After Molly Bernard graduated from Yale School of Drama, she was prepared to pound the pavement for a long time. Her sights were set on being a Downtown New York theater actress. Then, she got cast as Lauren on Younger. Ever since, Bernard has become a TV favorite switching between her role on Younger and playing Young Shelly on Transparent. In both parts, Bernard slips into character, becoming a person totally different from herself. The artistry of an MFA-holding actor shines through the screen, proving Bernard can act in any medium, playing any role that comes her way.
MC: When did you catch the acting bug?
MB: My grandfather [Joseph Bernard] was an acting teacher. He co-founded the Strasberg institute with Lee [Strasberg] in Hollywood. I learned how to read going to his acting classes. It was this gift that happened when I was very young. I fell in love with it and studied with my grandfather until I was 18 and went to college. Then I went to Yale School of Drama [for grad school]. At some point it became less about my grandfather, less about that connection to him, and more about my own dreams.
Did anyone or anything inspire you to pursue a career as an actor?
Yes. One of my mentors is a theater director and the artistic director of SITI Company. Her name is Anne Bogart. I met her when I was 18. When I was 21 and about to graduate from college, she asked, “Well what are you going to do next?” I said, “I’m going to go to New York and try to make it for two years. Then I want to go to grad school. I want to go to Yale.” She said, “No, no, no. You have to go now. Go now and get it over with so you can start your career right away.” She was so generous, and loving, and firm with me, which is what you need in a mentor. She inspired me to really do it and waste no time.
The premise of Younger is all about youth in an industry that demands it of women. Entertainment is similar. Did that feel like a pressure for you at all: taking the time to go to grad school and going into the industry later?
That’s a good question. My only real goal was to go to the Yale School of Drama. I thought I would graduate and then be a theater actor—a downtown New York theater actress. The fact that I started so quickly working in film and TV came as a total surprise to me. No, I don’t think I had a timeline of how quickly I wanted to start a career or anything. I knew, for me, it would take time. I honestly thought it’d take me a long time to have a career because I’m kind of different from other folks. What’s nice is that turns out that being different—this is like a classic tale, but I had to learn it for myself—that being different is actually a good thing. My timeline wasn’t a huge consideration, no. I’m not in a rush. My friends who are my age really struggle with wanting to do a lot. I’m going to be 30 next year. I just turned 29, so I have a whole year. I did not have a list of things I wanted to do before I turned 30. I knew that life takes however long it takes.
How did the training at Yale School of Drama help set you up for success?
So much of the training there helped me. During callback weekend, the head of the program at the time, Ron Lieu—who retired this year and is an amazing acting teacher—he said, “Sure if you guys leave here as better actors, that’s fantastic. My personal goal is that you all leave as better people: better human beings, more self-aware, more generous. If you learn that, we’ve done our job.” The training was very much about humanity. It was not a technical training, which was good for me. The folks who tend to go there and graduate want that kind of training.
You’re now on season four of Younger. What’s it been like to play Lauren for so long? How much have the writers adapted to how you play Lauren and what you do as an actor? I know you’ve said she’s very different from you.
Totally. I think after four years of playing the same characters, the writers are writing for everyone. We had some new writers this season, which was fun because they’re writing is a little different from our staff writers. That’s fun too—to put new combos of words in your mouth and see what falls out. Lauren talks very fast and thinks very fast. They have a ball with that in the writer’s room. It’s hard to memorize and work on, but once it’s all in there and once I’m on set with Hilary it’s a total fun house. It’s awesome [Molly laughs].
Did you find something new within Lauren this season through the course of playing her?
I did. I found out a lot this season about Lauren’s insecurity about who she is and who she wants to be. She’s struggling to come into her own in a different kind of way that we’ve never seen. I’m talking about one episode in particular with a personal issue that I don’t want to spoil. She is normally so, so, so confident. And she deals with this issue in a confident way, but it’s definitely different than how we’ve seen her. She’s in process and struggling to figure out what she wants. It’s cool that she’s growing, too. None of these characters on Younger are in stasis. A lot of growth happens.
I loved your performance as Young Shelly on Transparent. I’m sure you get that all the time.
Thank you. It’s really cool to be on my favorite show. Thanks, thanks. And I’m back this season, too. I’m in a lot of episodes. You learn a lot more about Shelly’s past. It’s kind of a wild arc.
It’s such a unique set for an actor. How did you adapt to it and how does it differ from Younger?
It’s very different. Every workday on Transparent starts with an apple box put in the largest part of the set and everyone from the grip, to the actors, to the director, to the transpo drivers, gets in a group and talks about their feelings. They talk about what they’re grateful for and how they’re becoming better people. It’s very different than the Younger set. But they’re very different shows. Transparent calls for that kind of—and it’s in the name of the show—that kind of transparency is demanded on that set. Younger’s a half-hour comedy. It’s just different material. And the style is so different. But I talk about my feelings on the Younger set all the time, too.
What’s your advice for aspiring actors?
Be really curious, take a lot of classes, and be as uncompromising as you can be with who you are. Try not to close yourself up in a box. Don’t worry about type or anything like that. It’ll just get in your way. Lead from who you are. Even if it’s filled with neuroses and flaws, you have to be true to who you are and ride that wave. You’ll make friends and other artist pals and soul mates along the way—stick with those people.♦