Tara Lynne Barr is so not your average teenager on Hulu's "Casual"
We’ve seen many teen girls on TV, but not many like Laura Meyers — the intelligent, complicated, and vulnerable character on Hulu’s Casual. She’s played by the talented Tara Lynne Barr, opposite Michaela Watkins as Laura’s mother Valerie and Tommy Dewey as Laura’s uncle Alex.
And here, Barr tells HelloGiggles about Laura’s complexities and how they’ve continued to present themselves in Season 3 of Casual, which is currently streaming on Hulu. She details how she relates to her character, the influence female directors have had on the show, and much more…
HelloGiggles: Laura is really mature and complex for her age. How did you go about peeling back the layers to her even further this season? Is there something that maybe you were surprised by as you continued to unpack your character?
Tara Lynne Barr: I have to say 99% of the credit goes to the creator of our show, Zander [Lehmann], and our writers for creating such a multi-faceted teenage girl character. But, they did put a lot of trust in me, especially the last season. And this season, I think maybe even more so. In Season 1, she was trying to prove to the world — and to herself in a way, to even her teacher — that she’s this grown-up, that she’s an adult, that she doesn’t need anyone, that she wants to be treated equally.
Then, by the end of the season — and throughout Season 2, and now even more so in Season 3 — we start to see that she really is just a kid. She does need guidance, love, warmth, and the presence of her parents in her life — especially her mother at this point. Valerie has sort of been off trying to make her own way, and I think in the process, she’s maybe neglecting her daughter a bit.
HG: I always find the moments where she’s vulnerable and does need her mother or uncle to be really powerful and moving because she is always putting on this tough face. Can you expand on that?
TLB: Thank you. I’m glad that it elicits that response. It’s funny because I do connect really deeply with Laura, but when I read these scripts I respond and react to her vulnerability as a viewer would. While I’m playing her, I try to be as engaged in the character as possible, but when I’m reading the scripts I honestly feel like a fan would. I feel like I want to hold her, hug her, and tell her everything’s going to be okay. Her journey in the last three seasons has been rocky to say the least.
But I think that the vulnerability that we’re seeing, it’s come at such a gradual pace. I feel like it may even be more rewarding than showing it all, giving it all away up front. I think the audience is really having to earn it, in a way. Which I think, again, is just a testament to our writers and their restraint, and Hulu trusting the pace that we decided to take the show at.
HG: So you connect with Laura. What do you see of yourself in her? How do you relate to her?
TLB: This is probably part of me being a Libra. We tend to, I guess sacrifice our happiness a little bit in order to make other people happy. There’s certain ways that Laura is so not that, but there are other ways, including this tendency to maybe fill a bit of a shell up and put forward this brave face when things are actually not okay deep down. Which I, personally, tend to do. You think you’re doing yourself a favor, but it’s completely counterproductive because those feelings that you’re burying tend to fester and get significantly worse.
I think Laura’s starting to feel the sting of always playing the grown-up, of being the mature one in the trio. All the while, she needs her mother more and more. I don’t know if she’s necessarily in a place where she feels comfortable asking that because she sees her mom trying to make her way and find her own happiness. I [think] that Laura feels — at least at this point, later in the season she gets a little more defined about it — like she’ll impede her mother’s own progress by interjecting and saying, “Hi, I need you to be here, physically present in my life.”
HG: This season has been more political, with Laura’s environmental activism. How do you think this activism has changed her?
TLB: I hate the whole selfish, entitled Millennial trope. I think that’s lazy and mostly not true. But I do think that, up until now, Laura has of course had political opinions. She’s so smart, she’s seen and heard what’s going on. But I think up until this point, she’s never acted on it. I have to say that I’m very proud of her. I know that she’s a character that is written by people, but I do like seeing her get behind a cause and be passionate about something that’s not her own self-destruction.
It’s been cathartic this season because, for the most part, everybody on the set was sort of devastated. I think they had just started the writer’s room in October and then the election was in the beginning of November, so it was a lot to unpack. I think they did so in a way that doesn’t feel preachy, it doesn’t feel out of line for the show. [It’s in a way that’s] sort of perfectly political for our show, and the voice of our show.
HG: Politics seem to naturally integrate into the show. Issues come up when appropriate, but it’s not like anyone is shoving an agenda down the audience’s throats.
TLB: Right, and Laura gets more political as the season goes on. There’s one episode [“Fresno”] where she speaks in front of a City Council meeting and it doesn’t feel out of character for Laura. It doesn’t feel like our writers were just trying to jam some sort of moment, like a bigger political moment, in the show. It felt like it was perfectly natural for Laura to do this. In fact, it felt like it was sort of the result of several episodes, or maybe even the season of character development, coming to this — reaching that particular moment.
The teenagers that I know, and the teenager that I was, would absolutely not have watched this election happen and not done something about it. Maybe I surrounded myself with like-minded people, but I have so much faith in Millennials and the generation below mine.
HG: Switching gears, what is your working relationship like with Michaela and Tommy? Is there something that you’ve taken away from working with them that’s really helped you grow as an actor?
TLB: Well to start, they’re phenomenal. They’re amazing actors and they’re also both really talented writers. They wrote an episode this season [“Venus”] and they killed it. It was so, so good. They’ve written their own stuff before, had it produced and put on TV. Also, they’re just awesome people to talk to. The biggest thing I’ve learned from being around them often, and working with them so closely, is that you can be a really fucking fantastic actor/comedian and also be a really nice person.
We are more comedic actors, so maybe there’s less of a stigma against us. But I think there’s a stigma against actors that in order to turn in a good performance or a really affecting performance, you have to be like a loose cannon. I would much rather work on set with people who are cool, laid back, hard-working, professional, and get the job done than somebody that you constantly have to walk on eggshells around.
Anyway, I wanted to move in with Michaela and her husband. I would love to live in a Valerie-Alex-Laura situation, without all of the dysfunction and drama. That’s the dream.
HG: There’ve been a number of female directors involved in the show. What has that experience been like working with these directors this season, and why do you think it’s important to have them on the show?
TLB: When our producer, Helen Estabrook, was mapping out the season and seeing who we [could get] to come on board to direct, I think it wasn’t a conscious decision. Like, we need at least this many females directors, you know, to fill a quota or anything like that. It was more like, who is doing really interesting work in independent film these days? I think it just happened to have been a lot of female directors. She had worked with Lynn Shelton before, and I think Zander and Helen were just fans of all the other women who came on board this season.
And then, Carrie Brownstein. Michaela’s really close friends with Lake Bell, and Lake’s an amazing director. So, it sort of happened in a very natural way and we embraced all of the benefits, because they were so incredible. As an actor, having a different director every two weeks and getting to work with…seven different directors this season is just such a blessing, #BlessedAmI, because they all direct in their own different voices.
They have different styles, they have ways of communicating. We’re all sort of sponges soaking up all of that information, seeing how these different people work and it’s invaluable. I’m so proud of our episodes this season. I think the directors did incredible work. I try not to say like, “Well, female directors direct like this, and male directors tend to direct like that.” Because on set, it really is sort of like…a director is a director and you listen to them, try to communicate with them, and try to create the best product possible.
HG: Obviously it matters that they are female directors, but I think it’s a sign that things are heading in the right direction if they’re just people who are valued for their work — and not because of their gender.
TLB: Absolutely! I mean look, it’s so fucking true that we have so many female directors. And as a woman, it’s really cool being on set, and there’s a boss and she’s a woman. There’s just something in me that feels empowered and very proud of that. But we’ve had that for the last few seasons. Helen Estabrook, that woman calls the shots. She is so hardworking and aspirational.
HG: You talked a little bit about what’s ahead for Laura, but what else can we expect from her for the rest of the season, and from the other characters?
TLB: As far as Laura’s concerned, there’s a lot more vulnerability this season. And it has more to do, not necessarily with this relationship that she [entered] into with this older woman [Casey], but more a sense of longing for something more from her relationship with her lover. Without revealing too much, that’s what this relationship with this woman kind of brings out of Laura. It sort of causes her to question her relationship with her own mother, and whether or not it’s healthy, and whether or not it’s going to damage Laura in the long run.
The other characters, Valerie is a wild child this season, which I kind of love. And [Alex] has some really great stuff too. [There’s] the second episode where it’s a walking and talking episode, it’s just [Valerie and Alex]. It’s after the funeral, and they’re going out. It’s the first episode of the series that I’ve never been in and it’s completely my favorite. It’s so affecting. We have such good actors working on our show, and such good directors, and such good writers, and even our crew down to our cameramen.
We premiered the first episode at Tribeca and we had to go on stage for a Q&A after the two episodes. [After] the second episode, I had tears streaming down my face and I’m like, “I’m wearing fake eyelashes guys. You need to tell me if I have little creepy-crawlies on my cheek, and chin and neck.” Anyway, that’s it. Rant about my work over.
HG: It’s great that you’re so passionate about what you’re doing. And I imagine it’s nice for you to watch an episode that you aren’t a part of, where it’s almost like seeing it as a fan.
TLB: Oh my God, completely! It is hard. I’m an actor, so I have like self-worth issues. I’m sure that’s not shocking to anyone. For the most part, I can disconnect myself when I watch myself and I can say, “Okay, that was a decent performance with a great pain.” But that episode in particular, I really did feel like a true fan. It’s so cool. And then seeing, “Directed by Carrie Brownstein” at the end was awesome! Can’t be beat.