Weeks before the pilot for MTV’s Faking It aired last spring, opinion was out. And much of it was critical of the comedy about best friends who pretend to be lesbians to gain popularity at their ultra-liberal Austin high school. On its face, Faking It’s plot typified the kind of reductive, male-fantasy infused representation of female same-sex love and attraction that shows like The L Word, Grey’s Anatomy, andPretty Little Liars had so successfully left behind. And then the pilot aired, and due in large part to Uzbek American actress Rita Volk’s thoughtful, witty portrayal of the questioning Amy, Faking It proved it was invested in telling an honest story of a teen’s coming out journey. The juggernaut of a comedy instantly spawned an army of devoted Karmy (the mash-up for Amy and her best friend Karma) fans.
Mid-way through its second season Faking It continues to break boundaries and to push buttons. The series, from out showrunner Carter Covington, includes gay male characters, television’s first intersex character, and Amy, who continues on a path to discover who she really is amidst maintaining a truly loving friendship with the best friend she’s also devastatingly in love with.
Volk, a Duke grad best known for playing Katnip in The Hangover/Hunger Games parody The Hungover Games, plays Amy with a perfect mélange of humor, wonder, and earthiness that, along with the central relationship of the Amy and Karma (Katie Stevens) friendship, is the heart and soul of the series that plays out in a fantasy land of the hyper-liberal Hester High.
The 24-year-old Volk chatted with SheWired about the importance of women and girls supporting each other, the responsibility of playing a character who is so important to LGBT kids, bullying, Amy's upcoming hook-up/s and whether or not the character will ever identify as bisexual.
What drew you to Faking It and the role of Amy?
In the beginning it was just another audition, but when I got [the role] I thought it was definitely something new. I couldn’t really think of anything else out there, especially for a younger demographic. I went out for the role of Karma initially, so it all turned out the way it was supposed to. I can’t imagine not playing Amy. She’s very strong, and she’s a very independent girl. She’s loyal, even though sometimes she puts herself on the back burner for it. She’s a good friend and I think she has a good sense of what’s important and what isn’t, and she’s kind of pulled into this lie that she has to live out with Karma who cares a lot more about perception and popularity.
In what ways can you personally relate to Amy?
I kind of grew up the same way. I had to grow up a little faster given my background. I think I saw what was more important at an earlier age. I had some classmates that would make certain things a bigger deal. I had a better sense of how to filter things out, and I can definitely relate to her in that sense. And she has it together even more than I did. I wish I could have been a little more like her when I was 16. I don’t have too many friends, but the people I am close with I try to hold on to and be loyal to. So there’s definitely that characteristic.
I love that Faking It is essentially about a female friendship and how to maintain that throughout everything. It’s wonderful to see these girls who want to support each other, rather than fight about men, or other women, or whatever the case may be. Can you weigh in on how women support, or don’t?
I think that we are terrible about. Maybe we are somehow predisposed to be more territorial. I don’t know, but it is sad. Being in a group that’s been so underrepresented and mistreated, and being in this group through all the injustice throughout time, you’d think that we’d come together and support each other.
It’s important to remember that everyone has their insecurities, and this is what I’m learning. Especially when you come out to L.A. and everybody is beautiful and seemingly perfect. You get a few complexes. And you forget that everyone has their own thing. Especially a female... There are so many things that we don’t like about each other. If we just remember that and we support those insecurities in each other instead of using them to fuel our own egos or desires to get ahead... If we remember that, it would be a lot easier for us to stick together.
When I first heard about the concept for Faking It I was wary…
You and everybody else [laughs].
That must have been tough as an actor. What were you feeling when you went into this project knowing that people didn’t understand it yet?
We knew that as soon as people saw it and knew where we were coming from, that they wouldn’t think that way. Because, obviously, at first sight, two girls pretending to be lesbians... That whole connotation of oversexualizing, and the double-standard that two girls can be together and that’s hot, but when two guys do it’s “disgusting.” Obviously, there is that double standard and I think that’s why people were so angry about it. They thought that we were just using that to make the show. But once you start watching it, it’s not two women making out with each other, it’s two girls who are very young and innocent trying to figure out who they are. It has a really good balance of discussing things that might be taboo but doing it in a digestible way. Humor and pop culture references are such a big part of it. When all that comes together, once people saw the show in it’s whole, that went away. But I totally see how that was the conception.
Despite my initial concerns about the story, I love the show. The writers really knew what they were doing.
