From Kathleen Jordan and executive producer Jenji Kohan (Orange is the New Black, Weeds), the Netflix original 10-episode series Teenage Bounty Hunters follows Sterling (Maddie Phillips) and Blair (Anjelica Bette Fellini), 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 life adventure that sends them deep into the world of bail-skipping bad guys, but that ultimately ends up teaching them more about themselves than they ever could have imagined.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Maddie Phillips talked about how the fan reaction has surpassed her expectations, why the show appealed to her, her wild audition experience, exploring sexual empowerment with these characters, having co-star Anjelica Bette Fellini as her partner in crime, how the first day on set compared to the last day on set, having Kadeem Hardison become a father figure, her reaction to the wild cliffhanger, and what she hopes could happen with Sterling in a possible Season 2.
[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for the first season of Teenage Bounty Hunters.]
Collider: This show is so much fun and these characters are really great!
MADDIE PHILLIPS: Yeah, the epitome of my wildest dreams is a phrase that I’ve been using frequently.
Congratulations on the success of the show! It’s been really fun to see everybody talking about the show as they watch it. What’s it been like for you to get to see that feedback and how people are receiving it?
PHILLIPS: It has surpassed my expectations, only because it was such a personal project to me. I cared about it and the people that were involved so deeply that I just was afraid of getting my hopes up too much. At the end of the day, what’s most important is my experience and what I learned and the connections that I made, and all of that. At the very least that is, the epitome of my wildest dreams already came true, so the fact that it’s getting public recognition, the way that it is, it’s just more than I could have ever dreamed of. It’s the most glorious cherry on top of the cake. And the messages that I’m getting are not just, “We love the show,” which would have been amazing on its own, but people that are being affected by like the storylines and saying, “This is making me wanna hang out with my sister,” or “This is validating me and I feel seen.” I’ve been shedding a tear and being like, “What is my life?!” It’s so surreal, but also just so humbling, at the same time.
We don’t often get to see characters finding a place for both sex and faith in their lives, especially when they’re teenagers.
PHILLIPS: Yeah, totally. It definitely was a very refreshing a script to read and part to play, for sure, because I haven’t seen a show like that, or a movie, or anything.
I love that this show doesn’t sexualize the characters, but it instead explores their sexual empowerment.
PHILLIPS: Yeah, it normalizes it.
Was that something that was important to you? Is that something that you consciously thought about as you guys did the show?
PHILLIPS: Absolutely! I remember, growing up, I was afraid of people noticing me taking out tampons from my bag in the bathroom, let alone voicing what I wanted sexually, or even saying that I had sex on the brain. It just wasn’t something that we grew up with, and it wasn’t the way that we were taught. It wasn’t a totally normal and good thing to talk about, but if you don’t talk about it, it’s not like it’s not gonna happen. Teenagers are gonna do it anyway, and they’re gonna be sneaky about it. This is something that young people go through, and it’s awkward and uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to be those things. It can also be really exciting and meaningful. I think that this show did a really beautiful job of capturing all of the layers that make up exploring what it’s like to transform into a young person.
The thing with the TV show is that you don’t typically get to know the full story or everything about your character because it’s still being developed. When this project first came your way, what did they tell you about what it would be and who these characters would be?
PHILLIPS: Well, the first thing I saw was the original title, which was Slutty Teenage Bounty Hunters, and immediately, I was like, “Okay, this show is tongue-in-cheek. This show is full of nuance. This is probably gonna be like a wild, crazy, honest, quirky show.” And that’s exactly what it was, and more. My audition was actually the first scene of the show, which is when Sterling has sex with Luke. She’s trying to seduce him and is explaining to him, “It’s totally fine. God loves us, no matter what. We’re gonna married one day, so this is fine.” I think that was just a great representation of the whole show. She’s just following her heart and her body.
What was the audition process like for this? Obviously, the relationship between these twins is so crucial, so what was it like to finally meet each other?
