NY Times Talk Panel: Jennifer Beals is a Perfect Human and Ilene Chaiken Talks A Lot

We are in a theater looking at a stage and on that stage are three women:

Our moderator Kim Severson (we’ve been told she’s a lesbian and a New York Times food writer), Ilene Chaiken (the writer, executive producer and creator of Showtime’s hit series The L Word)– and Jennifer Beals, the actress from The L Word.chaiken-beals-l-word-times-talks1

Beals, in a sharp black suit, is stunning. She’s humble, intelligent, well-spoken, honest and brave. She exudes a perfection so engaging that we sometimes felt a halo was about to spring from her ears. This halo would consequently emanate a soothing, healing radiant glow that would enlighten the audience and enable world peace.

Ilene, wearing adolescent-y wedge-heeled black boots, is nothing like Jennifer. She vacillates aggressively within a Venn Diagram of confidently stated hypocrisies.

Ilene is snappish yet intensely self-satisfied — which could be a result of nervousness, or something else. She exudes a hubris so misapplied that we sometimes felt a trap door was about to open beneath her chair. [Simultaneously Beals would elevate to the brightest ring of angels around heaven].

Kim Severson was on point from the get-go. Her first question: “What the hell?

Chaiken consistently employs entry-level HR linguistic slights-of-hand to evade or redirect questions and conversations. However, much of the audience seemed receptive to Chaiken. [Luckily we were drunkity drunk drunk!] But I respect Jennifer for the mature, careful relationship her and Ilene appear to have — it works. It’s good, I think.

The Entrance (from dear nycnicole)

Kim Severson was on point from the get-go. Her first question: “What the hell?”

Chaiken’s response was, as it’s always been; “Real life doesn’t have resolutions …”

I’d barely uttered “That’s why we watch TV,” under my breath before Severson said just that! Ilene clumsily pirouetted onward, dodging questions about her bad choices with Chaikenisms : “We’re here to tell good stories,” “Real life is unresolved,” “we have changed the world,” “We are the champions, my friend [Start EZ Girl Remix of Queen’s “We are the Champions“],” and “I wanna tell good stories and entertain people.” We also got a few: “If we didn’t incite controversy and spark conversation, then we wouldn’t have been on the air for six seasons.”—  good riddance and so forth.]

Ilene’s repeated and near-obsessive mentions of this potential pipe dream were emblematic of Chaiken’s most apparent personality img_0406trait: neediness. The movie sealed our attention, and from that point on we were comfortable sailing along the illusory river of words, led by a benevolent captain soaring aimlessly forward. Though she keeps a few crewmen within shouting distance and will entertain a pirate for a minute or two, she’s pretty confident she’s got this shit on lockdown, and we will be in Tijiuana before nightfall. Her answers grew progressively obtuse while her defensiveness puffed up around her. She emoted Biblically. [Editor’s Note: All these quotes are approximate, I took notes but didn’t have a recorder. I’ll correct them in the future when I can get a transcript]

Kim: “Do you think lesbians eat their own? You took a lot of hits from the critics.”

IFC: “People will always have something to yell about, and that’s part of what we do as storytellers … you know, the Jenny character was Jewish, and then people got upset at me that I made the Jewish character crazy! There will always be something to ignite controversy and start conversations.”

Kim: “Wasn’t that character based on you?”

“When Ilene said the show wasn’t political,” Beals explained, deeply invested,chaiken-beals-l-word-times-talks2 “I thought — well, the personal is political … even thinking if there’s one girl in the middle of nowhere who can see herself reflected and … know that she’s beautiful. Giving someone the opportunity to be authentic is just wonderful.”

Jennifer got teary a lot.

This makes us love her more.

Jennifer was direct, unapologetic and readily emotive whether she was discussing her outrage over a woman assaulted in the woods where she goes running or thanking the fans for all their support.

Jennifer Beals is one of those heterosexual women we’re lucky to have so firmly and proudly on our side.  “I see homophobia as a form of misogyny,” Jennifer said. “I see how all women are connected, gay and straight, because we are all repressed or repress ourselves in some way.”

Audience: “What happened to Marina?”

J-Beals: [laughing] “Why did Dana die? Why was Tina raped by her sister? I mean — what?!”

