If you’re like us, you probably spent approximately 4-6 years deconstructing every line of dialogue between Bette Porter and Tina Kennard, the passionate and tumultuous soulmates that formed the pulsing nucleus of the Showtime original series The L Word. Before she was one half of the most holy and blessed union ever to be featured on television, however, Laurel Holloman was already on the radar of gay girls everywhere familiar with the lesbian film catalogue of the mid-90s. Her breakthrough role as Randy Dean in the 1995 film The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls In Love launched her indie career, affording her roles in no less than 15 features over the next decade.
After the L Word’s final season, while other members of the L Word cast sailed off into the proverbial network television sunset — Jennifer Beals’ The Chicago Code and Sarah Shahi’s Fairly Legal both debut next month — Laurel picked up her two daughters and moved into an artist’s loft in New York City, immersing herself in her first love: large-scale abstract painting. For 3 months straight she painted for 40 hours a week, creating a spectacular portfolio (laurelhollomanstudio.net) that is garnering some serious art-world attention. She’s about to leave for Italy on a 30-painting commission which is, um, kind of a big deal.
Tibette fans, take heart: if you can’t afford a Laurel Holloman original, she will be at The Dinah signing posters of her artwork for you to purchase and add to your L Word shrine! Jess had the chance to chat with Laurel about her emerging art career, the controversy over The Kids Are All Right, her iconic lesbian roles as Tina and Randy Dean, the TV shows she’d love to be on, if she’ll act again, and much more!
Jess: Have you auditioned for any film or TV roles since The L Word ended?
Laurel: Yeah, I auditioned for a small amount of movies and right when I moved to New York I had 3 or 4 auditions for a part on In Treatment, which I really, REALLY wanted but didn’t get. I still loved that there was some really amazing stuff to read for in New York.
Jess: In Treatment is such an amazingly nuanced show. Were you up for Amy Ryan’s role?
Laurel: No, no, I read for Sunil’s daughter-in-law [the role of Julia went to Sonya Walger who played Penny on LOST]. It is a great show! In fact I just met Gabriel Byrne in a restaurant a few weeks ago and was thanking him for the show. I also love all the people who helped create that show like Rodrigo Garcia who also directed Mother and Child and Nine Lives which are two of my favorite films.
Jess: It’s a lot like doing a play, In Treatment.
Laurel: Yes! Even when I auditioned with the director, I remember feeling just so lucky for the work session that I was having with him. Maybe I’m just not ambitious or competitive enough to fight when I have something really great, but it still feels really good to do it just for that day. It’s hard for me… I’m not a huge name and I’m at an age where I compete with a lot of well-known people. With acting, It’s probably best to focus on what you do get as opposed to what you don’t get. And to just be patient with the whole journey and it will unfold.
“Jennifer [Beals] taught me how to walk in high heels and I was like ‘wow! I think I just became a lady now!'”
Jess: What TV series would you love to be on right now?
Laurel: I’m really impressed with everything that Showtime and HBO does. I tend to like the shows that are nurtured at cable… mainstream shows on the big networks get pulled off so quickly because of ratings that they never have a chance to develop. I’m also so disappointed in how much reality television there is because it takes away a lot of amazing jobs from writers and actors. The thing about In Treatment is that it’s kind of an actor’s dream because even if you’re given a small part in it there are still massive, massive pages of dialogue and monologues and there are so many things to do with that kind of writing. Even if it’s an audition and you don’t get it, at least can immerse yourself in that kind of quality of writing… and for me, I was like “this is why I started acting!”
I like really quirky stuff, like Flight of the Conchords and True Blood on HBO. I would love to be on True Blood! I also have to say that Laura Linney, Mary Louise Parker, Edie Falco and Toni Collette… I would watch them do anything. I really admire what Showtime did by putting these women in starring roles. I played Laura Linney’s sister in a movie [Lush], so I especially love her. I’m interested in ‘out of the box’ type of storylines and characters that push the envelope like those women on the Showtime series. I think constantly trying to play some likable character would be boring, and it’s not interesting to watch really, either.
Jess: You mentioned reality television taking over. Have you watched The Real L Word?
Laurel: No, I haven’t watched The Real L Word. I’ve obviously heard about it and hear that people really like it… and I was happy for Ilene. I think that anything that can spin-off from the success of our show is awesome. Here’s the thing, I don’t choose not to watch it because I’m like afraid to watch it [laughs], I just don’t watch too much TV in general. I catch up on TV when I need to go in and read for certain shows, but overall I’m more of a film person.
Laurel: I absolutely want to keep acting and I have strong relationships with a few casting directors who call me in for really good projects. But as far as my time frame right now, my art is taking up a lot of my time, especially because I recently got a commission in Italy for about 30 paintings and it looks like I’m working on a show as well. Right when The L Word ended I had so much responsibility on my plate.. I had a 4 month old that I adopted and was juggling finishing the show with taking care of small children… Now I’m trying to balance raising my two daughters and the art world with keeping my foot in acting. I feel like the universe presents these things for a reason, when you least expect it… like, now I have to focus on finishing the commission in Italy. I know that the next acting job will be the right job.
