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Russian Doll's Rebecca Henderson Loves Being the Lesbian Go-To After 40

Russian Doll's Rebecca Henderson Loves Being the Lesbian Go-To After 40

Rebecca Henderson
Photography by Chia Messina

The veteran out actor currently starring in Single Drunk Female and Inventing Anna chats with The Advocate about why she loves playing lesbians. 


"I just love playing lesbians," says Russian Doll star Rebecca Henderson. Indeed, viewers surfing between Freeform and Netflix these days can easily find the Toronto native repping for queer women. She's appeared in popular LGBTQ+ projects as far back as Desiree Akhavan's 2014 feature Appropriate Behavior. But at 41, she's hit her career stride, and she's done it playing the kinds of roles she hopes will make an impact.

"I think in my late 20s, this theater director who I love was like, 'You know, Rebecca, when you're 40, you're never going to stop working,'" Henderson says. "[It's] something about the way I am, the way I talk, the way I look -- they're all going to line up when I turn 40. Now I'm 41, and thank God, that's been true."

On a snowy February day in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, Henderson is just weeks away from appearing in three buzzworthy shows at the same time. But on that day, she's been busy rescuing a cat from the cold, an act of kindness that aligns with her identity. "I've become a stereotypical lesbian just trying to rescue all the cats. But it brings me joy," she says. "We need all the joy we can get. And if it's saving a cat, here we go."

In Single Drunk Female on Freeform, Henderson plays Olivia, a sober journalist and podcast personality with a "hot" wife (which is noted in the series) who sponsors Sofia Black D'Elia's Sam, a Buzzfeed-esque writer who is newly sober after blowing up her life. The series, on the surface, deals with being sober in a world that loves to booze it up (Sam's mother, played by Ally Sheedy, continually has a glass of red at the ready). But the show, which is co-produced by Henderson's wife, Leslye Headland (Russian Doll, Bachelorette), also gets stealthily queerer with each episode. Trans actress Jojo Brown plays Sam's trans and sober manager at a grocery store, and a few episodes in, it turns out that Sam is bi.

"I love playing a sponsor because I think [their] sponsor-sponsee dynamic is totally hilarious. And I love playing a sponsor who's a very successful woman who also happens to be a lesbian, has a wife [played by Madeline Wise], and it's not about the fact that she's gay, but she's just existing in the world," Henderson says. "As I've gotten older, I've graduated to characters where you're not watching them come out. They're already out, they're living their lives, they're successful, they've got a hot wife, they're making a baby."

In her own life, seeing a lesbian on TV for the first time inspired Henderson immeasurably.

"When I was young, there was just absolutely nothing for me to witness, and I definitely knew I was gay when I was probably 8 or 9," Henderson says. "The first lesbian I ever saw was Ellen DeGeneres. When she came out [on her sitcom in 1997], that night I came out when I was 16."

Flip to Netflix, and Henderson appears as prosecutor Catherine McCaw in Shondaland's miniseries Inventing Anna, about Anna Delvey, the Instagram personality who posed as an heiress and duped major Manhattan real estate players. Toggle away from that series on the streamer, and Henderson's enjoying playing a lesbian in the second season of Russian Doll, the trippy show Headland created with its star Natasha Lyonne and Amy Poehler.

Working on Russian Doll with her wife and Lyonne, a longtime friend who introduced Henderson and Headland at a party at the former's request, is a culmination of a community of women and identity for the actor who plays the queer character Lizzy on the series. "I'm all about community. One of the reasons I love acting is I love the community of people and I love being a lesbian. I love being queer. I love this community. Now where I am [at], it's making room for the new queer community and learning from them and everything that they're teaching me," Henderson says. She name-checks Single Drunk Female's Brown as an inspiration. But Henderson, who's carved a path for other actors as a lesbian reveling in women-loving-women roles, also honors those who came before her.

"When I walk around in the West Village and I see the older dykes, I'm like 'thank you,'" she says. "I'm so moved when I see them. I'm like, 'Thank you for having short hair.' I always have short hair, and it's not an issue because of you. I know it's such a little thing, but it's kind of not, you know?"

This story is part of The Advocate's 2022 Entertainment Issue, which is out on newsstands April 2, 2022. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe -- or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.

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