Tara Lynne Barr talks about her bisexual storyline on Season 2 of “Casual”

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Last year, Hulu’s Casual introduced us to another kind of modern family. After separating from her husband, Valerie (Michaela Watkins) brought her teenage daughter Laura (Tara Lynne Barr) to live with Valerie’s non-committal dating app-developer brother Alex (Tommy Dewey). By the end of Season 1, Valerie had hurt Alex by sleeping with his girlfriend, Emmy (Eliza Coupe), and Laura was getting over the fact her crush (who was also her teacher) wasn’t interested in sleeping with her. 

“Season 1 was a trip because [Laura] was essentially in a romantic relationship with a non-consenting partner,” said series star Tara Lynne Barr. “She had this emotional affair with the person, and the feelings were not reciprocated, which I think is I wouldn’t say a difficult place to go, but I’d say uncharted territory. It was for me, at least, as an actor.”

Premiere Of Hulu's "Casual" Season 2 - Arrivals Photo by Paul Redmond/WireImage

That’s hard to one-up, especially when the writing and the acting are so intensely real that it’s almost painful because there are pieces of people you know inside not only the three main characters, but the side players and guest stars, too. (Considering Valerie is a therapist, that can get real awkward.) Somehow, Casual came back with even more relatable, darkly comical and gut-punching storylines that sound unbelievable in theory, but are actually some of the most excruciatingly on-point scenarios on television. 

“There were challenges that I hadn’t faced last season, mostly having to do with Laura’s vulnerability,” Tara said. “In Season 1 there was the big climatic moment where Laura is screaming at her mom and her teacher on the lawn of his house, you know, ‘Why didn’t you fuck me? You were supposed to fuck me!’ This season Laura’s emotions reach a climax but in a much more, I think, understated way and in some respects, that’s even harder to get across to the audience. So this season definitely had some surprises, but they were mostly like, rather than in the screaming, dramatic direction, they were much more internalized. So many goodies as an actor. I’m so lucky.”

Laura’s Season 2 storyline had her finding a new school, and where she ended up was in an unconventional group of students that included Aubrey (Dylan Gelula), with whom Laura had instant chemistry.

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“I saw Laura looking at this girl as just this person that she happened to get along with and really relate to on an intellectual level,” Tara said. “And the fact that this person happened to be a girl was just sort of—it wasn’t really relevant to her attraction to her. Just the fact they could spar intellectually and have these really biting conversations—I feel like that was really attractive to Laura, regardless of the person’s gender.”

Laura and Aubrey end up sleeping together early on in their friendship, which Tara said she wouldn’t call a “one-night stand.”

“It was a bit of fun for her and I think Aubrey maybe saw it as that in the first place and then started to develop feelings for Laura that weren’t reciprocated by Laura,” she said. “And as soon as Laura saw that she was not on the same level as Aubrey. She tends to do that; she’s a little skittish when it comes to actual intimacy and emotional connections with people.”

Laura and Aubrey hooked up again, but as part of a threesome with Spencer, a classmate with terminal cancer whom Laura ends up wanting to spend more time with away from Aubrey. But it’s too late: Aubrey has feelings for Laura, and she is not happy when she sees Laura and Spencer are hanging out without her. It all comes to a head when Laura and Aubrey are visiting Spencer in the hospital and Aubrey feels left out of the conversation.

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“It was really hard to play this scene mostly because me, personally, Tara would react by jumping out of the chair and running out of the room,” Tara said. “But Laura is such a—this is the part of Laura that I can’t really understand it because it’s not me at all. When it comes to fight or flight, she’ll fight, and I think that’s an amazing quality that Laura has but is very hard for me to act, because I personally do not have it. And in a situation like that, it would be avoiding eye contact at all costs, getting out of the room as fast as I could. That scene was difficult because Dylan played it so well, and so did Rhenzy [Feliz] who plays Spencer. They played it so well that I really did feel like I was in the hot seat for, I don’t know, a good three, four hours while we were shooting that scene. I went home that day—I was blasting L7 as loud as I could, I was feeling so much angst. That was one of the hardest scenes to shoot this season.”

And fans, Tara acknowledged, aren’t super thrilled about Laura’s choices, especially on social media.

“They’re usually like ‘Girl, what are you doing to me?’ They’re like ‘I can’t even watch this season—how could you do that to Aubrey? I’m totally shipping you and Aubrey right now.’ Which is so funny because last season, it was like ‘You’re a huge bitch. Why would you treat your mother that way? You totally ruined Thanksgiving!'” Tara said. “I’m doing myself a favor this season and not reading message boards, but I made the mistake of going on—I don’t remember what website it was but it was some message board about the show and people are so pissed off at Laura and I thought ‘She’s so misunderstood.’ She’s like a shark. People look at her and think she’s just this vicious, heartless thing, and in reality, she’s just confused and hurting, and it’s so much easier for her to project this hardness than actually let people in and try to figure her out.

“But this season has been really nice,” she continued, “because I think people are starting to see that more vulnerable side of Laura and so they’re giving her a little bit more of a break this season, and I have to defend her a little bit less. But the feedback has been very positive this season as far as Laura’s concerned, except for the occasional, like, ‘Girl, don’t do it! He has cancer! How could you? Aubrey’s so great for you—you guy sare the coolest couple!'”

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Even though Casual doesn’t explore more of Laura and Aubrey together as a couple, Tara credits the writers for their nuanced approach to moments like Valerie spotting her daughter kissing another girl and not making a huge thing of it.

“Oftentimes on television, you would see this would spark a big conversation about being true to yourself and ‘I support you regardless’ and this and that—which is lovely, which would be lovely to see,” Tara said. “But the show is so much more—it plays so much more in the things that aren’t said and little beats like that which was watching her mom turn away out of respect of Laura and her potentially budding bisexuality. I loved that they chose not to say much and that her mom treated her as she would talking to a girlfriend about her romantic problems. I thought it showed a lot of restraint on behalf of our writers, because there was so much that could have been said, but it was more powerful in that there was less said.”

That the show explores sexual fluidity in both mother and daughter (among other things) is pretty incredible, and Tara finds Laura’s self-discovery to be very much of the time and current generation.

“I give a big credit to our writers for making this statement which is relevant today to young people, which is that sexuality is not really—at least these days in Generation Y or Generation Zit’s a very fluid thing and there are a lot of stories that you see that involve coming of age stories; discovering they’re bisexual or lesbians,” Tara said. “And in this case, it’s the fact that she’s just interested in Aubrey because she’s a cool person and decides to sleep with her, regardless of the fact that she’s a girl. I think it’s an interesting point to take, and it just further cements the idea that Laura has something severely wrong in how she views intimacy. I liked that our writers explored her sexuality this season. I wish we could have—I think it would be interesting to see that relationship, to have seen that relationship develop, but our writers had other things planned.”

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Tara said she didn’t try to “overanalyze” Laura’s sexual identity, nor “quantify or qualify it,” because Laura wouldn’t.

“It’s almost more respectful of the moment or the experience because they’re not talking down to the audience,” Tara said. “They’re sort of trusting the audience is with them every step of the way. I appreciate it.”

Another bonus in Season 2 was having two of the major Laura/Abrey episodes directed by Diary of a Teenage Girl filmmaker Marielle Heller, including a scene where Laura is telling Spencer about her first sexual experience.

“I’m talking to him very blase about the fact that when I was in seventh grade, a sophomore in high school came on my tits, and it was totally cool because that’s what everybody else was doing,” Tara said. “And Mari and I had a conversation about how girlsyoung girlswhen they grow up, sometimes they have experiences from their past that they look at years later and think to themselves, ‘Wow, this seemed like such a small thing, but now looking back on it, it may have shaped the way I view relationships and my relationship to men and women.’ We were talking, in Laura’s case, this is like obviously abuse in a certain respect, and this could have completely stunted the way she grew as a person in a relationship. It was just interesting having a woman’s perspective, a young woman’s perspective.

“Also that scene,” Tara continued, “She added bits and pieces to dialogue lines on set that day, and it felt like we were performing a play, in a certain respect, because it was such an actor/director dynamic. It was like ‘What are you feeling here?” “Well I feel like…’ It felt like I could be really communicative with her. And I don’t feel that with all directors because sometimes I feel intimidated or sometimes I feel like ‘Oh, they’ve been around so much longer than me—who am I to speak up and give my opinions when this person clearly knows what they’re doing without me?’ In Mari’s case, it wasn’t that I thought we were on the same experience level, I just thought we’re two women having a conversation about this young woman and what she would do in this situation.”

While we won’t be seeing any more of Aubrey for the rest of Season 2, Tara is thrilled about the last couple of episodes and how things are left for Laura.

“That was the scary part of Season 2 was seeing if this bond that had been created so well between the three of us in the first season could exist outside of the home,” Tara said. “And it’s true about the actual characters’ dynamics—Valerie and Alex and Laura—but it was also true for us actors. I had days where I would come to set and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, I hope this works. I hope the audience is with it, I hope people are engaged in these plotlines, not just the threesome.’ And I have to say, I’ve watched the last two episodes and I am so, so excited for people to see them. I’m honestly the biggest fan of the show. I may be bias because I’m on it, but I really—I’m lucky. Very very lucky.”

Casual is available on Hulu now.

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