There's one show on TV that gets the most lesbian adoration and no, it's not Glee or Pretty Little Liars. It's TNT's Rizzoli & Isles, a police procedural that is unlike anything else and stars Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander. Gay and bi women helped turn the show — returning for its third season Tuesday — into what AfterEllen aptly called a "lesbian buddy cop show that just doesn't know it yet." We caught up with Alexander, who plays Dr. Maura Isles, a Boston medical examiner, to find out if the lesbian teases are intentional, why she left NCIS, and what's in store for season three of R&I.
The Advocate: All the girls in the office here love Rizzoli & Isles. Let's talk about your character, Maura.
Sasha Alexander: Thank you. Absolutely.
I love that she’s oddly awkward around nearly everybody except Jane [Rizzoli, the police officer played by Harmon]. What part of the character do you identify with?
[Laughs] Well, it’s funny because I so enjoy playing her, and I think as you get down the road of playing a character you start to realize what are the parts that excite you. And for her, it’s, What is she thinking about? She’s got so much going on, and I like the fact that there’s this kind of innocence, this kind of almost naïveté or sort of enthusiasm for all subjects and all things. And I’m kind of like that. I’m really interested in all things of the world, people, and cultures. I like information. I like people who have information. I enjoy talking to people like that, and my parents are like that.
I think that we all have a little bit of that, that part of us. I am now, in this stage in my life, a much more outgoing person than I was as a child or in my teens. You know, my parents were both immigrants in this country and they spoke another language, and I remember feeling like a little bit of an outcast, like, Don’t speak any languages in front of my friends.
A classic first-generation kid.
Absolutely. And I think that we all have, whatever it may be, that thing that made us feel like a bit of an outcast and not fully comfortable. I like the fact that she is comfortable with Jane and comfortable with certain people but not with all. I like that part of her. I look at that part as like a huge strength, you know, sometimes I don’t know how to explain it. So I like that, and it’s different than who I am, for sure. Um, but I can really relate to her because there’s a huge freedom in playing somebody who doesn’t, who’s not really seeking to be liked. That’s not at the forefront of what she’s thinking about. And so there isn’t any of that. Like even with her beautiful clothes, there’s not really a whole lot of vanity involved in that. It’s just that this is how she’s raised; this is what she enjoys. This is her uniform.
When you have a character and you start seeing there are elements of her that you like, that you really like bringing out, do you end up emphasizing them more? Do you bring them out more because you’re drawn to them?
I think so. I think it’s natural that you do. I mean, for me, I know that the things that started to come out ended up being a dialogue with our creator, Janet Tamaro, and one of those things was that this woman does have this really sort of offbeat sense of humor. That she doesn’t really get the joke. That she is not really in step with everyone at every moment. And so it’s a tough line to toe when sometimes the joke is on you. Like, how do I not make her be the idiot savant? In a way, it’s like people are laughing at certain things that she’s not getting, and how do you do that? How, how do you keep that likeable and not ditsy? How do you keep that smart? There’s definitely a line, but I feel like between the writing and between my interpretation of that, we’re able to do it.
A lot of people have asked whether Maura might have Asperger’s syndrome, which is similar to autism. Have you encountered that theory?
I have. I’ll tell you what, that started from me — when I asked Janet Tamaro, “Does she have a form of Asperger’s?” — it was in the second episode of the entire series where Maura goes on a date with a guy when she starts to feel his skin and she diagnoses him with a very rare skin disease. And that scene, to me ... it was just so weird. When I looked at it I thought, Oh, my God, there’s something not OK with her. Like the fact that she’s on this date, she looks great, and she’s there in front of this person that she’s interested in, but it’s more important for her to diagnose the man than it is for anything else. That was the moment I asked Janet. There wasn’t really a definitive answer to that. I don’t think she decided on it, but I definitely think that from a social aspect, there are forms of Asperger’s that are just socially related. And a lot of people who do have Asperger’s or different forms of autism are highly intelligent people whose brain is more scientific.
Absolutely. People with autism spectrum disorders are actually watching the character Maura, kind of finding some strength and visibility based on how they perceive her.
You know what? I am so proud of the fact that I get to play a character on a show that gives out positive messages and positive presentation of, in this instance, Asperger’s, but also there’s so many people that have responded to the fact that this is a woman who’s technically a science nerd, who is making that job look a lot more glamorous. I’ve had a lot of young people and educational magazines respond to the fact that they’re getting a lot younger girls saying, “Well, I’m really good at science and I like the fact that she’s like that.” And if I can put out or do anything on my end to be part of something that sends out positive representations of not just a woman but anybody that suffers from anything, then I am so grateful to be able to do that. We’ve been sort of seeing in terms of even a lot of gay suicides this year or the bullying that’s been going on that I find so heart-wrenchingly sad because somebody wasn’t given the opportunity to just feel a part of the world.