Actress Amanda Bearse takes Out on Film Trailblazer award

Credit: Clemens Niehaus/Geisler-Fotopres/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Credit: Clemens Niehaus/Geisler-Fotopres/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

From “Married ... With Children” to indie film “Tapawingo,” the Atlanta-raised actor is still in the game.

Director and actress Amanda Bearse is stepping into her second act.

It has been 24 years since she stepped away from “Married ... With Children,” the crass, bawdy hit TV show that made her and her character Marcy D’Arcy part of the 1990s network comedy canon. But even before Bearse, who was reared in Atlanta and still calls it home, was done with the show, she had already begun what would become a long career behind the camera. As a director, Bearse, 63, worked on shows that were staples in the early 2000s, “Malcolm & Eddie,” “Dharma & Greg,” “Reba,” “MADtv,” “The Jamie Foxx Show,” and “The Big Gay Sketch Show.”

But this summer, she began her on-camera return with the independent film “Tapawingo” starring Jon Heder. This fall she begins filming “Bros” with Billy Eichner. It’s touted as the first romantic comedy featuring two men as the lead love interests released by a major studio. Judd Apatow is producing the movie, which is slated to be released in 2022.

Now, as Bearse is returning to the other side of the camera, she is being honored with the Out on Film 2021 Trailblazer Award, given to an out LGBTQ entertainer who has made a mark on the field. The award event, which is part of the festival’s kick off on Thursday, will be presented in a virtual conversation with Bearse on opening night.

Here Bearse, talks about vampires, the Varsity, and what it takes to last nearly 4 decades in show business. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: When were you last home in Atlanta?

A: This summer. I did some work in Virginia on a little movie and then took that opportunity to cruise down Southeast and go to Henri’s Bakery. I grew up around the one on Irby Street but I made it to the one in Sandy Springs because I usually stay with a friend in Roswell. I gotta have my onion roll! And I used to be able to go to the Varsity all the time. I mean, I’ve been having a glorified (hamburger with mayo, lettuce and tomato) since I was 4. But I don’t eat red meat anymore. I actually went one time and had a glorified without meat. It’s just not the same.

Q: After “Married ... With Children,” you lived here in the early 2000s for several years, rearing your daughter. The entertainment industry was beginning to take off here then. But you didn’t do a lot of television then but you did do an episode of “Drop Dead Diva.”

A: Tyler Perry was really the one to put Atlanta on the map, and then “The Walking Dead,” and then “Drop Dead Diva.” The “Drop Dead Diva” thing was just an isolated incident because I wasn’t focused on any acting career then. I was so very focused on growing my child. They were doing what I would call kitschy hires for some of the judge roles. They’d go get somebody who had a TV presence.

Credit: Bob V. Noble/MediaPunch/IPx

Credit: Bob V. Noble/MediaPunch/IPx

Q: My introduction to you was, and I’m dating myself here, the movie “Fright Night.” That has become such a cult favorite, in a way the 2011 remake has not. What was the appeal of the 1985 original?

A: The vampire genre was being made fun of in the late 1970s. It was parodied more than embraced. The writer/director Tom Holland, William Ragsdale, Stephen Geoffreys, myself ... we weren’t making fun of it. Then we had Roddy (McDowall) who was iconic and Chris Sarandon, which gave it this legitimacy. It had the humanity, it had the wholeness that a lot of horror films did not. And there was this lightheartedness, although, boy, when it got scary, it got scary. It did its job. Then this universe of conventions started and the horror community was one of the first to really grow in that universe. The fans now are multigenerational. And I think it’s the kitschiness of that time period, with that stamp of the ‘80s on it.

Q: Most people know you as Marcy from “Married ... With Children,” which came right after “Fright Night,” but I’m not sure many people paid attention to the credits and saw that toward the end of that show’s run, you were directing a number of episodes. How did that happen?

A: It happened because I was going to go down with that ship. But I also knew my character, especially when Christina Applegate and David Faustino got older the more of the storyline they got. So I knew I was always going to be that instigator who arrived in the first five minutes, stirred the pot and then left. It was never going to be that breakout role. When they were renegotiating contracts, (the producers) said, ‘Is there something else you’d like to do?’ So, I negotiated to direct one episode. The first one went well, then another, then another. By the end of the run, I did have quite a few.

Q: Is that why you pivoted from acting to directing full-time after the show was over?

A: My career had momentum behind the camera and I was loving it. I was never really that comfortable with the publicity aspect that accompanies an on-camera career. And this is before social media. I like the work and less about the celebrity. But now I’m back in Southern California, in close proximity to the industry, and I thought maybe I’ll try acting again. So, that’s what I’ve been doing. I had it all in place when COVID hit, and then, boom, it went away. But then a couple of projects that I was in the running for came to fruition.

Q: What were the challenges of being an out, woman director in Hollywood then?

Credit: Out on Film

Credit: Out on Film

A: First of all, there wasn’t a long list of female directors. Because I was out, I’ve lived my life that way since I was a teenager, it was just part of who I was. But just being female, more so than LGBTQ, was difficult at the time. I walked away from situations, more so because of bullying by men. As a director, I was still subject to a lot of male dominance in an aggressive, unpleasant way. In terms of the longevity of my career, men much older than me were working much more than I was. And I was told point blank by a man, when I was in my 50s, ‘You know, you’re getting a little long in the tooth.’ Real ageism with women.

Q: You were out years before Ellen DeGeneres came out in 1997, and while you were still on a popular television show. Why do you think you haven’t been recognized as much for taking that step?

A: My show wasn’t called “Amanda.” I wasn’t the lead. Ellen took her platform. She was the center of that show. It rested on her. She took that platform and did what she did and deserved all the positive affirmation she received. I was more on the DL. I did live my life. I did my work, I progressed in my career. But I didn’t make myself relevant. Being behind the camera, out of sight, out of mind and that relevance plays a part. But I’m at a different place in my life and I’m in front of the camera again. And I’m comfortable with that.

Q: Tell me about the movie you just wrapped, “Tapawingo.”

A: I shot it this summer, a smaller independent film starring Jon Heder, who’s absolutely adorable. I don’t think the character’s too far away from “Napoleon Dynamite,” but he’s living at home as an older guy and I’m his mom. There was a lot about it that made me laugh. It was so joyful to be on set again, as an actor. I’m coming full circle. I’m very grateful.

Credit: Jarrod Russell

Credit: Jarrod Russell


VIRTUAL EVENT PREVIEW

Out on Film 2021 Trailblazer Award

A conversation with this year’s winner, director and actor Amanda Bearse. 8 p.m. Sept. 23; afterward, available until Oct. 3. To view, go to outonfilm.org.