From Kathleen Jordan and executive producer Jenji Kohan (Orange is the New Black, Weeds), the Netflix original 10-episode series Teenage Bounty Hunters follows Blair (Anjelica Bette Fellini) and Sterling (Maddie Phillips), 16-year-old fraternal twin sisters who rebel against their conservative Southern community, but still remain true to their strong faith. When they unexpectedly team up with veteran bounty hunter Bowser (Kadeem Hardison), they end up on a wild adventure that sends them deep into the world of bail-skipping bad guys, but that ultimately end up teaching them more about themselves than they ever could have imagined.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Anjelica Bette Fellini talked about how surreal it’s been to see the fan reaction to Teenage Bounty Hunters, getting to do a show with action and family drama, sparking a conversation about sex and faith, meeting and forming the sister bond with co-star Maddie Phillips, what she grew to appreciate about Blair, how Kadeem Hardison has become a father figure to her, the shocking cliffhanger and the affect that could have on a possible Season 2, and the show’s important message about loving yourself.
[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for the first season of Teenage Bounty Hunters.]
Collider: For this show, how cool is it to get to do action and be a bad-ass, but also have the full-on family drama going on along with it?
ANJELICA BETTE FELLINI: Thank you for noticing that. When you first start acting, there’s so much that you audition for and there are so many times that you want it to be what you book, but very rarely is there a show that talks about hard topics, empowers women, addresses race, and addresses gun control, all in one fell 10-episode swoop, and I’m just so humbled and honored and happy to have this be my first thing. I’m just so happy to be a part of it because, when you’re first starting acting, you’re a beggar, and beggars can’t be choosers. You’re like, “Give me the roles!”
I love that this show explores sex and faith because those are two things that are still taboo to talk about together, and it’s incorporated in this show without either of these girls making apologies about it.
FELLINI: Absolutely! Sex and faith do go together. People of faith do engage in sex, and teenagers are so horny and they’re still of faith, so how do we talk about that and broach that subject? What’s so unique about this show is that it’s a conversation. Nobody knows exactly what’s right. We’re all just trying to do our best. And you watch these girls try to do their best while juggling their faith and what they’re told and how they feel.
When you make a show, even if you think it’s great, you don’t know if anybody’s going to actually watch it. What’s it been like to hear feedback from folks who are watching it and talking about it, all over social media?
FELLINI: It’s surreal. I had no expectations for the show to chart. Expectations are something that I really try to check at the door when I come home, in my relationships, my career, and my personal life. It’s hard to hold expectations sometimes. We’ve heard from Netflix, we’ve heard from the showrunner (Kathleen Jordan), and we are working with Tilted Productions, all of which are good signs. We’re working with Mackenzie Astin, Kadeem Hardison, Virginia Williams, and Wynn Everett, who are all people that have been around the block. They’re seasoned actors. I just thought to myself, “People are saying this show is good, and I’m just going to believe them. And when it comes out, it comes out.”
I almost deleted Instagram for the weekend. I thought, “I don’t want to see how people are responding to it. I’m just going to delete my app, and maybe I’ll check it on Safari, if I want.” I did not do that. I was not strong enough to do that. But the outpouring of messages that I’ve been getting, from kids and girls who are saying, “Oh, my god, this is the best. Blair is my favorite. I love the way she talks about sex. I love the twins. The twins are amazing. The twins make me wish I had a sister.” Maddie and I both got a message from a girl who said, “I grew up in Georgia and I’m bisexual, and I felt so seen.” I was like, “Dang, we’re really hitting some sort of niche that’s resonating with everyone.” It’s really just been surreal. The whole process has been surreal, but finally getting to share it with the world has been so surreal.
With TV shows, you typically don’t get to know the full series arc or story because it hasn’t even been written yet. When this first came your way, what were you told about what the show was? Did you know what the scope of the season would be, or did they tell you very little about it?
FELLINI: They honestly told us as much as we needed to know. A lot of it was said in the pilot. When I got the audition, I was sitting in New York, having a cup of coffee with a friend in an outside café, and it said, “Blair is her own sexual lab rat,” in the breakdown of this audition. I thought to myself, “Oh, I never see that.” They so frankly talked about how Blair feels about sex and what she wants to experience, in that one sentence, without casting a judgment on her, and I just loved that. I knew that this was going to be unique and amazing. Plus, knowing that it was Jenji [Kohan], I knew that some shit was going to go down. Everyone knows that, on Jenji’s shows, shit goes down. I actually just had a viewing party with a friend, after we both quarantined for two weeks, and she said, “What makes this show so fantastic is it’s got that Jenji flare of those relationships. You touch on all of these topics, but at the end of the day, what matters most is the relationships.” That is such a key point of all of Jenji’s shows.
How many times did you audition for this role before you actually met [Phillips]?
FELLINI: Actually, just once. It was an audition, but it was a self-tape. I filmed it with a friend of mine, here in New York, and I sent it on its merry way and was like, “Go with God.” And then, I got an email, the next day, that said the producers loved me and they were going to fly me out on Wednesday, which was two days from that day, and that I was going to spend one or two nights in L.A. I went in for the chemistry read and Maddie was there, and I was the last girl of the day. I basically stepped off the flight, dropped my bags off, went right to the studio, met Maddie, spoke for a minute with everybody, did the audition, and that was it. It was the end of the day and Maddie and I walked out together, and I actually ended up waiting for my ride in her boyfriend’s car because her boyfriend was waiting for her, and mine was coming to pick me up.
So, we ended up just sitting there talking about how great the audition just went, and she was like, “I did not feel that with anybody else in the room today, and I’ve been in the room since 11am,” and it was five. I was like, “Cool, let’s manifest it.” And she wrote to the showrunner Kathleen on Instagram and was like, “I loved Anjelica,” and then we ended up going out to dinner, later that night. We were in a corner booth for hours, speaking over the loud noise of the bar, and the rest was history. We just had this cosmic connection. We sent each other memes and tried to manifest it, and then I got the call that I got it. So establishing a relationship with Maddie was one of the easiest parts of the job.
What was your first day on set like? Do you remember how that experience felt, and how that compared to the last day of the season?
FELLINI: The whole time on set, everybody was a family. I know a lot of people say that, but I really mean it. Everybody really, truly got along. There were no egos on set and we had a blast. I think we were all a little sad [when it ended]. I’ve kept in touch with two of my wardrobe women, Joanie Ming and Carolina Wong. We talk every day, and send each other dog memes, and sometimes cat and llama memes. They have said that this show is what they call their white whale. They were like, “This show, Season 1, I could have repeated for the rest of my life.” We all just had a blast. There was no fighting, nobody was angry, and nobody was holding set up. It was just people making a thing that was fun and silly and raunchy. It was just really fun.
Were there things about your character that you grew to appreciate over the course of doing the season, that you didn’t necessarily realize were there, when you started playing her?
FELLINI: Blair is fiercely loyal, and I don’t know if I would have known that while I was playing her in the first couple of episodes, until her relationship with Miles. She loves with this fiery passion that is really, really big, and cannot be put out. In Episode 8, that’s such a turning point for her. She realizes that they can’t tell anyone that they’re bounty hunters because they’re minors, and by not telling anyone that they’re bounty hunters, she’s trying to protect Bowser because of that fiery love.
And when she realizes that it’s actually hurting Miles that she’s not honest with him, even though she knows that she would take a bullet for him, that’s a real turning point for her. She realizes that this loyalty and this very, very passionate love can sometimes hurt her and get in her way. I almost appreciated her fiery love more, as she started to get hurt by people around her, that didn’t love her the same. Miles backs off. He says, “I walk away from drama and from fires, slowly.” The fact that his parents are such bigwigs, owning a bank and being a state Senator and a lawyer, and the fact that he’s Black makes him say, “I walk away slowly, as to not bring any undue attention onto myself.”
I love that line now, especially with everything going on. It’s such a poignant line about what it’s like to be Black in America, and Blair doesn’t understand that. She’s never had to deal with that, until now. That’s a really fantastic lesson that Miles teaches her, and it definitely taught me a little bit more about Blair and her flaws.
I really love the relationship between the twins and Bowser, and especially between Blair and Bowser, because it’s not the kind of dynamic that we typically see. What did you enjoy about their relationship and the experience of working with Kadeem Hardison?
FELLINI: I love Kadeem. Kadeem has really acted as a pseudo-father to me, personally, and it’s been such a blessing to have him in my life. I know that he’s a legend and a seasoned actor, and he just has no ego. He is the most humble guy. We would have people on set, and background and co-stars would come up to him and say, “Your character on A Different World is why I got married,” because there’s a big scene where he stops a wedding during, “Speak now, or forever hold your peace,” and he doesn’t and ends up marrying that girl. So just getting to know him has been so awesome.
