Jennifer Beals says ‘The L Word' reboot has evolved with the next generation of the LGBTQ community
“The L Word,” which last aired on Showtime 10 years ago, returns to the cable network this month with a slightly modified title - “The L Word: Generation Q” - and a mix of new and original cast members, including Jennifer Beals.
“When we first went off the air, we really thought that it would be replaced by another show that would be very similar in its structure in terms of having a lesbian community - or the queer community, anyway - at the center of the story,” Beals said recently. “And while we have shows that are closer to that now - I think ‘Orange Is the New Black' occupied some of that space - there wasn't anything like it. And you realize, working on the show for that amount of time, how important visibility is.
“For me,” she added, “it was important, particularly after the election when we saw how the administration almost immediately started attacking the LGBTQ community, to have this show come back. And frankly, on a cultural level I thought there were so many new stories to tell because the lexicon has shifted so radically since we went off the air. The ideas of how people are identifying themselves are very different and I thought it would be interesting to start looking at that.”
Other familiar faces from the show's first incarnation include Leisha Hailey as Alice (hilarious as ever, now a no-holds-barred TV talk show host) and Katherine Moennigas Shane (slouching toward a divorce she's ambivalent about, while distracting herself with revamping a sports bar into a lesbian night spot).
Beals steps back into the role of the impeccable power player Bette, who is now running for mayor of Los Angeles while juggling single motherhood to a teenager who is starting to rebel.
Despite the onslaught of reboots and revivals these past few years, this is the first series that Showtime has brought back. “We try to be really careful and judicious about rebooting,” said Gary Levine, the network's president of entertainment.
So why return to this show - and why now? “The world of LGBTQ, etc. has evolved and grown so dramatically since the time of ‘The L Word' that we really wanted to see if we could bring in someone who could capture that in 2019,” he said. “And (showrunner) Marja-Lewis Ryan, I think, has done that really well. And between (the show's original creator) Ilene Chaiken and Marja and the original cast and the new cast, I think there's a really beautiful blending of the best of the old and yet whole new prism through which to look at this world.”
This time out, you really sense the diverging lives of the different generations on the show. Another major difference: Trans characters are played by trans actors, which Beals said was important to her.
It's been a decade since she played Bette - what is it like to step back into the role?
“Oh, it's really fascinating,” said Beals. “First, you have to think about how this person has changed in 10 years and what's happened to them. And then there's a core truth of who they are. It was just very interesting going through the whole costume process and being in wardrobe and trying on different things for the pilot. Are we going to try dresses? Well, that didn't seem like Bette. And I was like, we need to go back to the suit and the cuff links and the crisp shirt, just so I can feel it. And as soon I put it on - as soon as the cuff links passed through the hole in the shirt - I was like: OK, now we're back to this. Now I get it. I needed my cuff links.”
Beals is a Chicago native (she grew up on the South Side at the corner of 82nd and Indiana before moving to Sandburg Village). Though she would ultimately leave to pursue both acting and her education, there is a detail on her Wikipedia page - as a teenager, she worked as an usher at the Steppenwolf Theatre during its run of “Balm in Gilead” - that suggests she might have taken a different path.
“You're assuming that I saw a path!” she responded with a laugh. “That's very generous of you! I just went to where things interested me.
“I didn't think of it as the Chicago theater scene. Like, I didn't put labels on it that way. I thought the Steppenwolf was an amazing theater with an amazing group of people, and that I was energized by being there. I thought any show that plays Springsteen that loudly in the beginning is a show I want to be in. They didn't even have to start the show and I was like, ‘I'm in!' And I was energized by Second City, they used to have this free thing at midnight or 10 o'clock at night, and I would go to that and just watch them work.”
After graduating from Francis W. Parker School (where she was friends with Daryl Hannah), Beals went on to Yale University.
“I was going to have to work to be able to afford college, because my mother certainly couldn't afford it. She didn't even know where I was applying to school - like, I just walked into the living room and said, ‘I just got accepted into Yale,' and we both started crying.
“And nobody had mentioned to me that there was this thing called a scholarship that you can apply for. I didn't even know those existed, really. And I had enough for the first year - I had saved enough money doing little modeling jobs and things in Chicago - but I didn't have enough for the second year.
“And that's when I got cast in a film and I was able to pay for the second year.” That film was “Flashdance,” which led to more work. “And then I could finance the rest of my college education, so I never took out a loan or anything.”
As for “The L Word: Generation Q,” Beals' presence helps to bring a sense of continuity. But she isn't locked into ideas about how they made the show previously.
“You don't want to hold on so tight to the older version that you don't let something in that's new and fresh and true. So you're working a balance of maintaining the integrity of the past but letting it breathe into the future and let it become something new.
“You can't expect it to remain the same, so let it evolve. But make sure that it evolves with integrity.”
“The L Word: Generation Q” premieres Dec. 8 on Showtime.