You’re probably already very familiar with Bridget McManus and her comic wit. You may have seen her as the sidekick on The Queen Latifah Show, warming up the audience for Last Comic Standing, on Logo hosting the comedy talk show Brunch with Bridget, or starring in a Tello Films web series like Cowgirl Up. Her filmography goes on and on. She has been OUT in front of the camera for many years. The key word being OUT. An openly lesbian comedian, she has fashioned a successful career for herself in the challenging world of comedy without compromising who she is.
In Bridget’s latest project, Maybelle, she takes on a whole new challenge, tackling a dramatic role. Bridget plays the lead character, Maybelle, in story about a woman who gets a second chance with her high school sweetheart, Della. Maybelle never stopped loving Della, but taking care of her ailing mother for 15 years consumed her life. Maybelle is a tale of family, love and self-discovery.
Maybelle, a six-part web series, will be released on tellofilms.com starting December 13. A new episode will air every Sunday.
I had the opportunity to speak with Bridget recently about Maybelle, working with Tello Films and her desire to see more great lesbian love stories on screen.
Delina:So everyone knows you, Bridget McManus, as a very funny lady. You're a successful stand-up comedian, a comedic actress, a talk show host and warm up act. Now you have a new web series, Maybelle, coming out, where you take on a different role. You're playing the leading lady in a serious relationship drama, so can you start by describing the plot of this story for us?
Bridget:Oh, of course. It is a lesbian love story about soul mates that get separated, and then they get reunited. It's set in the South in rural Virginia. It's about Maybelle, that's the character I play. She's taking care of her ailing mother, who's been sick for fifteen years. Maybelle had to quit school to take care of her mother and stay put.
And Della, the love of her life, who she's been in love with since they had a relationship as teenagers, Della moved on. She finished school, she traveled the world, and then she ended up getting married. Now they're back in the same town and life is different, so what do you do? You can't really pick up where you left off, but you also can't let that moment pass you by. When you see the person you're supposed to be with, you have to be with them.
Delina:Now, you wrote this web series as well as starring in it, is that correct?
Bridget:Yes, I did. I wrote it and co-produced it with Christin Baker.
Delina:Your roots are in comedy, so what inspired you to tell this particular story?
Bridget:I'm obsessed with love stories. There are not enough, if you ask me, and there's not enough lesbian love stories. When I see lesbian stories, I'm so grateful, I'll take whatever is out there, but I want to see love stories that show two women that actually know what they want, and they're not being torn apart because being gay is wrong, or their family doesn't accept them.
It's hard enough to be a person. Being whoever you are and being in love, you don't even need all those extra elements added in. So this story is about two women that, the only thing keeping them apart is timing and circumstance. So what I love about it, it's a slice of life, and it's a story about real people that just can't help but be in love with who they're in love with. I want to see that. I want to see girls on screen making out as much as possible.
Delina:You and me both.
Bridget:Yeah. Thank you!
Delina:I'm always excited when some new lesbian series or movie comes out.
Bridget:I'm so excited, I just saw the movie Carol. You know the movie with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara?
Bridget:I just left the movie a half hour ago. Have you seen it yet?
Delina:I haven't. I'm up in Portland and it's only in LA and New York, so I'm very disappointed.
Bridget:Oh my God! You need to fly to LA; you can stay at my house. It is phenomenal. Would you please call me the moment you get out of the theater? I'm going to go see it again. It is phenomenal. I cry at movies. I'm just like, you can't even ... My heart is just melting. To see our stories, and it's not that it's just like, "Oh, yeah, it’s a flavor." It's like, no, it's like Brokeback Mountain. Todd Haynes was just amazing, the director of the movie, because he's just telling our story. It's seeing women that I love, and they're just doing the best they can. Society and everyone else is telling them what to do, but they're just in love. They know it's not wrong. Oh my God, I love it. Tell me you'll see it. Promise me you'll see it.
Delina:It's definitely at the top of my list. I'm actually very jealous that I can't see it today, but I'm hoping it does well, and it starts getting a wider release.