There hasn’t been a Season 2 pick-up yet, but this season ended on quite a cliffhanger, so you clearly have to come back and resolve what’s going on. What was your reaction, when you found out the ending of the season?
FELLINI: I did not know. They kept that secret from us. They were very close to the chest about that. I believe that it’s possible that only the producers, Kathleen and Virginia Williams knew, and then they eventually brought [Mackenzie Astin] into it, as you start to see how withholding the information from the girls affects their father. But they didn’t tell anyone, so nobody told us. We were shocked. I remember Maddie texted me and was like, “Are you my cousin?! Kathleen is a sick woman!” So, we definitely shared a laugh over that. We’re excited to see what happens. I’m excited about what these girls are going to get up to, after this. It’s definitely a good plotline for these girls to explore. I can only imagine what this information is going to do to their psyches. As an actor, that’s a fantastic thing to explore, thinking they’re a twin, for their entire life and then having that reality ripped out from under them. I’ve never had a chance to do that, so I would be excited, as an actor, to explore it.
How do you personally feel about cliffhanger endings? Are they something that makes you crazy, or does it make you get excited for more?
FELLINI: It makes me so excited, but it also makes me furious. As the audience now, it’s not like we’re shooting anything new. How long do I have to wait? I have to wait for this now, after you just did this to me? But it gives everybody a great excuse to watch it again. If and when Season 2 finally does come out, you know, everybody will have to go back and watch the girls do their shenanigans again, and certainly nobody will have forgotten the ending. At the end of Season 1 of Stranger Things, I thought I was going to kill someone. I was like, “He just spit up that shit, and there’s no more season?!”
What would you personally still like to see or learn about, with your character? Do you have a personal wishlist of things that you’d like to see her have to do or explore, in some way?
FELLINI: Yeah. I definitely think that the idea of exploring non-co-dependency would be interesting for her and that’s probably something that they will incorporate because Blair is very co-dependent. In Episode 4, she says, “I’m surprised my love didn’t absorb you in the womb.” The sisters are co-dependent, so I’m sure that this information will force them to take a look at themselves, as independent only children, and not sisters. Also, personally for me, as I think about how Blair is going to feel about this, I hope that she learns a little bit about forgiveness ‘cause I have a feeling that she’s going to be pretty upset about this.
If this show has a message, it feels like that message is to learn to love yourself, instead of judging yourself. Why do you think that’s an important story to tell and to get across, especially to young people?
FELLINI: There was something therapeutic for me, as a 20-something now, to play a 16-year-old who can unabashedly be herself. Being a middle school and a teenager, there’s a lot of shame with that. Anybody who is alive and has gone through school has experienced being bullied and probably being a bullier. Before I knew the plotline of Episode 5, I was talking to one of the writers, Shane [Kosakowski] who wrote Episode 3, and for some reason, I was thinking about this substitute teacher that I had, in my own life, who was an older man. I remember causing a ruckus in his class, and I don’t remember why, but I felt deep shame about that now. Being a kid is hard and things stick with you that you don’t even realize are going to stick with you. And I know that, if I could go back to that younger version of myself, I would tell that version of myself to be calmer, to be more gentle with herself, and to be more gentle with others because we’re all just figuring it out.
Blair and Sterling fully encompass that. In Episode 7, Sterling says, “You’re obsessed. You’re a dog with a bone.” And Blair sticks up for herself and says, “That’s extremely condescending.” In Episode 5, when we’re at the strip club, Sterling says, “Wow, you don’t look like you had a baby just recently,” to Cherry Grigio. And Blair says, “That’s not a great thing to say. Don’t say that. We shouldn’t assume to know what a body should and shouldn’t look like.” In Episode 8, she says to Bowser, “It’s not okay to point out someone’s sweat patterns.” And he goes, “Oh, really? I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.” So, there are all of these little things where the girls really know how to stick up for themselves and try, at least, to say exactly what it is they mean, and to be gentle with others.”
I think that is such a positive message, especially in a female identifying and run show. Seeing two female leads saying exactly what’s on their minds and trying to figure it out so blatantly is great. I could have used the show like this, growing up.
Teenage Bounty Hunters is available to stream at Netflix.