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The Bold Type's Melora Hardin Slays the Dragon Lady Stereotype

The Bold Type's Melora Hardin Slays the Dragon Lady Stereotype

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The co-star of the addictive series on the magazine world talks about portraying a three-dimensional powerhouse very different than Miranda Priestley.

Early on in The Bold Type's second season, Jacqueline Carlyle, the editor-in-chief of the fictional Scarlet magazine and de facto mama bear to the show's trio of young women protagonists, displays a rare moment of ultra-tough love. The doyenne of the magazine -- modeled on former Cosmopolitan editrix Joanna Coles (one of the show's producers) -- denies her main protege Jane the opportunity to return to Scarlet after the young writer impulsively left behind her job for a position at a button-pushing website.

"You need to live in this failure. You can't be afraid of it," Jacqueline tells Jane, whose lip begins to quiver as she realized she's not about to get her job back. "I know this is not what you wanted to hear but this is going to be an invaluable learning experience for you."

From last year's pilot, which combined glossy glamour with thoughtful, socially-conscious themes, it was clear that the fashion-forward editor of Scarlet would eschew the stereotype of the dragon lady boss Hollywood perpetuates, for which The Devil Wears Prada's Miranda Priestley is the gold standard. But Jacqueline, as embodied with warmth and panache by Melora Hardin, turns the hard-wired concept that women don't support each other on its head, a notion that's personal to Hardin.

"My female friends are just incredibly important to me, and every woman I know has female friends that they feel similarly passionate about, but we don't see that on television," Hardin tells The Advocate.

"If you have a woman of power, then she's a bitch. If you have a woman who's in a relationship that's working, then she's broken at work. When she's working at work, she's broken at interpersonal relationships. When she's married, she's not sexy. When she's not sexy, she's married. It's like these very flat pictures about what a woman is, and that women have to scratch and tear and rip each other down in order to have a life and have a career and have a man and all those things, and that's not my experience at all."

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Melora Hardin

As evidenced by her response to Jane's plea to return to Scarlet, even Jacqueline's tough love is dedicated to mentoring the women who look up to her. Considering her commitment to her family, the employees in her charge, and creating the most forward-thinking content possible, Jacqueline has become a template for a gentler, kinder, more modern female Hollywood archetype.

"When I read this pilot script and I had a conversation with Sarah Watson (The Bold Type's creator) about it, I felt very confident that this was going to be doing great things in the world. In particular, women holding people up and women supporting people and other women," Hardin says. "I would never have done this if Jacqueline wasn't the kind of woman that she is, because I'm that kind of woman."

From the moment The Bold Type premiered on Freeform in the summer of 2017, it was apparent that the series sought to move past the gloss of its most obvious predecessor about women making their way in New York City, Sex and the City, to tackle social and political issues.

The show revolves around best friends, Jane (Katie Stevens), the writer, Sutton (Meghann Fahy), the natural in the fashion department, and Kat (Aisha Dee), Scarlet's hyper-capable social media director. But in the show's two seasons they made history introducing television's first lesbian Muslim character -- Kat's girlfriend Adena (Nikohl Boosheri) in a storyline that included Kat coming out as bisexual. In the second season -- which ends tonight with the group headed to Paris for fashion week -- the show tackled Kat's biracial identity, white privilege, gun ownership, frank discussions about oral sex between women, and stories of the #MeToo movement, a storyline in which Jacqueline figured prominently.

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Hardin and Katie Stevens

Prior to the revelations about Harvey Weinstein's serial sexual predations, The Bold Type closed its first season a year ago with an episode entitled "Carry the Weight," in which a performance artist who'd been sexually assaulted stood in Central Park holding weights until another survivor would come along to carry them for her for a while. While Jane (who was writing a story about the project), Sutton, and Kat stand by the artist in solidarity one evening, Jacqueline turns up to take the woman's weights, a bold and vulnerable admission to the women who worked for her that she is a survivor of sexual assault. Eventually, Jacqueline became the focus of Jane's article, putting the face of a strong, accomplished woman on the insidious issue of sexual abuse.

The second season dug deeper with a storyline in which a woman assaulted by Jacqueline's rapist years after she chose not to report the assault, approaches Jane for a story. Hardin says of The Bold Type pointedly addressing sexual abuse ahead of the national conversation about it more "serendipitous" than "psychic," but credits the show for its willingness to face difficult issues head-on by continuing a conversation about the aftermath of sexual abuse.

"It really is a thing that's been going on, you know, since the beginning of time. I think we were extremely conscious in the finale episode [of season one] to handle that really, really well in the most genuine and honest and respectful way, and not to be heavy-handed, but to be really true," Hardin says of the sexual abuse storyline. "We're always looking for ways for Jacqueline to really be a real person because one of the great things about her is that she is a flawed, real woman who is also succeeding."

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Hardin, Meghann Fahy, Stevens, and Aisha Dee

An actress and singer who's been in the business for more than four decades, at 50, Hardin has caught the attention of viewers in roles on The Office and as the butch lesbian ex-girlfriend of Amy Landecker's Sarah on Transparent, a role in which she is virtually unrecognizable from the part she plays on The Bold Type. While Hardin's role on the breakout Amazon series that shines a light on gender and sexuality -- in particular, issues that affect transgender people -- ended in the second season, she credits Transparent with inspiring her to want to choose culturally relevant roles.

"One of the main reasons I signed on to do this show was that I had just come off of Transparent -- one of those amazing shows that really did good things in the world. It really did open people's minds and hearts, and with humor, introduced this idea that trans people are just people too," Hardin says. "I love making great entertainment, but it's really an extra boon when you're making great entertainment that's also doing good things in the world."

Hardin says her relationship with The Bold Type's young stars is not unlike Jacqueline's mentorship of her employees.

"Where I've landed, they are just launching, and that's a wonderful thing to both support and watch and hopefully hold a center that they can queue off of and feel a kind of comfort, and a kind of love, and a kind of strength that Jacqueline holds for them," Hardin says. "And that I try to hold for them as well on set.

"Just as black people and gay people and queer people and trans people all need to see that reflection of themselves in order to feel that they can go toward their genuine self-- that's what women need too."

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