Angela Gulner, a Los Angeles-based actress and writer, created Binge, a dark comedy about a young woman with bulimia. The show, which is based on Gulner’s own experience with an eating disorder, is a breath of fresh air. It's part of a new generation of film and TV that portrays those with mental illnesses as complete people; they’re more than their struggles. To tell this story on her own timeline, Gulner wrote and independently produced the pilot of Binge along with Yuri Baranovsky. This week, her team launched a crowdfunding campaign to make a full first season of the series.
I caught up with her on the phone to talk about Binge, eating disorders, and why she loves not having a breakfast routine.
Extra Crispy: In Binge, you play Angela, a young woman with bulimia. Why did you want to tell this story?
Angela Gulner: It’s based on my journey. I actually went to [eating disorder] treatment twice, but the time that really worked was about five years ago. I did a PHP [partial hospitalization program] where I’d go six days a week, six to eight hours a day, and then I would go home at night. So I was living this bizarre double life, where I was in rehab during the day, but at night I was living in Los Angeles trying to be a normal person. I remember feeling so in between worlds, I couldn’t figure out where I belonged. I had a lot of conversations with friends during that time about this and realized that most people don’t know what it’s like to be in treatment. And so much of what I was experiencing was deeply funny—in a very sad way, but still really funny; I’d come home and tell my roommate stories.
When I got out of treatment was the same time I started to get really frustrated with trying to be an actor in Los Angeles. It felt like it was impossible to get a leg up—I couldn’t get representation or auditions for anything that could make a difference, or the roles I was going out for were insulting. It felt like the perfect time to write something for myself. [My eating disorder] felt like the most obvious thing to write about.
Your character Angela is a pastry chef who clearly loves making and eating food. Can you talk about why you wanted to create a character with this kind of relationship towards food?
I’m not a pastry chef, but I worked at Cold Stone [Creamery] during one summer that was particularly terrible [for my eating disorder]… thinking very sick things in my head. Then I’d go back into the freezer and I’d pocket all the frozen cookie dough or shove graham crackers into my mouth. So I’d constantly be bingeing, and was surrounded by food.
There’s a big misconception about eating disorders: There’s often a huge fear of food, but when you’re starving, biologically, your brain can only think about food because your body is trying to save itself. A lot of people who struggle with anorexia or restriction will do this thing where they’ll walk the aisles of the grocery store reading nutrition facts or they’ll bake all the time. I’m a terrible cook, but before my eating disorder turned to bulimia, when I was anorexic I would cook constantly and never eat any of it. You want to be surrounded by this thing you’re obsessed with, but your relationship with putting it in your body is really weird. I wanted to show that [in Binge], that it’s just so all-consuming, it infects every area of who you are.
It seems like Binge is sort of a behind-the-scenes look at how the brain of someone with an eating disorder works, which is unique.
I hope that first and foremost [Binge] shows that people who suffer from these illnesses are also full people who are capable of being very high-functioning, smart, fun, funny, and fun to be around. The idea that someone has to be comatose or in a heap on the floor in order to be in pain is really damaging. Every single person I’ve talked to who has had an eating disorder has felt like they weren’t sick enough to deserve help.
Some of the coolest things that have happened after releasing the pilot is that people have reached out and said “I saw myself in this and realized I had a problem.” [People] get so good at hiding eating disorders and addictions that it can be really easy to convince yourself that nothing’s wrong. So if people can see their behaviors reflected on screen, see a character that they empathize with, and think “that character is in pain and needs help; I’m in pain, I need help.” I think it can be a really powerful agent for change.
You’re a working actress, writer, and producer—I imagine that makes for a wonky schedule. We’re a breakfast site, and I have to ask: Do you have a breakfast routine you like to stick to when you’re on set or traveling for work?
Not at all! My breakfasts are so chaotic and all over the place. It’s actually really beautiful for me to be able to not plan. It took me a really long time, probably a full year after leaving treatment to feel safe doing intuitive eating. It’s actually really liberating to wake up and have no idea what I’m going to eat for breakfast and to not really care. It feels really freeing. It kind of depends, like today I picked up a bagel at a doughnut shop on the way in. Sometimes I’ll have a frozen burrito or a peanut butter sandwich. I usually end up eating in the car or on my way somewhere. It’s pretty chaotic, but it’s kind of a beautiful thing to be able to not plan or care.
I totally hear that—one of my biggest fears is meal prep. So I have to know, do you ever make Angela’s “Slutty Brownies”? What are they? Can you share the recipe?
That’s actually one of perks of the [crowdfunding] campaign! You’ll get a recipe card for the "Slutty Brownies". I’m a terrible baker, but we shot at this amazing bakery on the west side of LA that’s actually kind of blown up since we shot there, it’s called B Sweet. We got the idea [for the brownies] from something they make called the “Sluttiest Brownie”. They’re basically everything delicious in a pan and you heat it up.
This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity.