By Sara Radin
Since the early days of the American comedy series Younger, queerness has always played a part in its arc. From Debi Mazar’s character Maggie dating different women (including one who was an orthodox Jew — a community traditionally known for strict views on gender and sexuality) to Lauren (Molly Bernard) exploring her queerness and pansexuality, the show has never shied away from the topic.
All this despite the fact that the storyline of the show is mainly centered on Liza and Kelsey, two straight women who are navigating their burgeoning careers and relationships with men. In this way, Younger, which is now in its sixth season, reflects a positive shift in culture, in which queerness is becoming more normalized even when it’s a part of a non queer-centered program.
In honor of the show’s latest season, MTV News sat down with actors Nico Tortorella, Molly Bernard, and Debi Mazar to talk about the ways the show portrays queerness, how it has impacted Molly’s own relationship with her sexuality, and Nico’s experience playing a straight, cis-gender male as a non-binary person and major queer activist.
MTV News: I was thinking we could start by talking about how the show addresses queerness. I feel like the show has done a good job at making it palatable and normalizing it. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Nico Tortorella: Queer theory and politics are my favorite things but since you both play queer characters, I'll piggy back.
Molly Bernard: Lauren is a queer unicorn goddess on Younger. I love that she identifies as pansexual. It all started for me in Season 2 when her mother says to Kelsey and Liza, "Oh, Lauren will sleep with anything that moves." And that's typically how men are described. I just love her boldness sexually. It's only comparable to the male kind of sex drive, passion, or libido. She loves herself unconditionally. She's really confident … It's a delight to play her and it has impacted my life in ways I could never have imagined.
Tortorella: I feel like this show, in one way or another, birthed your own queerness.
MTV News: How did the show impact your own queerness?
Bernard: I think playing a queer character helped me understand that. That's a huge part of it. I think having Nico in my life also helped me understand my own queerness because, in a lot of ways, I have based Lauren off of Nico. Bethany, Nico's partner, took me under their wing with their queer community a few years ago.
Debi Mazar: It's funny because this show and also being around, you know, Nico and Millennials, I'm learning and it's great. I mean, I have friends whose kids are trans now. It's just a whole new world. And I grew up in the gay community. I'm a native New Yorker. My mom had her, you know, GBFs [gay best friends] and I never really thought about it. My kids always saw drag queens and two moms, two dads, and I sort of think the whole world is that way, but it isn't. And what I love is that our show is written by largely gay people.
Bernard: It’s a very queer writers' room. It starts there and that’s where it begins.
Mazar: And the topic is very current. It's very real. It doesn't hide anything. And to me it just seems very normal.
Tortorella: I really like how this show isn't a queer show but has queer characters, you know? And that is what representation and visibility really should be. It should be queer people playing normal people, right? Having lives, having relationships, and the show not being centered around, well, this is what a pansexual looks like, this is what a lesbian looks like. Because that's not where we need to go. We need to just be normal people.
Mazar: Just human beings. I mean, that's a thing I love [about] the show because it doesn't play on your stereotypical narratives.
Tortorella: Even beyond the sexuality, and the gender identities in the show, and the way it tries to dismantle the patriarchy... Like those things are inherently queer, but they really go hand-in-hand.
Mazar: What do you mean by “dismantling”?
Tortorella: Fighting the system is queer. It's anarchist. I think queer has to have a sort of anarchism mentality to survive.
Mazar: Stonewall 50th anniversary right now.
Tortorella: Yeah, but we also have to remember this show is like a very bubblegum version of all these things. There are huge parts of these characters lives that are missing from these stories because, at the end of the day, this is a story about a straight girl and what guy she's in love with.
MTV News: Right now there are more shows that are catering to queerness, but sometimes it’s in a way that can be tokenizing. Whereas in Younger it's just a part of the show and that's what we need to see. That's how we make it normal.
Bernard: That's kind of why I referenced that scene earlier when Kathleen is just like, “This is my daughter” and whatever. The fact that someone like Lauren, who identifies as pansexual, who is a very palatable queer character on this television show, has a mother and parents who are just deeply accepting of her is so powerful.
Tortorella: Nobody's gotten shit for being queer on the show. Not even the Orthodox Jew got shit for being a lesbian on this show, which is huge.
Bernard: The writers do a great job and there's great casting, too.
Tortorella: Every season I go to them and I’m like, can Josh start dating a trans girl or something? And they’re like we need to separate Josh from Nico, you know, and I get that. I'm ready for Josh to spread her wings a little bit.
MTV News: Nico, could you talk a bit more about how it feels to play a straight, cisgender, white guy character as someone who's such a prominent queer activist?
Tortorella: To be honest, it's been a privilege. It's made my conversation outside of the show that much more digestible. Even the scene where we had the first non-binary character on Younger, it was educational for myself. Like, I was able to step out of my own politics into the person that maybe doesn't understand. And it's important. It's important that we have a bunch of different people, who all look differently and act differently, to be having these conversations. It’s a blessing to play Josh and to be able to do the work that I do outside of the show.
Mazar: I don't even think about playing a lesbian. I'm just playing a person.
Tortorella: But, like, thank God for the Debi Mazars of the world because, for real, the work that you did in the past carved out the work that we can do now in the queer community. Debi Mazar is a queer icon and will be forever, it's a fact. You don't even necessarily know the amount that you've actually done for the community.
Bernard: In our last interview, there was a question and I was just reminded when you were like, “I mean, all my friends are dead, they died of AIDS.” We're a different generation and the weight of that, we’re not living with it.
Tortorella: It was a plague.
Mazar: It was like a war. When you asked me how it was to go to Marc Jacobs’s wedding...
A lot of people that I saw, I hadn't seen since 1980 in the Mud Club when I was, like, 16 and I thought, oh my god, you made it. The next day, the conversations that we were having via text and [on] social media, it's like we survived the war, you know, and it was so great to see who was alive. And to even think that on some level, you know, it's heartbreaking because so many great people were lost.
Tortorella: And the sad part is there are wars that still exist against this community in different parts of the world. You look at what's going on in Brunei or Chechnya, it's getting worse in a lot of places.
Bernard: And right here in America.
Tortorella: Yeah, last year was the deadliest year for trans people to date.
MTV News: That's why this show is so important, because it's showing this is just humanity, right? This is just a reflection of life, of culture.
Bernard: And in this life, in this culture, there's some queer people just bopping around, living their lives, being good friends.