“I went through about 7 haircuts. I knew we did it when I got on a plane and got mistaken for a boy.”
Jess: What did you think of The Kids Are All Right?
Laurel: I saw it twice. Lisa Cholodenko helped out on The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love and I remember being blown away by High Art when it first came out. So, I was thrilled when she came and did an episode of The L Word in the second season. She’s a super sharp, clear director who knows exactly what she wants from the actors. I thought the relationship between Julianne Moore and Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right was very believable and very real. I identified with both of those women, to a certain degree.
Jess: There was a sizable backlash from the gay community who felt the theme of “lesbian sleeps with a man” was cliched and overrepresented in media, like The L Word, Queer as Folk, Chasing Amy, etc.
Laurel: Well, I definitely see the political minefield that it creates because I went through that when Tina dated a guy on The L Word. But really, to watch what they did in those scenes and what Julianne Moore created in that character and what was happening… it was so specific – behavior and the sex scenes were so specific – God…. I can’t even go into all the layers of it! Julianne played my sister in The Myth of Fingerprints, so that’s a whole other level for me…I really enjoy watching people I know play these characters! I felt that Julianne and Annette captured something about sexuality and parenting and long term relationships and marriage. The speech that Julianne gives at the end of the movie……
Jess: Yes, that was actually my favorite moment in the movie.
Laurel: Sexuality is not black and white and that’s why I identify with Lisa Chodolenko’s films… it’s sometimes very disconnected and sort of strange. The movie was so much more about community and the difficulties of raising children and parenting… To me, it made sense. Oftentimes, in The L Word, I wanted it to be a little more layered. But, in episodic television you don’t always have the time to explore what all of those layers are….
Jess: How do you feel the climate has changed in terms of gay roles from 1995 during Two Girls in Love to when you did The L Word?
Laurel: It’s completely different. I remember being in a limo with the director Maria Maggenti and Nicole Ari Parker and trying to figure out which questions we were going to answer to the press… there was a lot of energy in trying to protect Nicole and I, like – do we talk about our sexuality or not? Maria was like “oh, I’m gonna catch so much slack, I cast these two straight girls who are really pretty… maybe it should’ve been more like Go Fish in a documentary style… “ Ultimately Nicole and I grew a lot in that experience and it was my first experience talking publicly about anything. The energy around it was that there was still some kind of tentativeness, even putting these two teenage girls on the poster in an interracial relationship… should we put them on the poster? Should they be kissing or not? I was really proud of Maria because she fought for what she thought was right and she pushed for Fine Line Features to be really ballsy… things were starting to shift but not really. Not really.
In general, there are so many celebrities that are out now and that has created the greatest shift. The thing about doing that movie was that the character (Randy Dean) was just so different from me. I didn’t know anyone like her that was “baby butch.” I had to do A TON of research. I immersed myself for 5 weeks before the camera started rolling to physically create a different person from what I even looked like.
Jess: How did you handle the vanity of it all, with cutting your hair and your appearance?
Laurel: I think because I was never the sexy, glamorous person anyway I just sort of chose to drop my vanity from the very beginning when I was working with my first acting coach. I went into Two Girls in Love with a lot of training in the back of my head which was don’t start that film until you can basically improv that character and be that character in life. A few months before I had super long, dark brown hair and went to do a play and cut it shorter with it sort of platinum blonde, but Maria was like “you still really look like a girl” and I was like “OK, what do we need to do?” So we did it — I grew out my eyebrows, I stopped working out, we dyed it red because it looked more natural… I went through about 7 haircuts. I knew we did it when I got on a plane and got mistaken for a boy. I changed my body language… I went to gay pride and to gay youth groups… it was just an incredible summer. I wish I had more opportunities like that in film to immerse myself. It’s partly my fault… I focused so much more on being an ingenue that things just weren’t quite as interesting anymore. I did a lot of “girlfriends” and “wives” and I think I should have kept doing more of the character work like in Two Girls in Love. There are a lot of people – agents, managers – grooming you for certain things.
Jess: Why do you think so many actors and actresses are still closeted?
Laurel: Here’s my take on it. What we do is not who we are. So, if we act, who we are and who we love and the time we spend having sex… it’s not everybody else’s business, if that’s the choice of that artist. I think it’s amazing when people come out and they want to include that in everything, but I don’t think it’s owed to the general public. If they want to keep it private, it’s their right. Because acting is so personal and the connections that are made with the emotion of film making, I still feel very strongly that everybody has the right to be as open as they want if they are a celebrity, or as private as they want. When celebrities come out it’s oftentimes not just them. They bring their partner into it too, and not everyone wants that attention. I have a lot of gay male actor friends who are more nervous about coming out because of the feeling that a man can’t be the straight lead because people can’t get past the fact that he’s gay… and that’s just not fair.
Jess: Did your family watch The L Word?
Laurel: Yea, they all watched it and loved it. If I had a big scene my dad would call the next day and be like “woo! That was great!” and if there’s a sex scene he just… turns it off! [laughing] My family has been great… they know they can watch whatever they want or opt not to watch anything. They totally respect that it’s my art and my job and they take it for what it is without explanation from me. They know I don’t expect them to like everything. If you think I look fat, don’t tell me.. I don’t wanna know! I don’t wanna know! I learned very quickly that needing any kind of validation from anyone is a mistake.
Jess: Are you in touch with any of the L Word girls?
Laurel: Oh yeah. I talk to Rachel Shelley on a regular basis and just spent time with her beautiful daughter in Paris… I’m in touch with Mia [Kirshner], I run into Leisha [Hailey] a lot because we have similar routines, I have plans to hang out with Erin [Daniels] very soon, I turn to Jennifer [Beals] for advice sometimes and she’s been really helpful… I just feel like we’re a family in the way that the family has dispersed from our united experience and we circle back around in different ways.. and it’s just this unconditional thing where you feel like people have got your back. I also showed some of them the art before I went public with it.. Leisha is also an artist and was especially supportive and that meant so much to me because I respect her so much as an artist. It’s like watching your family grow.. Like, I can’t wait to watch Jennifer’s new show The Chicago Code. I’m just so proud and excited!
Jess: Is there any reality to an L Word movie being made?
Laurel: Yeah, I mean we talked about it a lot when we were finishing the 6th season. We used to joke a lot about what would be in the movie and we used to say it should take place in New York because Tina got a job there and how interesting it would be to see this crowd in New York… Ilene is really talented and I think everybody would be happy to show up. I think Jennifer and Ilene have other projects they want to do together as well. It’s really hard in general to get any movie off the ground these days. But I definitely think it would make money and that there’s an audience.
Jess: Did you make any significant contributions to the personality or characterization of Tina?
Laurel: In general, I think once you start to fall in love with your character it’s your responsibility to fight for what the truths are. And, sometimes plot development gets put before what your character would — or wouldn’t — do. You have to sort of navigate that… There were times I could’ve fought for her to be more likeable and I thought “no, I’m not. She’s just not going to behave very nice right now and I’m just going to let it go… “ I probably fought hardest for her to stay independent and strong once she got to that place. And the counter to that was that Jennifer was fighting for her character as well, so we were working together to create this relationship. As I became stronger her character became more vulnerable and softened and learned what she would do with the predator sexual energy and how was my character going to learn to trust… They had to earn it and they had to grow up and those are all choices that we made together.
In the beginning of season 1 when she loses herself by quitting her job and trying to have a baby and then having a miscarriage… I was just like, “whoa! I’m like entering doormat zone here!” I’m more the opposite in my own life. I’m much more controlling and I learned a lot from playing that partnership… in my own life. There were some scenes where I was really uncomfortable because I hated how whiny or dependent she is. And, I knew that it was right because it was so unsettling to me as a person to tap into that. I also learned that you really have to let go of your ego because you can tend to want to play things that are cooler or hipper…
Jess: What did you think of the ending?
Laurel: I mean, the ending just didn’t capture the essence of what we created on the show, especially with what we accomplished with season 5….I was sad that it let a lot of people down. I think it was trying to do too much in one episode.
Jess: It seems that many TV shows tend to spin off the rails after a couple of seasons. Like, Nip/Tuck, Weeds, etc.
Laurel: They do spin off the rails! I think it’s really, really hard and there’s a lot of pressure on the creative team to hold it together. More and more characters keep coming in — and we had a huge ensemble — so it becomes complicated and it becomes overwhelming I think to keep all those storylines going and try to figure out which ones are working the best and where they go. I was incredibly lucky because Bette and Tina were a strong anchor to the show, but when Tina wasn’t with Bette it was harder for me because if I was with the boyfriend, which was not exactly what people wanted to see, I mean…. it was like a paid vacation.
Jess: What were you really feeling during that season? Like, you’re a lead on a television show and all of a sudden you’re barely in half the 4th season because of plot.
Laurel: Here’s my take on that. My daughter was 20 months old, and I was living in Vancouver and it was gorgeous. I still loved my job and I had a little extra free time. I think some people around me were like “whoa, what’s going on?” but I’m in an industry that you can’t take personally. It’s a storyline. I didn’t walk into an office and fight every day for more screen time because I knew it would evolve… and it did evolve. I had been working so much right up until the time I had my daughter in November 2004 that I didn’t have that crazy, neurotic, self-involved actress gotta-fight-for-everything-everyday…. I just didn’t have it in me.
Jess: That’s amazing, cause I think a lot of other actors would’ve let their ego completely take over and lose it. Like how there used to be reports of crazy backstage drama on Grey’s Anatomy. It’s really admirable that you took it in stride and even took a little bit of pleasure in it.
Laurel: Yeah… you know, later in the 4th season when Jennifer and I were finally working together again during that lunch scene at the restaurant Toast in LA, Angela Robinson was there and just observed our behavior during a bunch of improv and I think they were questioning about where Bette and Tina were going and they noticed there was still so much tension and chemistry that Angela was just like… “wow.” And that one scene kind of set the rest of the series in motion. It all came back around, so I don’t regret anything.
Next: “There was a strong desire to getting back to that because it wasn’t based on winning the audition or booking the job or what I looked like or whether I beat someone out. I don’t have to be hired to get the high I get from painting.”