When Molly Bernard’s grandfather, a cofounder of the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, opened his own studio in Las Vegas, he thought he’d be teaching performers from shows on the Strip. Instead, his students were taxi drivers, schoolteachers, and his precocious granddaughter. “I ended up learning how to read in his acting class,” actor Molly Bernard recalls. “From the time I was 6, it was very clear to me that acting was the love of my life.” Bernard would go on to complete her MFA at the Yale School of Drama, and not long afterward she was picking up parts in such shows as Transparent and Chicago Med.
TV audiences will know Bernard best as the eclectic publicist Lauren in Younger, which wraps up its seven-season run this month on Paramount+. That role gave Bernard the opportunity to work with one of her heroes, Sutton Foster. “I saw Sutton [on stage] in Thoroughly Modern Millie as a child, and she was my idol,” she says. “I wrote her fan mail, and she wrote me back and signed this beautiful headshot that said, ‘Follow your dreams, Molly, XOXO Sutton Foster.’ Now if we have a flub on set, she’ll be like, ‘Just follow your dreams, Molly, XOXO Sutton Foster.’ It’s been our little inside joke for seven years.”
Aside from the bonds she made with her castmates on Younger, Bernard, who identifies as queer, says she’s grateful to have had the opportunity to portray one of the first pansexual characters to appear on TV. “Lauren’s openly queer and wholeheartedly loves herself, and her sexuality isn’t tokenized,” she says. “I think that kind of representation is really important.” Playing such a confident, unabashed character, Bernard adds, helped her with her own journey. “Some symbiosis happened, and Lauren definitely gave me the courage to be like, ‘Actually, I’m a queer person.’”
Bernard can now be seen in her first lead role, in Milkwater, a film in which she plays a rudderless 20-something who serves as surrogate for an older gay man who wants to have a child. “It’s kind of a teaching moment for the folks who see it,” says Bernard, who also executive-produced. “It helps people understand how hard it is to begin queer families. I love that people are drawn to me for projects that tell queer stories.” She also just wrapped shooting an Amazon Studios film, Master, directed by Mariama Diallo. “I’m excited to continue to work on projects that empower women,” she says, “and [to keep] soaring with my ladies.”