Jennifer Beals on Returning to The L Word and Why Bette Declares “Death Is Coming”Photo Courtesy of Showtime TV Features The L Word
Ten years after Jennifer Beals hung up Bette Porter’s fabulous pant suits, the actress has returned to reprise her role in The L Word: Generation Q, which finds Bette running for mayor of Los Angeles while still hanging out with her best friends Alice (Leisha Hailey)—who now hosts a popular talk show—and Shane (Katherine Moening), who is nursing a broken heart as only Shane can.
In this new incarnation, Bette, Alice, and Shane interact with new, younger characters (the generation Q of the title) while still navigating their lives, careers, and loves in Los Angeles.
Paste recently had the chance to chat with the always iconic Jennifer Beals about playing Bette, why it’s important to portray menopause on TV, and why the time was right to revisit The L Word:
Paste Magazine: It’s been rumored for years that The L Word might return. Why now?
Jennifer Beals: We tried to orchestrate getting the show back on the air years ago. [Series creator] Ilene Chaiken was always willing, she was just a little busy with a little show called Empire. As soon as the election returns started coming in in 2016 we knew that it was essential to bring visibility to a community that was under attack and to spread the love and close the divide.
You have to ask yourself why any story is the right time. For me, with this story in particular, visibility is the issue in the culture in which we live right now. We live in a very, very divisive time where people’s ontological security is dependent on the mitigation of another group and that can’t hold. We can’t develop as a society that way. I think what this show does is bring visibility to a whole group of people, and thereby bringing agency to a whole group of people. And I think visibility helps open our imagination to not only what is but what could be, and in doing so, shows how we are all much more alike that we are different. Because the culture is so divisive in so many realms—gender, sex, race, ageism —there’s such a deep divide, and certainly the LGBTQ community has been attacked since the moment this administration took office, so I think the visibility is even that much more crucial.
Paste: How did you decide where Bette would be in her life when the story picked up again?
Beals:When we were meeting with different possible showrunners the only thing we had in our mind in terms of story and character was that Bette was running for office and Alice had a talk show—that seemed like a natural progression of their personality given some of the things that had gone on in Bette’s life. So that’s has been really interesting to play with.
Paste: This revival is different from others in that it introduces a whole new cast of characters.
Beals: What we had talked about early on how interesting and different the world had become. Because when we were on the air, same sex marriage wasn’t legalized, so now the world in which we are arriving is very different and the things that we are talking about are different and the lexicon of gender and sexuality is so expanded now. We thought it would be really interesting to have these characters have a whole new generation in which to interface and talk about these issues and bump up against these ideas. And [showrunner] Marja-Lewis Ryan presented a world where all of that is possible.
Paste: It was teased in the premiere and in the episodes following that there’s a reason, the audience is unaware of, that propelled Bette to run for office. How long will we have to wait to find out what that reason is?
Beals: It comes out soon after the third episode. That was one thing I kept pitching: “Can we please let people know earlier?” but I think they wanted to hold that out a little bit.
Paste: My favorite moment in the premiere is when Bette gets hot and announces “death is coming.”
Beals: In one of the first conversation I had with the writers. I said it was very very important to me to talk about race, to talk about motherhood and to talk about aging. We went off the air when Bette was probably 40 so she’s 50 now and she’s probably going through menopause so I really want to play that. There were people at Showtime who had a really hard time believing that was really what I wanted to do, so I had to convince them it was my idea and not the writer’s room. I thought was such an interesting comment on how women want to be portrayed, as if by having less estrogen you’re somehow less powerful, less potent, less valuable. Fertility is not just linked to hormones, it’s also linked to the imagination and to the will. And in that I think Bette is extremely fertile. She has an extraordinary will and extraordinary power. [Laughing] I was talking to a room of writers who were all under the age of 31 and I think they all looked at me like, “Oh that will never happen to me.” I sent them eight to ten articles on menopause.
Paste: I think, like pregnancy, menopause on television is often portrayed as a cliched punchline. This was so refreshing.
Beals: It’s a reminder that things are shifting, and “death is coming” was my line apparently to the writers when I was trying to explain to them, you know, it sets off an alarm in the brain of “life is finite” so what do you want to do, who do you want to be. This is a wonderful signal that life doesn’t last forever in this form, so what do you want to do and go get it done.
Paste: I also love Bette’s relationship with the now adolescent Angie. They have a huge fight in the premiere but they obviously still love each other which I think is so true of mother/daughter relationships.
Beals: It was really important for me to address in the relationship with Angie how she and I were going to stay rooted in some kind of love given all of the tumultuous things that have happened in our lives in the last few years, because that could derail an individual and that could certainly derail a mother and a child. We wanted to make sure there was a struggle but that it was also rooted in love.
There was another draft of their fight that came in that was much softer and I was like, “No, no we’re not Disney, lets go back to that fight. Just because we fight it doesn’t mean we don’t love each other. Let us have the fight.” Because in the fight it shows that she’s safe to say all those things. Your parent is the one person you can completely act out with because they will always love you.
It was so delicious to play that scene with Jordan Hull [who plays Angie] who is such a tremendously talented actor.
Paste: What was it like when you first walked back on the set with Leisha Hailey and Katherine Moennig?
Beals: It’s surreal and it’s heavenly. We had all remained friends. We had all worked very hard to bring the show back and then to see us all in our wardrobe … It was just a wonderful moment.
The L Word: Generation Q airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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