For Molly Bernard, acting isn't just hereditary, it's a choice. Grandaughter of notable acting teacher (and actor) Joseph Bernard, Molly says she would have chosen the acting path no matter what was inscribed in her family tree.
The Brooklyn native found success early on, landing a role in the 2000 drama Pay It Forward alongside Kevin Spacey and Haley Joel Osment as her first big gig - not too shabby, huh? 15 years later and Molly's triumphant streak continues. She has earned her acting MFA from Yale School of Drama, had stints on various TV shows, and appeared in hit films like The Intern. Now, Molly can be seen starring in TV Land's series Younger.
On the verge of Younger's second season premiere, we caught up with Molly to discuss her outlandish role as Lauren Heller, her impressive career and the best advice she has for aspiring performers.
RP: When did you know for sure that you wanted to be an actress?
MB: I don't want to sound cliché, but I’ve always known in the deepest part of myself that I wanted to be an actress. My grandfather, Joseph Bernard, had an acting school when I was growing up (he was the Executive Director of the Lee Strasberg School in Los Angeles with Lee). I began studying with him when I was six. I basically learned how to read in his class! I was very lucky. He gave me a great gift at a very young age that I revolved my world around.
"He gave me a great gift at a very young age that I revolved my world around."
Truth be told, I’ve never actually thought about doing anything else. My grandfather died when I was 18, and since his passing, any type of acting I do whether it’s on-camera or stage, in an acting class, or preparing an audition, brings me closer to him. While I was at Yale, however, there were many moments when my relationship to being an actress began to shift, and I realized that even had I not been lucky enough to have had my grandfather, I would have chosen to do this.
RP: It's quite an accomplishment to have graduated from the illustrious Yale School of Drama. What's the biggest lesson you took away from your time there? I know you graduated alongside the amazing Lupita Nyong’o.
MB: It was my life-long dream to go to YSD! I loved it there. Among the many invaluable lessons I gleaned while at Yale, the biggest would have to be a phrase Ron Van Lieu said often: “You all must learn to tolerate the discomfort.” While at Yale, somewhere along the line, I decided to put my emphasis on fiercely pursuing objective and having a deep understanding of any given play I was working on.
"Knowing what doesn’t work is equally, if not more important than knowing what works."
I learned that having a set of tools to guide me through the rehearsal process became the biggest ally in me learning to challenge my inner critic and get out of my head. I learned that failing, or not getting it right all the time helped me find what worked. Knowing what doesn’t work is equally, if not more important than knowing what works. Our teachers at Yale also frequently said “play to win”— these phrases continue to ground me through all of the work I do.
RP: A lot of advice can steer aspiring talent to LA in order to receive more opportunities. Of course, I think New York can be just as abundant. Did you find it difficult to get TV/Film work while being located in New York City?
MB: I agree, I think NYC is just as abundant. (I personally did not find it difficult to get work in New York, which still astounds me every day!). There are so many opportunities in New York. A ton of great shows film here, and there is an abundance of fabulous casting directors who really love actors.
RP: True. You play the very outspoken Lauren Heller on Younger. How did you first get involved with that show? Was it your usual audition process?
MB: My first audition for Younger was with two casting directors (Steve Jacobs and Bonnie Finnegan) and Darren Star. It was for a small scene in the pilot. I was in the room for quite a long time and Darren had me do it a few times with some changes. I left thinking, well, that was that! My manager called me a few days later telling me I got the part. We shot the pilot fairly soon after the audition, and I genuinely thought it was a one-off. Many months later, the pilot got picked up and I got a call from my manager when she explained to me that they wanted me to re-audition for Lauren, the same part I played in the pilot. At the time, I didn’t have any comedy on my reel and the network wasn’t sure I could play someone who was as over the top as Lauren. I felt a little discouraged and scared that I would be competing against other girls for a part I had already played, and that I would potentially lose it, but I had my heart set on nailing it. I prepped the audition like an athlete, and I went back in with Steve and Bonnie and said to them, okay guys, let’s do this! I think, in all, I put five scenes on tape.
RP: I imagine you were really excited when you found out that your character had been elevated to "main cast." Congratulations!
MB: Thank you! I was thrilled! (Especially because of how I got the part in the first place). I never imagined that my little scene in the pilot would become what it has. It is such a joy! I love the show, and I love Lauren.
Sutton Foster, Molly Bernard & Hilary Duff in TV Land's YOUNGER.
RP: What's it like to work with the talented duo Sutton Foster and Hilary Duff? Have they given you any advice for navigating this crazy business?
MB: Working with Hilary has been a dream. She is hilarious, unbelievably kind, smart, and exceedingly generous as an actress. We have so much fun together on-set. From day one, both Hilary and Sutton have been so supportive and encouraging of me.
""Working with Hilary [Duff] has been a dream."
Working with Sutton is a little bit of a dream-come-true for me. Actually, Sutton is the first and only person I ever wrote fan mail to. I was 14 and obsessed with Thoroughly Modern Millie. I sent her a letter telling her she was the best actress of our time and how inspired by her I was, and she wrote me a back a very sweet note and an autographed picture saying thank you and telling me to follow my dreams. I learn so much from her every day. She has a lot of responsibility on this show. She is pretty much in every scene and she navigates it so well. She was an inspiration at 14 and continues to be!
RP: They're both incredible... and of course, then there's the creator Younger - the legendary Darren Star (of Sex and the City fame). Do you work with him at all?
MB: As far as Darren goes - I have this job because of him. He pushed for me to play Lauren after I had six lines in the pilot. He really believes in me and single-handedly changed my life by bringing me on-board. He is a gem. Sometimes on-set I will still get nervous and tongue-tied around him, but he is so lovely that the feeling doesn’t last too long anymore.
RP: Younger is filmed in the bustling NYC. Does production have any major difficulty during the outdoor shoots - especially with the crowds?
MB: Not usually. Sometimes our schedule gets shifted due to rain, but mostly it’s pretty great. A lot of shows are filming in town and I think New Yorkers are now used to film/TV sets occupying their blocks. Sometimes funny stuff happens because there are, of course, more variables with an open set, but the outdoor shots are always a blast.
RP: What's your favorite element of working on Younger?
MB: Oh dear, where do I begin?! I love that Lauren is outrageous. Playing someone so wild (and so different than me) is awesome. Each day is fun and crazy in its own way. But I think my favorite element is the people. We have an incredible cast - Hilary, Sutton, Debi, Nico, Miriam, Peter, Dan and not to mention the geniuses who play my parents, Kathy Najimi and Josh Pais - dreamy! Everyone is insanely talented and inspiring - and the writers and producers are amazing. The crew is fantastic. It is an extremely positive environment. I LOVE my job.
RP: Any other upcoming projects you'd like to share?
MB: I recently filmed a role in the film Sully starring Tom Hanks and directed by Clint Eastwood. I have a few other projects in the works that the world will see in 2016.
RP: That's amazing! To end on an inspiring note, what's your best piece of advice for aspiring actors?
MB: Be yourself, uncompromisingly. And always be interested in those around you.
RP: Thank you so much for your time, Molly!
Catch Molly on Younger and follow her on instagram @BollyMernard.