Beware, there are spoilers in this article.
Virtual ClexaCon reunited Teenage Bounty Hunters stars Maddie Phillips and Devon Hales to talk about their characters and their experience with the show and its audience.
Teenage Bounty Hunters follows fraternal twins Sterling (Phillips) and Blair Wesley, who accidentally become involved in the world of bounty hunting under the tutelage of experienced but jaded Bowser. The girls juggle their new side gig with family and school life, which for Sterling includes a heated rivalry with former friend-turned-enemy, April Stevens (Hales).
Their relationship evolves into an intense crush and later a budding romance in a pairing that came to be known as ‘Stepril’. The actresses joined moderator Caitlyn Clear, and revealed they both had an instinct about their character’s sexualities. And since the show was sadly canceled by Netflix (shakes fist), they also took the time to imagine what ‘Stepril’s’ “someday” might have looked like.
The whirlwind of fandom
Teenage Bounty Hunters was quick to gather a group of ardent fans. When asked if they were “prepared for the gay storm that was going to take over their lives,” Maddie Phillips confessed they didn’t even know there was going to be any LGBT+ element until the fifth episode.
“It was a surprise, a very pleasant surprise for both of us,” said Phillips.
Hales added that she wasn’t prepared at all; “I had no idea that a fandom this powerful was about to take over our lives.”
Much of that can be attributed to them not having knowledge of fandom as a concept, Phillips explained. “I was never in a fandom myself, I’ve never been a big enough character to have fans before, and then to have the queer fandom, it was just like ‘whoa’”, she said.
Devon Hales clicked with April immediately
Sometimes an actor can feel immediately connected to a character, even with just their sides for an audition. This was not the case for Maddie Phillips, who recounts that she was not even expecting an audition that day. She was visiting Los Angeles and got the sides two hours before the audition was going to take place.
Eventually, Phillips was able to get to know Sterling better during the call-backs. She reflected that “what resonated with me most with Sterling is just how she kind of wears her heart on her sleeve really evidently, and that’s something that I can relate to a lot.”
Devon’s first audition was for Sterling, and she revealed there was a big difference in her reaction to Sterling and later April. With the former, it was to do with the script.
“The writing impressed me immediately. So funny, so smart, so specific. But definitely did not feel the same connection,” she said. It was later when she saw who April was that she felt that connection. “I was like ‘Okay now, this I understand’, immediately.”
April starts out as a classic mean girl, ready to blackmail Sterling into giving up her role as Fellowship leader by revealing intimate information about her. Clear asked Hales if she was ever worried about how April would come off.
“Not really. She is a pill, for sure,” she concedes that April has some stuff to work on, “But I think the sense of humor for her and throughout was so evident that I knew that was going to sort of ease us into a relationship with her.”
“I just always knew that there was – I didn’t know what it was for sure – but I knew that there was way more to her than we really saw in the first couple of episodes,” Hales continued.
On the flip side of that, even if April ended up not being likable, the actress thinks “a villain is always fun, especially when funny.”
Phillips and Hales predicted ‘Stepril’ by accident
None of the actors knew what was coming for their characters until they got the script, and in the case of the Sterling and April relationship, this started in episode five.
Maddie Phillips recalls the moment she found out with vivid clarity, because she had previously approached creator Kathleen Jordan to make a suggestion.
“I had the audacity to ask Kathleen […] at the very beginning of all this when we were filming the pilot, I remember going up to her and I was like ‘Can Sterling be bi?’” Phillips says Jordan simply explained that that was not part of her journey.
“And then, when I was on the elliptical on one of the nights when I somehow found the energy to exercise […] I get this text from Kathleen, she said ‘hey, I had to lie to you before, but here you go’ and she sent me the script and I lost my mind”, Phillips remembered. “I started crying, it was just such an honor to be trusted with something so precious like that because it’s just not something that we see in TV and movies a lot, let alone done well.”
“I just knew that it would mean so much to so many people and I get choked up talking about it.”– Maddie Phillips
Meanwhile, Devon Hales was just spitballing with her castmates when she accidentally stumbled upon one of the cruxes of her character.
