A crucial component of the HBO series Betty, (which functions as an extension of sorts to Crystal Moselle’s documentary Skate Kitchen, but expanded and freer flowing), is the evolving relationship of skateboarders-turned-actors Dede Lovelace (Janay), Moonbear (Honeybear), Nina Moran (Kirt), Ajani Russell (Indigo) and Rachelle Vinberg (Camille). In season two, in a time of a pandemic, these core relationships greater enhances the world of Betty.
While the foundation of their common relationships is merely one part of the series, crucial scenes are grounded in how the group relates, and sometimes, do not relate to each other. This core element is present in a dreamy and oft magical season two of Betty, the rarest of series that does not actually use sets, instead filming in skate parks and streetscapes of New York.
We were thrilled to be given a chance to participate in an intimate international roundtable with the stars of the HBO series and the following is a condensed and edited transcription of our candid discussion.
Rachelle, the episode that you co-wrote this season, ‘Sweet Tooth’, was especially memorable. What inspired you to write it, and Ajani, for you to play it as well?
Rachelle Vinberg: Well, that was episode four, and it was kind of a time in the season in which shit hits the fan and everything has momentum and then it crashes. And ‘Sweet Tooth’ is like “everything is good in moderation”. When you overdo it, that’s when it’s similar to when you get a cavity or you get messed up. I think that at the end of that episode, everybody’s on a come down and it was fun to write because I feel like I know my friends better than the writers know my friends. So it was fun helping to write the dialogue, helping to write the situations, the scenarios, the funny little nuances of scenes in which it’s like: “Alright, yeah!” It was fun to write with Crystal (Moselle) and it was cool to write an episode in which everything comes to a climax.
Did you write in the idea of cartoon tears at the end of the episode?
RV: Well, actually, Crystal evolved…there’s an overarching theme to the season, which is magical realism, and we tried to put different elements of that because we are both fans of magical realism and I thought that was cool. And Ajani, [motions next to her], is a big fan in real life of anime and that was really her own input with that because it’s like an anime that’s like her thing…yeah!
Ajani, how did you play that particular episode and your entire arc this season?
Ajani Russell: It was very challenging for me to film these scenes that maybe take me back to some negative memories that I’ve had in my life or scenarios. But the representation is so important and these stories are so important to me that I’m like: “I have to do this!” I want to be that person that I didn’t have growing up to show me these things to say: “I see you” and “Your existence is valid”, because there are so many people that will tell you: “No, you don’t matter”, that nobody cares about your feelings. Especially growing up in New York, [laughs] having those affirmations is very important and Indigo is so cool. [chuckles] She’s so cool.
RV: Yeah, she is cool.
AR: I am glad that I was able to bring her to life.
When you stormed off in the middle of a modelling scene, is it true that this was from a true story?
AR: Hell yeah, that happened. [laughs] I really wanted to put that scene into this show because it’s something that I see often. I’ve been modelling a lot longer than I have been skateboarding, so I’ve encountered some experiences like that and that was in my life, in real life, the first time that I ever walked off a set. I’ve endured other terrible things on set but I’ve never walked off a job. I just saw the hair that they were trying to put on me and the other…like the way that they were shooting everything was so awful and I kept hearing the makeup artists and they were white women and they were like: “Make her more ghetto” and I was like: “Ah! This is disgusting! I cannot be in this work environment!”. And I was so upset that… I am also Puerto Rican and they were making Hispanic stereotypes like girl gangs and like. [sighs] Oh my God, it was so frustrating. I was like: “I’m either going to scream or cry or like I was in a rage, I was seeing red. [laughs] I was like: “I have to go!” I left. I was like: “I’m not doing this”. This, this is not okay. And then, also, throughout the day I was talking to all the other models and there was not a single model with whom I spoke that was okay with what was going on. They were like: “This actually makes me feel very uncomfortable”. There was this was one Indigenous girl, and she was like: “Yeah, they’re doing the Hispanic stereotype make-up on me and it makes me very uncomfortable and it’s not me”. And I was like: “Oh, well, why are you doing this job?” and she said: “My agent told me I have to do this job”, she said “I can’t leave”. The aftermath didn’t really reflect how horrible that set was. Sorry for ranting, [laughs] you just took me back there!
How do you feel like season two builds upon the themes and arcs of season one and has been enhanced by current events? I especially loved the magical realism present this season.
Dede Lovelace: It’s been enhanced, not only with us, but in the storylines and how the stories intertwine as well as the themes. Crystal (Moselle) and I have bonded over our affinity for surrealism, so that’s an aspect that she definitely likes to incorporate. I’m not entirely sure, in terms of the specifics of the Tentakitty, but the aspect of surrealism and how it’s incorporated. That’s something that I feel gives her space to be a little more playful, but also touching upon the themes of BLM and sexuality and coming of age and young men being aware of their surroundings and women. So it has definitely been upgraded this season in a really tasteful way, but still very fun and unexpected.
Dede, you’re described on the show as the leader of the group and yet this season, the group isn’t together as much, especially towards the end of the season. Did you still feel like the de facto leader?
DL: Well I mean there’s only so much that Janay can do. I think she means well but everybody in the cast is all growing and going through their own situations, so in moments it’s really nice to see that she cares that much to bring everyone together. She wants everyone to see the bigger picture but it also kind of hurts at the same time, too, because she overextends herself and overexerts herself. But I think it’s kind of nice, because this season- compared to last- she takes a moment to enjoy herself and enjoy being young. You’ll see in this new season a new side of her with someone you didn’t really expect. But yeah, Janay is figuring it out.
How has the show changed things for you personally in the skate parks? Do girls come up to you and tell you that you inspire them?
Nina Moran: Yes, I get recognized a lot at the skate park. Yeah no, it’s cool! [laughs] They were like “Yo! I see you on the show.”, and we started skating together.
Moonbear: I haven’t been to skate parks in awhile, since the pandemic happened, but when I went around the city I got recognized and I got free shots at a bar.
DL: I also receive a lot of comments from, not just young women, but also their parents, which is really interesting. I get a lot of parents recognizing me saying: “Oh my gosh, my daughter really likes this” or “I’m trying to get her to watch the show because it’s so cool. Even I want to skateboard!”, and I’m like “Oh, that’s cool!”.
NM: Like a Mom?
DL: Yeah! Parents!
NM: Wow. That’s lit.
DL: It’s really interesting and it’s nice.
Season 2 of HBO’s Betty debuts Friday, June 11 at 11 p.m. ET, only on Crave