On the topic of Season Six and her issues with it, Beals admitted she was opposed to the “dark” plotline and that it was the first season where she and Ilene frequently butted heads. Beals explained that she’d get through these bad scenes by remembering, “I’m there — my job as an actress is to serve the story. So I really had to do my best to serve the story, and focus on doing that, but with the final season I just didn’t think it did these women justice. It should’ve celebrated these women’s lives instead. I would do the scenes and then go to my trailer and yell WHYYY???”thelword

However in general she felt “heard” by the writing team and despite some “gross inconsistencies” that many actors on the show were challenged by from time to time, she felt Bette was a good strong character. Furthermore, Jennifer carries Bette Porter inside her always.

Jennifer and Ilene both said that they feel proud of the work they did that enabled other women to come online, meet each other and start to tell their own stories. They feel blessed to have made that happen.

Audience: “What did you think of Laurel’s speech at the Bravo A-List Awards?”

J-Beals: “I didn’t see it, I’m always the last one to see everything … what happened? [is filled in on Laurel saying TV is getting progressive if she can win an award for sitting on Jennifer’s face.] “Oh, she’s a witty gal, isn’t she.”

Beals discussed her hesitance when filming the first love scene for the pilot and her concern at the time that she would be revealed as an “ugly heterosexual person” who didn’t know what she was doing. Beals then explained how she got through the scene by focusing on the emotions as universal — that’s the real heart of it, after all.

I swear I heard women gasping breathlessly during this particular discussion. I may have said “OMG, I want to see someone orgasm in their pants right now.” I may have been really annoying to sit close to.

Kim: “Let’s talk about the clothes.”

J-Beals, in amazing funny voice: “That’s what I miss the most.”

Bette shared an anecdote about a recent shoot where the director promised not linger too long on her breasts during a scripted scan and she said “Honey, I’ve done The L Word. Linger wherever you want to linger.” After all, “sexuality is sexuality.”

Kim: “Who killed Jenny? I mean — did you even have an idea in your head?”

IFC: “Let’s go back to the last question.”

Ilene dodged political responsibility but gladly stepped up to say that she “changed the world.” Kim, scowling and nearly rolling her eyes, said:  “Yeah, you did. You did.” At this point I was also slightly in love with Kim the moderator, I might start reading about food in The New York Times now.

The World According to Ilene:

Reason OurChart folded – CBS (who she loves dearly for letting her do the show) somehow ruined OurChart. Details remain foggy.

Why did Dana die – ‘Cause people die in real life.

Why did all these other characters disappear? – These are complicated decisions — business decisions — that you cannot understand.

Reason there are no new lesbian shows – Because of the economy. Because Ilene already made one and one is enough. Because Ilene happened to seize upon the grand moment and now we are in a cultural desert which makes her sad.

Why did you ___? What’s that? A Bird? We tell stories! Hey! Look at the possible movie! It’s dancing! There will be lesbians! No plans, but look at the possibility! It glows, just like Jennifer’s face!

What the hell is going on with the Interrogation Tapes: Ilene “wanted to address telling stories and answering questions and [they] didn’t have enough time to tell all those stories” during the show’s run. [!!!]

Who Killed Jenny? Ilene deflects. Someone in the audience yells “Ilene Chaiken!”

Is Writing Collaborative? Yes, but The Chaiken is solitary. But as the seasons have rolled on, more and more people have come to her with objections and “more often than not the other ideas were better than mine.”

behind-the-scenes-l-word

For the last half hour the audience could ask questions, but most of the people who stepped up to the mic wanted to talk about their feelings and then ask questions, which was cute but also time-consuming. Except for the lovely rep from Tibette.com who got right to the point, that’s how you do it ladies. I wrote “OMG TIBETTE.COM HAS SENT A REPRESENTATIVE” in all caps in my notebook.

From my notebook, before the show: “We’re very wet and on the train. I hope this train is gong to Lezzie-Town. Alex is drinking sakè from a water bottle. There is rain in our hair. I hope something crazy happens, like a catfight. I’m going into this now how I went into the show — emotionally prepared for spot-on drama & comedy but knowing deep down inside how unlikely it is that the show will affect me with all I am ready to bare. This sake is turning the roof of my mouth into styrofoam. Hi-ho, High-Ho, it’s off to Ilene we go.

Someone asked about the Interrogation tapes and if they could go on indefinitely. That would be like me asking if the dance marathon dance-off could go on indefinitely, except the opposite of that. I was confused, and a little bit scared. No one understood the question. Beals hadn’t seen hers.

Every time Jennifer spoke, the room hummed with positive energy. Jennifer is putting together a photography book to get some money into charity causes. She is so perfect. She is up there with Rachel Maddow in the Realm of Perfect Humans.

Jennifer Beals: “I did a triathlon –”

[audience explodes into applause]

Kim: “And one time, she had breakfast!” [to Jennifer:] “They adore you!”

Ultimately, I can say that this show did one thing right: it assembled a marvelous cast who breathed life into occasionally fantastic and often mediocre material and it told women’s stories. Beals noted that prior to TLW, she’d never seen so many multi-dimensional female characters who weren’t written as romantic or otherwise complements to a more complicated male. She said: “Love is very important but it’s not the only story — well, perhaps it is the only story, because everything we do is for a kind of love — love for work, love for family … but the love between a woman and her man is not the only story for a woman to tell.”

And The L Word told women’s stories no better or worse than most TV shows out there. As a show for women, it did an exceptional thing. We feel there’ve been so many talented people waiting so long to have a voice — and so many other women ready to be a part of that unveiling — that there could’ve been more — something better.610x

Afterward, Alex and I discussed how we both felt anxiety when Ilene was vaguely (during the OurChart convo) suggesting that something else like OC would be in the works at some point. I don’t think she meant it, she says a lot of strange things. I think we need new storytellers now and clearly there are brilliant artists out there ready to bring those words and dreams to life.

So we’ll plod on valiantly here with making our collective collaborative dreams come true — focusing on the business end, a major redesign and charting the expanses of our aspirations — and hopefully we’ll do so full of conviction and sunshine. Because we know that there are so many bright women who are open to their stories being told — and ready for it!  We know that the beauty, in patches, still shines through the vacant lot that housed the set where Jenny moved in with her boyfriend, Tina was ovulating, Dana didn’t want her fans to know she was a gay lady and Shane liked Lacey a lot, but she liked a lot of people.

We like all of you. We liked that show, but we like a lot of things. We like a lot of things a lot more than we liked that show.

So … let’s do it! The future is as bright as Jennifer Beals’ personality. Trust me.

Late Add! Click here to see our before-the-show thoughts ON VIDEO:  pre-ilene

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Riese is the 38-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2844 articles for us.

50 Comments

  1. Riese, do you think you could just cover every news item ever? I’d be so much more up-to-date on current events if you did. Hilarious as per ushe.

    I’m so hopelessly in love with Jennifer Beals, much as I try to move on. That woman is beautiful in every way. And, hello! English major (from Yale no less)! I can’t help but be attracted to that.

    I concur with you and others that Ilene Chaiken is profoundly screwed up as a person. She is frantically trying to rationalize her own behavior/beliefs by projecting them onto her characters. If we were all as warped as she was, maybe we wouldn’t be going “OMGWTF?!” so much while watching TLW or listening to her speak.

    “Beals noted that prior to TLW, she’d never seen so many multi-dimensional female characters who weren’t written as romantic or otherwise complements to a more complicated male.” *cough*BUFFYTHEVAMPIRESLAYER*cough*.

  2. HEY! i TOTALLY did not spill my feelings when I asked JBeals about being biracial!! GOD!!!

    besides that, i think you covered every moment worth noting. i also loved when jennifer went, “GAH!” and messed up her hair after she said she read about someone criticizing her haircut. LOVED IT.

    PS- I confess that i saw you there but was way too starstruck to say anything! i hate myself!!

    • I totally remember your question, I actually thought about that, like I remember someone asked a good question about the biracial thing, which I actually paid attention to, which might be why I didn’t um, write anything down about it.

      I also did not write down the part about the hair but I totally remember it, someone said she looked like a soccer mom.

      also it’s okay, i hate myself too.

  3. I loved your article. Esp. the description of JB! I hope she sees it, think she would get a kick out of it. (her halo & all) Is she not the best?? She speaks from her heart & seems so spiritual and calm. My God did she get herself a huge fan base with the remarkable way she portrayed Bette. She totally resurrected herself. Thank you for the post.

  4. Aw, this was a great report.
    I was the rep from Tibette.com, so thank you very much for the compliment! I was nervous that I had fumbled a bit and pissed them off when I asked if I could ask another question, but like you pointed out, I didn’t waste time telling my life story, so I thought that the extra question would be okay.

  5. “She “wanted to address telling stories and answering questions and [they] didn’t have enough time to tell all those stories” during the show’s run.”

    “Telling stories” should always take a backseat to exposition at/about/involving-in-even-the-vaguest-manner-possible parties. I believe this is, in fact, taught in most upper-level creative writing courses.

  6. I almost choked from laughing on all your crazy comments on IC!! My god, you are so wicked and yet so f**** funny! Love it.

    And I will not be very original by saying that JB is an absolute goddess. She is so inspiring to me. Not to mention I could definitely turn gay for that girl…
    Well ok maybe not…. but still she is fabulous!!!

    Cheers from France and thanks for sharing your great report.

  7. Riese- on “I may have been really annoying to sit close to.”…from your videos, it looks like i was sitting right in front of you that night, but to be quite honest, with JB in the room, i think everyone’s ears were tuned in to just her!!! Crazy how silent we all were the moment she opened her mouth to speak. Stunning, amazingly brilliant, honest, and humble just added to her “halo”….She wasn’t afraid to step up and disagree, and what was best is that you can see the sincerity in her words by the way she spoke. It is so hard to find people, yet alone actors who have the same passion in their work, values, and self. Damn it, she IS that perfect huh?!?!

  8. Wow Riese, where did you get those clearly professionally shot videos? haha

    Well the recap is obviously fantastic, glad I was able to see the work in progress… such as the all caps written response to the tibette.com rep haha, written with such emotion…

    I’m going to also pretend that maybe some of these commenters ventured onto the site because of the cards I handed out after the event, because then I’ll feel as though I contributed something haha

    Thanks again Riese and Alex for making that event more entertaining for me – although I am disappointed there were no monkeys now after seeing the video, maybe another time?

  9. Oh,this was hilarious! Still ,she keeps repeating the ” I did the cancer storyline as a representation of reality” !!!
    Everytime , and I mean everytime she said that my blood begins to boil! She really doesn’t know what she is talking about…
    But the saddest thing is that it seems a lot of people have no problem with it and buy this explanation!
    Yet at the same time they are disappointed by the finale. I mean , what did they expect? They should take everything this show gives them ,well because there isn’t always a happy ending ,people commit suicide , there is no redention and life very often tears apart ! Life is a bitch folks! Take that , they let her go with this excuse for the cancer story , so why not accept it now? Because they didn’t have cancer so since it wasn’t something theirs it was different?

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  11. In whose world is Jennifer Beals a perfect woman? HMmmmm? Don’t tell me you’ve all been brainwashed by the incessant hype that Beals had Chaiken conjure up on a weekly basis with the writers alluding to her beauty. If someone is truly breathtakenly beautiful you don’t need t repeated in the script on a weekly basis.

    It’s common knowledge that cast members who challenged Jennifer Beals popularity on the LWord were fired starting with Karina Lombard then Erin Daniels, Kristanna Loken, Sara Shahi. That is why when a fan asked Ilene Chaiken why Karina Lombard’s character of Marina Ferrer was let go Beals became visibley agitated.

    But who is a beautiful actress who is also biracial and played a lesbian in a way that Jennifer Beals could only hope for? Lisa Ray also known as Lisa Rani Ray. Ray’s portrayals of lesbians in the films: The World Unseen and I Can’t Think Straight showed her to be compassionate, breaking the baerriers not only of Lesbians but also Arab and Suotheast Asian women.

    So let;s get a clue ladies. Jennifer Beals is NOT a perfect human being and if Lisa Ray had a role on the L Word I can gaurantee that Beals woulld have had her fired as well. Visit my site for more info.

  12. Interesting comments to scroll through. Nonetheless, come on girls! Do we have to get all nasty about Ilene? Or even Beals? It was a pioneering show, and despite some of your dislike for Chaiken, she did p I o n e e r this show, If not for L Word, the world will not get that much exposure to lesbianism in positive light. Let’s skip the nasty comments and focus on the positiveness of the individuals responsible for conjuring such an amazing show? I.e. Chaiken.

    Thanks

  13. Well, I think one can safely say Autostraddle is off Ilene Chaiken’s christmas card list. LOL, nice article.

    “Ilene dodged political responsibility but gladly stepped up to say that she “changed the world.””

    Did she REALLY say this? I’d like to think you’re being sardonic… but you’re not are you? Oh my, Ilene really did take the blue pill.

  14. Pingback: “The L Word” Reboot May Ignore Season Six Altogether | KizzTV

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