TV

A Discussion With HBO’s ‘Betty’ Ladies About Coolness, Authenticity, And Slipping On A Banana Peel

We could use some summer vibes up in here, and there are no better breezy vibes that the ones coming from HBO’s skater ladies on Betty. The refreshing, free-wheeling series, which might be the coolest show on TV these days, will soon glide back into our lives for a second season. The main players are all back — as seen above, Moonbear as Honeybear, Ajani Russell as Indigo, Nina Moran as Kirt, Dede Lovelace as Janay, and Rachelle Vinberg as Camille — as if to prove that both nature and the streets are healing while they tear through New York City.

We could all stand to live vicariously, and this show gives it to us in a very slice-of-life manner. The series is, of course, a successor and continuation of the 2018 narrative feature film, Skate Kitchen, from director Crystal Moselle. As their collaboration’s origin story goes, a subway-riding Moselle overheard a conversation between Nina and Rachelle, and she immediately felt compelled to learn more about the pair and their skate crew. Soon enough, the film brought us the group’s semi-fictionalized, coming-of-age adventures; and the stories continued in a lighter manner on Betty, but things do get real(er) with the newest batch of episodes.

Somehow, Moselle managed to regather the ladies during the pandemic and film on the streets of New York. They even ended up making masks look cool. Heck, they’ll probably still even mop up the blood when you fall of your own skateboard. All five Betty leads were gracious enough to speak with us about injuries, their inherent coolness, and what happens when you tangle with the wrong banana peel.

When I spoke with Rachelle and Ajani last year, the skate parks had closed for lockdown, but things are getting better, I imagine?

Rachelle Vinberg: Oh yeah, and [with the pandemic], the community came together more to make things happen in different places.

Ajani Russell: Well, I don’t really like skate parks! So I was really glad not to be in those parks. I think that with street skateboarding, you have to be the most creative as far as the options go and working with what you have, and sometimes in New York, you have crunchy streets, and that’s what you’ve got.

The streets are obviously emptier this season, so that’s a big difference.

Dede Lovelace: Oh, that definitely makes it easier, and we had a lot of interior shots this season. We were outside, but a lot were inside.

Nina Moran: Yeah, we didn’t have a lot of outside shots, actually, but there wasn’t a lot of people around either.

Dede: I don’t really know the process around permits and stuff, if COVID made it harder or easier, but in terms of us being outside, I personally didn’t feel like there was a huge difference. The atmosphere was different, but it wasn’t too much.

HBO

You guys probably get asked about injuries a lot. How do you ward them off?

Nina: You can’t really stop it.

Dede: It’s inevitable. You gotta be really careful.

Nina: Or you stop skating rails, that’s how.

Dede: Because honestly, people get hurt the worst, and I’m not saying all the time, but a lot of times, it happens when you’re not really doing anything on your skateboard, and that’s the worst. It definitely is a thing.

Nina: You gotta wear a helmet.

Dede: Oh yeah, for what you do.

Nina: Because I’ve cracked open my heeeeeeeeeeead. Yep, you gotta wear a helmet and kneepads.

Rachelle, on your Instagram, you fall in a certain way. You kind-of roll into it.

Rachelle: Oh god, yeah. The way I fall? When you’re skateboarding, you learn with time how to fall.

Well, you also have that banana peel video.

Ajani: I was just about to say… she found it!

Rachelle: So that one was a false ending, you don’t see what happens.

And what happened after that video cuts off?

Rachelle: I almost fell, and then I caught myself with the other leg.

Ajani: She actually slipped on the banana peel! Like, she was gonna fake-slip on the banana peel, and then she really slipped. It was like, “I’m gonna show this girl who thinks she can use me for content!”

I’m learning so much here today.

Rachelle: Oh, those banana peels are definitely, like, real. They’re slippery.

The show itself has always felt organic, and I think a lot of that is down to how Crystal came into your lives. I understand that some moments are based upon real experiences. Is that the same for Season 2?

Moonbear: It’s a little mixed up each time. There are some parts that are true moments, and they add to it.

Rachelle: That’s a thing where we use our own experiences and brings things that happened to our friends to the table. Crystal lets us come in and say, “Well, this happened to my friend.” They’ll say, “Let’s fit this into the story because that’s something that you guys are going through.” Not only do we kind-of play ourselves but we really play the community around us.

Dede: Yeah, it’s like when you bring in your own chocolates, and then there’s a party mix, but then you bring your chocolates, and then you throw ’em in there. You’ve got a mix, but there’s a lot of stuff in there, along with the candy that you brought.

Nina: Mmmm, chocolates.

Indigo embarks upon a new endeavor this season, and it’s, well, rough. How did you get through those scenes, Ajani?

