The ladies of HBO’s Betty are glorious to behold in action during their new series. Let me back up a moment to properly introduce them. In 2018, filmmaker Crystal Moselle — director of the Sundance-acclaimed documentary The Wolfpack — brought the world a narrative feature called Skate Kitchen. The movie revolved around an introverted teen skateboarder, Camille (Rachelle Vinberg), as she navigated friendship within a group of NYC skateboarders, portrayed by a real-life gathering of female skaters known as the “Skate Kitchen” group. Their adventures, although fictionalized, represented an authentic portrait of the group’s culture and presence, which resonates on social platforms and inspired HBO to continue the characters’ stories within a six-part TV series.
The young women of Betty — including not only Rachelle Vinberg but Ajani Russell (as Indigo), Dede Lovelace (as Janay), Nina Moran (as Kirt), and Kabrina “Moonbear” Adams (as Honeybear) — are a trip to behold. As they glide through streets that make up the male-dominated world of NYC skateboarding, the diverse group comes together amid occasional clashes while navigating life’s challenges and, somehow, allowing us all to absorb some coolness while watching. Rachelle and Ajani (who, like the rest of the principal cast, are actual Skate Kitchen members) were gracious enough to speak with us by phone about continuing the group’s legacy with the Betty series.
Enlighten me here, ladies. There are so many shots of you (in both Betty and Skate Kitchen) where you’re skating down New York City streets, weaving in and out of traffic. Do you guys really do that on any given day?
Rachelle Vinberg: Oh, heck yeah. Remember recently, Ajani, when we were skating, and I almost died? No wait, it was you that almost died, and then [drivers] were like, “Why do you guys have to go so fast?” We almost got hit by a car. It was a weird day in Union Square. It’s very true. I think that happens more so when you’re in a group, and that’s what you do. It can be dangerous, and it’s a little scary because you try to keep up with everybody else, and you’re all super excited with the adrenaline rush.
Ajani Russell: Crystal loved the very natural moments. She’d be like, “Okay, go skate and do your thing, and we’ll follow you guys around.” The cameras have to be able to keep up. The guy on the skateboard, his name is Joey, he’s our skate cam, he’s really amazing. Luckily, he’s a good skater, but I remember when we were filming the TV show, and someone was trying to skate with the camera, I think it got dropped. Maybe it was during a photoshoot that [my character] did, but you gotta be careful with that camera.
Rachelle: Yeah, the camera got dropped on me once. It was weird, it was crazy.
The skating is real, but there are lots of movies and TV shows that try to capture youth culture. Do you guys feel pressure to be authentic in your portrayal?
Ajani: I think that just us being given the platform for our experiences, we wanted to be authentic because it is our story, and we want our ideas to come through clearly. I feel like that’s such a driving force for our motivation, and we are friends and hang outside the Skate Kitchen work. Because we’re so close and got to know each other so well before we started working together, it just contributes to the authenticity of the project.
Rachelle: I definitely agree, and I want to be authentic, and Crystal does, too. That’s why she had us be consultants on the show, so we actually had a voice, and we could say, “Maybe this is a cool idea, but it wouldn’t be realistic.” We were very quick to say that, and a lot of times, we’d say, “Just so you know, that’d never happen.” And then most of the time, they’ll think of something that’s real that would happen within this world, and we’re very well-versed in this world because we’re a part of it.
Your roles obviously weren’t intended to match up to your real personalities, but what do you love most about your characters?
Ajani: I love how imaginative and creative that Indigo is. She finds herself in a lot of tight and tricky situations, but she doesn’t panic over it too much. She just sees a problem and tries to fix it, and I love also how much she cares about her friends. She loves them almost to a fault. She’d risk everything for the people that she loves and gets a little carried away sometimes.
Rachelle: Now that I think of it, I think that Camille is a little bit like the opposite when it comes to that. She’s a little bit selfish. One thing that I like about her is that when she’s trying to navigate through situations, it’s kind of like she’s not trying to be bad or anything, but it happens because she doesn’t have the best intentions all the time. But I guess I like how she just can’t really get away with that shit. She has a conscience, and she’s not very good at lying. It’s just funny and relatable.
Now that you have followings, do you feel more pressure when you go skating?
Rachelle: Yeah! I do, for sure. I’m trying to get over it.
