June 2021

Screened | Molly Bernard

Getting Into Character With Milkwater + Younger Actress Molly Bernard

Photos Emilio Madrid  |  Words Tamara Rappa

Molly Bernard just turned 30 and had been with her partner Hannah for one year, whom she is now engaged to, when her role in Milkwater came to her. She was just hitting her stride and out of her "flailing" twenties when her complicated character Milo, a millenial in search of meaning, put her right back there. Molly describes Milkwater writer-director Morgan Ingari as a true genius who loved the role of Milo, but didn't know who should play her. When a friend told Ingari to check out Bernard for her diversity, for her range displayed across roles on Darren Star's Younger and on Joey Soloway's Transparent, it was a match made in heaven; a dream role that Molly says blew her mind, and one of the great gifts of her life. Identifying with a lot of Milo's experiences and traits, Bernard was scared and intimidated by her, a character who doesn't make the best choices, or "easy, likable decisions" as she describes. In Milkwater, we meet a particularly lost and struggling Milo, Bernard identifying with much of it and finding it uncomfortable to go to some of those places. Molly says that most of her 20's were agonizing. Much like Milo, she wasn't treating other people or herself particularly well. The character felt far enough away from her but still very close, and she felt compelled to tell her story.  Through Milkwater, she also learned a great deal about how difficult it is for queer families to begin. Working across film, television, and theater, Molly Bernard is an actor's actor, and you can spy some of that by looking at her course of study and her lineage. After Skidmore College, she attended the prestigious Yale School Of Drama. She also studied at the Moscow Art Theater, and in 2014 she received a fellowship from the Lincoln Center Theater. She inherits her love of acting from her grandfather Joseph Bernard, the notable actor and acting teacher with whom she herself studied... by the ripe old age of 6. The native New Yorker has built up a beautiful list of credits that include roles in Cindy Chupak's Otherhood, Sully opposite Tom Hanks, Pay It Forward directed by Mimi Leder, and in Nancy Meyers' The Intern. She is most known for her scene-stealing role as a publicist filled with personality on Paramount+'s award-winning series Younger---a role she was determined to make her own, one where she carefully carried the distinct goal of making her mark. And that she did. With Younger's very final episode airing this week, we sat down to reflect  and reminisce about Molly's Lauren Heller, but not before discussing and dissecting all it means to be Milo.

Your character Milo offers to be a surrogate for a new friend, over fifty, gay Roger, that she meets. We learn that Milo has no parents; one died of cancer and one committed suicide. Milo grows attached to Roger during her pregnancy. One could say an obvious reason is that it was because she was looking to fill a void of family. But what else is at play here? The obvious thing is that she's looking for family, but the truth is, she has family in her chosen family of [friends], Noor and George. What I think was really going on is that Milo is looking for meaning. She's looking for someone to give her the answers, and kind of take her away from her own suffering. Roger and her role as surrogate provide a sense of extended meaning. She wants to be irreplaceable, to be a treasure to Roger for what she's doing. She didn't take his offer of compensation because it was an "altruistic" decision on her part---yet it was not. We learn it was very selfish, because she wants to be the indispensable and she wants to be the most important person in Roger's life.  He becomes the focus of her distraction from herself.

In the beginning of the film we see Milo and Roger connecting in a way that makes us feel like Milo will be a part of their baby’s life after it’s born. At the end of the film Roger characterizes their initial relationship and connection by saying they each “got carried away”. Is it that simple? Was Roger being a bit deceptive? Did things change when he found a new partner in Ken? Was he advised to keep Milo at a distance? I think so. I actually just watched it again not too long ago with my partner, we watched it the first night it was on VOD. It was the first time I'd seen it in a long time and I was struck, honestly, it's upsetting. When Milo says, 'So, I was just your surrogate?', it was very painful to watch because I do think that at that moment, Milo doesn't think she was feeling manipulative---she feels she was duped. She felt like they were going to have this very special, singular, long lasting relationship, but he just wants her to be his surrogate. That is extremely painful for her. Roger gets freaked out by Milo's over-eagerness and her low-level, sometimes high-level, obsession. And Milo wants Roger to serve as proof to Noor and George that she's independent and has her shit together. In a lot of ways, Noor and George feel like Milo's parents. She was trying to prove to them that this was a relationship of hers that was healthy and good, when actuality, it was totally disfunctional. In Milkwater, there are all these tropes that are being spun on their heads.

