Inside 'The L Word's' Big Surprise Reunion
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Jennifer Beals and Sunday's surprise guest star talk with The Hollywood Reporter about a reunion that was a decade in the works.Sunday's episode of Showtime's The L Word: Generation Q staged a reunion that was a decade in the making as Jennifer Beals and Laurel Holloman reunited on-screen, with the latter making a surprise guest appearance to reprise her role as Bette's ex-wife, Tina Kennard.
"It felt very surreal,” says Holloman, who retired from acting and has been thriving as a painter for much of the past decade since the original series wrapped.
It has been a more than a decade since audiences saw the fan-favorite, on-again, off-again original L Word couple together. Bette and Tina's often turbulent relationship ended with the couple in a good place as they were last seen raising their daughter, Angie, together, and heading for New York to legally tie the knot. However, Generation Q revealed that Bette and Tina had recently divorced and were co-parenting Angie. The freshman Showtime drama from original series creator Ilene Chaiken and showrunner Marja-Lewis Ryan revealed shortly afterward that Tina surprisingly left Bette and fell in love with someone else. "That was one thing we really had to work on to do very quickly — to fill in all the gaps,” Beals told The Hollywood Reporter in a joint interview with Holloman ahead of Sunday's episode.
The divorce was a result of Holloman's schedule. She was in Paris when Generation Q began production and the former actress and Beals — who remain fiercely protective of the iconic couple — worked with Ryan and Chaiken to come up with the storyline. "It was a gift because I do co-parent,” Holloman tells THR.
Although Tina's presence looms in Generation Q — Bette has been shown having calls with her ex — Sunday's episode was the first time Holloman appeared on screen during the new show. “I am constantly imagining her,” Beals says of scenes in which Tina has been involved but never seen or heard. "She’s in my DNA.”
Tina's return came as Bette found herself in hot water, having pushed the husband of a woman with whom she had an affair down the stairs in a bid to protect Angie (Jordan Hull). Bette, who is running for mayor of Los Angeles, finds herself swarmed by the press and begins to consider dropping out of the race. Tina, as she has always done for Bette since the beginning of The L Word, arrives at her door to talk some sense into her ex. "It was a great time for me to land on the porch,” Holloman says with a laugh. Adds Beals: "Everybody was just a mess because it was so emotional to have Tina back. It was like, OK, we are finally family now.”
In an exclusive joint interview with THR, Beals and Holloman dig into what it was like to reunite on set, if Tina will play a bigger role in the future of the series and the complexities of casting queer stars to play queer roles.
What was it like filming this episode?
Holloman: I have another career and it's been eight or nine years since I have even acted at all. I felt like if I was going to go back and act again, Jennifer is the best safety net in the world. It felt very surreal. It was like getting back on the bike again and then knowing that you've got this partner with you that is going to catch you if you fall. There is something about the character that is so in both of our DNA that there is always some truthful moment going on.
Beals: It was this odd feeling as if no time had passed and as if we were dreaming.
Holloman: It felt very surreal.
Beals: It’s wonderful to have a scene partner where you can just look across at them and nothing has to be spoken, but you’ve lived this history together. Even though it's an imaginary history, it's a history that feels real. Having Laurel back as a scene partner was truly a dream. We went through so many different things [with the original series] that were so intense, so joyful and so painful. So, to just be in the same scene with another person with whom you’ve lived through so much was just a joy as an actor.
Holloman: It’s rare to have that many years with someone and explore so many dynamics of a marriage and a break-up and children and family. It’s pretty loaded.
Beals: That was one thing we really had to work on to do very quickly — to fill in all the gaps — because when we left off everything was happy and wonderful; going off to New York and to be married and then we come back it's like, OK now we are divorced and co-parenting.
How much of a role, if any, did you both have in deciding Bette and Tina would be divorced?
Beals: Laurel has a very vibrant, powerful career as a painter. So, it's not as if she could come back in every episode; she has things that are meaningful that she is working on. It was clear early on because of Laurel’s schedule. To presume that somebody could even be a regular with that schedule is not possible. Then it became about figuring out what the story was if the person can come in for a limited amount of time. Talking to Ilene and Marja, the storyline of co-parenting and complexities of co-parenting after divorce is interesting, so we dove in with that.
Holloman: It was a gift because I do co-parent. I have been divorced from my partner since my children were 2 and 5. And I have a 15-year-old daughter, who was in my belly during the second season of the original show. It was a little complex in that Tina is the one away and she’s going for her career, which we haven’t quite seen. I was struggling with a certain sort of abandonment, but I thought, ‘Well, what’s the difference between a child going to boarding school at 14?' So, I felt like she went at a time where it didn’t look to her so much as abandonment, but it also makes a huge statement on how much she trusts Bette as a co-parent and I thought that was an interesting dynamic.
What was it like on set when you both reunited?
Beals: It felt giddy because all of us were together. Kate [Moennig, who reprises her role as Shane McCutcheon] and Leisha [Hailey, Alice Pieszecki], were there. Even though Leisha exits the scene before Tina arrives, we were all there together so it was just really fun catching up.
Holloman: It felt surreal and deja-vu-y. At one point, Alice walked out and I felt like we had just done a scene like that like it were yesterday.
Beals: The table read for this episode was like no table read I have ever been at. People could not stop crying. There is the scene with Angie and Tina, and Leisha and I were sitting next to each other and we were crying so hard. I ran out of Kleenex and had to use her hoodie. Everybody was just a mess because it was so emotional to have Tina back. It was like, OK, we are finally family now. The family is together now.