Regardless of what you do, or what you write, or how you play something, someone is going to have an opinion. If you just let that go I think it gives you the freedom to be more honest and to write whatever the hell you want. And that’s what [the writers] did, and they gave us so much freedom to play with it. As long as it’s honest and it’s heartfelt it breaks any kind of backlash — hopefully.
The series has a gay character, TV’s first intersex character, and Amy, whatever she is going through. It’s a big responsibility to portray all of that honestly for fans who are going through similar experiences. Can you talk about fan letters you’ve received from girls coming out?
One girl in particular said that she came out during the show to her mom, so that was pretty incredible. The show might not have 10 million viewers, but the people who watch are so invested in these characters, especially as a 13- or 14-year-old girl. And that’s what is so great about doing a show for a younger demographic is that everybody is so rabid about it. They really need something to look up to, because adults, you would think, would have it a little bit more figured out.
I feel like I’ve been accepted into this group that I never thought I would be a part of. It is a responsibility because there are so many things that Amy is going through that I can’t relate to, and when people see you in certain character, of course they associate that with you and they think that’s who you are and that’s what your experiences have been. I’m still trying to navigate that and to obviously be supportive and appreciative with the fans — I think we all are. But, at the same time, keeping in mind that I’m not the only go-to person for [coming out]. The reception has been awesome.
The cliffhanger at the end of last season when Amy hooked up with Liam... That’s such a taboo, but not entirely uncommon, trope of girl world. What was your reaction when you read that story arc?
I was really surprised, but it made sense. Of course, as you probably know, there was a little backlash to that too. That scene — what Amy and Liam did — wasn’t just put in there to piss people off or to make it more interesting. Obviously it made it more interesting, but it was there to show how they both kind of hit rock bottom. Amy is just torn apart because she just confessed something and it’s not going to be reciprocated. Liam is torn apart because it’s the first girl he ever cared about. They’re in a really bad place. They made a mistake. But it makes sense that they bonded over their mutual pain for this other person.
Amy is clearly on a journey of discovery. At this point, she may not know where she falls on the spectrum. But do you think she might decide she’s bisexual and identify as such? There’s so little representation for bisexual people.
That’s a great question. It’s important that you bring it up because we have this tendency, when something is not known to us, to either push it away or define it. There are two extremes and there’s no middle ground. Throughout this process people either wanted to label her as straight because she slept with Liam, and lesbian girls don’t do that. Or, she’s automatically gay, and you can’t say that either because she doesn’t know. So, the word bi doesn’t really come up, but absolutely. I think that’s definitely a possibility and that’s really rooted in reality. I know some people that have known since they were however young that, “I’m a lesbian, or I’m gay. I knew that I had these feelings since a very young age.”
But then, some people don’t know. It takes them a while to figure it out. The whole concept of bisexual — I think that’s definitely a possibility. And I don’t know. I’m just exploring this character as much as everybody else is, so we’ll see. If that’s what she is then I think that makes sense.
The teaser/promo at the close of last week’s episode was kind of wild. It looks as though Amy has a hook-up in store. Is there anything you can say about that?
I cannot say anything. I can’t. I’m always trying to find a vague way to put things but ... things happen. She does have a hook-up, but I can’t say with who or rather how many [laughs].
How many? That’s something! The cast of Faking It recently supported GLAAD's antibullying campaign for Spirit Day. Have you ever experienced being bullied?
Not to the extent of some of things I’ve heard, that some of the fans have shared, but absolutely. I didn’t know any English when I came to the states, and I was the odd girl out. No one wanted to talk to me. Kids were really mean, as they are, and I was really aggressive over it. I actually had temper tantrums. I could not communicate what I was feeling to anyone because I didn’t know the language, and it was very ostracizing.
I think kids feel like they have to be popular, they have to be part of a group, and they have to be accepted by the whole class, and that’s not always going to happen, and it has nothing to do with you. It’s just other people’s inability to be decent human beings. If you have one person that you can go to, I think that’s enough. Also, kids are just cruel and it has no bearing on who you are going to be and what you are. If you remember that it sucks, but it just takes time to get out of that phase, that’s kind of what it comes down to.
What would you like to see happen for Amy in the coming season(s)?
I want her to have her own thing going on. This whole time she’s been overshadowed by Karma’s problems and what other people have going on. She’s constantly living for other people. I just want her to live for herself and put herself as her top priority — take more control over who she is and figure out her sexuality, who she is, and what she wants.