Molly Bernard for Playboy
Irvin Rivera


Molly Bernard Is Finally Home

A comment made by the chair of the Yale School of Drama during Molly Bernard’s callback weekend years ago is a mantra that has stuck with her. “Our goal here is not necessarily for you all to leave better actors. The hope is that you leave as better human beings.” The words inspire her daily, to the point where each character she plays is an opportunity to answer the question: “Did I tell a story that really needed to be told?”

Whether through playing young Shelly in Transparent, Lauren on Younger, or most recently the character of Milo in her first lead role in an independent film, Milkwater, Bernard says her key to telling a story well is to “figure out what [the character] wants and follow it through.”

Younger has done a better job than most of exploring concepts like gender and sexuality in a respectful way, considering that while Lauren is the first pansexual character on television, the primary focus of Lauren’s character is not her sexuality. That’s a refreshing pivot from most media about queer people, which zooms in on sexuality and makes it the full story. And Lauren’s confidence and ability to love freely actually inspired Bernard herself to be more open to finding a partner she’s passionate about, instead of focusing on gender. Bernard began to tap into her own identity, and eventually found her partner Hannah. 

One day, she hopes labels can be skipped entirely, and being queer will be as common and accepted as whatever your favorite color is. “I hope one day queer people don’t even necessarily need to introduce themselves as queer, I’m just a fucking human being. One day, I can’t wait to just be like, ‘Hi I’m Molly.’”

“The moment of queer pride is a refusal to be shamed by witnessing the other as being ashamed of you,” Maggie Nelson writes in The Argonauts, Bernard’s favorite book. That has surely been true for many queer people learning to embrace our sexualities and our gender, or lack thereof, as a good thing rather than a burden. And it’s been true of Bernard’s experience of finding love and joy in her queerness.
I hope one day queer people don’t even necessarily need to introduce themselves as queer, I’m just a fucking human being. One day, I can’t wait to just be like, ‘Hi I’m Molly.'
When Bernard began dating her partner, the first woman she’s ever dated, it felt so natural to her that she didn’t even question her sexuality. Now, to be openly queer feels like an arrival at a party she’d always wanted to be at. Living in an apartment in Brooklyn with her girlfriend and her dog Henry, she’s built a haven where she finally feels at home in her own life. At the end of the day, that’s allowed her more clarity to explore queerness and the kinds of roles she wants to take on.

Bernard calls her mothers, two queer women passionate about justice who adopted her and showed her what family is, her personal angels. “They threw me in therapy, taught me how to eat vegetables, taught me how to manage money,” she says. But aside from teaching her those things, they’re also the ones who provided her with a model for healthy relationships, and an open-minded understanding of herself—which planted the seed for a future where she would use her voice for good.

Often, that looks like shaping accurate queer representation in Hollywood. The kind of representation Bernard wants to see onscreen is not black and white, and not just more queer representation or more diversity point blank. She yearns to see multitudes—the kinds shown in dramas like Pose or Transparent, two shows she strongly feels succeed in showing the fluidity and fullness of the gender spectrum.

In an ideal world, Hollywood would always be telling stories about humans who also happen to be transgender or non-binary. All people deserve characters whose stories are real and acknowledge the complexities of identity—with its moments of both grief and peace, Bernard explains. “We need all queer stories. We need the drama, and we need the light.”
We need all queer stories. We need the drama, and we need the light.
For Bernard, having the opportunity to play nuanced characters has been incredibly important for her own ability to grow through experiences like anxiety and depression. In Milkwater, she plays a young millennial named Milo who’s desperate to find purpose. When she meets an older gay man who’s always wanted children but has tried and failed, she gets drunk one night and forces him to make the decision to let her be his surrogate. “She’s kind of boundary-less, and it’s kind of setting her life on fire in some ways,” says Bernard.

In her personal life, having resources like access to antidepressants and therapy, which she goes to twice a week, has made Bernard grateful for the tools to become a better version of herself—despite being messy sometimes, which she notes we all are, mental illness or not.

Milo is “unlike any character I’ve seen in a movie before,” says Bernard. She is lovable, but also makes the viewer want to shake her and scream, “What are you doing?” the way one might want to do to a close friend. The characters Bernard wants to see more of are the ones who beg those kinds of questions of us: Who hasn’t waded through a mess to find our truest selves?

But being an actor has been about more than telling stories as characters. Bernard has also seen it as an opportunity to make a difference as herself. One recent instance that stands out to her was when a young fan messaged her on Instagram to say Bernard is an inspiration for “just doing her thing” and that as a baby queer who’s just come out, seeing the way Bernard stands up for what she believes in has helped her find herself. The message sent Bernard “over the edge” with gratitude and provided a reminder of the smaller, more intimate impacts she can have. On a day when she was feeling angry at the world and got on her soapbox to share, “this person brought it back to her identity and that I was making an impact and it truly blew my mind.”

Having power in Hollywood is not a given—so Bernard knows that having a platform comes with the responsibility of being conscious of the stories she chooses to tell and how they affect others. While she sees acting as an exploration of the human condition first and foremost, she also sees acting as a superpower she can use for good or evil, to shape the understanding that people have of nuanced experiences like being queer or even mentally ill.

For that reason, Bernard is optimistic but watchful about where queer representation is going. “I hope that people aren’t tokenized, that we can ultimately tell stories about people’s lives instead of talking about who they’re sleeping with. I think there’s momentum in Hollywood to tell those stories.”

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