Holloman: I couldn’t look over at them because I could see them crying out of the corner of my right eye. I was trying to stay focused on Jordan. I thought I was going to start crying, too.
What do you hope fans old and new take away from Bette and Tina's reunion?
Beals: I hope that it’s this delicious reunion and that they understand that these two people still love each other very much and there are all kinds of complex things that have happened, but that there is a love there and there is a respect there and that they hold on for the ride.
The ending of the episode is very ambiguous. Will viewers see more of Tina?
Beals: There must be more Tina! It’s too important of a storyline. I, as a producer, will take as much of Laurel’s free time as I possibly can to be able to tell that story, because it’s crucial.
Holloman: It is. It’s an interesting story. I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic, so I hope they find a way to be together. But everything has to be earned. We have to find out a little bit more about who Tina is and what she’s been doing and what’s going on.
Would there be a chance for Tina, Bette, Alice and Shane to all reunite in a scene?
Beals: It’s tricky to get everybody together, the way the show is set up right now, but we do our best to make those things happen. There are a lot of things happening to make sure that all the storylines are honored — and we don’t have the set up of The Planet anymore. And, by virtue of it being Los Angeles where everybody has to drive to get to everybody else’s house, it’s a bit more challenging. It’s not like people pop in on each other in L.A.
Looking back, how do you feel about Bette and Tina's relationship during the show's original run?
Holloman: It’s tricky because if you look at season five, there was this growth in Tina where she started to find herself. Ilene and I talked about what a late developer she was. In relationships, everybody is learning lessons all the time and maybe it was a pattern where she got lost again. I also think that when you have a child and you are immersed in raising that child at different times, different parents can get burned out. There must have been something there where she felt confident enough that she had put in so much time and then it kept coming up for her that there was something missing for her. Being divorced for two years is not long. You’re still raw, you’re still a little lost. So, I think in order to play Tina where she was now, I had to grab onto her feeling that she found something that she really needed and it was validating — between the job and the new partner. But it could still be part of her trying to find herself after a divorce.
Beals: From Bette’s point of view, to have the divorce and then have Kitt’s death follow shortly after, it’s a one-two punch that she’s really trying to get through, which makes the co-parenting even more challenging in some ways.
Why do you think it is important to show a LGBTQ couple going through divorce to audiences?
Holloman: There was a storyline a little bit before that we were really fighting. And Jen and I were like, "We wouldn’t be doing this." It’s good to have a reflection that’s positive co-parenting. The most important thing when you are co-parenting is the security and safety of your child.
Beals: What then becomes interesting is that it can look different from different points of view. So, both parents think they are doing that, but invariably there will be a conflict and that conflict is interesting and is important to, as a viewer, to be able to watch that conflict and see how it may reflect your own or how you may decide you want to do things differently.
Laurel Holloman and Jennifer Beals as Tina and Bette
Given the industry's push for authenticity when it comes to casting with gay actors playing gay roles, what would the original series have looked like if it were made for the first time today?
Beals: It’s tricky in the casting process because somebody comes in the room and unless they are completely out, you can’t ask them if they're gay. You would have to have somebody come in and declare who they were and you don’t know where somebody is on their journey.
Holloman: I think it takes away from the process of being an actor.
Beals: You want people to have representation and you want them to be able to fully tell their own stories. Like Kate, for example. When we were doing the original L Word, she wasn’t out and it would have been inappropriate for anyone in the casting room to ask. Because it’s not up to them to force her on her journey, on their calendar. That’s her journey that she needs to take. I hope decades down the line that it won’t matter, that everybody can play everybody. But I do think that it’s important to have representation. It’s trying to figure out how you do that in the casting room; I am not sure how you do it and it’s something we struggled with for sure.
What do you think of the current TV landscape and the strides that have been made with LGBTQ stories? Which shows do you think are doing it right and what hurdles do you think are left?
Holloman: I just finished watching The Affair and the son [Trevor Solloway, played by Jadon Sand] is out and gay and his boyfriend comes to the house and sleeps over. There’s just like an openness and I want to see more of that. I want children to see that there are so many different ways that you can be and be open and be out and it's not a negative storyline, it's a positive storyline. Not the bullying storyline. Just moving through your dreams, your desires, your relationships. That was just the first show that came to mind, but there are more. The thing that I wasn’t seeing, and I think Jennifer would agree, is stories about lesbian women. I didn’t feel like there was another L Word, I didn’t see anything like that.
Beals: It’s important to have all kinds of representations of what love looks like. It’s important for every generation to know that they can express their love in many ways and that it’s not punitive.
What kind of impact do you hope the revival will have on the LGBTQ community and today's generation?
Beals: We’re in a different time. I want people to be able to see themselves reflected whether it is imperfectly or perfectly; that there is some sort of mirror there. My hope is that, if given a second season, we get to go further with those stories.
Holloman: In the episode, I think there’s a chance to also show characters and how they are parenting with their daughter and their daughter’s first love. Going back to what Jennifer said about everybody seeing representation of themselves, from parent to child. This is a part of the story I am very interested in.
The L Word: Generation Q airs Sundays on Showtime at 10 p.m. ET/PT. and in Europe you can watch it at fero.tips
Interview edited for length and clarity.