Maura Could Consider a Lesbian Tryst: Sasha Alexander Talks Rizzoli & Isles

Rizzoli & Isles = the 2010s' Cagney & Lacey? The show's Sasha Alexander weighs in.

BY Diane Anderson-Minshall

June 01 2012 4:10 PM ET

Showcasing working women raising kids is a great thing.
It is. You know, we’ve enjoyed doing these mother-daughter episodes that have these storylines that get to really dive into that.  I was raised by a single mom. I was raised by two women actually, my mother and then my aunt, who was basically my babysitter while my mom went off to work. So I have a really strong female bond. Women are essential to my life. Conversations with women are essential to my life, you know? I’ve spent many of a bad day crawling into my best friend’s bed and crying or eating ice cream. I like that I’m allowed to, on the show, cross the meter between being vulnerable and being feminine and girly and then also being tough and sexually charged with a lot of our male costars or love interests. And so I feel that it has those elements to it. And it’s fun to be able to do that without being censored. I have definitely, in my career in television absolutely been censored. “Don’t get too angry, don’t be too sexy, don’t be too this, don’t be too that,” and it’s like, well, women are those things. [Laughs] Like, what do you mean? Like it’s not attractive for me to get angry? Is it attractive for us to fight? Well, women fight. And then they make up. And so why aren’t we allowed to do those things?

Or allowed to be mad at the shows other primary character for half an episode.
Yeah. And have you be mad not over something that’s petty. We’re not fighting over who looks better in the Alexander McQueen dress. We’re fighting over something substantial and real, that’s important to our life. Whether it’s her brother going to jail or my father that’s shot, whatever it may be, but these things are real things that are changing the characters in profound ways. And clearly the person that you’re close to and is your best friend is going to be able to be on that journey with you.

Now, you’ve had some iconic TV roles from Dawson’s Creek to NCIS to Rizzoli. I’m wondering, are you at the point in your career that you thought you’d be at?
I don’t know. I don’t think I really had an idea of where I thought I would be per se. Because for me it’s really about feeling good about the thing that I’m doing in that moment. I just want to work on things with good people and do good work. And do smart work and do things that I can put out into the world and feel good about looking back. I don’t know if I thought that I would be working in television as much as I have. I remember thinking that, God, I don’t have a small nose and I’m not blond. Like I actually thought like people doing TV, like my face was more European. And I thought, God, Isabella Rossellini is my idol. [Laughs] I thought I was going to make obscure European films and if I wanted to be an actress, I would go to London. I really thought that that’s what my path would be. So it was really funny when I started to get cast in things like Dawson’s because it was so all-American.

I remember when your character on NCIS was killed off, fans were just outraged and series creator Don Bellisario had to come out and say that this is the first time you’d been on a show for over a year and you just didn’t think you had the stamina to do it. Was that true at the time?
No.

[Laughs] That wasn’t true?
It wasn’t. No, but you know what? Well, no, I’m going to take that back. It wasn’t not true. But that is not the reason I left the show.

Why did you leave the show?
It’s complicated. It is. I can’t really talk about it. But what I can tell you is that I had a great time doing it for the two years I was there. I learned a lot. It just wasn’t a place that I wanted to live any further than that. I love the people, love Kate, I loved playing Kate. I think the show is fantastic. I’m proud to have been part of its beginnings, and I, I knew that it would just go on and on and on and will continue to be. It’s a huge international success. And I love Don Bellisario. He is still a dear and close friend of mine. And I think at the time, yeah, it was true. I mean, the show is grueling. Grueling, grueling, grueling! People can’t imagine how grueling — on an average, 17-hour days, 10 and a half months a year — it was really tough. I slept in a hotel room usually three days a week. [Laughs]

Right. 
It was really tough, but that’s not the ultimate reason that I chose to leave the show. And physically challenging? You know what? I was an Olympic-trained ice skater and an athlete my whole life and a dancer. No, that’s not really it. I think that physically I’m working the same on Rizzoli & Isles. And it’s a different show. It’s like an office. Some jobs are better fits for you than others. 

And some of them have an expiration date.
I think what people don’t understand about television is that we often sign seven-year agreements. Before we have ever shot the show. Did you know that? Most people don’t know that. Can you imagine in any other profession if somebody said to you, “You will have to work at this job for the next seven years,” when you’ve never even been to the office. You never met anybody in the office. You know nothing about it. Somebody gave you a little bit of an outline of what your job would be. But that’s basically it.

I think it’s easy for viewers to just say “Ah, I can’t believe she’s leaving the show,” not realizing that youre on the set 17 hours a day. That this is a daily grind the way their job’s a daily grind, except it’s not 9 to 5.
Yeah. And I will tell you one thing about the reason that I have no regrets about leaving NCIS is the fact that I have a beautiful family, and I firmly believe in my heart, I would not be where I am today, with my husband, with my two beautiful children, had I remained there. There’s no way. Because it was impossible. You cannot, as a woman, work that way and still manifest the other things that you want in your life. You can’t do it. Your relationships suffer. Your family suffers. There’s no way. And at some point you do make concessions. It’s just how it is. I mean, it really is.

Lets talk about Rizzoli & Isles again.
We do have boob-grabbing on the set, if that’s what you’re going to ask me. [Laughs]

There is some boob-grabbing?
There is boob-grabbing. Yes.

I need to know about that immediately.
I’m going to admit to the boob-grabbing. [Laughs] Um. Yes, there’s a lot of female love. It makes the men very uncomfortable. It’s like a female locker room.

There seem to be subtle winks to the show’s lesbian fans, like Jane goes undercover at a lesbian bar, the episode where you’re in bed and Jane asks Maura, “Are we having a sleepover, or is this your way of telling me youre attracted to me?” All those little insidery winks that lesbian fans always pick up on.
Well, I think that if Jane were open to it, I think Maura would absolutely experiment because she’s just a little bit more open-minded in that way. But Jane would never. She’s so straight.

Jane doesn’t even like to hear you talk about the people that you’re attracted to. She’ll say, “I’m gagging in my mouth now.”
Yeah. It’s true.

When the show premiered it set a record as the highest-rated debut for a commercial cable series and I think the second-highest for basic cable all over. Do you think the ratings would drop if Maura or Jane did come out as gay?
I don’t think so. I really don’t think so.

Have you ever played the Rizzoli & Isles lesbian drinking game?
[Laughs] I haven’t. I do know of it and I would like to play it but I haven’t.

You take a shot if Rizzoli & Isles stare at each other longer than three seconds, any time you sleep in the same bed, and any time theres adorable bickering between the two of you.
It’s so funny because Angie and I are both very touchy people. So we’ll naturally hold hands. We hug all the time. We’re touchy-feely, like that’s how we are. And so it is kind of funny because when people first started to talk about that, we didn’t even realize we were doing that while we were shooting it. It wasn’t that intentional, I think. But I feel because you have chemistry, even a little bit goes a long way. [Laughs]

I think you’re right there.
But ... we certainly don’t shy away from it. Um. And is it teasing? I don’t know, maybe. You decide. Sometimes. Sometimes not. It depends on what we’re shooting and what it means in that moment.

Janet says that she thinks of Rizzoli and Isles as less Cagney and Lacey and more Kirk and Spock.
Yeah. She said that.

What’s going to surprise us the most about this upcoming season?
You know, I think, I think the writing has just gotten deeper with the characters and there’s just going to be so many more places for us to go and play. I think the show is grittier. I mean that in a good way. I feel like the writing is just going to get deeper, the storylines are, are stronger and much more character-driven. A lot of the characters are going to go through a lot of very interesting new avenues this year. It’ll be very unpredictable.

Unpredictable is good.
Yeah. As you know, the show is not your formulaic kind of CSI where each episode is wrapped up perfectly with a bow and we begin in the squad room and end in the squad room. I mean, it doesn’t happen that way. So things are a lot looser on our show, which allows for it to be a bit more freeing creatively.

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