Since The L Word ended its original run in 2009, Laurel Holloman, who played Tina for six seasons, has made a name for herself in the art world as a painter who has more than 15 exhibitions (solo and group) to her name. Her large-scale paintings have been shown in London, Milan, Paris, Madrid, Buenos Aires, and more. It’s a career that keeps the actress in Europe for several months of the year.
So when The L Word was being rebooted as The L Word: Generation Q with her former costars Jennifer Beals (who plays Tina's ex-wife, Bette), Leisha Hailey, and Kate Moennig all signed on to star and executive-produce along with creator Ilene Chaiken and new showrunner Marja-Lewis Ryan, it wasn’t a matter of whether or not Holloman was interested in reprising her role as Tina. It all hinged on if she could make it work with her flourishing career as a painter.
Holloman had no intention of acting again considering her current work, but she was also intrigued by the idea of reprising Tina. If anyone could entice Holloman back to The L Word despite a tight schedule, it was her former scene partner Beals, whom Holloman calls “a safety net.”
“I think that it's in our DNA to work together. We can kind of look at each other, and every moment is real in some way,” Holloman tells The Advocate. I've never had a scene partner like that where it's almost like we speak a different language. It was a gift to be able to step back in.”
For Beals’s part, when she spoke with The Advocate in October she answered the question of which character she’d like to return to the world of The L Word with a resounding “Tina!”
As the reboot was gearing up, Holloman was committed to three different art exhibitions, but Beals was persuasive, saying, “You've got to come back, in any way you can." Following conversations with Chaiken and then Ryan about where Tina would be 10 years after the series ended, they were able to bring her back.
Stepping back onto the bustle of a set was a far cry from Holloman’s work in the art world considering the solitude of painting. While she says she’s excited for the new generation of actors, writers, and queer representation, she adds that there was a palpable buzz on the set around the reunion of Tina and Bette.
“A lot of the crew — they were younger. They grew up watching the show,” Holloman says. “They were all excited to see Tina and Bette together again. And I also really wanted to be part of the legacy of this pioneering show. I want to be part of what Ilene had created. I just felt really lucky and excited.”
Like the original series that ran from 2004 to 2009, Generation Q is breaking ground in various ways for LGBTQ representation. There are several trans characters and there’s a polyamorous love story. As for Tina’s return to Los Angeles, more specifically, to the home Bette shares with their daughter, Angie (Jordan Hull), their storyline is one of the few that offers visibility to divorced same-sex couples who are co-parenting. One central same-sex couple in TV history that dealt with co-parenting their child was Grey’s Anatomy’s Callie and Arizona.
The Generation Q episode that aired Sunday offers a big surprise when Tina turns up at the behest of Angie because Bette’s mayoral campaign is in free fall after a physical altercation with a man who got too close to Angie. Over the course of the episode, Beals and Holloman laugh, argue, and ponder their relationship past and present in scenes sure to remind viewers of the spark that made Bette and Tina so iconic.
“Sometimes I feel like chemistry is a little bit like lightning in a bottle. And it's something that we had from the minute they put the two of us together. Then it grew out of mutual respect in what we wanted to show in this relationship,” Holloman says. “What I like about working with Jen is we both don't mind getting a little messy. We both don't mind showing aspects of the character that might not be likable. We want to show all the different colors and shades, and you have to dig deep to do that.”
Something Tina’s return episode offers that Generation Q has thus far only hinted at is an answer as to why Tina took a TV producing job that keeps her in Toronto for a chunk of the year, away from her daughter. In a sweet scene with Hull, whose teenage Angie has just fallen in love with her best friend and has shared that experience with her “Mama T,” Tina explains that for many years into her relationship with “Mama B” (Bette), she failed to take care of her own needs.
“The biggest struggle for me, in the beginning, was ‘Oh, my God, I never played this character [in a way] that she would leave her daughter,’” Holloman says. “But what we did was create a history [in which] their daughter was 14 and Tina had been very much a primary caregiver and was very hands-on.”
“I had to rationalize that I think Tina really wanted to take this job, and she did. And she's a producer on a TV show that's like a Game of Thrones or something in Toronto,” Holloman adds. “It's a big job, it's fiscally very rewarding. It was too good for her to turn down, but I think she's in a daily phone conversation with Bette.”
In the scene with Hull, Holloman delivers a speech in which the layers of Tina’s story from six seasons of The L Word bubble beneath the surface of what’s being said. From the beginning of the series, she was part of a power couple in which she often deferred to Bette’s career, emotions, and needs through inseminations, pregnancies, infidelity, death, and career highs and lows.
“When that monologue happens with Angie, it's kind of saying that underneath it all is 'If I hadn't of done this [taken the job to find myself], I wouldn't have shown you the type of female that I want you to grow up to be, which is to be independent and strong, and a full person,'” Holloman says.
She may have put acting on the far back burner over the past decade, but Holloman's pioneering role as Tina has followed her around the globe.
“I felt excited about the reboot in that the first show was so successful and so pioneering and it has created this legacy. Just saying 'The L Word' — it's now a part of pop culture,” Holloman says.
“I don't even know if I knew exactly how far-reaching it was. My art career is [primarily] in Europe. I have people that will come in from Japan or China or something, and they are interested in art, but they've seen the show. When someone tells you a story that [The L Word] has reached somewhere in a small town in Japan where there are no lesbian bars... Or they'll tell you that they got the DVD (this is when people watched DVDs) and it was the only representation that they could see, and they’re crying,” she says. “There's nothing like having that experience. I feel blessed and lucky that at least with my acting creativity, I've gotten to do something so unique.”
As for whether or not Holloman will reappear as Tina on Generation Q, she doesn’t make it sound as though it’s out of the question.
"I’ve gotten to have a whole global view of the world, and travel and do other things,” Holloman says of her art career. “If possible, now I might just try to hybridize it with acting. We'll see what happens.”