Bridget:I think it definitely will, and I'm pretty sure there will be a lot of award wins and nominations for everyone involved. It's beautiful! You're going to love it! That's what I want to see. I want to see more complex female characters that are in love with other women because we're out there. We're everywhere.
Delina:Excellent. You play the lead, Maybelle, in the web series, so how would you describe this character?
Bridget:Maybelle is very dedicated to her mother, and she's a person that kind of does what she thinks she's supposed to do. She takes care of everything. For so long, because she's been caring for her mother, she hasn't taken care of herself. So what happens at the beginning, even in the first episode you see that her life has been stunted because she's been a caregiver, and now she's doing what she wants to do.
There's a part in the series that I haven't talked about with anybody else but I'll share with you. She's out in a lesbian club, and an incident happens with her and a woman, it's like that's not her scene. She hasn't been immersed in the lesbian community, and what's going on out there.
It's even like what she's wearing, and who she is. She's discovering it, and I just think that she's a woman who knows what she wants, and she's finally getting what she wants.
Delina:Okay. Is it like a rebirth in a way?
Bridget:Yeah, I don't really want to say rebirth because she's someone that kind of knew who she was, but she was on pause for about fifteen years, so it's a restart, rather than a rebirth.
Bridget:A reboot! Oh, that's good.
Delina:Since you did write this particular web series, and then you played the lead, do you feel like you prefer playing characters that you've created and written? Do you feel like it gives you more insight?
Bridget:That's a good question. I guess because I've written the character I have all these preconceived notions, or I've wrapped my head around it a lot more, but it's really exciting to play a role that I'm just stepping into that someone else has written, because I can go anywhere, because I don't have an idea. When I get to work with somebody else, and I really love working with different directors and film writers, then it's more of a collaboration.
When it's my own brainchild it's fun, and I have things more fleshed out, but I definitely like the opportunity to work on other projects, and things that I haven't done. I am so excited about doing a range of things, not just doing the lesbian roles that I like.
Delina:As you mentioned before, Maybelle is trying to win back her first love, who is now married to a man. As a writer, why did you choose to have her married to a man instead of another woman, or if not married, partnered with?
Bridget:That's a fantastic question. Now, I think a lot of people, at least in this day and age, are sexually fluid, and they don't identify. Like my sister, she's married to a woman. She has two kids, but she identifies as bisexual. I think that Della doesn't ever identify as, or say she's bisexual, but she talks about how she's been in relationships with women. She married this guy, and she loved this guy, but she's not in love with him.
So, what Della represents is someone who's sexually fluid. She goes where she feels like she's connected to people, and it's not right or wrong. Her husband knows that she’s been with women, and there's no anger towards him. He's accepted her.
I actually wrote a whole scene about, are you gay? Are you bisexual? I talked with the producer and director Christin Baker about it, and she was like, "Some people are beyond that if that makes any sense. We're not having the same conversations we used to have." You know what I'm saying? I might not have the same conversation with someone and ask them, "How do you identify?" Because some people just don't identify.
What I love about Della is that she has loved Maybelle since she was a teenager, and she still loves Maybelle. She's not struggling with her sexuality. She's struggling with who she is, but gender is not an issue for her.
Whereas Maybelle is, "I'm a lesbian, and I'm in love with Della, and I want to be with Della." Maybelle doesn't flinch at all. Maybelle knows she's a lesbian, but Della is more of a wild card, and she is a very complex character.
That's why I really, really love that I had her be married to a guy, and the guy that she married is a really nice guy. It's not like she married him to fit in. He's been her friend for a long time and he knows about the women, and he's sucking it up because he just loves her. People actually have those relationships. It's a very complex world we live in.
Delina:Indeed. Della's played by Frances Nichols. Have you two worked together before?
Bridget:Yes, I actually met her working on another lesbian film called Jew(ish). The story is about an engaged lesbian couple who, they're getting married and they're so happy, and they're very much in love, but my character's parents are Jewish. They have no problem with her being a lesbian, but have a problem with her marrying someone that's not Jewish. That's the little struggle in the story. It's about religion versus sexuality.
Delina:Interesting. I have actually heard of that. People who only want to marry into the Jewish faith, even though they're gay.
Bridget:That's a big thing. That's a really big thing. I think there's a documentary about Jewish lesbians, about how they can partner with other Jewish lesbians, but they really don't want to be with someone that's a different religion, and that's very important to their family. It's all interesting.
Delina:People are funny.
Bridget:People are crazy. Just love who you love. Just shut the fuck up, right?
Delina:Exactly, what's the big deal? Playing dramatic roles can be very emotionally draining for actors. Did you find that to be the case for you as you were filming this? Or were you still a comedian on set?
Bridget:I definitely was in the deep emotional place, and there was a scene where I'm grieving, and in my real personal life I lost my cat in February. I was never a cat person. My wife had a cat when we got together, and I always called her my step-cat, but I just loved this animal. Of course you mourn your pets, but I had physical pain over the loss of this cat.
When I was going to this place, I just felt the loss of my cat, and I just went with it. I was just crying and crying, and I found out later, that the sound mixer had me mic'd the whole time. I would go away and go prepare, and then I'd come back to do the scene, and she was listening to me the whole time crying about my cat, and calling out Shelby's name. I didn't know this was happening, and the director told me later, "Yeah, I knew when you were coming back to set and you were almost ready to shoot, because you would be crying for Shelby."
I was like, "Oh my God, how crazy is that?" It was very emotional. Fran and I both shed a lot of tears. We cried a lot, but we just really connected, and I can't tell you what an amazing actress she is. I love her as a person. She's gay and she's out, and I love her partner. It's just a very safe place to be with somebody that you can really open up, and you don't have to hold back at all, because it wasn't an issue for her to kiss a woman on screen. She's kissed many women, because that's who she is. It was a very safe place to be vulnerable, and I went there. I'm sure they would have liked me to be funnier on set, but I wasn't very funny on set. At least I don't think I was.
Delina:I'm very sorry about your cat, Shelby.
Bridget:Thank you. Thank you very much. I just adopted a new cat that my friends found in the middle of the road in Hollywood at 10:00 at night. I'm allergic to cats, and I can't even breathe around her, but I love her so much I can't get enough of her.
Delina:The pictures of her that you put on Twitter are adorable.
Bridget:Oh my God, Yoko. I can't breathe. I take medication every morning, and I don't even care if I die. I don't even care. She's perfect. She's amazing.
Delina:In addition to Maybelle you've done several other projects with Tello Films. What attracts you to projects created by smaller production companies like Tello?
Bridget:I love Tello; we refer to them in my family as the “Lesbian Netflix”. It's content created for lesbians and bisexual women by lesbian and bisexual women, so a lot of the creators are gay, are out. For our crew, a lot of our crew was gay, and the majority of our cast was gay. We're not trying to exclude straight people, but we just go within the community.
What I love about Tello is number one, I've known Christin Baker who is the founder for many years, and she's kind of given me free rein. I say, "I want to do a project." She goes, "Send me a pitch," and then we'll flesh it out together. I want to do a romance; I want to do a mockumentary series, and she lets me have creative freedom, and yet at the end of the day we definitely collaborate and work together. It's kind of like a dream partnership, because I can go, "This is what I have an idea about."
I've had some strange ideas, and she's like, "No, Bridget, stop it." I'm like, "Okay." I wanted some serious sex scenes, and she was like, "Bridget, do you really want to be shooting that?" I was like, "I guess I don't really want my parents to watch my boobs. Okay." She kind of reins me back in, but it's a dream to be able to create the content that I want to create.
Delina:Sounds like a great relationship.
Bridget:Yes. It's fantastic, and she's nice. I wrote the series, but every day before shooting we would sit down, Fran and I, and Christin. We would go through things, and we would say, do people talk like this? I think a lot of times people will do exposition or they'll talk about plot in the series like, "Are these your red shoes?" or whatever.
People talk in subtext. They don't say what they are trying to actually say, and what was great about Christin is she was the captain and would navigate. "Okay, well, what about this, and what about this, and what about this?" I re-wrote the entire last scene of the whole series, because Christin was like, "You know, you think you might want to go in this direction, but you actually want to go in this direction."
I think as a person, that as a writer, I know I'm in it, and I can't see the bigger picture. She can see the bigger picture, because she's done so many series for lesbians, and so many series on Tello. She knows what the audience likes, she knows what is good storytelling, and I sometimes am too into it. It's a pleasure to work with somebody who can go, "Hold on a second. I know you're excited but pull back and let's do this instead." I trust her. I really trust her.
Delina:It’s good to have somebody to collaborate with.
Delina:You're a successful lesbian comedian in a predominately male field. In your acting roles as well, you play a lot of queer characters, and I think your visibility makes you a role model for other lesbians. I look at other performers who, even though they might be gay, they don't want to play gay roles because they feel like it will impact their career negatively. I was curious. You've always been very out. What has your experience been? Do you feel that has influenced your career, either positively or negatively?
Bridget: I've been out since I was fourteen, and so being out is just who I am, and it wouldn't make any sense for me not to be out. I can't say if it's ruined my career, or made my career, because it's just the career I'm supposed to have. I've done straight roles, and I'm still fine with doing straight roles, but if I can pick and choose my projects I will always do something that I care about and identify with.
My life is, so much of it is being gay, so if I can do a gay project I'm going to do a gay project. People that don't want to be out, or if they're out but they don't want to do those roles, that's their preference. For me, the more you are out the better for everybody. It's going to change the future. The way the world is different now from when I was a kid, it's so dramatic. I think that is because people are out. They play gay roles, and they don't shy away from it. They are out personally, and they're out professionally.
There's nothing wrong with being gay. Being gay is awesome. It's one of my favorite things, and I would never be closeted even if I could be. If someone said, "You could be Nicole Kidman, and win Oscars, and be this, and this, but you have to be closeted." I would be like, "That's not even an option."
Delina:Do you have any other projects that are coming up that we can look forward to after Maybelle?
Bridget:Yes. I have a comedy special that I shot in Chicago over the summer that's going to be released on Tello Films in 2016. It's going to come right after Maybelle. Then I have a female ensemble feature comedy with five women that I'm writing, and Maybelle is being made into a feature film next year.
Delina:Is the feature film going to be a continuation of the web series?
Bridget:No, it's not going to be a continuation. It's going to start similarly where the series starts, but there's going to be more flashbacks, and there's going to be a lot of stories and things are going to be different. It's not going to be, Della and Maybelle are walking into the sunset and let's see where they're going now. It's going to be a different story but similar, definitely similar.
Delina:Okay, excellent. Is there anything else that you would like to add or talk about in regards to Maybelle?
Bridget:There is a scene where my real life wife is playing a seedy character. A butch lesbian bar owner, and she and I have a sex scene in the back of a truck. It was the best and funniest scene that I shot. It was so crazy to shoot that. I haven't seen the edit of that yet, but I just cannot wait. It's funny to have your wife being directed by a stranger going, "Grab her boobs. Grab her boobs." That is something I'm looking forward to.
Delina:Maybe you should write that as a comedy scene in another show.
Bridget:That's a good idea. I will put my wife in everything I do because I just think that's she's the bees knees.
Delina:Yeah. I imagine it's easier to make out with your wife than a stranger.
Bridget:You know, it's funny. I kissed Fran in the last series, but I didn't realize, and she told me later, that she'd never done a real kiss on-screen until Maybelle. I had no idea, so it was a big deal. She was nervous, and I was like, "Really?" I took her on-screen kissing virginity. I feel very special.
Delina:Excellent. I really appreciate your time. I'm looking forward to seeing Maybelle myself when it comes out.
More about Maybelle and Bridget McManus:
Maybelle Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/maybelletheseries/timeline
Tello Films: www.tellofilms.com