There are a dozen different bisexual tropes that have been employed on television and film, with the “depraved bisexual” among the most common, although the power-hungry bisexual (think Cyrus Henstridge on The Royals or Chamberlain Milus Corbett in The Bastard Executioner) is fast on its heels. In a 2015 report on the state of LGBT characters in media, GLAAD’s Alexandra Bolles lamented the impact that has: “Though bisexual people make up the majority of the LGBT community, they are less likely than their gay and lesbian peers to be out to the people they love, because their identity is constantly misconstrued as either a form of confusion, a lie, or a contrived and hypersexualized means to an end. Perpetuating these tropes undermines the truth that bisexuality is real and that bi people deserve to be treated equally and fairly.”
All of this helps explain why Angela Montenegro, a forensic artist on Fox’s crime dramedy Bones, is so alluring. Played by the luscious and compelling actor Michaela Conlin, Angela is the heart of the series, a character who bridges the gap between science and art, plain-spokenness and scholarship; and between the two main characters, genius anthropologist Temperance “Bones” Brennan and by-the-gut FBI agent Seeley Booth.
Angela is also an openly bisexual woman who has loved both women and men during the show’s 12 seasons, never hiding or feeling forced to label herself. And when she did finally commit to one person (who happened to be a male scientist in the lab, Dr. Jack Hodgins), there was no waffling, no angsty tropes about being pinned down, no wild sexual acrobatics to prove that bi women are the most sexually experienced of all creatures. She just fell in love.
Each week, Angela works miracles doing forensic facial reconstructions and creating 3D renderings of crime scenes that help the team solve how the murder took place. After five seasons of dating — including a committed live-in relationship with a woman, Roxie — Angela married Hodgins and gave birth to their son. Last season, she dealt with something else rarely seen on TV: being the partner of someone suddenly disabled, coping with her spouse’s anger and grief while managing to keep herself buoyed. At times, it was brutal to watch. As the show wraps up, we spoke with Conlin — who is also one of the few Asian-American women on prime-time TV — about Angela’s evolution.
That first season, did you have any idea where Angela could and would go?
No, we had no idea that the show was even going to get a full season. I did know that Angela’s sexuality was such a big part of that character. She was very comfortable with herself. The opening shot of the series is her flashing her boobs, but in a way that she knows that it’s ridiculous. But she does it begrudgingly in order to get information, which I liked immediately. It wasn’t done in a cheesy way. It was like, I’ll do this so it can get me something, but that’s the only reason. The way that she was introduced in the beginning was very strong. I knew that that was part of her. But I certainly didn’t know that she was going to have all of these relationships. It’s been a great journey.
Now she’s the partner to someone with a sudden disability. Where did you pull inspiration from for last season?
I spoke to two women that I know, that are sort of friends of my family, peripheral family friends, who are in a similar situation. I spoke to the writers a little bit about it but I felt like they really got it. Really, the only thing [actor T.J. Thyne, who plays Hodgins] and I wanted was to make sure that the story line was not resolved quickly. That it wasn’t just in one episode, and then he was out of the wheelchair and everything was fine. The women that I spoke to really — the effect on their marriages, seemed initially to be pretty big. It didn’t, obviously, just impact the person that was disabled, but the whole family. [Hodgins] really was angry with her, even though he was really angry at himself. I was really happy with the way that they allowed us to feel a lot of different things.
Bones was a rarity in TV crime series, because women made up much of the cast, and both of the big bosses — Caroline for Booth, and Dr. Saroyan for Bones — were women. Did that impact your work on set?
Interestingly, on our set the offices for the women — Brennan’s office and Camille Saroyan’s office and Angela’s office — were much larger than [the men’s]. I don’t even think Hodgins had an office; he had a room. I remember the first season thinking, Well, this is unusual, this is definitely not the norm. And that was 12 years ago. That was a long time ago for network television. The first scene in the show is with two women. The lead of the show is not only a woman but she is a very strong woman. I think the bosses on the show — I really like that those characters get to call the shots. I mean, what a breath of fresh air!