Milo is portrayed as impulsive by her friends. Is there a side to Milo that can be a bit reckless, and why is that? Part of it is that she feels she has nothing to lose. While her friends think what she's doing is crazy, she's unfazed by it. That speaks great lengths to who Milo is. There's a division there. When her friends are like, 'What the fuck are you doing', Milo thinks, 'What do you mean?' She believes she's making an adult decision that feels right and feels good. If they can't respect that, she believes she needs them to try to.

Noor is a lawyer and Milo tasks her with reading the contract that Roger draws up for the surrogacy. It is at that point that Noor explains to Milo that the contract is very “prohibitive”. At that point, does anything shift in Milo? I don't think so. I think if anything, it shifts retroactively. In that moment all that Milo can see is that Noor is telling her no, and in that way Milo feels judged and rejected by Noor. That pain takes precedence over Milo seeing what's in front of her. Noor is saying, 'I care about you and I'm worried about this contract', and Milo sees it as patronizing, infantalizing, and judgmental, and she can't really see beyond all that. We see what's going on as the viewers. And I have been there. I have been a Milo, where my loved ones, my partner, my parents...have been like, 'Molly, slow down' or, 'What are you doing?' You take that in, and you get mad.

During her pregnancy, Milo begins dating Cameron. Why do you think Cameron feels comfortable proceeding in a relationship with her after he suddenly learns she’s pregnant and in the middle of surrogacy? What is it about the character of any partner, to anyone, that would make them stick around for that? I think he really likes her. Milo is flailing, but she's also effervescent. She's a special person. Despite her messiness and impulsiveness, she's a joy and she has a great sense of humor. On their first date, the chemistry is beautiful. There's actual chemistry there, seen when they're at trivia night. Cameron is not 'all systems go', but he's definitely feeling he like he wants to see where it goes. It seems worth it to him to tolerate some momentary, moderate discomfort. To him, this person seems quite special.

Cameron was sidelined by Milo’s attachment to Roger, to a degree where it caused a rift in their relationship. Do they end up together? Does it matter? I like that in the last scene, Noor and Milo are talking about her going to Cameron's show and seeing what happens. I like that it's open ended. I hope that they try. I would like to think they date for at least a little while, and give it an honest go. There's something special there; they're very cute.

The closing scene takes place in a park. It’s touching and kind of gut wrenching really. Milo is with Noor and her child and she sees Roger and their baby with Ken and his child, in the distance. They acknowledge one another from afar but that’s it. Is this ok? Is Milo ok? I found the ending of the film very elegant. I like that there's not a neat, tidy ending. I like that it speaks to some kind of vague maturation on Milo's part; that she's grown and understood that the surrogacy was so fraught with tension and misunderstanding. When she sees them on the park bench, she knows she doesn't have the right to go over to them and assume that she's a part of their family, although, biologically, one hundred percent, she is. It speaks to a moment of learning and growth. She's learned from her experiences. She's a person without boundaries, and in that moment, she's not. I like that she makes a different choice than we see her make in the previous hour and a half of the film.

What did you learn on a personal level from being a part of this story? This might sound silly, but it wants to come out! I learned the miracle of compassion. Playing someone who was so similar to me, and then having some distance from the film as a piece of art, as a story---was really moving to me, and I felt for her. I said to my partner, Hannah, 'I just wish someone would give Milo a hug, and show her some love and stability, so she can internalize that she's going to be ok'. Honestly, I wish that for my 20 year old self as well. The other thing I both love and I learned through Milkwater, it that it's a film that chronicles how difficult it is for queer families to begin. 


A little known fact is that Sutton Foster is an idol to Bernard, one that she actually wrote fan mail to as a child, with a response from Foster telling her to 'follow your dreams, Molly'. When she'd just graduated from the Yale School of Drama, she was offered six lines as a guest star on Younger. Hesitant to audition for her idol and 'full-blown hero' because her lines pertained to Foster's character Liza's "bush", she went through with it at the behest of her team, who got the feeling that Darren Star would love her and it would perhaps lead to a regular role. When she stepped into that recurring role, with what would come to include many scene-stealing moments ahead, it was because Darren Star did push for her. Bernard's take on the success of her character Lauren  is due to the fact that she came to be Hilary Duff's character Kelsey's irreplaceable friend, and Lauren both served as a great vehicle for telling Kelsey's story as well as serving as real millenial to Sutton Foster's character Liza's, fake. As the popular hit show reached it's last episode this week, we talked to Molly about her breakthrough character, and what she reflects upon in thinking about the series.

