What is it about Leisha Hailey? Before her latest project: playing bisexual journalist Alice Pieszecki on dyke soap The L Word, Hailey was already a VFL -“ a Very Famous Lesbian. There was her stint as one half of college favourites The Murmurs, for example, and her onscreen queer turn in 1997 dyke film-fave All Over Me. Not to mention her much talked about long-term relationship with then-world’s-most-famous-lesbian kd lang.
But it’s The L Word that has taken Hailey’s talents to a whole new audience (as well as inspiring a generation of dykes to track down Murmurs records).
As the only out cast member -“ rumours persist about several of her co-stars -“ Hailey tells the Star the show is a dream come true.
It’s pretty awesome for me, Hailey says.
I’m on a steady series that’s doing really well, and it’s about something that’s really personal as well. It’s probably one of the most important things I’ve ever done.
Like her character, Hailey is smart, and sweet. The only time she prickles is when asked what it’s like to have her relationships picked apart by the media (It’s weird, she says. But it doesn’t really happen any more. For the record, Hailey is currently dating L Word stylist Nina Garduno).
The links between actor and her funny, slightly crazy character almost end there, she says, at least in the first series.
I’m not so quick-witted, Hailey says. I wish I was. We’re pretty different and I kind of live through her in a way, always having a witty thing to say.
But it’s the flaws in her character that Hailey thinks audiences relate to. In the first series she dates a lesbian-identified man, falls in love with her best friend and stupidly goes back to an evil ex-girlfriend.
I think when characters are perfect it’s hard to believe because none of us in life are really like that. Alice is not hiding anything, she comes clean about who she is. She’s a good friend to the other characters -“ sort of a hub, who the other characters come to. And I think people can see their friends in her.
Despite the slowness of getting the program to Australia (at time of press, Channel Seven had no start date for the second series, which just finished screening in the US), The L Word has developed a wide international audience, and the cast is currently in Vancouver filming a third series.
Which, Hailey says, isn’t bad for the first soap opera based around non-straight women.
It has never been done before so I was actually surprised at how mainstream it’s become, she says.
I guess it’s because the characters are good and I think if you have good characters on a show the whole sexuality thing is kind of nonexistent. The audience just gets interested in the people. But there’s moments, for sure, where you’re like, okay, this is a lesbian show, obviously.
It’s one thing being an out lesbian in a band, but being out and in a show carrying the weight of expectation of dyke communities all over the world is another thing entirely. While Hailey thinks being open about her sexuality is important, she concedes she didn’t have much say in it.
The more people are out the easier it is for everyone else, she says. I was never in the closet and once I told my parents about it, and they were amazing, I never had anyone to keep it from, she says.
So I just lived my life and our band slowly became successful. I never would have wanted to go back in the closet, but it was funny to get put into this -˜out lesbian’ role. I never thought -˜I’m going to go out there and out myself’. I just was who I was and people got to know me.
One of the best episodes from series one features five characters driving to the Dinah Shore Weekend, a golf tournament in Palm Springs turned mega-lesbian-love-in. For an outsider looking in, the thousands of lesbians sitting around the pool, getting smashed and going to white parties looks like a crazy dyke dream.
Hailey played at a couple of Dinah Shores with The Murmurs and says the episode gets it exactly right.
It’s wild. It’s definitely something to see. There’s a couple of lesbian things in the States that when you go to them you can’t believe they exist. The Michigan Women’s Festival is like that. It’s so much fun, it’s like 10,000 women taking over the woods. You pitch your tent, and it’s a little town. You have coffee shops, meetings about whatever thing you’re interested in; there’s a baby dyke camp, an S and M camp -“ I saw it!
Hailey recognises the pressures The L Word writers are under to try to appeal to the widest audience possible, as well as the pressures coming from the diverse lesbian community.
As the show is the first to include full-time, full-lived lesbian characters, a lot of its queer viewers are looking for their own identity. Impossible, Hailey says.
I don’t think it’s fair to have the weight and this huge responsibility on the show’s back. It’s the first time it’s ever happened, there’s only eight characters, and there’s just no way we could represent every kind of lesbian. It’s impossible. And I do think there’s been too much pressure put on the show to do that.
It’s important for the writers to catch themselves and say -˜are we crossing the line here?’ But then I think -˜it’s a TV show, it’s for entertainment and if people are a little overboard then that’s what TV is all about’. We’re supposed to yell at the TV, that’s what makes it fun. If I were a viewer, I’d be yelling sometimes as well.
MGM will release The L Word Season One box set in Australia on Wednesday 13 July. Advance ordering and online purchasing can be done at www.out.com.au