Ajani: I disassociated! [Laughs] No, I really had to take a lot of time for myself, before and after I was doing those scenes. The story wasn’t really my story, but… it can bring up trauma sometimes playing scenarios that are parallel to your own. But I know that this story, with the person who inspired Indigo’s story, she’s not the only one who’s been through it, and we need more representation around [her situation]. It was hard, but I think it came out beautiful.

On a lighter note, if you guys could put your characters into another TV show or movie, where would you want them to go?

Nina: [Perks up] Oooooh!

Moonbear: I want Honeybear to be in Law and Order: SVU! You can do that, it’s the same city and everything.

Nina: I wanna be in Pokémon, like, animated. That would be so cool. Or RuPaul’s Drag Race. I wanna be on the stage or whatever!

Moonbear [to Dede]: What about that show on HBO that you like, with the older guy? He’s bald, Larry something?

Dede: Oh Curb Your Enthusiasm? Nooooo. I mean, yeah, like a day in the life would make sense.

Nina [to Dede]: I don’t know… Sesame Street?

Dede: Actually, yes. Sesame Street, thanks for reminding me. I wanna teach Elmo how to skateboard.

Rachelle: Dazed and Confused. Where could we fit into that?

Ajani: Oh, maybe. I could see Indigo being in Gossip Girl.

Rachelle: What about together? Powerpuff Girls?

Ajani: The Amazing World of Gumball!

I’ve read that you are an anime fan, so that’s not too surprising.

Ajani: Oh yeah, of course. It’s so good. Oh no, there’s an anime show I just started watching, Odd Taxi, and I could totally see Camille and Indigo being in that show. Everybody’s an animal.

Rachelle: Hmm?

Ajani: There’s a walrus taxi driver, and it’s really dry humor? That’s probably a discussion to continue later.

You guys are just so laid back and cool. Do you have any tips on how to be cool?

Nina: Awww, how to be cool? Listen to yourself and not other people.

Dede: That’s a cool saying.

Ajani: Oh gosh, I already have so much to worry about and now to worry about being cool?

Rachelle: With being cool, you just have to be yourself and not care. I think that people who aren’t trying to be cool are automatically cooler. You can sense that in people. When you’re talking to people, you can tell when they’re trying to be cool. Being cool is being insecure, so you have to announce and say it.

Ajani: People should be more confident in their insecurities, I suppose. And I don’t mean like the generic “I believe in myself” but just like allowing yourself to be present and being comfortable sitting in your uncomfortability.

Rachelle: Being “go with the flow” is a big deal because no one likes anyone who isn’t.

Ajani: Yeah, you gotta be flexible.

So, let’s talk about authenticity and sponsorship. There’s some pushback this season on the idea of sponsoring skaters, especially for Camille.

Rachelle: I think there’s a fine line between it all, and I’m still figuring it out, but you have to stay true to yourself, and if any brand really cares about you, they’re not gonna make you uncomfortable, and they’re gonna want it to be about you, not to try to make you or create you into something that they want. You have to stay true to yourself and work with people. Honestly though, at the end of the day, if they don’t want you, then you shouldn’t want them, even if they’re offering you stuff that you might like, it’s not worth your identity or to feel uncomfortable.

Ajani: Yeah, you gotta think about it in terms of the long run, and for me, the most important thing about working in adds is “do I click with these people who are reaching out to me?” These are the people that I’m working with, and I want them to respect me, and I want to respect them.

Rachelle: Or do they look at you without looking in the eye. Do they actually talk to you as a person?

Ajani: [Laughs]

Rachelle: Like, it’s so weird sometimes. You have to understand your position and power. You’re the one who can actually skate, so yeah.

How far do you all see the show going into the future, realistically?

Moonbear: I don’t see it going for years and years because they’re gonna age up, and I think that’s when the show would wrap.

Ajani: Oh, I have no idea! Everything is so temperamental. One day it’s yes, the next day it’s no, and things happen in the world that have nothing to do with us but can affect decisions that people make.

Rachelle: I’m happy that it’s come so far. I mean, looking back, from being on the train.

Ajani: Yeah, this is not common.

Dede: I think that the theme of the show will live on for decades, but Betty was just adding another perspective into a world that’s not familiar to people.

I must ask a very bizarre question. Do you have any updates, Nina, on how Kirt’s soulmate/pet rat, Perstephanie, might be doing?

Nina: Uhhhh, very good! I have a lizard on my shirt today, you can’t see it, in my pocket.

You could probably fool me into thinking that’s a real lizard.

Nina: Well… he’s at home.

HBO

Last season, you had one of my favorite lines from the whole show: “I just want to stop fighting the patriarchy and start helping the matriarchy.”

Nina: Yeah, so many girls message me and say, “I saw the show, and I wanna start skating.” I don’t have to say, “I don’t like men.” I just say that I support men because I feel it works better, and the more numbers that we can get of girls who can skate, then everything will be better in general in the skate world.

‘Betty’ will return to HBO on Friday, June 11 at 11:00 pm EST. The season premiere is on YouTube already.

×