When Molly Bernard -- a newcomer at the time, with a few TV credits to her name -- was first cast on Younger, it was only to be in a handful of scenes. In fact, her audition -- just six lines -- involved a discussion about Liza’s (Sutton Foster) lower body landscaping. But the locker room scene served as an early indication of what Darren Star’s creation would excel best at: multigenerational female bonding and a frank depiction of sexuality. Eventually, the TV Land series would feature moments like tram sex, with Hilary Duff’s character, Kelsey, in an outrageous encounter over Roosevelt Island, and more of Bernard as the scene-stealing Lauren, a pansexual, sex-positive millennial publicist and friend to Liza and Kelsey.
Over the course of the series, Lauren would introduce her friends to the “bad pancake” dating theory, host her own bat mitzvah, convince Liza to sell her used panties and often run away with the show’s best one-liners. By season four, the actress became the show’s most reliable ensemble player, and audiences were treated to a multilayered character as Younger explored Lauren’s sexuality through relationships with Max (Ben Rappaport) and ex-lover-turned-friend Maggie (Debi Mazar), as well as her career, which came crashing down when she was abruptly fired from a successful PR job.
“This has all been a ceaseless surprise. I had no idea I’d end up as a series regular and a pivotal part of this show,” Bernard tells ET.
Perhaps what has been most refreshing about Lauren is her confidence. While there have been moments of conflict for her -- breaking up with Max or getting fired -- her sexuality is not a crisis for her. “She’s just true to herself and she gets a lot of her strength by loving herself,” Bernard says of Lauren, while noting that real-life experiences for the LGBTQ community aren’t always so easy. “It’s rare that you get a character like that.”
In fact, it’s even more rare to see a queer, sexually fluid or pansexual character on TV. As the percentage of LGBTQ representation continues to increase on TV -- reaching an all-time high in 2017 -- there’s still a long way to go in terms of fully realized characters and realistic depictions of all the letters (and identities) within the community.
“I hope that next season they dive more into her pansexuality and try to keep her story line attached to it, because I think people want to understand more about what it is and how it is different from bisexuality,” Bernard says of season five, which is expected to premiere on TV Land sometime in 2018.
Playing Lauren has given Bernard a deeper understanding of an identity that many didn’t have a word for or speak so openly about just a few years ago. “Now, it’s a part of the conversation,” she says, “and that in of itself is kind of cool.” And the character has helped Bernard understand who she is offscreen.
“Her confidence has helped me a lot. It helped me in a few different ways: Her confidence helped me with my own kind of nervous and self struggles, but she’s also helped me with my sexual identity,” Bernard says. “I don’t identify as straight.”
While she says she predominantly dates men, “it would be perfectly possible and wonderful to have a [relationship with a] woman or trans person,” she says, adding that Lauren’s fluidity has broadened her perspective. “I’ve always felt this way, but now it’s part of the conversation, we can talk about it. There’s language for it.”
Back onscreen, Bernard’s scene-stealing moments haven’t been limited to Younger. She appeared opposite Tom Hanks in Sully and in the season one finale of HBO’s High Maintenance, and joined Transparent in season three, portraying a young version of Judith Light’s Shelly Pfefferman in flashback scenes. Her first appearance came in the heartbreaking episode “If I Were a Bell,” written by Our Lady J. “She did such a f**king incredible job,” Bernard says of the episode’s depiction of Shelly’s relationship with Maura, who still identified as Mort then, and her sexual abuse as a child.
Returning for season four, the actress showcased more of Shelly’s past, particularly as the Pfefferman matriarch gave birth to her children. “Playing young Shelly has been one of the greatest gifts of my career. I’ve really become a better actor,” says Bernard, who somehow captures the spirit of Light’s Emmy-nominated performance without turning her portrayal into a caricature. While Bernard’s scenes weren’t with most of the principle cast, she has crossed paths with Light, who has given her plenty of praise and “I love yous.” (Our conversation about her role on the show took place before accusations of sexual misconduct came out against star Jeffrey Tambor, who denies being a "predator," and so it was not discussed.)
While the fate of Transparentremains in flux as the show figures out how to deal with the fallout of the scandal surrounding its lead star, Bernard will back on Younger, when it resumes production in 2018.
Everything from the past year has been “a dream come true in many ways,” says Bernard, who hopes that her breakout work will continue to open doors for the budding star. “Being on the radar is exciting for me. I’m just excited for all the different things I hope get to do.”
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