Sometimes, a series comes along that’s so emotionally resonant, joyous and lively, with love seeping out of every narrative pore. Enter Prime Video’s A League of Their Own, a show that may take its name from the 1992 film starring Geena Davis and Tom Hanks, but it truly stands in a (forgive me) league of its own. This series is unadulterated heart, showing us the diversified, inclusive and queer world that has always existed. It shines a dazzling spotlight on the stories you might not know from when women played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League because the men were fighting in WWII.
I had the privilege of chatting with series regular Lea Robinson (pronounced “Lee”), who portrays Bertie Hart, the nurturing uncle/mentor of Max Chapman (Chanté Adams). Bertie guides Max on a journey to self-discovery, and their relationship is one of the beating hearts of A League of Their Own.
Lea and I discussed their origins, increasing visibility in media as a Black, queer, trans and non-binary person, what they hope audiences take away from Bertie’s story and more.
This interview is condensed for length and clarity.
Lea Robinson on Their Origin Story
Melody McCune: We at Geek Girl Authority love a good origin story. What’s Lea Robinson’s origin story?
Lea Robinson: I grew up as a Black queer kid in Kentucky. I had a great family of siblings and parents that loved me a lot but sometimes weren’t quite ready for the queerness. That can be a big thing for our families. For queer people, that’s sometimes a challenge. I’m happy to report everybody is amazing and loves me. They’re all on board and have been a huge inspiration and part of my life and everything I do.
As a young person, I was athletic and played women’s basketball. I knew that was how I was going to get to college. So, I got a scholarship, played women’s basketball and coached. I started to have these moments of thinking about being queer.
I always knew I was different when I was little. I didn’t feel like I fit in. I’ve been a huge fan of television and movies from a young age because that was a way for me to escape. That was a way for me to watch these shows and imagine myself as the leading man and utilize those spaces in my mind to navigate some of the harder stuff when I was little.
I was coaching women’s basketball for a few decades and decided I needed to explore the other side of myself. I needed to come out, I needed to be out, I needed to be open. I did that, and that was very difficult but important for a lot of the student athletes in my life. As a direct tie-in to the show, there were so many lesbians and queer student athletes and students, and coming out for me then was powerful. It felt like a responsibility to them.
I went back to graduate school because I was like, “I need to have access to more people. I love the work I do with student athletes. I want to be visible as a Black queer person, to navigate these intersecting identities that my students would have.” So, I returned to grad school and got a master’s in education. Then, I started working on college campuses with LGBTQ+ students specifically.
I was always an actor. When I was younger, I did my first school play and fell in love with it. I didn’t go back to acting for a while. As an adult, it was really challenging as a non-binary, queer trans person of color to navigate those spaces in those rooms. But I continued to push through some of that and stick with it.
It became important for me for visibility. I can remember thinking back to how important it would’ve been for me to see someone that looked like me when I was little on television. It’s been hard sometimes, and it’s hard to fit in sometimes. It’s driven me to stay in the game for opportunities like the role of a lifetime — playing Bertie in A League of Their Own.
It took a lot of work and time to get there. But now, it feels like the industry is turning toward being more inclusive. It’s exciting to be a part of it.
MM: That’s a great origin story. I love it. Let’s talk about A League of Their Own. How did you get involved with the project?
LR: I was in Lena Waithe‘s Twenties. I was shooting two episodes of that; I was in between episodes, and my manager was like, “I have this great role for you. I’m going to submit you for it. It’s really exciting.”
I remembered that movie (A League of Their Own). I wondered what role I would be auditioning for with this. The moment I got the script and character description, I immediately fell in love with Bertie. I fell in love with this project. I needed so deeply and wanted so deeply to be a part of it.
That’s when I first got my hands on the script and understood what the writers and creators were trying to do. I knew it was going to be something pretty special.
Preparing for Bertie
MM: How did you get into the headspace to play Bertie? Was there a lot of research that went into the time period?
LR: Absolutely. I did a lot of research on what it was like at that time for a Black person in that region. That’s a huge part of my history, anyway. So, it wasn’t a huge stretch to dig into those things. But I also researched histories of trans, gender non-conforming and non-binary people, specifically of color, and what life was like.
Along with the research I did and anything I could get my hands on to read or watch, I had conversations with my parents. Getting an idea of their experiences as Black people, as Brown people in Kentucky — different regions, but similar.
Then, with their parents, what was the overall experience of this particular identity in that time. My parents had such great stories and experiences. My dad talked of being in small towns that were like sunset towns. You don’t want to be in these towns after sunset. My dad told me stories about those.
I was able to have conversations about the race part of that, but also remembering when I was little, sitting on a porch and watching the gay person walk by with all the responses and reactions. I grew up with a clear understanding of what it meant to be different. So, it was thinking about those things along with sitting with Bertie.
I’m sitting with Bertie, who Bertie was, and listening to ancestors — anyone who came through to help guide me with preparing for and feeling grounded in this role. From the first audition to the last scene I shot with Bertie, it’s been a process. It’s been ongoing. I’ve seen new things and heard new things. Even watching the show now, there are different levels of Bertie that I see and feel.
I included what the writers and creators already provided [as to] who Bertie was in the story. It was a fruitful experience to think about who Bertie is and was.
MM: Do you have a favorite scene or a filming highlight from the show?
LR: I love all of the scenes.
MM: I do too.
LR: I love all of them. From the beginning of meeting Max to the end of connecting with Toni (Saidah Arrika Ekulona) in that way, there was so much love in that scene. There was a lot of pain, but there was a lot of love. And all the scenes with Max in this process of getting to know Max. Max coming into this community and watching Max become their own person with their own tastes and likes. Watching Max fall in love with someone. All of it was good. And those outfits!
MM: Bertie looked so sharp.
LR: So many highlights. Dressing Bertie every day, the process of our wardrobe session and fitting sessions that lasted for hours of putting things on for scenes. Moving this kerchief there, putting this belt and this key chain here. It was fitting because that’s what Bertie does. Bertie creates beautiful clothing. So, to go through this process of creating the character visually, and then coming to my trailer and being like, “Okay. What scene are we shooting today? Oh, wow. I get to wear the red suit.”
There were so many amazing things about the process. I’d say being able to step into Bertie every day was the best. It was a very collaborative process from start to finish.
Working With Chanté Adams
MM: What was it like working with Chanté Adams and establishing that bond between Bertie and Max?
LR: Chanté Adams is one of the most talented actors I’ve ever worked with. One of the most generous, kind, down-to-earth people with the best laugh and smile I’ve ever met. It was such an honor to work with Chanté. I got to meet Chanté’s family, and they’re amazing. I immediately felt like I was standing with my family. That’s how warm and supportive they were.
To create that relationship with her, Bertie and Max, was magic. It wasn’t a stretch to do a scene. When actors are in that “zone,” it very much felt like that every single time we worked together. It was lots of fun.
MM: I think that really translated well onscreen. You could definitely see it. So, you touched on this earlier with that scene with Bertie and Toni. Do you think if there’s a Season 2, we might see them mend fences?
LR: I hope so because there is so much in that relationship. So much pain, hurt, love, trauma and healing need to be done. There’s a history. Bertie left, and how Toni felt. A lot of that stuff on the steps was Bertie’s first time hearing some of that. Bertie wants to hold that space with Toni, I think, and wants Toni to talk about what that experience was for her and reconnect. At that moment, they’re more focused on Max. I hope there’s time for that if there’s a Season 2.
MM: Fingers crossed. Describe this season using three words.
LR: Holy crap, y’all.
MM: That’s perfect. I think that’s a great way to describe it. What do you hope audiences take away from Bertie’s story?
LR: I hope people are moved by Bertie’s story. I hope people see something in Bertie’s story that inspires them that maybe they can relate to. That encourages them to know that, “You’re not here alone; there are other people in this world like you. You’re perfect. You belong here.” I hope folks see and recognize it. That it means something to them.
The outpouring of appreciation and love for Bertie has been beautiful. I’ve heard things from, “I’ve never seen anything like this on television. I needed to see this. Thank you, ” and, “What a beautiful character, and go, Bertie. Love Bertie. Lots of love for Bertie.” It makes me so happy because I wanted Bertie to have a voice. The Berties in this world deserve to have a voice and be seen because they hadn’t been heard or seen.
That’s what I hope folks walk away with — seeing Bertie for who Bertie is. With all the other relationships being seen on this show, some awareness is being raised. Folks talking to each other about what they’ve seen on the screen, and maybe they knew that that existed, maybe they didn’t. Maybe folks are seeing themselves reflected. Maybe folks are seeing something new and they’re curious and they want to know more. So, those are all my hopes for it. I think the show is doing just that.
MM: If there’s a Season 2, is there anything in particular with Bertie you would like to explore?
LR: I think with all of Bertie’s relationships — Gracie (Patrice Covington), Toni, Max — there’s so much more to explore. I would say more of those relationships, more opportunities to know who Bertie is to Toni and who Toni is to Bertie, and Gracie and Max. You know what? The sky is the limit. Let’s talk about all parts of who Bertie is and was. Some flashback scenes of little Bertie.
MM: Oh, I would love some flashback scenes.
LR: I’m here for it. All of it.
MM: Are you a fan of baseball?
LR: I was a basketball player because I couldn’t hit the ball. I would swing and the bat would go flying over into the stands and it was always tricky for me. But I am a fan after being a part of this project. I’m getting to know more about baseball. We had a big celebrity baseball game in LA for A League of Their Own a few weeks ago.
MM: That’s awesome.
LR: They had me on third base. I was terrified, but I learned a bit more. So yes, to answer your question, a rising fan.
MM: What else is on the horizon for you, career-wise?
LR: I am just working and auditioning. I am also a writer and have a feature film I’ve been working on with this organization called Stowe Story Labs, which takes in writers, artists and documentarians and helps you flesh out your work and get it seen. I have this feature called Night Guards. It’s about these two trans queer POCs of my age, 40s-50s and up, who are night guards for this biotech organization when the zombie apocalypse breaks out.
MM: I love that!
LR: I’m really excited about it. We’re looking for someone to produce it. Along with that, I have my own business, be diversity. I do work around bias and discrimination. I go into organizations and help folks identify bias, explicit bias, implicit bias and how to interrupt it. To create more inclusive spaces for each other, whether in your job, school and community. With those two things, it’s pretty busy. Also, auditioning and making moves. It’s a really exciting time.
MM: What are your favorite film genres and/or universes?
LR: I’m a horror movie fanatic. Anything scary or found footage. I’m a big fan of The Conjuring universe. A big Marvel fan. I know that’s not necessarily horror but in that realm. Anything Jordan Peele.
MM: Lea, thank you so much for chatting with me today! Congratulations on everything. I am definitely going to rewatch A League of Their Own in perpetuity. I love it so much.
LR: It’s so great to meet you. Thank you!
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