The queer coming-of-age story has become a tale as old as time for this progressive era of artistic representation. As refreshing and affirming as they are for audiences of all identities, few stories bother to explore the spectrum of gender fluidity.
Julia Eringer’s new web series does just that. In Girls Like Magic, Eringer stars as Maggie, a recent transplant to LA from London. Moving in with her chauvinistic boyfriend (Dominic Adams), she struggles to find her place in the City of Angels. But after her neighbor, Jaime (Shantell Yasmine Abedeera) goes through a messy breakup with her girlfriend (Brea Grant), Maggie takes a chance and consoles the friendly stranger. Dubbing Maggie with the nickname, Magic, Jaime forms a rare friendship with her new neighbor.
We recently caught up with Eringer about her new web series. We talked about the LA queer community, working with director Kit Williamson, and the actual friendship between herself and Shantell that inspired the show’s central relationship.
Tell me about the real-life friendship behind Girls Like Magic.
I met Shantell in acting class and was immediately intrigued. She was outgoing, confident and funny, like hilariously witty and funny. She being Australian and myself British, we have that same dry, naughty sense of humor which is often lost on Americans. I was attracted to her in a kindred spirit way and knew we’d be friends. When I found out she was gay, I was surprised. Not for any particular reason other than I didn’t expect it growing up in a heteronormative society. If I’m honest, I guess her sexuality intrigued me even more. We became close friends quite quickly, she having gone through a recent messy break-up and myself struggling with a strangely controlling boyfriend. Our friendship deepened and I learnt about her experience as a queer woman of color. She also invited me to grow my awareness of what it’s like to be gay: the stereotypes, the cliques, the dildos, that the difference between having sex with a man and a woman is just a feeling and that feeling depends on where you fall on the spectrum. I liked the idea of the spectrum and that we all fall somewhere on it – that things aren’t as binary as we are often led to believe. This made a lot of sense to me and was mirrored by our own real-life relationship which grew and deepened and at times was confusing but first and foremost is a beautiful friendship full of love, admiration and respect. I wanted to be able to represent that relationship in a cinematic way and to use our natural chemistry on screen to create something magical that transcends boundaries.
Is it difficult telling personal stories and portraying versions of yourselves?
From a writing standpoint, I think telling personal stories can be difficult because you can be attached to the way things happened in real life even though it doesn’t necessarily serve the story. Once I let go of that, Magic and Jamie’s relationship was free to evolve in its own way. Then the characters weren’t really us anymore and didn’t follow the trajectory of our real-life relationship, so it really freed things up.
In terms of acting, I’d say that I always bring myself to every role I play, so the fact that the character was a version of myself on the page wasn’t all that different. I would actually say that because I wrote the material and was so familiar with the content and character, there was an ease to the acting. Similarly, there was an ease to acting opposite Shantell because we have such great natural chemistry and there is so much trust there.
The show is a love letter to your best friend. Would you also call it a love letter to LA?
Maybe not a love letter to LA as a whole but I think you could certainly call it a love letter to the LGBTQ community in LA. When Shantell introduced me to it, I was quickly enthralled by the celebratory nature of the community and the openness of the people I met. There was something so touching to me about how I was met with open arms and welcomed as an ally and advocate. I also found a level of self-awareness that I don’t think one finds in such great quantities in groups of straight people. But it makes sense when you consider that to “come out” is to go against the grain of society, which takes a huge amount of courage and a strong sense of self. That strength and determination to live one’s authentic life despite obstacles, both external and internal, is something I deeply admire and respect. It cannot be overstated or over-appreciated. So, sure you could definitely call Girls Like Magic a love letter to all those who have the courage to let their freak flag fly and the generosity to accept me as a fellow freak.
At one point, one of the characters mentions “the real L Word.” How would you explain that show’s impact on queer female stories like this one?
You know, I’ve never actually seen the show, which is kind of insane. Everyone kept telling me I had to watch it. And I meant to, but then, in a way, I didn’t want to because I didn’t want to be influenced by it. And I also didn’t want to be put off telling my story if elements were similar. But I know the show is incredibly influential and I’m sure it affected our story, indirectly if not directly, because it has impacted queer culture so much.
How would explain the unique way this show approaches sexuality and identity?
I think what’s unique about the show is that its characters are honest in their fallibility when it comes to sexuality. In one of my favorite scenes, Jamie asks “What does this even mean?” to which Magic replies, “I don’t know. But I don’t care.” To me that suggests that we are continually evolving and changing and we don’t need to adhere to fixed identities or labels all the time, nor do we need to have all the answers. I think that celebrates fluidity and shows that life can be a continued exploration as long as we are open to it. The show also explores the concepts that knowing who you are isn’t always that easy and that even when you know who you are, embracing it can sometimes be hard. We have this one character, Magic, who is literally exploring her identity both in terms of her sexuality and her autonomy in kind of an external way. There is a sense that there wasn’t a lot diversity where she came from, and suddenly she is in a place where there are so many types of people and she is invited to decide for herself where she feels at home. Conversely, you have Jamie who knows who she is but hasn’t been able to accept herself fully. Hers is an internal struggle with identity and she needs to come to terms with who she is in order to allow herself to be happy.
Have you had plenty support from the LGBTQ community in making the show?
I’ve been really lucky in that, yes. I don’t think I would have made Girls Like Magic if I hadn’t. It was actually paramount to me that we had as many members of the community as possible in both our cast and crew. Both Shantell and Kit (Williamson) were very supportive in this way and brought different people to the project. Kit helped me hone the script so that it would resonate with our core audience and introduced me to Inuka Bacote, our rock-solid producer. I didn’t know her at all before the project, so when she signed off on the script and onto the project that was a huge vote of confidence. Kit also brought on our production designer, Gabriel Zapata. Shantell brought on Wendy Helie to AP who introduced me to Sarah Croce who guest stars and has also been supportive all the way through our distribution and PR process. Shantell’s now wife, Stacy Schneiderman, was on set every day as she was our entire hair, make-up, and style department. Stacy represents our target audience and she would often watch the monitor during takes. If a scene was working for her, we knew it would work for our audience. And Shantell was the biggest support of all; without her I wouldn’t have had the knowledge or insight into this world, and the characters would never have been born. Her support of me as an ally and an advocate for the LGBTQ community means the world to me. Shantell has also done an incredible job of aggregating music for the show from members and allies of the community so that it is represented audibly as well as visually. That is something that was very important to both of us.
Girls Like Magic is now available iTunes, Fandango Now, Vudu, and Amazon. Watch the trailer below: