Welcome back to L world: can't wait for The L Word to get its sexy motor purring again? Neither can we. Revving us up are stars Katherine Moennig, Leisha Hailey, and Erin Daniels, who provide the scoop on new twists, on camera and off.
"Oh, that scene will forever live in infamy," says Daniels, who plays the slightly goofy, now-out tennis player Dana Fairbanks. After splitting up with her cute girlfriend, Lara the Soup Chef (a misapprehension of the restaurant term sous-chef), Dana attended a boat party and drank herself to the point of puking--but not before doing a booty-shaking, arm-flinging extrava-dance-za.
"Dana's really getting down with her bad self," said Tina (Laurel Holloman).
"Yeah, and I bet her bad self is going to feel real bad in the morning," responded Tina's girlfriend, Bette (Jennifer Beals).
"I had so much fun doing it, but I'm so embarrassed to dance in public now," says St. Louis-born Daniels, 31, whose previous credits included One Hour Photo and the TV series Boomtown. This season, though, Daniels believes the Dance will recede into ancient history--especially after viewers see her in flagrante delicto during some kinky-funny sex scenes she cannot yet reveal. "Let me just say that after some of those scenes, no one will even remember the Dana Dance," she says. "They'll say, 'Dana Dance what? All I remember is that I saw the hmmhmm-hmm ...'"
The L Word promises plenty of hmm-hmm-hmm during season 2, set to premiere on Sunday, February 20. Much of the action comes courtesy of our trio of cover gals: Daniels, Leisha Hailey, and Kate Moennig. In season 1, the three often played Sappho's Greek chorus, sitting around at the Planet cafe in West Hollywood and commenting on the sleazy doings of sexually confused writer Jenny Schecter (Mia Kirshner) and va-va-voom Planet proprietor Marina Ferret (Karina Lombard). As the season wound down, the three observers took on increasingly dramatic and emotional story arcs of their own, and in season 2 they take things even further.
"Their characters just demanded more screen time because they became more interesting," says series creator Ilene Chaiken. "They've moved from Greek chorus to foreground narrative, and their three stories are among the bigger ones this season."
Hailey's Alice Pieszecki--the bisexual journalist who didn't seem to do much writing last season ("They didn't work on Friends either," she laughs)won't just be delivering her usual quick-witted jibes. "Alice is a lot more vulnerable--more human, with more depth, more feeling," says Nebraska-raised Hailey, 34, the only out lesbian east member, who was previously known more as a musician (the Murmurs) and as k.d. lang's former longtime girlfriend than as the fabulous comic actor she's turned out to be.
"It's a little bit darker this season," adds Daniels, whom we last saw passionately kissing Hailey (even though Dana and Alice are supposed to be platonic best friends), which makes us wonder just how far they'll take their "friendship" this go-round. "Bette and--Tina were going through something sort of nasty at the end of last season [like, Bette totally betrayed Tina with another gal] and you'll see how that plays out. You'll see the spirally Jenny, of course--because that's what Jenny does best. And you see Shane struggle with actually having feelings, which really scares her."
Among a cast of gorgeous women--and let's not forget the fierce and iconic Pam Grier as Bette's older half-sister, Kit--the rakish "fuck 'em and leave 'em" hairdresser Shane McCutcheon, played by Moennig, proved to be the biggest dyke heartthrob of season 1.
"Is she really?" says Moennig with the humble surprise of someone who must have been living in a bubble the past year. "That's very flattering to hear. The first character description on the pilot episode was 'sexy, androgynous,' so I'm glad people think that."
For Moennig, the 28-year-old from Philly who's Gwyneth Paltrow's first cousin, acting the tomboy isn't much of a stretch; she previously played androgynous Jake in the TV series Young Americans and a transsexual on an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. "Yeah, I have no hips, and I feel like my body's like a teenage boy's," she affirms. "But I can have the hair long, put on makeup, wear a dress, and do the exact opposite as well."
And don't confuse Moennig's own personality with that of Shane's. "I don't fear commitment and people in my world getting too close," she says.
If there's one thing all the actors share with their characters, it's a remarkable sense of community and camaraderie. In real life they've become sorority sister's of sorts, spending nearly six months a year together filming the series in Vancouver, Canada. Moennig expected something far different.
