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Welcome back to L
            world

Of all the
unforgettable scenes during the first season of
Showtime’s The L Word—not forgetting
those red-hot lesbian sex romps we never imagined
seeing on TV—one shining moment remains most
indelible: Erin Daniels’s performance of the Drunken
Dana Dance.
“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 hmm-hmm-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 café in West
Hollywood and commenting on the sleazy doings of
sexually confused writer Jenny Schecter (Mia Kirshner) and
va-va-voom Planet proprietor Marina Ferrer (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 cast 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 sisters 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 from 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 Hailey, Kirshner, and their dogs.
“Erin lived two doors down on the same street,
Jennifer didn’t live far away,” says Hailey.
(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,” Hailey 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 Dirty 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 voilà, 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 “fiancée” 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.
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 Hailey. “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 girls.
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 Hailey 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, Hailey
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 learned
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
Hailey, 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.”

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