In the late ’90s, Clea DuVall, whose big-time queer holiday rom-com Happiest Season drops on Hulu on November 25, started making a name for herself in Hollywood, appearing in high school shows and movies like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Can’t Hardly Wait, The Faculty, and She’s All That, and the drama Girl, Interrupted alongside Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. She usually played “alternative” or “goth” girls, the type of character beloved by LGBTQ+ fans. But it was her role as a teen lesbian at a conversion camp in 2000’s classic indie comedy But I’m a Cheerleader that established her as a queer icon. This December, Lionsgate is releasing a special 20th Anniversary Director’s Cut of the film.
DuVall could have rested on her lesbian laurels, but instead, she returned to queer roles when she played a bisexual fortune teller in HBO’s Carnivàle from 2003 to 2005. At the time, being out in Hollywood was still a career death sentence for many. But she wasn’t done yet. While not yet out publicly, DuVall risked a great deal while carving a path for queer visibility by continuing to appear in LGBTQ+ projects. In 2012, DuVall starred as a 1960s lesbian schoolteacher who secretly dates lead character Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) in American Horror Story: Asylum. More recently she played Marjorie, a lesbian Secret Service agent who dates the president’s daughter in Veep, for which DuVall and the rest of the cast won a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series in 2018.
Throughout her long career, DuVall has also starred in several mainstream projects, including the Oscar-winning 2012 film Argo, where she played one of the American embassy workers rescued from Iran in 1980. Again, she was part of a SAG Award-winning ensemble, this time for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. In 2014-2015, she played Emma Borden, Lizzie Borden’s (Christina Ricci) sister, in the Lifetime television film and limited series Lizzie Borden Took an Ax and The Lizzie Borden Chronicles. DuVall has appeared in several other award-winning movies, like Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 21 Grams and David Fincher’s thriller Zodiac.
DuVall then tried her hand at directing with her 2016 feature debut The Intervention, which she also starred in and wrote. The film is about four couples taking a weekend trip together, and it reunited DuVall with her But I’m a Cheerleader costars Natasha Lyonne and Melanie Lynskey. DuVall publicly came out as a lesbian around the time of the film’s release. This year’s Happiest Season, starring Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis, is the first studio-backed queer Christmas rom-com and is the second feature she’s written and directed. But DuVall’s not stopping there. Next up, she’s writing, directing, and co-executive producing the IMDb TV series High School, based on a memoir by lesbian twin sister musical duo Tegan and Sara Quin.
DuVall, Stewart, and Davis are The Advocate's cover stars for the November/December issue. This article is a companion piece to the cover story.