On her very first day working on set, she and castmates Charity Cervantes and Eric Graise, who play Hanna B and Ezequiel and complete April’s posse at school, were chatting about the potential future for their characters.
“I started talking like ‘Oh, do you think these characters will last long enough to have love interests?’”, Hales recalls. “We’d never been on a job that could maybe last more than one episode and we had no idea how long we were even going to be on the show. But we were kind of guessing about who it could be, having just read the pilot.”
“I was like ‘I think it would be interesting if April were gay’”, she said. The information she was basing this off in the first episode was April’s obvious hyper fixation on Sterling, the reasons for which had not yet been revealed, and her unprompted mention of the Straight-Straight alliance at school she’s a leader of. “I was like ‘I just think it’s a little sus, as the kids say’ for her to bring that up. I just thought it was ‘a lady doth protest too much’,” Hales explained.
Unlike Maddie, Devon didn’t go to Kathleen Jordan with this thought and got busy filming the rest of the season. Eventually, she found out on accident due to a slip-up as she was going for a wardrobe fitting. Jordan later called her in for a meeting to explain:
“She didn’t give me a lot of details but basically said ‘this is who she is, she’s known for a long time, she’s cool with it, but she is bent on keeping it a secret because she knows the community that she lives in and she’s just not ready’” Hales said.
The decision to have April be not just aware, but have made peace with her sexuality already, despite the fact that she’s not ready to come out, sets Teenage Bounty Hunters apart from the tropes of the repressed religious character in many a teen story.
Once both actresses were in the know, they didn’t feel the need to change anything in their performance, and just stayed the course. “Because they knew where we were going it was sort of already built into what we were already doing,” said Devon Hales.
“I said the words and I felt the things and just tried to be as honest as possible, and I think that whether you’re portraying a heterosexual relationship or a gay one it’s all the same, really,” Maddie Phillips explained, “I kind of just acted the way that I would act with anybody I was infatuated with.”
Did Sterling watch Skins growing up?
Maddie Phillips seems to think so. Moderator Caitlyn Clear asked the actresses if they thought Sterling and April had a fictional character who was their sexual awakening. After a long think, Phillips concluded that Sterling would have gotten into Skins second generation’s Naomi and Emily.
“I feel like she probably would like Emily,” Phillips declared.
Speaking of teen shows, Clear said she would have loved to have had a show like this when she herself was a teenager. She asked whether they are aware of their influence on teens and how they navigate knowing the impact the show could have on that audience.
Devon Hales confessed that when filming, she wasn’t thinking that far ahead, and had no idea of the story would translate.
“[…] Part of that was not knowing that this Internet community was out there already and really ready for something that spoke to them,” Hales explained. “But now I try not to let that pressure get to me because that feels like it’s making it too much about me, personally.”
Phillips added, “I really just feel like I got to set and tried to mean exactly what I said.”
“The work has already spoken for itself and people who love it speak up and let us know, so I don’t feel like I really need to do anything other than just be there and listen and send some love back.”-Devon Hales
What does ‘someday’ look like for ‘Stepril’?
Sadly, Teenage Bounty Hunters is a story that will remain (officially) unfinished (as far as we know). The ending of season one did not tie all loose ends, and ‘Stepril’ in particular, did not end up in a good place.
April’s father, whom Blair and Sterling helped catch for beating up a prostitute, is back, and it’s made April recoil from her budding relationship with Sterling. For her part, Sterling is going through a lot with her family. Devon Hales and Maddie Phillips share their thoughts on what the future for their relationship might have looked like:
“I like to think that there would have been a period of ‘okay I walk past you in the hallway at school and we’re not doing that anymore’ and they’re both hurting and Sterling’s going through a lot that I don’t know about and I’m dealing with stuff”, Hales theorizes, “[…] potentially there would have been some sort of dramatic reconciliation: ‘I can’t live without you!’”
Hales continues, “I like to think they were endgame, but—”
But indeed. We will never know (potentially, never lose hope, cross my fingers!).