PHILLIPS: It was the craziest experience of my life, and there’s no hyperbole in that statement. I came down to L.A. for a week, just to hang out. I know some people down there, and I had been working quite a bit and was like, “You know what? I have a little bit of money. Why don’t we just go and hang out and see what happens?” And I ended up getting a manager, by a fluke, when I was down there. And then, a couple of days later, he got me this audition, and I had two hours to prepare for it. It was a very last minute thing because [casting director Jennifer Euston] didn’t know I existed until two days before. So, I did the audition, they asked me to stay for the callback, that day. And then, I went to the callback and they asked me to stay for the chemistry read, which was the following day. I was actually supposed to go home to Canada on that day, so I canceled my flight. I did my chemistry read, and they booked me that night. I literally fainted the night I found out ‘cause I was so overwhelmed. I was like, “Wait, what?! I just came down here to hang, and now I’m the lead of a show. What’s going on?!” And so, when I met Anjelica [Bette Fellini], I was a little bit nervous. I was like, “I have to love this girl ‘cause we have to be sisters and we have to love each other.” And as soon as she walked in, I had a vision of us cuddling together and people around us saying, “Oh, they actually look like sisters.” At the end of the audition, I went up to her and was like, “That was amazing! That was so much fun. Do you wanna go out to dinner and manifest this, right now?” So, we went to dinner and we just became obsessed with each other. When we finally found out that it was gonna be the two of us, we freaked because we felt like it was destined from the moment that we saw each other.
Did it help to get over any nerves when you showed up on set the first day, knowing that you guys would be there for each other?
PHILLIPS: Yeah, that’s why Anjelica and I have such an amazing bond. There’s nobody else on the planet who knows exactly what it feels like for your life to completely change, in the exact same way, at the exact same time. So, to have somebody that’s going through the same thing, it’s such a sacred relationship.
What was your first day on set like, and how did that compare to your last day of the season?
PHILLIPS: My first day on set was the sex scene with Luke in the car, so it was really fun. It was the day that the show got announced, so we had our fun, awkward sex scene, and then we were dancing around the set because the article had come out in Deadline. So, it was just the best day. And then, our final day was when I was kidnapped and breaking down the door. Our final scene was either me breaking down the door, or Anjelica and I having our final twin vision, when she comes and saves me. That was really meaningful because we’re basically just telling each other that we love each other and it was emotional. It was the perfect last day.
How did that feel for you, as an actor, to make it to the end of the shoot and have a season of living with this character? Did it feel very different by that last day?
PHILLIPS: It did because I really just felt like I was winging it the whole time. I’d never been the lead of a show before and I didn’t know how to time manage very well when it came to preparation and things like that, so I really was just doing whatever my intuition was telling me to do and, of course, whatever the director was telling us to do. By the end of it, I just felt so in Sterling’s skin. I was like, “You know what? I am this character, and whatever I do is gonna be Sterling now.” I just had that confidence of, “I don’t really have to stress about whether I’m doing anything right because I’m cast. I’m Sterling. It’s okay. I can chill.”
Were there things that you grew to appreciate about her that you didn’t necessarily realize were there in the beginning?
PHILLIPS: Oh, that’s such an interesting question. Yeah, totally. Sterling and I are different, in that she’s much more naïve than I am and I like to think that I’m a little bit edgier than she is, but the fact that she just absolutely goes for what she wants and doesn’t look back, I just think is such an admirable quality. I really do hope to take that away and implement it in my own life. I really believe in doing whatever your heart and your gut tells you to do, no matter what anybody thinks. I don’t regret anything in my life, but if I had that courage when I was 16, that would have definitely helped me.
Both of these girls, throughout the season, are learning what they do and don’t want from a relationship. Even though it doesn’t turn out so well for either of them, by the end of the season, they do seem more aware and sure of what they don’t want. What do you think Sterling learned from what she went through in her love life this season?