Lauren is FILLED with personality. Name some of what you think are Lauren’s greatest hits on the show. The thing about Lauren is, she's this bright light. She's queer, but that's the least interesting thing about her. She can do and say anything. She has unconditional love for herself. One of her highlights is Topless Tuesday; Bryant Park, tits out---and she's unflinching. Later in the season she throws herself a Hot Mitzvah, where she drugs her friends with molly, and hits on Maggie who's two generations older than her. She's so confident, and she's just doing her thing. Another highlight for me is during season two, when she starts to date Max, and has a freakout about being 'basic' because she's dating a man, and because he's a doctor. I love that as a concept. And then in season three, maybe four---she gets fired from her PR job and she has a really sobering moment with Kelsey. Kelsey finds out that Lauren's been sleeping in a closet at a woman's club. Lauren has a really raw, honest moment and says to Kelsey, 'Failure is not an option'. In that moment we learn the depth of Lauren's drive and will. Another highlight is when Liza throws Diana a surprise bachelorette party, and Lauren screams 'Get in the Hummer, bitch'. She's ready to have fun, but it's all caps, aggressive, FUN. Lauren's just special. And her love and idolization of Diana, the diva herself, is so moving to me. Lauren's only dream is to be a fucking boss bitch.

What are Lauren’s worst qualities? What gets in the way in life for Lauren? I'm going to say...nothing!

Lauren has a certain way of speaking and a certain way of moving…how did you conceive of those traits, that make Lauren so Lauren? That was the alchemy of what was on the page. The writers understood that I was game for Lauren to do and say anything. She's very much herself. When I meet someone who is a friend of a friend, and they reveal to me later on that they love and are a fan of the show, what they always say to me is, they're so surprised that I'm nothing like her in real life. I take that as a gigantic compliment. But also, I'm nervous; I'm neurotic; I struggle with depression and anxiety, and I do not think that Lauren does. My partner is like that, she doesn't either. Some people have an easier time with their mental health and with themselves. I think that Lauren, as over the top as she is, at the end of the day, is well adjusted. She goes to her job, she shows up...for her friends, for her family. She's a reliable friend and worker, and she shows up for herself. That's incredible. She's not just a caricature. She's not been tokenized for her queerness on the show. She's pansexual, which was ahead of the curve, in terms of the spectrum of sexuality. She was pansexual in 2013---amazing! And I think it's no small thing that she's the only character on the show with parents, and parents who are supportive. Yes Lauren is a supporting character, but in that, there is great queer representation.

Will you or have you adopted any of Lauren’s fashion sense? Just a little bit! If it were up to me, my goal is to be a chic beatnik-meets-French-toddler. Thanks to Jackie Demeterio and Patricia Field, I have a pair of chunky yellow Margiela heels, a couple of over the top dresses, and some shirts. My favorite pieces of Lauren wardrobe are a plain tweed blazer and a blue button down. It's a gorgeous Gucci tweed blazer that I took home this season. I'm in love with that piece. Since we wrapped in February I think I've worn it four times a week.

As Younger reaches its very final episode, what do you reflect upon when you think about what made the series unique? Ultimately what made the series unique is not just that it celebrates female friendships, but it celebrates the kind of 'work wife' of it all; female collaboration. What stands out to me is that our show has a good heart. It's a really earnest show but it's not vague. It's a delicious twenty-two minute bite of candy on the one hand, and on the other, the show is very much in the zeitgeist. It is always topical, and cutting edge, and it manages to do that in a kind way. There are no other shows of that genre that are on, and in some ways it's a miracle that we lasted for seven seasons. Our genre is different. I love that it's lasted this long, and that people are celebrating female relationships. And I know there's the love triangle of it all, but I think at the heart of our show, are the women. No offense to Nico and Peter!

"I just can't do without a little nail kit. I have it in every bag. It's like my wallet---I don't leave home without it."

"I can't live without therapy. I'm obsessed with my therapist."

"I love caffeine, but I'm very sensitive to it. And matcha has L-Theanine in it, so it calms me down. I love matcha LOVE."

"I love a good face oil. Face Hero from Australian brand Go-To is amazing. Even my derm was like, 'I haven't seen a face oil like this, that doesn't clog pores."

"I really have to have a snack in my bag. I love GoMacro bars. I'm into the chocolate peanut butter flavor. Anything chocolate peanut butter, sign me up!"

"I love my dogs Henry and Judy, my babies. Henry is my first-born. He goes everywhere with me."