Canadian show Bomb Girls is all about the women, which is likely why it’s been such a big hit with gay women. But there’s also the character of Betty McRae, a Rosie the Riveter type with a confident swagger that noticeably sets her apart from her more feminine counterparts. Ali Liebert plays Betty, the tough-talking, take-no-crap from her male peers bombmaker who seems to soften only in the presence of her co-worker Kate (Charlotte Hegele).
Ali said she took her inspiration for Betty from the likes of James Dean, Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn, which is probably why she’s so effective. “I can be very feminine or masculine and I turned up the masculine dial,” Ali said. “I don’t walk like her, so as an actor it was so fun finding her general physical presence. It was definitely something I’ve never really played before which was exciting for me.”
The script for Bomb Girls came to Ali by way of a friend who thought Betty was the perfect part for her.
“I think just my general feistiness, sexuality aside, my sort of personality, she thought I would be good for Betty,” Ali said. “I read it and I said ‘I have to play Betty!’ I really connected with it right away and is tarted the arduous audition process which lasted about five weeks. So I always loved her from the first time that I read it. I felt for her and her struggles, I guess.”
Those struggles she speaks of are Betty’s attempt to live her life as a single, independent woman in a time when finding a husband and being a homemaker was the only accomplishment that was expected of a female. With Canada entering WWII and shipping men over to Europe, women like Betty are being put to work, and she couldn’t be happier about making the money to buy her own place. In the meantime, she’s fine with spending time on the assembly line and hanging out with the redheaded runaway Kate.
“I’m not supposed to make any concrete answers on [Betty’s sexuality],” Ali said, “but I mean it’s pretty obvious that Betty’s got it bad for Kate and yeah, that was always apparent from the initial breakdown.”
While she couldn’t share too much about what we’ll see happen (or not happen) between Betty and Kate on the last two episodes, Ali said there will definitely be a cliffhanger by the end of the season, though, and that all of the characters have more “intense” relationships.
“I think that Betty thinks they’re right for each other,” Ali said of Betty and Kate’s relationship. “I think that the friendship and the kindness that Betty is feeling from Kate is a real nice change. I think Betty with sort of her gruff exterior I don’t think she’s had a lot of female friends or people to care about her or give her positive feedback in her life, regardless of it being a sexual relationship or not. She relates to people on a more business-like manner. She can deal with the guys; guys she can understand like her brothers and her father. I think that Kate has really been a positive influence on Betty’s life.”
Although Kate is dealing with her own issues, having left her religious and overbearing father to start a life undercover as a bomb girl, she has found a companion in Betty, and they have conversations late into the night in each other’s beds and dance together at the local dive. It’s clear that Betty has it bad.
Betty isn’t necessarily Ali’s first lesbian role. In fact, her first-ever acting job was in the pilot of The L Word.
“I didn’t even have any lines,” Ali said. “I rapped in the Planet — ‘I like big butts and I cannot lie.’ I was so excited — like “I’m on The L Word. It’s gonna be so cool!’ It’s all come full circle I guess.”
In 2009, Ali starred in Shortbus star Sook-Yin Lee‘s The Year of the Carnivore, in which she said her character hinted at being a lesbian. “I was thinking about it the other day, like ‘Am I on a really big lesbian streak?'” Ali said. And it was her role in The Year of the Carnivore that got her a role in the upcoming Foxfire film. French director Laurent Cantet (The Class) loved Ali’s work in Sook-Yin’s movie and booked her to play a character that was in the original Joyce Carol Oates novel about a group of rebellious teens who band together, but not in the 1994 Angelina Jolie adaptation.
“Legs — who Angelina Jolie played — Legs’ father knocks up his girlfriend, who I play,” Ali said, “and I end up being kind of a mother figure to [the girl gang] and when the gang starts getting out of control, I’m sort of there when s–t starts to hit the fan.”
Foxfire is being edited now and is poised to enter film festivals later this year. In the meantime, Ali is keeping her fingers crossed for a Season 2 of Bomb Girls.
“To have a character like Betty who is obviously, even by this point in episode four, is exploring her sexuality in a way that is conflicting to her, I think that it’ll be interesting,” Ali said. “There aren’t a lot of characters like that on TV these days. I’m really honored and excited and hopefully we’ll be able to see where Betty’s storyline goes because it’s definitely a minority on primetime television in visibility and I’m really happy to play that part. I grew up with my uncles are gay and I have tons of gay and lesbian friends and they are always talking to me about the lack of visibility and I’m just really happy they’ve written her in a way that isn’t so — I feel like the struggle within her is really true in terms of especially episode four that was on last week. She sometimes wishes she was ‘normal’ which was easier — it’s not someone who’s feeling particularly confident.”
Ali is so grateful for all of the support she’s received, including the F–k Yeah Kate and Betty Tumblr someone sent her the link to, and from her own friends and family who are watching Bomb Girls along with the rest of us.
“I have a lesbian friend who said ‘You are so set for life, dude, you don’t even know!’ She’s like ‘We’re gonna love you forever,'” Ali said. “I was like ‘That’s awesome!’ And my auntie texted me the other day and said ‘I think you have lesbian feelings.’ I was like ‘I guess we’ll have to see how that pans out!'”
Both her friend and auntie are probably right.
Bomb Girls‘ fifth episode airs on Global TV in Canada tonight.