Natalie Morales garnered major headlines when she was cast as the bisexual titular character of the NBC sitcom, Abby’s. Morales is herself an out queer Latina, just like the lead character, making Morales one of the most visible bisexual characters and actresses on TV.
On Thursday’s episode, “Alcohol Free Day,” Abby discusses her bisexuality with her friends and patrons of her backyard bar, which is news to some and old news to others. The episode also introduces Abby’s ex-girlfriend. Out spoke to Natalie Morales about what it was like to discuss bisexual stigma on a network sitcom, why she loves Xena the Warrior Princess, and whether she’d want to make any of her previous characters bisexual.
What attracted you to playing Abby?
Mike Schur was doing it! I think he’s super talented, and I worked with him on Parks and Recreation, and I got to see what he was like as a boss and what he was like to work with, and the kind of stuff he put out. Parks and Rec was my favorite show and The Good Place is my favorite show. I auditioned and I was very hopeful I would get it.
In tonight’s episode, “Alcohol Free Day,” Abby comes out as bisexual. In what ways was your coming out and Abby’s coming out similar and different?
I would say that Abby doesn’t come out, she’s already been out to her friends —it’s just the one new guy who doesn’t know. And what I love about it is that you know all her friends are like “Oh yeah, so what?” and it’s not a big deal —it’s totally normal, as it should be. It’s new information for Bill and obviously new information for the audience, but I thought that I was really exciting.
I don’t know if there’s anything in common with me for that. The reason I decided to come out publicly was because I was doing press for this movie Battle of the Sexes and and it felt disingenuous with me to be out in my private life but not publicly. Obviously, I was an LGBTQ+ supporter and ally but as far as everyone knew, that was it. But it felt like I should just say, “I’m one of us,” because I thought to myself, “What if I had that as a kid?”
What if someone saw me on Parks and Recreation or Trophy Wife, someone who was at home saw me on their television and I was living a great life with people who loved me and was thriving and was out and open about [my bisexuality].If one more person is seen or heard and united, then that’s worth it. It became an important thing for me to do, while also keeping my dating life private.
Well, both your story and Abby’s prove that we are always coming out, that that process is continual.
Right, yeah totally. You’re right. I hope in my life it’ll get to the point where it doesn’t matter. That it had mattered and was so important to live your life freely and then is no big deal at some point in my life.
One of the things that the episode really showcases is the unique stigma of coming out as bisexual: some think you’re either gay or not and the in-between kind of confuses them. Were you excited to tackle some of those tropes on the show?
In our own community, people have a stigma against bisexual people like, “Oh it’s on the way to gay,” or, “They’re just experimenting and they’re not really bisexual.” I think that’s so dumb, because the whole point of what we're doing, the whole point of this movement is to let people be whatever they want to be. I think it’s important to represent bisexual people in a very clear way and in a very big way, in that, this is the main character of a TV show. You meet her ex-girlfriend in this episode, you see the relationship with her friends and her ex. You see what it’s like to live that life and it’s important for the idea of bi erasure to show that this does exist.
Your show is doing so much to fight bi erasure and promote bi visibility. Do you ever worry about the show being seen as like, “Oh, it’s that bisexual show again!”
No, I don’t! And I think the reason why we made [the coming out] episode 3 is specifically for that. There are a lot of things about Abby. She was in the marines. She’s a Latina. She’s bisexual. But those are just some things about her. She’s also a bartender, she’s also sometimes mean. She likes the Beach Boys. Her sexuality is one thing about her. We did it in the third episode and not the pilot for that reason. We wanted to show that this show could be about people who are friends living their lives in a backyard and that it could be so many things. l think our sexuality is sometimes at the forefront of our lives, but most of the time it’s just one thing about us. And I think the more we do that, the more we normalize. I hope it won’t get pigeonholed as the show with the Latina or the show with the Marine vet. I just want it to be the show where you go hang out with your friends.
You said that you wanted Abby to be that TV character that could be representation for someone who was at home watching. What’s a TV show you watched growing up and you were like, “Oh, they’re totally queer?”
I watched a lot of Xena growing up so maybe all the women on Xena. I was hoping they were going to some way be into me. That was a lot. I obviously watched Buffy and that was very influential to me. And I watched Cruel Intentions because of Sarah Michelle Gellar. And there’s that kissing scene that was so influential.
Well, that movie just had its 20th anniversary and I think the queer thing cuts both ways because Ryan Phillippe also said that he’s aware that his butt turned a lot of guys gay.
And Joshua Jackson in that movie is a really interesting representation of a gay man. It was so interesting to have a teen heartthrob play a gay teen in that movie! Ryan Phillippe's butt was a revelation for us all.
I’m a huge fan of your previous ABC show Trophy Wife, by the way, and absolutely loved you on it. If your character on Trophy Wife had to have a bisexual plotline with either Michaela Watkins or Marcia Gay Harden’s character, which would it be?
Oh god, that’s a tough question! It would probably be Michaela only because Michaela’s one of my closest, dearest friends and that would be very very fun to play. We’d have a very good time, it’d be very funny.