PHILLIPS: That’s interesting. I feel like, hopefully, she will learn to not completely get so blindsided by her desires, only because she let Blair down. She was meant to meet up with her and she didn’t because she was distracted with April, but I totally understand that just comes from being so caught up in the moment. When you’re a teenager, everything is so intense. You’ve never felt these things before because you haven’t been alive long enough. So, I hope that just by the nature of experiencing these things, maybe she’ll learn to follow her heart, but to also be there for the people that will always be there for her, too. I was pretty angry at Sterling for letting Blair down like that, but I also totally empathized.
The dynamic between these girls and Bowser is an interesting one because it’s a relationship that we don’t get to see. What do you enjoy about their relationship, and the experience of working with Kadeem Hardison?
PHILLIPS: Kadeem is the warmest, most protective mentor/best friend/father figure that I could ever imagine. He actually has a daughter that’s around our age, too, so it was just a really natural relationship. Just from the very first day, he was giving us advice that only somebody in his position could give. He’s been in this industry for so long. He knows what it’s like to be in the limelight. He knows what it’s like to work, and he knows what it’s like to not work. He was just such a positive influence for us throughout the whole journey. We could talk to him about anything and not feel judged. So, to have somebody who’s so experienced, but also so humble and loving and protective, was just exactly what we needed. Anjelica and I had never lived alone before. This was our first time being in a different state, away from our home, so to have somebody like that was just so special.
There hasn’t been a Season 2 pick-up yet, but this show left off on quite the cliffhanger, so clearly you have to come back and resolve that. What was your reaction to learning how the season would end?
PHILLIPS: I remember it distinctly. I was in bed reading the script, and I knew that Anjelica had finished it before me because she’s a fast reader, and I’m not. And I texted her and was like, “Are you my cousin?! [Show creator] Kathleen [Jordan] is a sick woman!” I was so shocked. I know that they were never twins to begin with, but yet they had twin vision the whole time, so it doesn’t take away from their connection. So, whatever comes in the next season, it is sad that they’re not what they thought they were, but it isn’t that bad because they still have a magical bond. I’m just really excited to see where that goes, and to see if maybe Sterling wants to explore her roots, or maybe she’ll be in denial, or maybe Blair will be jealous of the fact that she’s from the outskirts of town because she loves to be different. Who knows? I’m very excited and hopeful.
How do you personally feel about cliffhanger endings? Are they something that make you crazy, or do they get you excited for more? What is your typical reaction to them?
PHILLIPS: My typical reaction is, “I hate this, but I love this at the same time.” It’s like when you’re eating something really delicious and you finish it, and you’re like, “Okay, that was really great, but I would really love more. It’s finished and I’m glad that it’s in my stomach, but damn, I want more of it. So, do I have some more, or do I get upset that I’ve eaten it all?” You want your cake, but you wanna be able to eat it too, but you can’t.
Do you have your own personal wishlist of things you’d still like to see or learn about your character?
PHILLIPS: I would love to see Sterling explore that world, just because it’s so different to where she grew up. I just think it would be so funny to maybe see her in a trailer park. I don’t know. I just think that would be really funny. But I also really hope that the girls explore more of their beautiful relationship. I would also love to see Sterling explore her sexuality more, now that she knows she has a thing for girls. I would love to see that explored more because it’s such a new thing for her. I don’t think she’s done with that yet. I know she’s not done with that yet. You can’t really be done with that, once you figure out it’s there.
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?
PHILLIPS: I think that it’s so important not to judge yourself because if you do, then you’re just never gonna be happy in your life. At the end of the day, you wanna just have as many happy moments as possible. It’s not always gonna be sunshine and rainbows, but the more of that there is, then the more fulfilling it will be and the more enjoyment you’re gonna have, in this short time that we have on the planet. So, not judging yourself is key to enjoying your life. What’s the point of living if you’re not gonna have a good time?
Teenage Bounty Hunters is available to stream at Netflix.
Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter of Film, TV, and Theme Parks for Collider. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristinaRadish.