Miss Benny "So much of my formative identity was made in my bedroom with the door locked, watching YouTube videos, or doing my makeup in the middle of the night and washing it off at 4am so I could go to church in the morning. Just finding pockets where I could safely accept myself until I could create a much larger space."
Alice Gee | 23/06/2023
Miss Benny is in her element. Authenticity becomes her. Sitting down with MB on LA time, I knew she was a star from the moment I met her. No matter the location of the interview, whether in person or on a call, when you know, you know. MB's breakout role, Marco, in Netflix's Glamorous alongside stars like Kim Cattrall, is everything you could hope for. A re-imagination of those ever-iconic films/tv shows, including Devil Wears Prada and Ugly Betty, Glamorous is home for the queer community. In this space, their shine is celebrated and only comes naturally. As the sun beams into her room, there's no denying the beauty that quite literally radiates from her in person. As we begin to chat, there's something more, an eloquently spoken individual who's reality and truth is gospel. MB's lengthy preparation for the role of Marco sees a show emerge five years on, a celebration and roaring success, and a not-so-subtle middle finger to those who said the world wasn't ready for topics and nuances, particularly for queer identities. A: There's quite the buzz behind Glamorous, so after a few years of it being in the making, you must be very excited and very ready for it to be brought to life. MB: I really thought that I would be super nervous right now. And then I'd be scared. But honestly, I'm just so excited. It's (Glamorous) so silly and so funny. And it's all of the things that I had wanted it to be. So I'm very excited. A: How has nurturing the show made you feel so emotionally and physically attached to your work? MB: I've been attached to the show for so long. It's been a four-year process for me and a five-year process for the creator of the show Jordan. So we've been making this show for years. So many of my nerves have to do with it feeling so personal. I wanted to do it justice because I grew up with this character. I'm really excited to throw my take into the world. I hold a lot of respect for this kind of show. A: I've no doubt about the positive effect it will have, but the representation and the joy of that come through so clearly, let alone legendary roles, including Kim Cattrall. How was it working alongside her? Is it even more comfortable to do what you're doing and know that she supports you? MB: So many feelings have come on board for the show. What it really did for me was validate that the show is something special because when they were casting Madeline, I remember thinking these are big shoes to fill. This character needs to be funny, this character needs to be strong, and a little intimidating but also super grounded and have a lot of heart. And so I always thought that Kim Cattrall would be perfect. But I thought that was a long shot. So when I found out that she was signing on to the show, it was first of all fantastic because I am such a big fan of her portrayal of Samantha and Sex and The City. But it was also just really cool. Because to me, that meant someone like Kim read the script and thought, yeah, this is something special. I've always felt like it was special. But I am so close to it that it meant a lot that somebody else read this script and saw it as something valuable and special. Having her on set was mind-blowing because she's such an icon, and I've used her as a comedy reference point for so long in my life and career. My character Marco is also in awe of her and terrified of her all at the same time. So anytime I was starstruck by having someone like her on set, it was really easy to use that for the scene. But it was just super cool. The whole cast is so special. You have someone like Kim, who's established, iconic, and talented at what she does. And then you have a whole cast of actors who are all on the newer side of things. It felt like we were at some summer camp for five months. We had so much fun filming it that I'm hoping it'll translate to people and they watch it, and they'll be able to see the amount of fun we're having. It was the best experience. A: On a side note, I'm a giant Devil Wears Prada fan. As I watch it so regularly, it's incredible how my whole world has not become it yet… she says, creating HATC magazine. Clearly, something came through. But on that side note, I loved growing up watching these shows, Ugly Betty, Sex, and The City as a young girl idolising their creative worlds. How have you found the autonomy it's brought to your life, creating a show like those but with even better representation and community. MB: Well, it's excellent because I am are very close with Jordon Nardino, the creator of the show. We are both just big pop culture snobs. Like we love movie references, TV references, anything. We're constantly telling each other to watch this, watch that, quoting things. And we're very aware of this sort of Devil Wears Prada, Ugly Betty essence of the show. It was really special to me as I grew up idolising those shows and those movies and wishing so bad to be one of those girls navigating love, fashion, and a career. You know, I discovered my queer identity. And so it's pretty crazy that this show allows us to give a new perspective to a story we all know, love, and are very familiar with. So many topics and nuances of our take on it are particular to queer identities. I think that comes from having a majority of a queer cast and transparent producers. I've never been on a set where I wasn't the only queer person on a set. It was refreshing to feel like I don't have to be an entire community representative. I can be who I am, knowing there's space for everyone else to do the same. That way, we all get to breathe and enjoy the process more. It's something that I love about the way our show gives us that power. Marco gets to be all the flamboyant fun, be one-liners that we know and love for a character like Marco, but we also get to see Marco at home. It's good to see Marco in relationships, and when the makeup comes off, who Marco is. That's something that I haven't really seen very often on television. I was really excited to be a part of that. I'm also such a big fan of the other actor's storylines in the show because they feel so fleshed out, whole, and unique. Specifically, I'm just such a super fan of Jade Payton's character Venetia because I've never seen someone like her being a black queer woman whose role is so fleshed out. And so I know that if I feel that fan girl fondness for her character, and the fact that she gets that opportunity, I can't imagine what people who identify with her will get to feel. I want to do the same thing for people who identify with Marco. A: As much as TV over the years has started to adapt, it often only adapts to what they want to show to be. Growing up with Bipolar disorder, there was never really a space to breathe, take that weight off for a second, and be yourself authentically. You're creating a beautiful reality where life is more than any gloom that can come about. There's beauty in our authentic selves and lives to come. MB: I wanted to do something important to me and significant to Jordan. All of us were just so proud. To see queer representation on TV or in movies, so far, it's been a lot of the beginning and end of life, a lot of the trauma associated with being queer. And so, when I was growing up and seeing clear representation, I was exhausted because I felt like, Oh, this must be miserable. Because that's all, I ever saw. And while I think it's amazing that we have movies and TV shows that show the authentic experience that queer people have and how hard it can be, our show truly is a fantastic healing. In this escapist queer story, there's never homophobia or transphobia. From anyone outside of the community, it's to understand. It's always internally the challenges we face as communities. That was super healing for me because I feel like, as a kid and as a queer person, in my formative years, I spent so much of my time trying to constantly start by validating myself and justifying myself. And that's super exhausting. It takes a tremendous toll on you. So to see a show where no one ever has to explain themselves, and no one ever has to deal with prejudice, it's just, I mean, queerness is a superhero on our show. And that means we get to sort of delve into the relationships we have with our own queerness and how we navigate our own identities. That's super refreshing. Now we get something more soft and playful when you get to see yourself on the screen for once and enjoy your life. A: Authenticity is so crucial. And that it allows us not to have to validate or be constantly your biggest cheerleader. Don't get me wrong, it's great to be your own cheerleader, but sometimes you need to bloody breathe without that being questioned, and I feel that in Glamorous. How prepared do you think in the incredible work of the roles you've played, both this and others like Love Victor, you prepared for such a tremendous response and the way people will connect with it? MB: I'm just so impressed and shocked that we got to make and finish it. Because when we started developing it four or five years ago, we were told it wasn't time for this show yet. That was always really frustrating because I was somebody who wanted to see a show like this. At the time, I certainly felt like I couldn't possibly be alone. There have to be other people who would very much appreciate a show like this. So I'm very excited for queer people to see the show, enjoy it, make fun of it, and relate to it. I'm excited for everyone to see a campy, silly TV show that's very aware of itself and goofy. I'm mindful of the time we're in, specifically for gender nonconforming and trans people right now. I'm very mindful of that and excited that we are contributing something very positive. Specifically, to see a very expressive group of people succeed and be celebrated is very important right now. My fears and nerves about a potential pushback or reception or anything harmful to the show have dissipated. I'm excited because I'm very proud of what we made right now. I was very clear about my intention for doing the show, and I'm really proud of how I feel we succeeded with it. I can't wait to see people's memes and jokes about it, people getting on board with all of this silliness and the things to poke fun at. There are so many moments that I get to have as Marco that are just so ridiculous and over the top, and I can't wait for people to sort of get to partake in that because we've had a blast. A: Always here for the memes! Ok, here goes. I'm sure the whole thing is, but is there a standout moment or memory? MB:There are so many memories. I mean, I will say that anyone who's a fan of Kim Cattrall in Sex in the City will absolutely love it. All of the great one-liners, she has an art. I was such a fan of hers and saw her do this new character with similar energy. There was a specific memory. There were moments when we'd break character and laugh because someone would do something funny. But there was only one scene where we really could not get through it. It's a funny montage we do at the beginning of an episode where we're trying to figure out a whodunit situation. And there's this bit where Zane Phillip's character Chad, walks around the room saying who he thinks did it. For each one of those moments, we all had a reaction to our description being said, and it became one of those things where every take, we were making each other laugh. It was so hard to get through. When I watched that episode, I was giggling like a kid. I mean, the ensemble cast is so silly. It's very rare. That, at least for me, I've been on a cast where these are all people I will know for my whole life. They are so funny and care about the show so much. We were all very aware of the tone of the show we were making, so when I think of the filming experience, I think of the cast just trying to make each other laugh. A: It's so important to hear, like earlier when you mentioned this heaviness and the belief that's all we were meant for many times due to those conversations. How have you found your tribe and that relief in knowing it is there?
MB:I grew up in Texas, which is mainly a religiously conservative place. So I was raised very Christian, homeschooled, and meant to be kept from anything secular. But being born queer, I felt like I knew who I was very early, even though I didn't have the language to explain it. And so I learned very young that the things I was feeling and the things I identified with were not necessarily safe to express in my community at the time. And so, I turned to any representation I could find, like YouTube and things like TV. The most life-changing thing for me was when I first started watching YouTubers and discovering that there were happy queer people because my only awareness of queer people was this sort of resilience in the face of prejudice. And that is, unfortunately, very true for a lot of us. It meant I didn't understand that you could be queer, go to the grocery store or a bar, and then go home and do it all over again. I didn't have that understanding of what life really was like. I just had a sense of misery about it. And so, for me, finding my community and finding peace with myself came from watching TV and watching YouTube until I was out of Texas and in a place where I could meet people in person who I identified with. So much of my formative identity were made in my bedroom with the door locked, watching YouTube videos, or doing my makeup in the middle of the night and washing it off at 4am so I could go to church in the morning. Just finding pockets where I could safely accept myself until I could create a much larger space. Something really hard for me at the time that I'm hoping to amend a little bit now is I think about how one of my early references for seeing myself was funny enough watching Glee. I remember seeing Chris Colfer's character, how flamboyant he was, and how he was such a big part of that show. I remember thinking, Oh, I identify with this person. As this person sounds like me, this person acts like me. This is where I could see my life going. But everybody around me at the time was so critical of his character and his being on TV. I remember being very aware of this idea that we don't want to see gay people on TV like that. And even from the queer community at the time, and still to this day, some people are adamantly opposed to femininity, which in this case, I'm talking about queer men who are assigned male at birth. They don't want to be associated with what they deem as a stereotype of being feminine. That was always really hard for me because I am feminine. And I identify with that. So for me, I never felt like a stereotype. I just felt like a different experience. So what I'm hoping to do with this show is show that some queer people are flamboyant and are very vibrant, and those people also have emotional range. They aren't always at 100. I wanted to take something so important to me, which was the clear representation, and grow and expand upon that so that people could see more sides to a clearer experience that is very true for many of us. It was very important for me finding my community and finding my identity. I often think about how every time I've gotten to do a role where I'm a queer person, being myself and flamboyant. I just tried to think that I would have appreciated seeing an excess of that when I was younger. Visiting one place to find and know it's normal and joyful. Finding my community and finding myself was almost entirely because I could define what I felt because of TV, movies, and YouTube. A: To have those mediums and that free reign is just so important. It has so much more impact than many think it ever touches or imagined. How have your idols played a part in that? MB:I've always idolised the women in my life. Both women I know and the women on TV. As a kid, the most life-changing thing for me was watching the leading women in TV shows I watched. I remember idolising them and wanting to be them. I remember watching Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus. When I got a little older, watching 30 Rock and seeing Tina Fey, I remember thinking these women are getting to do everything I want. They're being funny, they're being validated, they're being sincere, they have a lot of heart. They're just amazing and display so many sides of their personality in a fun way. So, as a kid, I always looked up to the women in my life. As a kid, I remember thinking, one day, I want to be like Selena Gomez and Wizards of Waverly Place. I need that person who gets to be the center of a story, expresses themselves, and has so much fun doing it. So that dictated the direction of my life. And luckily, I had the great support of my mom. And I have two older sisters that I had looked up to so much, who taught me a lot about being a vibrant personality and all things glam. I learned everything about makeup from watching my eldest sister. I always knew I wanted to be one of those leading actresses, comedy girls. I pursued it for years and was constantly told it wasn't time for someone like me yet. Now I get to do it. Now I get to be Selena Gomez. And I get to work with someone like Kim, an icon. To be that character that I've dreamt of being but to do it alongside somebody who is very formative for me is just mind-blowing. Miss Benny's vibrancy towards life, as she glistens in a world that is and will be ready for her, remains a celebration of her iconic unapologetic authenticity. Words Alice Gee Photography Daniel Prakopcyk