By Megan Wadding, January 2016 Web Exclusive.
After the death of her mother, 35-year-old Maybelle Garris (Bridget McManus) must learn to live for herself, as a lesbian woman in the South, who’s still in love with her best friend from high school, Della Cain-Cumbee (Frances Nichols).
In this six-part original web series, which will debut on tellofilms.com Dec. 13, Maybelle will discover herself for the first time and fight for the woman she loves.
McManus is a television host, a screenwriter and an award-winning comedienne. She’s hosted shows for the Logo Network and been a featured guest on many occasions – most recently on CBS’s “The Queen Latifah Show,” Season 1 and 2.
Maybelle marks the writer and actresses fourth scripted project for tello Films. She was previously seen in Cowgirl Up, Season 1 and 2, the tello drama The Throwaways and McManusLand, Season 1 and 2, which she also wrote and produced.
Echo: Where did you draw inspiration for Maybelle? How did you learn about life in the South? Was it shot in the south?
McManus:Maybelle is the story of two women in love in the South. I set it in rural Virginia because my wife is from Virginia and I love the scenery there. Everything is so much slower and fantastic. I live in Los Angeles and I used to live in New York, and I’m so used to the city and the gay culture in the city. The story that I told is not about people not liking gay people, it’s more about having a smaller community and what life is like there and how you connect with people where there isn’t such a city environment. The series was shot in Nashville. I love the South. I think it’s amazing.
Echo: How did you get involved with tello Films?
McManus: I did interviews with tello Films back in 2008 at Outfest. The founder and I just hit it off. And when she started doing projects she asked me to pitch ideas. I took [an] old series, Brunch with Bridget, and I sent it over to her so that it had a place to run online. She has been a fantastic collaborator for many years.
Echo: Instead of just waiting for the mainstream industry to come up with ideas, you are creating them yourself. Where are you drawing inspiration from for these stories, specifically Maybelle?
McManus: As a kid, I was such an outsider. I never really fit in or got cast as leads in plays. It’s like if I didn’t create it myself, it didn’t happen.
Echo: The idea of falling in love with your best friend in high school and even reconnecting with lost loves are both scenarios many lesbians can easily identify with. Where did the idea for the story come and what made you want to see it come to life?
McManus: These two girls grew up together and they were probably in love way before high school when they got together. I’m a lesbian that dated girls in high school and had [few] affairs with my friends. But there’s something about the intimacy when you’re young and growing and connecting with someone. It’s hard enough being an adolescent, let alone being a gay adolescent. It can be so scary. It’s hard enough telling someone you like them when you’re straight. This story is about it not being scary.
Echo: What made you want to tell this story?
McManus: I’m obsessed with love stories, but everything is straight in the world. I have to watch guys and girls make out to get any kind of rush of love stuff. Or I have to watch suicidal lesbian movies. I don’t want to tell those stories. I want to tell the stories of people who are happy and in love.
Echo: What is the process behind creating a web series – from the idea to the premiere – from your personal standpoint of being the writer, co-producer, and star actor?
McManus: I usually have an idea and I run it by my wife and then start writing. Since I’m a standup comic, I’m so used to talking into a microphone. I actually have a microphone and a stage in my house. What’s been great about being a writer that way is that sometimes you get writer’s block by sitting and writing in silence, but I actually talk to myself out loud. That’s been the best way for me to develop things. When I have an idea, I’ll talk as different characters, or I’ll write out a scene and then my wife and I will just table-read. I’m all about collaborating.
Echo: It was just announced that Maybelle is being crafted into a feature film in 2016. What can you tell me about that?
McManus: I’m still crafting the script, but the story will start from the beginning. It may be cast differently. It’s going to be an enhanced version of the story, but it will still be about two women who are rekindling their romance 15 years of being away from each other.
Echo: Will you be reprising the role of Maybelle in the film?
McManus: I will be in it, but I’m not sure what I’ll be doing. Best case scenario, if I have really great people in it, I will probably write myself a character where I’m just passing someone a newspaper, just to be in it. But if it’s going to be on a smaller scale, I’ll probably just reprise the role of Maybelle myself.
Echo: What are some of your favorite women- and lesbian-focused stories from recent years? What actresses are you most impressed with?
McManus: It’s been a great time for entertainment. I really love Sarah Paulson and American Horror Story. Jessica Chastain is amazing. I think she can do anything. Also, Helena Bonham Carter, Jessica Lange and Taraji P. Henson and I like Jennifer Lawrence too. My wife is obsessed with her. I really appreciate what they’ve done on the “Grey’s Anatomy” front. Also, “Transparent” is so beautiful and I cried many times watching it.
Echo: Is there anything else you want people to know about the story of Maybelle before they see it?
McManus: This isn’t a story about struggling. It’s a love story. Sometimes in life, it’s all about timing. Sometimes you’re in love with somebody and they’re with somebody else. What do you do? You don’t want to be a jerk, but do you just wait in the wings or do you start your life? What’s the right thing to do to make you happy, but also to be a good person?
Membership to the tellofilms.com is $4.99 per month, which provides access to numerous films written, created and directed by lesbians. All proceeds from the website’s membership go back into funding new films.