Ajani: No, I don’t really feel very pressured. It doesn’t really affect me.
Rachelle: That’s good, I want to get to where I’m like that more. I think for me, it’s more like I’m going to the park and owning who I am and not thinking, “I suck.” But that’s like the Camille in me.
Ajani: I was never a park skater to begin with. When I started, I had a few bad experiences in a skate park, so I kind-of avoided them and still do, to this day. I like street skating where I can skate alone or be with my friends, but I don’t have to be around skater…. boys, specifically.
Rachelle: I realized that I don’t actually like to go to parks a lot. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because I’m feeling nervous.
Speaking of nerve-inducing, injuries do happen. Rachelle, you’ve actually experienced the dreaded “credit-carding” trauma and, later, portrayed that injury during Skate Kitchen. Have either of you been through even worse?
Rachelle: [Laughs] Well, credit-carding definitely makes you go through a lot. That, and hitting my head. I don’t like to think about getting hurt because it’s just scary. Like breaking an arm or getting all kinds of hurt. Ajani were you there when [our male friend] hit his head and started bleeding?
Ajani: Yeah, he was bleeding out his nose and even convulsed a bit, and then we rolled him over. And then we cleaned up the blood because we didn’t want the skateboarders to skate through the blood.
Rachelle: And who cleaned up the blood?
Ajani: The girls. The boys were all skating through the blood. I used my shirt, and then I threw it out. Well, there were some dudes who were helping. But I’m always afraid of messing up my face. As a model, you need a face. Gotta keep mine intact.
Should I even ask whether the quarantine atmosphere is affecting your skating right now?
Rachelle: Yeah, no one’s really able to skate right now with the parks locked up, the schoolyards locked up, that kind of thing.
Ajani: On the West Coast, it’s been…. yeah. Other than going to the store, I really don’t go outside very much, so I see a lot of walking around, and I’m not used to seeing people walking in L.A.
Rachelle, you’re New York-based, but Ajani is bicoastal. How does the skate culture differ on each coast when there’s no pandemic?
Ajani: On the West Coast, the weather is nice most of the time, so skaters here are really lucky because they can go all year round, whereas with New York winters I find it difficult to skate. It rains a lot, and I don’t think there’s a single indoor park in New York.
Rachelle: Yeah, there actually is an indoor park coming, but there’s one other thing. Because there are winters, the New York roads are a lot crustier because of potholes and all of that. So I think that skaters in New York, they’re a little more raw, and they’re kind-of known for that, and it’s seen in their style as well. You can kinda tell where someone is from by the way that they skate.
Ajani: Yeah, their mannerisms are different.
Rachelle: In New York, they’re like, doing lowrides and going fast.
Ajani: More of a street-skating style there. In L.A., there’s more bowls and just more skate parks, and they’re bigger because there’s more space. Larger obstacles, and they’re very creative here, because skate culture’s so big here. In New York sometimes, there’s a skate park, but it doesn’t feel like there were necessarily many skateboarders that plan the skate park.
Rachelle: That’s a thing, but I feel like New York skaters are more creative because they have to work with what they have, and everything in California’s pretty perfect.
Ajani: Yeah, the sidewalks in California are all flat and smooth, because nobody uses them or walks on them. The ones in New York are so used and cracked and dismantled. You get better faster in New York because the learning curve is steeper. But then you won’t because of the weather!
Do you guys remember the moment when you found out the Betty show was going to happen?
Rachelle: Honestly, I remember Crystal telling us, “I don’t know if this is gonna happen, but they came to us, and they potentially want to shoot.” This was probably the fall of 2018. It all happened fast.
Ajani: It’s only been four years since we met. Barely, even.
Rachelle: No, it’s four years next month.
Ajani: Yeah, It’ll be our anniversary!
Aww, you guys are such good friends. Is it difficult to portray conflict between your characters?
Rachelle: Sometimes, but not a lot because there is real conflict a lot of times.
Ajani: Being very strong personalities, we’re all very stubborn. We realize that.
Rachelle: We’re very stubborn, strong, and opinionated, but we also definitely get over things pretty easily. We never actually want to fight, and we’re not like that to want to have conflict all the time.
HBO’s ‘Betty’ debuts on Friday, May 1 at 11:00 pm EST.