The L Word creator spills the beans on Generation Q in a DIVA exclusive
BY CARRIE LYELL
Are you as excited as we are about The L Word Generation Q? Want to know who’s coming back and whether there will be an answer to that question that’s plagued us for the last 10 years? Well, we’ve made a list and checked it twice, and have got an early Christmas present for you to unwrap. Rachel Shelley – better known to L Word fans as Helena Peabody – has bagged us a DIVA exclusive, getting the gossip on all things Gen Q from the show’s creator, Ilene Chaiken.
But less from us. You want to hear from them, don’t you? Pop the kettle on, put your feet up, and get listening…
Warning: this interview contains spoilers for The L Word: Generation Q
ILENE CHAIKEN IN CONVERSATION WITH RACHEL SHELLEY: FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT
RS: Aha! Perfect!
IC: There you are!
RS: Hi, Ilene, how are you?
IC: It’s lovely to see you as well as hear you.
RS: You too! It’s really nice to see you. How are you? How are you feeling?
IC: I’m well. I’m very well. I’m so happy to talk to you. I miss you.
RS: You too. Thank you Ilene, thank you so much for talking to DIVA. DIVA magazine has Jennifer on a beautiful cover this month. Really beautiful.
IC: Saw that! It’s fabulous. Thank you. That’s so great.
RS: I have a million questions I could ask you, but let’s make this about DIVA… Ilene Chaiken, creator and showrunner of The L Word as well as Empire and The Handmaid’s Tale. [US viewers are] two episodes into the reboot, Generation Q. How are you feeling about it all?
IC: [Laughs] Well, I’m thrilled to be back. I want to say, for the record, that I am not the showrunner of Generation Q, but still the creator. Yeah, it’s just great and bizarre and gratifying to be back, 10 years later.
RS: Tell me, what does “Generation Q” mean? It wasn’t a term that I was that familiar with. I can take a guess, but…
IC: Well, I don’t actually think it’s a term. It’s made up. It’s a title, rather than a term. It’s a riff on all these other generations we have, none of which I can really keep track of. Generation X. Generation Q, obviously Q stands for queer, or at least suggests queer. I think it’s meant to say, firstly, the new iteration of the show is more inclusive. It’s LGBTQ and everything else. Secondly, it’s a new generation.
RS: How did you feel, moving back into it? Revisiting the world again after 10 years? You shot in LA, so I presume it was a very different experience.
IC: Yes. Very different. Shooting in LA is great because we’re making a show that takes place in LA, so that’s lovely. It just gave us more of a sense of authentically representing the world and the stories that we mean to be telling. In a way, it felt seamless. I’ve never left. Jennifer, Kate, Leisha and I have continued to talk about the show, over all these years. We’ve stayed close, and we’ve been talking for five years about bringing the show back, and just were waiting for the right time. We didn’t talk all the time about what’s happening in Shane’s life right now, or Bette’s, or Alice’s, but we had a sense of life moving forward, of people getting older and going through things and having experiences and starting relationships and ending relationships and starting jobs and ending jobs, and it felt like we were just getting a chance to dip back into these lives that had been being lived all along.
RS: Yeah. I’ve read things, you’ve talked about the “trigger of Trump” and I was thinking, well, we have something to be thankful to Trump for at least! [Laughs]
IC: [Laughs] I don’t know. I don’t want to give him anything… I’m not thankful to him for anything, but we certainly felt that we needed to do everything we could to continue to advocate and be activists and tell our stories and live our lives that are, perhaps under threat, more now than they were the day before that happened.
RS: Absolutely. I loved the trailer that I’ve seen where Jacqueline Toboni says “Time’s Up, Bitches!” and she flips the bird at someone as she cycles past, and I just thought that really put it into a timeframe of where we are. I thought that was a great little moment there.
IC: I agree. I agree. I love that moment.
RS: So, you were talking about Jennifer Beals, Leisha Hailey and Kate Moennig, who play Bette Porter, Alice Pieszecki and Shane McCutcheon respectively. How was their transition from actor to actor/exec producer? How does that change the dynamic?
IC: I don’t know that it really changes the dynamic, because in the way that I’ve worked with all of you, really, I’ve always felt that you’re my partners.
IC: The three of them, as I said, had a lot to do with reviving the show, so it was natural that we would all talk about what the show was, that we wanted to make. What we wanted to say, how we wanted it to feel and work. They all have producer abilities and instincts and so much to contribute, and most importantly, I think, the ownership of the show, and I don’t mean that in a capitalist sense. I mean it in a spiritual sense. They own it.
RS: Yes, I agree with you. I think they are the perfect people to do that, and talking to all the fans over the years, they are the three at the heart of the show, for the fans, as well. I think it’s perfect, personally.
IC: I agree. I think, as a parent, [laughs] one loves all of one’s children. They are the ones that should be doing this. It just fits. It’s right. They have a lot of agency.
RS: If you don’t mind talking a bit about the new show runner, Marja-Lewis Ryan. So she’s a 35-year-old New Yorker, she’s married, with a new born, I hear. Is that right?
IC: That’s all true. All correct.