[HUGE SPOILERS AHEAD, JUMP TO NEXT MARKER TO AVOID]
Phillip’s theories were a bit more out there. She incorporates Sterling finding out at the very end of the season that her mother has a twin sister, Dana, and that she is in fact her daughter, therefore she and Blair aren’t actually twins, but cousins.
“Sterling wants to assimilate into Dana’s trailer park world, she runs away, she goes to trailer park world. She buys a pair of cut-off denim shorts, she smokes a cigarette for the first time in her life and she starts getting so into that vibe,” Phillips sets the scene. “April picks up on the fact that she’s there and maybe it’s not such a great place so she comes driving in a pick-up truck and they make out in the middle of the trailer park and everybody is looking through their busted windows in shock and… then the sun sets,” Phillips finishes enthusiastically.
Devon Hales has thought further ahead, and wants in on the bounty hunting business.
“I’ve talked pretty openly about how I wanted April to become like the business side of the bounty hunting team”, she said. “She goes to the yogurt shop, it’s awkward, but Bowser’s like ‘she got a good head on her shoulders’. She starts doing intel and dossiers for them and for a while it’s all business and then it gets sexy.”
This is another thread left by season one, as April has yet to find out about Sterling’s side gig and her involvement with her father’s situation.
“That would not have been fun,” says Hales about April finding out, “I don’t think it would have lasted too long because she would have been like ‘You know what, my dad does suck, I just wish that you had told me […]”
The show may have been left unfinished, but as Clear pointed out, fanfic writers can take these prompts directly from the actresses and run with them.
Hard times ahead for the Wesleys.
In a potential season two, ‘Stepril’ would probably take a backseat to the drama in the Wesley family, after the parents, Debbie and Anderson, kept such earth-shattering secrets for so long. Phillips thinks ultimately it will make them stronger, though
“I feel like Sterling would have wanted to go and explore this other side of her just ‘cause she’s a curious little cat […],” she said. She figures Blair and Sterling would have separated for a bit, but eventually come back together.
“We weren’t trying to suggest that [the twin vision] was a biological phenomenon […] this was kind of more a kind of like a spiritual, ethereal, psychic kind of situation. I feel like once they realized that that was still so intact, blood doesn’t really matter,” she concluded.
[END OF SPOILER TERRITORY]
What is it about ‘Stepril’?
Speaking more to the relationship between their characters, they reflected on what Sterling and April find attractive in the other.
“I think that Sterling is in love with April’s passion, even when it’s misdirected or misguided,” said Phillips. “I think April’s intensity is probably really cool and hot to Sterling.”
April is indeed a very intense character. Whether she’s directing that to competing against Sterling, antagonizing her, or romancing her.
“If you’re really just intense about something it means you believe in something really strongly, and I think that’s a great quality to have.”– Maddie Phillips on Sterling’s attraction to April.
“I think that she could probably see that April wasn’t a bad person and that it was just kind of this intensity that she respected,” Phillips added.
As for April, Hales thinks “definitely jealous and therefore attracted to Sterling’s ability to just go with the flow. April is somebody who likes to plan things out, and has a plan; this is how it’s supposed to be.”
“All of a sudden Sterling realizes that she is bisexual and she’s like ‘let’s shout it to the rooftops’ and [April’s] like ‘I wish that I could be like that and I just can’t’,” Hales said. “And her making the first move, I think that was attractive.”
Closing with astrology
The final fan question for the panel was whether Sterling or April would win in a debate. Maddie Phillips and moderator Caitlyn Clear immediately declared for April, but Hales wasn’t so sure.
“I understand the impulse […] I think Sterling would win it. I think she would find some pathos and just really get to like the heartstring and she would sway the judges,” Hales posited.
Phillips wondered what Pathos is, and after Hales explained, Phillips exclaimed, “This is why I know that Sterling has libra in her chart!”
And thus, the final minutes of the panel were spent on a proper rant about the character’s zodiac signs which Phillips confesses she had thought about extensively.
Images Courtesy of Netflix
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