What would The L Word be like without Bette Porter? It’s unthinkable to even contemplate such a question, and thankfully, we never had to, as Jennifer Beals was indeed available to star in The L Word: Generation Q. The reboot finds Bette running for mayor, which is also to say running away from her grief in the wake of her sister Kit Porter’s death. Shane (Katherine Moennig) and Alice (Leisha Hailey) round out the original cast, though they’re later joined by a special guest: none other than Tina (Laurel Holloman). “She walked in the door like part angel, part baller,” Beals recalled of her on-screen reunion with Mama T, who turns up on Bette’s doorstep wearing leather pants.
Beals is well aware that Tina’s reappearance was all too brief; the actress—who’s also one of the series’s executive producers—is already working on bringing her back for season 2. (“If I have to drag her,” she said with a laugh.) Here, Beals reflects on Sunday night’s season 1 finale, and foreshadows a bit more of what’s next.
I’m very excited to be talking about the finale with you—it was great. I cried a lot.
What made you cry? Tell me what made you cry.
Well, mainly seeing Bette break down like that, and then seeing Angie comfort her. That really got me.
Yeah, yeah. To have a child comforting a parent in that way is really brutal. Early on, I realized, Oh—this whole season is about mourning, about grief. Bette doesn’t really know how to deal with that, and she’s been working and working and working. Her way of honoring her sister has been to run for mayor, and to try to right the wrongs that caused her sister’s death. And so when she doesn’t make it—when she isn’t able to offer her sister that gift—it just takes the wish for the next day away. First there’s the dinner with Tina where she says she’s getting married, and then when that’s topped with losing the election. And then she just can’t anymore. There’s got to be a tipping point. Once somebody who avoids things by being in movement stops moving, it’s a real signal of a breakdown. I think in a way, Angie is really the only thing that keeps her alive in that moment.
I thought that was a really smart way to do it—it was so much more effective than just seeing her cry. Since we haven’t seen Bette get that low before, how did you decide what it would look like for her to reach that point?
We talked about it a lot. We thought, Okay, what would be the scariest thing for Angie to see? And it’s when her mother wants to do nothing. Her mother, who’s always working and trying to solve problems, is sleeping on the couch, and can’t really move. That’s probably the most terrifying thing for her child to see.
Did you know at that point that the series was going to be renewed?
Well, I had a feeling. I mean, I’m a hopeful person in general—oddly so. Also, I feel like I’ve been on a lot of shows, and so at a certain point you’re crafting things. It’s a different relationship than when you’re just starting out.
Have you spoken with Pam Grier [who played Bette’s sister Kit] at all since the original series?
I gave her my number and I haven’t heard from her in a while, but we were talking when the show first started. I know she’s working really hard. She’s working a lot.
How did Bette come to focus on the opioid crisis?
Well, we were trying to figure out what Bette would be motivated by, so we were talking about the issues at play in Los Angeles. And obviously the homeless crisis looms large. You can’t avoid thinking about it. Even people who would want to bury their heads in the sand—you’re driving and you see people suffering. And once you start going down the rabbit hole of homelessness, it then tangentially starts to get to other issues. I think it was an issue that Marja[-Lewis Ryan, the showrunner] really wanted to work on in detail, and I think she did a really good job of doing that.
Have you ever thought about going into politics yourself?
Oh my god, oh my god, never. [Laughs.] Never in a million years. Like, can I tell you—when I was six, seven years old, I would have these nightmares that the world was ending. The apocalypse had come. And there was this building with all these chairs and old paintings that was sort of bombed out, but was still clearly Congress. I was being asked to be president, and I ran away. [Laughs.] I was like, I don’t want to be president! I don’t, I don’t, I don’t.
You’d rather the apocalypse?
No. I’d rather be an actor, and be able to tell many, many, many stories, than be a politician. I tip my hat to anybody who wants to become a politician, especially in today’s age.
Did the role make you feel more sympathetic toward politicians, especially now that the presidential race is getting underway?
I mean, if you follow politics at all, you have an awareness of what’s at stake for someone personally, and what’s at stake for their families. What I think surprised me—and the writers didn’t catch on to this—is why nobody came after me for a friend of mine dying at my house. You know what I mean? That never came up.
Well, you mentioned it to Dani, right?
Yes, I mentioned it to Dani: Here’s these things that are in my past. But the fact that the press doesn’t do it is interesting, because it could have been another way to bring up Jenny’s story.
I’m sure people would have loved that.
Did you raise that point?
There are so many things, you know? What’s interesting and really beautiful about this new iteration of the show is you have all these new characters that need to be tended to, like a garden. You really have to tend to those new characters and make sure they get rooted—in the case of a television series, make sure they have the time on-screen for people to understand who they are. I think that was the big priority for Marjan—to make sure that those characters had enough time on-screen for people to be able to understand and empathize with them.
That’s part of why I was so happy to hear it was renewed. It felt like just as I was getting to know the new people, I wouldn’t be able to spend time with them anymore.
Exactly. You understand the characters from the previous show, because you share a history with them. But the newer characters need more time.
Have you seen all of the original series?
I have, but not all of it recently. I rewatched a lot of it to prepare in the writers room, talking with the writers about the character.