I don’t hear many critics talk about what it really means to have a heavy female cast on a crime procedural.
Yes, it’s true. And that stuff really gets in, you know, it gets in unconsciously without people even realizing it. That’s something I’ve realized over the years, because so many young girls stop me now — because they’ve been watching the show on Netflix. It’s really amazing to hear them all talk about that they love seeing this lady scientist, or that now they want to study forensic anthropology. It’s kind of amazing. It’s the coolest thing.
At one point Angela struggles with what she thought she was going to do, and then eventually finds great meaning in what she is doing. Did you see any parallels with your own life?
Yes and no. The only thing I’ve ever wanted to do was be an actor, which seems like such a cheesy thing to say, but it really is true. I haven’t been confused in that arena of my life. But I think all of us, as we get older, our ideas of who we thought we were and what we wanted change. Everyone on Bones is such an expert, and they all have all of these degrees and they’re really, you know, they’re overqualified. Angela rolls in and doesn’t have any of those things. The audience, I feel, always got to breathe a little bit through her character [and] that she didn’t know the answer to everything. I felt like the audience watching at home could be like, Yeah, what the hell does stenographical algorithm mean?
Angela’s one of the best bisexual characters in TV history because she’s treated like every other woman on the show. I’m wondering, what does that kind of legacy mean to you?
Well, I will say I don’t feel that there’s enough visibility with bisexual characters on TV at all. When they are portrayed it always — I feel like it’s meant to show me that they’re bisexual, rather than just having them be bisexual. Hart Hanson — who created the show and was running the show at that time that that [the Roxie] storyline came about — really treated it as any other relationship on the show. The other characters were happy for Angela. They didn’t comment on the fact that who she loved was not a man. It’s very normal. That, to me, was such a relief. Network TV … doesn’t always get [that] right. How do I feel about getting to do that? I feel really lucky to have gotten to do a lot of the things that Angela did. She’s so brave and strong and honest. I haven’t thought of it in the context of playing someone that was bisexual. I think it was just being able to play someone who was free enough and strong enough to love who she loved, and that’s it. There was no thought about the fact that it was a woman or a man.
Angela’s philosophy is that you love who you love and it’s not gender-based. So, where are you in that? Because we don’t hear a lot about your personal life in the media.
I don’t talk about it very often in the media. I probably won’t talk about it here either. As much as I love this interview, and I do, I just don’t know if it’s important to talk about that, so I’m going to pass on that.
The show’s been consistent at not portraying queer people as victims. Even in the trans woman pastor episode, everybody thinks that it’s leading up to, he killed his girlfriend because he found out she was identified male at birth. But, instead, he’s like, “No, I completely knew about her history and I loved her. She was all woman.”
It’s so nice that you guys know about these very subtle things, because I do so many interviews and people just don’t see those things. Without sounding corny, I think we have such a group of decent human beings — Hart and the show runners that followed him. Whoever is at the top kind of determines how things go in a room and on set. I’m not sure who wrote the episode that you’re talking about, but our current show runners are the same way. They make it come from a very grounded place, which after 235 episodes or whatever we did, is kind of a tall order, every week.
You’ve been Angela for over a decade. Are you ready to move on?
Yes, I think I am. Those characters — I think every actor will say this, but certainly after playing something for so long — they’re just in you. There are definitely things she’s done that have rubbed off on me. Like just blurting out the truth. I remember when I started the show, I was like, Oh, my God, Angela should be thinking this and not saying it! Over the years, that’s definitely become more a part of my personality. But part of me never wants to let her go, because I’m so inspired by who she is. But all good things, you know, they must end, at least for now — who knows with this show? I feel lucky to have gotten to play her for so long and gotten to do so much. But, I think we’re all ready for change.