THE L WORD: GENERATION Q is in its first season on Showtime. The series, about a group of lesbian, queer and trans friends in Los Angeles, is a follow-up to Showtime’s earlier THE L WORD, which ran 2004 through 2009. Three of the original cast members – Jennifer Beals as Bette, Leisha Hailey as Alice, and Katherine Moennig as Shane – are reprising their roles. True to the GENERATION Q part of the title, there are some new faces as well.
One of these is Jacqueline Toboni as Sarah Finley, who goes by her last name and works with Hailey’s character Alice. Toboni was born in San Francisco and studied acting in Michigan. She is perhaps best known for playing Trubel (pronounced “Trouble”), one of the title monster hunters, in three-and-a-half seasons of GRIMM. Toboni has also been in the film LIKED, written and directed by THE L WORD: GENERATION Q creator/show runner Marja-Lewis Ryan, and in three seasons (so far) of Netflix’s series EASY.
ASSIGNMENT X: Before coming onto THE L WORD: GENERATION Q, you had worked with Marja Lewis-Ryan. So had you been a fan of the original THE L WORD to begin with, or were you mainly a fan of working with Marja-Lewis Ryan?
JACQUELINE TOBONI: Both. I mean, first, I was a fan of THE L WORD, before I even knew Marja. I was watching it in high school, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was really groundbreaking, and the show meant a lot to me, particularly when I was in high school. And then I met Marja, and it was nice to see a woman directing her first movie at such a young age, and doing a kickass job of it, and a queer woman, at that. I think I was not ready to make that leap myself. Marja radiates positivity and is such an inspiration, and I’m so pleased that I met her. She really changed my life a lot. After that, we did a play together.
Right around that time, I found out that THE L WORD was coming back and she was doing it, and I could not believe it. I was like jaw on the floor, “I can’t believe you get to do this, this is the dream.” I was so thrilled for her. And to get to be a part of it now is crazy. I didn’t think in a million years I’d be here. Even with Marja directing, it just seemed too good to be true. But it’s the perfect storm. She’s a rock star, and as a fan of the show, I could not have put the show in better hands, knowing her so well.
AX: Did she create the character of Finley specifically for you?
TOBONI: I think you’re going to have to ask her that. I don’t know. There’s definitely some similarities on the page [laughs], just in terms of energy and vernacular, but that just might have changed afterwards because I got the part, and/or she’s writing for me now.
AX: Once you got the part, how much do you discuss Finley and her trajectory with Marja-Lewis Ryan?
TOBONI: A lot. I think Marja and I have a shorthand, because we’ve known each other for so long. So much stuff is unsaid – we get each other – but a lot of us have gone into the writers’ room and talked about our experiences, and our identities, and I think they take some stuff, and take it into account, or they’ll ask really specific questions, like, “Who are you in an argument, if you were going to argue? Have you ever felt unrequited love?” Things like that, just really general questions, to see who we are as people. And so in regard to those, I think Marja already knows a lot of the answers for me.
AX: Do you have any things where you say, “It would be fun if I could get to do this, or have a scene with this person,” or anything like that?
TOBONI: Not something that big, but definitely, things will arise on set, where it’s like, “Oh, we need a quick rewrite for this, because the camera is not picking up the line,” and I’ll just start talking. If it’s a Finley question, I’ll just start talking, and she’s like, “Yeah, that one.” Because Finley is a mile a minute, just off the top of her head. I’m throwing stuff in there all the time, and a lot of time, it gets nixed [laughs].
AX: Does Finley talk faster than you talk normally?
TOBONI: I think so, yeah. Not faster, just more off the top of her head. Whatever’s coming out is coming out [snaps fingers]. It’s really quick. I don’t think she’s much of a thinker.
AX: Is that challenging to play?
TOBONI: It’s very challenging, because usually when you’re talking, or specifically with acting, you’re hearing the other person, listening, and then developing the thought, and then it comes out. And a lot of times, Finley is doing none of those things [laughs], so it really is technical in terms of having the thought come out of nowhere. But my God, is it fun. I am having an absolute blast with this character.
AX: How is the schedule for THE L WORD: GENERATION Q, compared to other things you’ve done? Would having too much time to work on the material be difficult, because Finley is so much off the top of her head that if you have too much time to think about it, Finley might have too much time to think about it?
TOBONI: Yeah. You can’t work this character too hard, for sure. It’s a lot of me, which I think, once I realized that, I got to have some freedom with it, which I think was good. The schedule is a lot easier than GRIMM’s. GRIMM was a lot of nights, a lot of group stuff, and it was hard. And I loved every minute of it. I really like working a lot. I like being in the thick of it, I like being on set, I like being exhausted and doing it, the camaraderie that comes with that. And this week was a little rough. There are so many characters that it’s pretty spread out.
AX: Did you change your hair color for Finley, or did you come in already blonde?
TOBONI: Matthew Holman, our hair person, is brilliant, and he said, “I’m going to cut off all your hair, and dye it blonde.” And I said, “Okay.”
AX: Did you have any expectations of THE L WORD cast members who are reprising their roles, and are did the people turn out to be the same or different than those expectations? And Ilene Chaiken, for that matter, who was one of the creators of the original THE L WORD and is on GENERATION Q as an executive producer?
TOBONI: Oh, man. The first time you meet Ilene, it’s just an emotional and spiritual experience. She’s so grounded and true to herself and generous. She just has a generosity of spirit. So that’s what I’ll say about Ilene. The other cast members – I think the first thing that settles in when you get this job, and learn that you’re coming onto a show, is fear. You want it to be your job, and you want it to be your story, but you also don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. And you’re nervous about territory stuff [laughs]. And they have been the exact opposite. They’re so gracious and generous and welcoming, and I think, to them, asking them about the old show, they’re like, “Yeah, this is so completely new. The characters are the same, we’re sinking right back into them, but this feels, the experience feels really different, and let’s make this together.” So it does feel familial in that way already.
AX: Without getting too spoilery, can you say who the other characters are that you mainly interact with?
TOBONI: They just put out a picture, and it’s all the newbies in the photo, and it’s from [an episode], so you definitely know that we know each other. I can say that. I work with Alice, as does Sophie [played by Rosanny Zayas], so I’ll give you that, and who knows? Alice knows Shane, I might know Shane. I’ll leave it at that.
AX: THE L WORD: GENERATION Q touches on some subject matter that the previous series didn’t discuss much, or at all. Are you learning anything new, or is this stuff you were all pretty much aware of in life anyway?
TOBONI: I mean, I think I’m a pretty knowledgeable person, but I am definitely growing and learning every single day, and everyone’s really open to teaching you and learning from each other. The O.G.s want to hear Leo’s story [female-to-male trans actor Leo Sheng plays female-to male trans character Micah Lee], and want to understand Leo, and Brian [Brian Michael Smith, who plays Pierce Williams]’s story, and want to understand that experience, because everybody’s experience is different. Leo and I have a lot of good chats, just because he’s so open about really specific things. The other day, I was asking, “What is the best way to ask someone their pronouns, or should you wait until somebody brings it up, or how do you bring it up …?”
AX: What is the answer to that question?
TOBONI: It varies for everybody, I think. My question was – you’re going to have to ask Leo the answer, but my question was, because if you’re asking someone their pronouns, you’re automatically assuming something about them. And I don’t like that, either. But I want to make sure people are comfortable, and I’m using the correct pronoun. And this probably isn’t correct, but I default to “they” a lot, even when I’m talking about somebody who is clearly binary.
AX: I still get kind of confused with “they,” only because I automatically then think the word is referring to more than one person.
TOBONI: Yes. The more you use it, the easier it is, but it’s hard at first, because it feels like a [unint.] thing that your seventh-grade English brain is having trouble with, but you get over it pretty quickly.
AX: THE L WORD: GENERATION Q is set in Los Angeles and shoots in Los Angeles. Had you shot this much in L.A. before?
TOBONI: No. I had only shot one day in L.A. previous to this. Everything else I’ve filmed has been out of town. And my God, is it nice. This show has everything lined up to be a dream come true. You get to keep all your friends, and your community, and your apartment, and you don’t have to pick up and just go to a random place that you have no connection to. So I’m really thankful.
AX: THE L WORD: GENERATION Q shoots a lot in Silverlake …
TOBONI: I love it. I live right there. I’ve actually biked past my house before while filming. And we film in Culver City as well.
AX: To ask about GRIMM, were you happy with the way it wrapped up at the end of six seasons?
TOBONI: Yeah. I mean, reading that penultimate episode, where Hank and Wu [the Grimm’s police allies, played by, respectively, Russell Hornsby and Reggie Lee] die, I was a mess [laughs]. That was a hard read, and it was so good, because it really hit me. And ultimately, I think you don’t want all your main characters to go kaput, but some part of you does, so I think the writers did a good job of fulfilling both things. Both things can be true at once in a different universe. I’m just wondering what happened to Trubel and Hannah [R. Lloyd]’s character [the super-powerful Diana] on the other side of that vortex. Because Nick [played by David Giuntoli] comes back through. We don’t come back through [laughs]. I wondered about that a bit, but they did a great job.
AX: Do you miss any of the running, jumping, hitting you got to do in GRIMM?
TOBONI: A lot [laughs]. I miss it a lot, I miss Trubel. Yeah, I miss being combative. I miss the fights, I miss the stunts. I am really fortunate that Finley – I think of myself as a very physical actor. You see that on GRIMM a lot, and I’m happy that Finley is also incredibly physical. Obviously, not in the same ways, because the arenas are so different [laughs], of THE L WORD and GRIMM, but I could throw a couple punches, for sure. Maybe in the outtakes.
AX: Do you do the fan convention scene at all for GRIMM?
TOBONI: Yeah, I’ve done a couple actually. I did one in Atlanta, and I did one in New Zealand. I love it. I love meeting fans of GRIMM. It’s interesting to have a show that draws all types of people in, and a lot of times, I find people watch it with other people in their life. So like a son and a daughter, whatever. It’s a show that brings people together, so I really like that, and I really like meeting everybody that comes to the conventions.
AX: Are you prepared for THE L WORD fandom?
TOBONI: I have no idea what that’s going to be like. I mean, EASY prepared me a little bit. It’s been a little bit crazy. No. I don’t know. We’ll see how it goes. You can’t even plan for what the show’s going to be, because who knows?
AX: Speaking of the Netflix series EASY, what is that, and who do you play?
TOBONI: I play a character named Jo, who is a queer woman living in Chicago, who dates Chase, who is Kiersey Clemons’s character, and later on has a relationship with Sophia Bush’s character, Alexandria. It’s sort of navigating relationships with people.
AX: So it’s a relationship drama?
TOBONI: Yes. It’s mumblecore, so it’s very realistic. It’s a lot of improv. There’s a lot of really interesting actors in there. I just saw Judy Greer [who was also in EASY and is currently on Showtime’s KIDDING] – it was nice to reconnect with her.
AX: Are you particularly looking to play queer women at this point, or is this just how you’re being cast?
TOBONI: I think both. [I want to play] the character if it speaks to me, not necessarily the sexual identity. I think there need to be more queer women on screen, so if you need someone to play them, I’m your girl. In no way is that exclusively what I’m trying to do.
AX: How is this experience for you, having a whole day of talking to the press?
TOBONI: I really love it. I am a theatre person, so I am an extrovert. I get energized by talking to people. I love it, I love meeting new people, and talking about the show, so I don’t really have any problems with it. I kind of look forward to it.
AX: Do you have any other projects we should know about?
TOBONI: I have a couple movies – THE BYGONE and THE STAND AT PAXTON COUNTY. EASY Season 3 is one I would recommend watching. Michael Chernus and Elizabeth Reaser have two episodes in there that are must-watches, and Marc Maron’s episode is, I think, one of the best things on television. I think that episode deserves an Emmy, so definitely tune in to see those brilliant actors.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about THE L WORD: GENERATION Q?
TOBONI: That it’s a lot of fun. You’re going to have fun watching it. And it might punch you in the gut sometimes, but mostly it’s a great time.
This interview was conducted during Showtime’s portion of the Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.
Related: Exclusive Interview with THE L WORD: GENERATION Q stars Leisha Hailey and Katherine Moennig on returning to the iconic series
Related: Exclusive Interview with THE L WORD: GENERATION Q co-creator Ilene Chaiken on Season 1
Related: Exclusive Interview with THE L WORD: GENERATION Q creator Marja-Lewis Ryan
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Article: Exclusive Interview with THE L WORD: GENERATION Q star Jacqueline Toboni on the new Showtime reboot and the end of GRIMM