Was there anything that stood out to you, even just on the level of what you were wearing? I guess Bette was pretty well-dressed compared to everyone else.
You know what? Everyone was well-dressed for their time—it’s when you go back and look at things. But I think Bette’s wardrobe was great, and it lasts. It’s classic. There’s not much I can think of in Bette’s wardrobe that doesn’t pass the 10-year test.
I noticed that Bette was wearing cufflinks in this series, just like in the original.
Deirdra [Govan, the show’s costume designer] and I were trying to figure out, Okay, in 10 years, how has she changed the way she dresses? She’s also running for mayor, so perhaps can’t be as fashion-forward as she would normally be. Deirdra was trying different things and being very adventurous, and at a certain point, I said, I think I just need a power suit and some cufflinks. In the first go-round, that was what really grounded me to the character. I had a whole collection of different cufflinks that were so exquisite. I really loved this taking on a man’s uniform and making it my own, and having a difference.
Do you still have any of those original cufflinks?
I do, actually.
Do you ever wear them?
I don’t. I don’t really have many shirts that require them. But I get to look at them every now and again, which makes me happy. And if my husband’s lucky, he can borrow them.
I have to ask you about Tina. I was ecstatic to see her.
Oh, you and me both.
I was freaking out about it, and then it was so nice to see interviews with you saying you wanted her back more than anyone.
Oh my gosh, yeah. It would have been great to have her back fully, but Laurel [Holloman] has been working [as a full-time painter]. And it was sort of a Tetris puzzle for Marjan. She only had eight episodes to figure out how to board everything in.
Do you know if Laurel will be more available next season?
If I have anything to say about it, yes. [Laughs.] If I have to drag her!
Have you started work on season 2 at all?
No, we haven’t started talking about the story too much. But I did talk to Laurel, and she said she would definitely be open to it, if her schedule allows it.
Ah! That’s so great.
I think it’s such an important story to tell, you know? The coparenting, the continuation of that relationship—it’s important, and it’s rich with all kinds of nuance and complexity.
What’s it like for you and Laurel to work together now? Is it different?
Not at all. It’s like no time has passed at all. Zero time. It’s just really simple, you know? Almost like a shorthand. And I love that Deirdra put her in leather pants. It was so fantastic. She walked in the door like part angel, part baller. It was incredible.
What did you think about how things turned out for the other characters in the finale?
Well, I’m dying to see how all the business at the airport works out. That’s a really hard one. Maybe it’s because I personify Bette working with Dani, but I have to say that Dani’s been working really, really hard. She’s drifted away because she’s been working hard, but to judge her for working hard doesn’t quite seem fair. But then again, if she’s pulled away that easily, then maybe it wasn’t meant to be.
You and Shane have some really nice scenes together this season.
Yeah, we didn’t really have very many scenes together the first go round, so it was a really nice change. I love working with Kate. We had so much fun, playing together. I think our favorite scene, for sure, was pretending to be high. It was so weird, because when we left, the crew kept coming up and saying ‘God, I feel like I’m high, just watching you guys.’ And both of us felt like we were stoned by the time we left. Even though, obviously, we were not smoking any cannabis at all.
It would be nice to see some of Laurel’s work featured in the next season.
Well, that would be a little tricky and a little meta, right? I did think about it. I thought, Okay, if Laurel can’t come back, can we have some of her work? But it gets a little meta. That’s a conversation to be had with the writers, and with Laurel, because I don’t know how she’d feel about it.
Did Erin Daniels [who played Dana in the original series] actually join you guys on set? I couldn’t tell if the photo of you all together in front of Dana’s was Photoshopped—it seemed too good to be true.
Oh, that’s so funny. No, no, it wasn’t. Kate called and said, you know, Please come back to set. We have a surprise for you. We wanted to show her Dana’s before she was on TV. And it was amazing. I mean, I’ve seen and spent time with Erin since then, but it’s always nice to have everybody together.
What did you think of Alice’s storyline?
I think Alice is so brave, you know? She’s sort of always been the extremely brave one, and I think the throuple gives the opportunity to tell a very, very complicated story. I really appreciate how she’s so great, so funny with those kids—trying really hard, but not really wanting to be around them, but wanting to be loved nonetheless. It’s interesting, because it makes you think: Well, if they were cuddly with her, and really warm and engaged with her, would she feel differently? How would that change?
Oh gosh, I’d have to think about that. Well, it would be kind of great if Kamala Harris had shown up.
Who’s been your favorite guest on the show in the past?
I mean there’s a lot of people that I want back, frankly. But I cannot stop thinking about Holland Taylor.
Oh my god, same. Please make that happen.
Yeah, I really want Peggy Peabody back. I was begging the writers; she really sticks in my mind. But there are so many people. I want Marlee Matlin [who played Jodi] back. And I know Pam’s really busy, but I want to figure out if it’s within her time schedule to do some flashbacks or something like that. It would be great to have Helena back, too—to have Rachel Shelley back.
Do you know about the Instagram account @betteportergallery?
Somebody mentioned it earlier, but I haven’t seen it.
It’s great. It’s like all celesbian content.
See, I remember my fantasy was that it was an Instagram of all the art that Bette has shown, whether in her gallery or in her house. But the person who mentioned it was like, No, that’s not that. [Laughs.] But that would be great to see.