It all comes pouring out of her and she can’t pretend anymore. She loved herself too much to engage in that any longer.

By the end of the finale, Laurel gives Michaela her long lost ring and Michaela’s reaction is priceless. What is it going to mean for Michaela in season two now that she has the ring?
Oh my God. I could not believe that Laurel had the ring this whole time after everything that happened and everything my character has gone through. I wish we could’ve seen how the whole scene played out. I mean does Michaela straight up attack her? [laughs]Michaela hasn’t shared with Laurel that she’s broken off the engagement entirely. Having that back, I am curious to see what the writers decide to do with that. Is she going to keep the ring or have a moment of closure with Aiden and give it back to him? I don’t know. I’m as curious as everyone else.

What about Rebecca’s murder? How did you and the cast respond to her shocking death?
It was really sad and unexpected. The two-hour season finale was split up into two separate episodes – episode 14 and episode 15. At the end of episode 14, we had tied her up and put her in the bathroom. And I was curious what could happen from there and go down at that point. So, when we got to 15 and saw that she was dead at the end of 15, it was actually really sad. As I’m sure everyone knows by now, we’re an extremely close cast of people. I understand in terms of story, why this had to happen. But it was hard. It was a hard script to read. It was a hard table read to do. I was sitting right next to Katie [Findlay] and I love her. She’s so talented. You know? You don’t want your friend to die. It was also a huge shocker for our audience and now the larger mystery is, how did Rebecca get killed in the basement if we were all upstairs in the living room? It’s confounding. But we were all so heartbroken. We loved spending time with Katie the actress. She has such a presence. She’s so phenomenal. The story doesn’t end there. We still have to figure it all out so we’ll be seeing more of her in flashbacks.

The other shocker was finding out that Frank is Lila’s murderer. That was crazy. What did you think? What was that table read like?
That was completely unexpected. What a great twist. There were gasps all around. What they’ve done with Frank’s character is incredible. The whole idea of him has been split wide open. It’s so incredible. When they showed her getting strangled and killed on the roof, it seemed like it was going to be Sam. Then they flipped the camera up and revealed Frank’s face. The script changed while we were shooting. That was changed so that Frank was the actual killer. When I read the script and saw that, I was like, “What?” We were all in a huge state of shock. I still can’t believe it after all this time – with the posters of Lila and Sam’s murder and Frank and Annalise talking and her revealing to him that we killed Sam. All the while, working with Rebecca to get her off for murder. Now, looking back and realizing that Frank was the killer the whole time? It’s really mind bending.

Wait, so are you saying that Frank wasn’t originally the killer?
 I will say that he wasn’t originally the killer and I will stop there. Our writers are so good. They really keep us on our toes.

Did you know going in that this show was going to become the cultural phenomenon that it has become? 
That’s the thing. It’s Shondaland. You’re hoping people will take to it. But the pilot episode was so great. The writers made bold choices and Shonda [Rhimes] maintained that and every week it kept getting better and better. I thought it couldn’t get better than the winter finale but it did and it was so mind blowing. And the response has been so overwhelming and wonderful and I never thought it would be as incredible as it has been. I’m actually sad that we won’t be airing on Thursday nights for the next six months. It has been such a wonderful experience knowing that I could go to Twitter, I could go to Instagram and be filled with pride when I saw how invested people are in our show. I’m just supremely grateful for all the fans and I can’t wait to see how things unfold. 

Are you looking forward to season 2 of HTGAWM?