Press Pass LA had the opportunity to chat with Marlo Bernier, star of the groundbreaking original drama television series Myrna from Scorpio Rising Films; a series which pushes the boundaries of sexuality and tells the story of a transgender actress.
Myrna is a series that your average Hollywood executive wouldn’t take the risk to greenlight. In fact that was the way its fellow leading actress and producer, Jennifer Fontaine, pitched it to me. I was instantly intrigued… And she was right.
Myrna’s subject matter isn’t considered mainstream and it’s doesn’t instantly equate network appeal. But it’s predecessors, films like Boys Don’t Cry and TransAmerica and TV series like Transparent, have paved the way for a story like this to find its audience.
What I particularly like about Myrna, is that it aims to make its audience, well everyone. It’s not aimed solely at the LGBT community but at opening the conscious minds of all potential viewers. It is artistic activism and the story is so compelling, you can’t help be organically drawn in. Perhaps, that’s why the project who only recently launched an online financing campaign through Brad Wyman’s new platform FanBacked is already 102% funded.
A good story always finds its audience and a good team only helps. That is clearly the case with this project which boasts transgender actress icons, A’leshia Brevard and Alexandra Billings, as well as heavy-hitting Hollywood Production Designer, Warren Alan Young, and indie powerhouse Director of Photography, Sandra Valde-Hansen.
The series follows the title character Myrna, a successful actor who is willing to risk everything to confront her true gender identity and transitions from male to female. We follow Myrna as she struggles to find work as an actress, wrestles with a manager who still wants to send her out as her former-famous self (Michael), and deals with the drama of her friends’ reactions as they make an effort to come to terms with Myrna and her life-altering transition. The series is based on the life of its creator and star Marlo Bernier. We sat down with Marlo to discuss!
PPLA: Why is this story so important to get out into the world right now?
MYRNA: The time has always been now – it’s just that we as filmmakers, (TV series creators) are finally fully prepared to deliver our collective and very crystal clear vision of the Myrna TV Series Pilot in all its glory – with our unique and thought provoking pathos and humor, and hopefully also, beyond any of our, or anyone else’s expectations and imaginations. Simply, the time is now to change the dialogue!
PPLA: Tell us a bit about how this project came to be?
MYRNA: Ted Campbell and I began co-writing the Myrna pilot after I’d asked him what he thought about the “soft-offer” I’d gotten regarding my life as a possible vehicle for an actual reality show. So shortly thereafter we took a shot at it (the reality show concept – and well, it just wasn’t a concept that was within our respective “Wheelhouses”). So, he and I turned it on its head and began to write this dramedy-narrative called Myrna. And in the pilot episode called; “You’re Not Done Yet,” you’ll see Myrna, an actor who is struggling to get her former career back, to no avail. But her manager’s got this (Done-Deal) reality show for her. She says no and tells him she’s finally retired. However, toward the end of the pilot, he makes her an offer she’s unable to resist. And bingo, we have a brand new Reality Show Star in the making. She loathes herself for having agreed, but her back was up against the wall. And as Season 1 progresses, Myrna is plagued by the ever-hovering reality show crew who have invaded her life. And she’ll resist them, causing drama, and more drama = more viewers and higher ratings and of course the executives over at the Reality Show Production Company couldn’t be more thrilled with her antics. At the end of the day, Myrna, no matter what, is unable to get out of her own way. Just about everything backfires on her.
PPLA: This project is obviously very personal to you and based on your own experiences. How much is truth and how much has been altered for screen or is it a compilation of similar experiences others have had?
MYRNA: Yes to all of the above – HA! Alright, you wanna know if these things happened to me. Ever? In a word; yes. But of course we have employed the fine art of embellishment (in and with certain issues and moments throughout) and without question, theatrical liberty in the telling of Myrna’s (my) story. I mean is anyone gonna pay, even 10 Cents to watch me apply my blusher? Now, I ask you! (laughs)
PPLA: Do you think in 2014 and in a city such as Los Angeles it will be more well-received? Do you plan to hold screenings locally? Have you approached any local LGBT communities for support?