RS: And she directed a film called Six Balloons. And you, I’ve read, said to her, “Feel free to say it was a dream. I’m not precious about it”.
IC: Ha ha ha! That’s just season six, not the whole thing! Just season six.
RS: Okay, good to know, the big season six. What did you feel made her right for Generation Q?
IC: Well, here’s how it evolved. I met Marja on another project, an interesting little project. She and I were part of a small group of screenwriters who were brought in by Tristar to do an adaptation of Lean In. Anyway, we worked together on this project, which was a great exercise. It never went anywhere, but it was really wonderful, and that’s how I met Marja. She was at the table. She was one of the six women. I had never met her before. From the minute we started working, I was impressed by her. I loved her energy, her quickness, and I loved the little script that she wrote. I got to see how her mind worked and how she processed ideas, and then when The Handmaid’s Tale debuted, I got an email from her, out of the blue, saying “I just watched Handmaid’s Tale, I was so blown away by it and I just wanted to say congratulations”. Showtime and I had just decided that we were going to go forward with The L Word and we were going to invite new writers to pitch on it, so my response to Marja’s congratulatory email about The Handmaid’s Tale was “Thanks very much. Would you be any chance be interested in pitching on a new version of The L Word?
RS: [Laughs] Yes, and the rest is, as they say… Yeah. I also read that she said she has four words as her touch stones: confident, joyful, queer and aspirational, which I thought was lovely. Really beautiful. Do you think her voice is very different from yours?
IC: I think it’s different. I don’t think it’s… I think there are some places where we cross. I think that she’s captured the essence of the show, but our voices are indeed different. We always said going into this, before we had even chosen a writer, it doesn’t have to replicate the original show. It can be different in tone. It’s a new generation, it’s 10 years later. The world has changed and the show can change in any number of ways. So it’s really fun and interesting for me to watch and hear the differences as well as the samenesses.
RS: Do you ever find yourself having to take step back because you want to get more involved, or does it not really work like that?
IC: I try not to do that! There are moments when I see an opportunity and would love to play with it, just because I love the show and the stories, but I try not to do that other thing [laughs].
RS: You’ve mentioned your other work. Very political, The Handmaid’s Tale, which was absolutely beautiful, by the way. Do you feel like your intention when you write is to be political, to change the political conversation, to influence beyond entertainment? Or do you just feel like it happens?
IC: I feel like it happens, but I’m drawn to stories that take on themes that mean something to me. Those are the projects that I’m drawn to creatively. That’s what I like to do. It’s hard to separate one from the other. I don’t think that making television, that writing, that telling stories, is politics, but I think that in one way or another, it often winds up being political. As always, my first obligation and intention is to tell stories that are moving and engaging, but all of those political themes are moving and engaging.
RS: I feel like there’s almost like a new wave of entertainment, TV, film, that is… It’s very refreshing, to have your entertainment operate on different levels, not just entertain, but to have a deeper level, a political viewpoint and view on time and where we are.
IC: I agree, and I think, you know, it always wants to be about something. What we do is just rich with opportunity, so much goes into making these things, it’s just obscene to think that you’d do it and not make it about something.
RS: I’ve read that there’s a couple of great cameos. You’ve got Cameron Esposito, I think.
IC: I love Cameron, and she’s a friend. She’s not on the show, she’s doing recaps of the show I think.
RS: Oh, okay. But I know you’re not going to give me any big spoilers here.
IC: I wish I could, and if I could give them to anyone, I’d give them to you! But I can’t.
RS: [Laughs] Thank you. But I know no one will let me show my face in DIVA if I don’t ask you these questions. Okay, so Jenny was a suicide?
IC: Apparently! Apparently! [laughs] That was not my call, but yes. I said to Marja, as we discussed, season six, which, you know, was a controversial choice, feel free to do anything you want with it. Ignore it, say it was a dream, anything you want. As far as the oft asked question, “Who Killed Jenny?”, you can do the same. You can ignore it, you can answer it. You can say that it was a dream, you can say that Jenny… just, anything. So she made a choice and it seems that Jenny committed suicide in Bette’s swimming pool.
RS: And there you have it! [Laughs] I was like, oh! Wow! It was a suicide. But the other question I have to ask you: who is coming back? Where is Tina? Where are all the people? Who is coming back? That’s what everyone asks me.
IC: Okay, well I hope that lots of people are coming back. That’s really all I can say, other than since the first two episodes have already aired [in the US], it’s known to those who have watched the show that Tina is still around and that she and Bette talk to one another on the phone and, one way or another, share custody of their 16-year-old beautiful daughter.
RS: Sixteen! Oh my god. That really makes you think about the old cast. How we’re so vintage now. It does feel like, oh my goodness. But 16? Wow. Ilene Chaiken, thank you so much for speaking to DIVA, all about Generation Q.
IC: It’s so good to talk to Rachel. We miss you, and in answer to the question “Who’s coming back?”, I certainly hope Helena Peabody is.
RS: What? I can use that?
RS: Oh wow! Great! Well, that’s fantastic. There’s a scoop. Thank you very much! [Laughs]
The L Word: Generation Q hits UK screens early 2020 on Sky Atlantic
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