Exclusive: Kathleen Hanna on Voicing Myrna, the Alien Puppet That’ll Rule SXSW

Myrna (Photo by Elizabeth Kitchens)
Myrna (photo by Elizabeth Kitchens)

There’s a scene in Ian Samuels’ surreal, funny, and touching short film Myrna the Monster, which premiered at Sundance and will screen at SXSW next month, where the titular character (played by a puppet) shows up to what she believes to be an audition for a Step Up movie. A more voracious porn fan might have assumed as much based on the word “raw” appearing in the production’s title, but you’ll have to excuse Myrna — she’s new to this planet.

An alien from the dark side of the moon, Myrna was snatched from her home (and the arms of her boyfriend) by American astronauts on an exploratory mission. She’s attempted to make a home in Los Angeles, wandering the streets in search of the answer to just one question: “Is there anyone out there like me?” Our spirit guide on this journey should be a familiar voice to those even peripherally aware of modern punk or third-wave feminism: Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, and The Julie Ruin.

“There is an earnestness about Kathleen and the idiosyncrasies of her voice that feels so Myrna,” Samuels tells Flavorwire. “She’s just sincere no matter what, and both completely confident and endearingly vulnerable at the same time. There’s also a youthful quality about Kathleen, but its layered under someone with life experience. But it wasn’t just Kathleen’s voice — you can’t ignore what she brings subconsciously to the character as an icon — there is something wonderful about this outsider alien figuring it out on our planet channeled through Kathleen’s feminist punk background that just feels right on.”

Myrna, which features a score from members of YACHT, was a new kind of project for Hanna, who’s launched a third act in recent years with The Julie Ruin. Her involvement was encouraged by a friend, Brendan Kennedy of MTV (other), which produced the 14-minute short currently making the film festival rounds. The first time Hanna heard her voice coming out of the Myrna puppet on screen, she started crying.

“It was a bit like when I heard Joan Jett singing lyrics I’d written, and I started crying… except in reverse because I was speaking words someone else had written, but still, I had that feeling of being completely blown away,” Hanna tells Flavorwire. “Not because I was so good in it or anything, but because Ian had allowed me to be a part of his project and thus I got to be a part of Myrna.”

Hanna would love to take on similar acting projects in the future, ideally based in New York. (“I guess the next step in my illustrious acting career would be as an action star in a movie that films in New York,” she jokes. “I don’t really want to car ads or anything!”)

Kathleen Hanna at Sundance for the 'Myrna' premiere.
Kathleen + Myrna

“I wanted to do it because it made me feel scared and nervous, and I thought I’d be really bad at it,” Hanna continues. “Meaning: it seemed like a big challenge. I was so happy I decided to give it a try when I ‘met Myrna.’ I related to her sincerity and vulnerability, and also that she is both socially awkward but still ambitious and craves the limelight. She wants to connect with others desperately but is also independent, going on auditions, playing flute in a dumpster, taking a dance class out of nowhere. Ian wrote such a three-dimensional character, full of contradictions, which of course I could relate to.”

As kitschy as Myrna the Monster sounds, Samuels and Hanna make Myrna easy to empathize with, particularly as she puts herself out there romantically. A crash-course in human mating often devolves into a comedy of errors, as evidenced by the dispatches from Myrna’s Tinder on the following pages. “I liking treating them as absolutely real, in our world, both in terms of character and with the camera,” Samuels says of his interest in puppet protagonists.

When it comes down to it, Samuels is behind the Myrna character: “She’s my alter ego. We share a lot of the same idiosyncrasies, like our dance moves. Myrna took on my baggage as an LA transplant in my late 20’s, hitting dead ends, trying new things, facing my career, relationships… and making mistakes.”

“Visually, she came to me when I was walking downtown and noticed all these creatures just commuting in LA,” Samuels continues. “I thought, if you actually passed by an alien on the streets here, you probably wouldn’t notice. Maybe she’s from out of town, or had some work done, or just rolled out of bed in the middle of the day.”

As we mentioned above, one of Myrna’s challenges on Earth is finding love, and Samuels was kind enough to share some of the character’s adventures on Tinder exclusively with Flavorwire. Click through to check them out, and keep an eye out for more projects starring Myrna in the future.