MYRNA: I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to answer these in reverse order, (it’s just the kind’a girl I am.) Regarding our current outreach directly to and with the greater LGBT communities, we have been connecting with everyone we can possibly think of and asking for their (at least their moral) support, through Twitter, Facebook, et al., The only screening which we are planning is that of the Myrna premiere, to which our primary focus will be to ensure that all network execs (read; decision makers) are in the seats on that night. And just a heads-up, we’re zeroing in on October 2014 for the Myrna event. So, clear your calendars! And lastly to your first question, our desire has only ever been that Myrna would have a far and wide-reaching appeal, not just LA, SF, NYC, etc. But country wide, regardless of statistical demographics, because at its core, its soul, Myrna is a show about the human connection. She (the character, Myrna) just happens to be in the throes of navigating her voyage from male-to-female through this ever-tentative world, in which we all reside. Will she be successful? You’ll have to tune-in. No-Spoiler-Zone.
PPLA: What are your plans/concerns once the project is completed? Will you release it online? Are you aiming for a series pickup from a network? Or a mini-series run on TV? How will you market and promote the project?
MYRNA: Our plan, Ted Campbell (co-writer & director), Jennifer Fontaine (co-star and co-exec producer) and I and a host of others who have enthusiastically attached themselves to Myrna, our goal is simply to deliver the pilot episode to network(s) for consideration for a full-series pick-up. We have Season 1 entirely mapped out in our Show Bible. So when asked, and hopefully they will ask, we can tell them with confidence that we know exactly where we’re headed. What they will say, or how they will respond to the pilot, well let’s face it, none of us can pretend to have the crystal ball on this. But we do know this, that we will deliver “You’re Not Done Yet, Myrna” and perfectly so.
PPLA: How do you think films that have come before this and have addressed topics of sexuality (like Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Boys Don’t Cry, Normal, TransAmerica) have helped to push the boundaries? Are their any films or TV programs you think have really moved this issue forward? Any you feel have reinforced stereotypes?
MYRNA: Of course those pictures that you’ve mentioned have indeed pushed boundaries and in a very big way and now as far as television is concerned, we have now- and thankfully so- Jill Soloway’s Transparent to name one in particular. She’s shaking things up and in a very good way. What she’s doing- all of them, both in front of and behind the lens on her show- is allowing all of us access to the cookies which are sitting on the top shelf. Of course there have been and probably will continue to be those shows etc., where the stereotypes will be reinforced. But, and I’ve said this before as well and it’s this; Do you want to change the dialogue? If so, then it is incumbent you, on us (all of us) to continue to tell our stories from inside the room and at the table.
PPLA: What was the casting process for this series like? How do you feel your cast plays into the success of this project?
MYRNA: Fortunately the casting process was fairly easy. Meaning, I/we always had in mind that we would cast (actual) trans-actors and I really am only using that term to make this point in those roles where it would be appropriate to do so. And I know I don’t speak for only myself on this, but we have been extremely fortunate to have assembled a Tour de Force ensemble across the board on Myrna, with; Jennifer Fontaine, Alexandra Billings, Ian Harvie, Aleshia Brevard, Tom Colby, Paul McKinney, David Mattey, Cristina Van Valkenburg, Deacon Ledges, Jessica Savano and even some faces you might not have seen before like; Darlie Brewster, Jake Finney. I promise you, you will witness acting or rather; the telling of the truth, as I often refer to it, without question, in a very real and shattering way, by every single one of these actors. I am proud to call them colleagues and more than happy to call them my friends. And thank you, Jennifer – for inviting me to this interview and for your enthusiasm and support of our show; Myrna.
This project is currently in Phase II of their “Fan-Financing” campaign, having met their production goals, and now raising an additional 15k for post-production costs. To learn more or support the Myrna campaign, visit here.