"I was in New York at the time, with that New York snobbism, and I thought, Oh, God, eight women firm Los Angeles," she sneers. "And I couldn't have been more wrong. I was so blown away by how grounded and dedicated these women are. They're proud of the show, they want to make these characters believable, and everyone's on the same level. Which is why I think our friendship and our bond is so strong--no one's ever bigger or higher."
During the second-season shoot, Moennig shared a beach house with Halley, Kirshner, and their dogs. "Erin lived two doors down on the same street, Jennifer didn't live far away," says Halley. (She and her girlfriend in Los Angeles follow the "two-week rule," going no longer than that without seeing each other.) "Kate's the movie watcher, Mia's the shopper, Jennifer is the one to get us out hiking in the wilderness. And Erin is the go-out-to-eat girl--she likes fancy restaurants. Mia likes hippie restaurants. Kate eats anything.
"I think what makes this show so special is that we are so close," Halley continues. "When I watch the pilot and that scene when we're talking about waxing [Dana: "What do you guys think about butt waxing?" Tina: "Who has hair on their butt?" Alice: "At least I don't anymore."] I can tell that we're playing the part of best friends. It was our first day at work! But now it is that way--it's almost like we're mimicking our own lives in group scenes."
From a lesbian viewer's perspective, the cast of The L Word is mimicking our own lives, and that fact remains a marvel. Who would have imagined just a year ago that even cable television would be so bold as to produce a no-apologies, no-holds-barred lesbian drama with loads of nudity and sex? At least Chaiken, a TV exec and producer who also wrote the Golden Globe-winning Robert Mapplethorpe courtroom drama Dicey Pictures for Showtime, did.
"It was a radical idea, it was absurd," she admits. But after penning a 5,000-word piece for Los Angeles magazine in 1999 on the gayby boom, she put together a treatment for a lesbian ensemble drama. Shortly thereafter, she says, "I put it aside because it was clear there was no receptivity whatsoever."
Then Will & Grace took off. Queer as Folk became a big hit for Showtime. Chaiken reworked her pitch and presented it to a high-ranking Showtime exec, and he said, "We've got to do this."
The 2002 pilot was called Earthlings, and in it Pam Grier played a rather bohemian lesbian who videotaped her friends and tattooed on herself a family tree of their relationships. Even Chaiken admits the oddball character just didn't work. Then Chaiken had "a wild idea: Pam Grier is not a lesbian." Instead she became a more glamorous performer and recovering alcoholic, and voila, the pilot caught fire. Once the show finally made it to the small screen it was an instant success, and Showtime renewed it faster than any series in its history.
This season, Jenny's boyfriend Tim (Eric Mabius) will soon be gone, as will the smoldering Karina Lombard. "Her story was played out," Chaiken says diplomatically. "She was a fabulous character in season 1, and I will refrain to comment on personal matters. She's a beautiful woman and a sweet girl, and I wish her well." Daniels offers a more telling assessment: "I think there were a lot of differences of opinion, and the chemistry didn't work. But I thought she did a great job playing the part, and it was really too bad because I think her character will be missed."
The new lesbian-playing cast members are Sarah Shahi as the steamy Carmen, a love interest for more than one of the women, and Rachel Shelley as Helena Peabody, daughter of art patron Peggy Peabody (played last season by Holland Taylor). Returning, if only for an episode or a few, will be Kelly Lynch as Ivan, Anne Ramsay as Jenny's girlfriend Robin, and Dana's obnoxious "fiancee" Tonya (Meredith McGeachie)--a part Daniels says was originally slated for comedian Margaret Cho, who was too busy to commit. Rumor has it even the sous chef (Lauren Lee Smith) will reappear, as will many well-known actors in short stints [see "Guest Gals" below].
The show appeals to all genders and sexualities, according to Chaiken. "I know straight men watch the show-and we all know why they might like it," she says. "Gay women are the most diverse in their reactions, because they claim the show. Gay men have really embraced the show in an incredibly heartening way--a lot of them say they feel more represented than elsewhere, even though there haven't been a lot of gay men on the show. They're not so interested in watching women have sex, but they're interested in the wit and the drama."
"Gay women and gay men are always coming up and thanking me and the rest of the cast for doing the show," says Halley. "And I completely understand what they mean because it's exciting to have our community on TV. With straight girls, they usually come up to me, almost as if it's a little secret, and they'll whisper, 'I really like your show.'"
