THE L WORD, about a group of lesbian friends in Los Angeles, ran for six seasons, 2004-2009, on Showtime. Now its sequel series, THE L WORD: GENERATION Q, premieres on Showtime Sunday, December 8. Three of the original leads, Jennifer Beals, Leisha Hailey, and Katherine Moennig, are back, as is original series co-creator Ilene Chaiken, who serves here as an executive producer.
THE L WORD: GENERATION Q is created by Marja-Lewis Ryan, who also serves as show runner and one of the executive producers. Ryan previously wrote and directed the films LIKED and COLLEGE; she has also worked extensively in theatre.
ASSIGNMENT X: Were you a fan of the original THE L WORD?
MARJA-LEWIS RYAN: Huge fan. I was nineteen years old when the show came out, and I came out to it. I mean, it came out and so did I, was sort of the way it went [laughs]. It changed my life, really. Not just the show itself, but the fact that Ilene was out, and she was such a prominent figure, she was so vocal and present during the show that I actually knew her face. She was the first show runner’s face that I’d ever really known, and I don’t think it’s too dramatic to suggest that I wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t made that choice. And the show was seminal. We [as lesbians] didn’t have anything else until this came around, and then it felt like we had everything, for a moment. I look forward to being able to give the next generation that same experience.
AX: Since Ilene Chaiken is still involved, why did THE L WORD: GENERATION Q want a new show runner? Did they feel like they wanted to make sure they weren’t repeating themselves? Did they want somebody who was a little bit more in touch with Generation Q?
RYAN: I think it may have been a combination of things. Maybe it was that. Also, that Ilene is under an overall deal at Fox, so she not available [laughs].
AX: Three of your leads are from the previous THE L WORD series. Are they all executive producers on THE L WORD: GENERATION Q?
RYAN: They are.
AX: Did they hire you, did you all come in at the same time? How did that work?
RYAN: Ilene, Jennifer, Leisha, and Kate were all on first, and then they went out looking for a new show runner. So they hired me, and the conversations we have had are ongoing. They know these characters inside and out. And so it’s a real luxury as a writer to be able to go to them and say, “Does this sound right? Is this her? Is this closer or further?” Or even smaller things like, “Where is she from again?” “Oh, Philly.” It’s like having three walking Googles for THE L WORD. They love their characters, and they love the original, and they love their fans, and they just really want to honor those characters again.
AX: Did you start developing THE L WORD: GENERATION Q with figuring out where these three original characters in their lives, and then which new characters should be around them?
RYAN: Exactly. That’s exactly how I cracked the story. It’s like the ultimate fan fiction in some ways. I got to just dream up where the characters that we all love and know ended up ten years later, and then built from there.
AX: Can you tease where the three continuing characters – Bette [Jennifer Beals], Alice [Leisha Hailey] and Shane [Katherine Moennig] – have come to at the point in their lives, or is that a mystery and do we get flashbacks?
RYAN: No, no flashbacks. We’re really dropped into their lives, as though we’re just picking up ten years later. They’re all more successful than ever, they’re all in different relationships from when we left them. I am really excited to explore different family dynamics. I think it was just released – Tina and Bette had a baby on the show, and that baby will be sixteen now. So to be able to introduce that character is just so fun. It’s so interesting. And the actress playing her, Jordan Hull, is just phenomenal. So I’m really excited for the original viewers to meet Angie, and I think it’s safe to say that we’re exploring politics inside of the queer community, especially under this new political space that we’re in, in 2019, that we weren’t in, in the ‘00s.
AX: One of your new characters, Sarah, is played by Jacqueline Toboni. Were you a fan of hers from GRIMM?
RYAN: I’d met Jacqueline a long time ago, actually. We shot an independent film together that nobody will ever see. It’s called LIKED. I made it for Timur Bekmambetov, it was an amazing experience, but the movie is not that good. I wrote and directed it, so I think I’m allowed to say that. But Jacqueline was in it. And I also cast her in a play of mine. We did a play together about a year ago, 2018, not that long ago. She’s phenomenal. I never watched GRIMM. I’ve seen her scenes in [the Netflix series] EASY, but I am a huge fan of hers, and I think she is a star. I saw one of the headlines. It was like, “The star of GRIMM joins THE L WORD.” I was like, “Oh, okay. People like GRIMM” [laughs].
AX: GENERATION Q is part of the title this time, which suggests the show may broaden its scope somewhat. You have female-to-male trans actor Leo Sheng portraying female-to-male trans character Micah Lee. Does THE L WORD: GENERATION Q get into gender identity, as well as sexuality?
RYAN: Yeah, I think that’s fair to say. I also think that characters identifying as a certain way doesn’t necessarily feel like a plot point to me anymore. They just feel like we’re dropped into their world. We really are in their world with them from the moment the show starts. I’ve got three out trans actors on the show, and they’re just part of our community. One of the things that I pitched early on was, “No more coming out stories of any kind,” so that’s really important to me, that nobody’s coming out, so we’re just dropped into their lives.
AX: The treatment of people’s sexuality and gender identity is sort of like, “You went to Yale, and that’s how you got the job you have now, but we don’t need to go through the story of you getting into Yale.”
RYAN: That’s correct [laughs]. And I think that it’s time. It’s time that we’re not telling stories about trans people that are about them transitioning. One of the things that my young actor Leo said, when I spoke to him about his character early on, the writers were asking him questions about his experience growing up as a trans kid in the Midwest, and he said that that didn’t define him nearly as much as being a Chinese-American did. And I just thought that was so insightful and so helpful, in terms of creating character. The things that we think define people often don’t. I don’t wake up every morning and think, “Hey, I’m a gay woman, what am I going to eat for breakfast?” [laughs] That’s not my starting place. I don’t think, “Hey, I’m a gay woman, how am I going to drive to work right now?” I think that just getting into his story, it revolves around grief and it has nothing to do with his transition, and I think having a character who doesn’t carry shame about who they are is really important for that community, for all of us. There was always something aspirational about THE L WORD, and I want everyone to be included in that story of aspiration.
AX: In terms of storylines, apart from success, is it about people in different economic strata, or …?
RYAN: Yes. I still think that the show is pretty aspirational, I think we don’t show queer people not doing well – that’s one of the things I find important. I want kids in Middle America to watch us and be like, “I’ve got to go to L.A.” That’s one of my sincere desires. Can I tease anything else? It’s really a relationship drama, so it’s hard to tease. The hook is that it’s THE L WORD. And you know what to expect.
AX: Are you shooting Los Angeles for Los Angeles?
RYAN: We shoot L.A. for L.A., which is a huge advantage that the original didn’t have. L.A. really is like another main character of the show for sure. The weather, the East Side, downtown – we’re really all over. I apologize to all of the residents for the traffic. It’s us.
AX: In East L.A., you also have VIDA shooting.
RYAN: Yes, exactly. It’s us or VIDA. That’s who’s holding up the street [laughs].
AX: And what would you most like people to know about THE L WORD: GENERATION Q?
RYAN: I just really want people to see themselves on television, people who haven’t seen themselves yet. I can’t check all boxes, I don’t think that that’s a useful starting point to make television, but just with the cast that we have, I think there’s high-school kids all over that are going to like to see themselves. You should not watch this show if you’re a little kid [laughs], just to be super-clear. Do not let little kids watch the show. But yeah, I want to put more faces on television.
This interview was conducted during Showtime’s portion of the Summer 2019 Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.
Article Source: Assignment X
Article: Exclusive Interview with THE L WORD: GENERATION Q creator Marja-Lewis Ryan