"Straight women," says Chaiken, "feel represented as women. The fact that the characters are gay is secondary: These are women who are self-determined, who have agency." Indeed, in our astonishment over having a series focused on lesbians, we mustn't forget how rare it is just to have a series focused on women period, who aren't either bimbos, desperate housewives, or golden gifts.
Of course the individual actors draw their own particular fans. Asked to speculate on what sorts of women would be attracted to each of their characters, our three cover girls give intriguing responses.
"The straight ones," says Daniels. "At least the ones who say that they're straight, who have the 2.5 children and live in their houses in Connecticut. Because Dana's totally nonthreatening."
"Of course Erin would say that," says Halley with a hearty laugh. (Daniels is the most apologetically straight woman in the cast--"I wish I was more gay," she laments.) "I feel like a butchy woman would be attracted to Alice because she's so feminine. No, wait, that's bullshit--I totally take that back! I just went for the typical answer. I feel like Alice could be the perfect girl for any straight or gay woman to go for because she feels safe, in a way, for experimenting with your sexuality, since she is [experimental] herself."
As for Shane, Moennig speculates she'd attract someone with a grounded sense of self--"plus a lot of girlish insecurities. You're always attracted to someone you want to learn from."
Moennig says she learns a lot playing the character--"It's very interesting how life imitates art and art imitates life; I find whenever I read scenes of some magnitude, I'm like, Oh, I feel like I've experienced this, or I am experiencing this, or I might start to experience it soon." But she won't discuss her sexuality for public consumption. Asked where she'd rate herself on the Kinsey scale--Daniels gives herself a 2, Halley a 6 on the 0 to 6 spectrum, 6 being gayest--Moennig demurs.
"Oh, no, I hate the Kinsey scale, I won't do that," she says definitively. "I think it's a subliminal question for other things. Your personal life is your personal life, and we work just as hard at that as we do in our professional life. We [actors] want to keep that personal life sacred, because that's what's most important at the end of the day. When I'm talking about the show I'm not sitting there talking about myself, I'm talking about this project. That's what I'm proud of."
She will say, though, that she's learned a great lesson about the gay community from being on The L Word. "I've teamed that love is love, and that's what makes this world go round. Everyone on this planet has that same agreement--that's what we're all looking for, that's what makes our hearts beat faster, and that's what the show has taught me. It doesn't matter who you love, as long as you have that in your life and your heart. It's what makes you feel alive."
Hailey, the only out cast member among both stars and guest stars, has taken similar notes from her character's bisexuality. "When I thought of bisexuals before, I just didn't understand. I thought, There's no way you can just switch your sexuality like that. But I get it now, I get it. It's just about love and people. It's actually a really beautiful concept."
And that sort of enlightened attitude--love is love is love--is perhaps why the actors so bravely and believably pull off the nudity and sex on the show. "You have to let go of your self-consciousness, because it's not you--it's the character," says Daniels. "I'm doing something for a lover that she's asked me to do, that she's going to enjoy. Once you get into it, you just have to let go of every inhibition you have--and protect yourself, of course--but you have to be committed, otherwise it will look bad."
Women tend to be more protective of each other in sex scenes, says Moennig. "I think there's a common sensibility. It's something easy to discuss, if someone wants [a body part] covered. I never felt that one person was trying to overshadow the other--it was just this nice effort to prolong the story line and to understand these two characters. We're just really respectful of one another, and we want each other to look good."
By the end of last season, we thought we'd almost seen it all on The L Word--threesomes, drag kings, inseminations, betrayals, bisexuality, even heterosexuality. But not to worry, there's plenty left for season 2 and hopefully for many other seasons to come. Leisha Halley, for one, isn't at all worried about the show being able to top itself.
"Oh, that's not a problem at all," she says. "C'mon, there's so much dyke drama to be had! We're not even close to being done."
Kort is author of Dinah! Three Decades of Sex, Golf, and Rock 'n' Roll and senior editor at Ms. magazine.
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|Publication:||The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)|
|Article Type:||Cover Story|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2005|
|Previous Article:||Standing my gay ground.|
|Next Article:||Are we visible yet? We're seeing more lesbian characters on TV, but for some critics, they're just a disappointing rehash of stereotypes.|