I grew up religiously watching “The L Word,” so in my mind it’s hard to separate Leisha Hailey from Alice Pieszecki, the iconic character she played in the original series. Alice was always my favorite character because of her unwavering honesty, creativity, and hilarious one-liners, and also because so much more was brewing underneath her bubbly exterior. Alice was accessible, but she was also complicated, which made me love her all the more.
15 years later, when I was reintroduced to Alice in “Generation Q,” it felt like coming home. She was still unwaveringly honest, even more so creative, and as witty as always — plus, she had found major success with her talk show, maintained her unbreakable friendship with Bette and Shane, and found love with her partner Nat. Alice was, and is still, unfolding in front of our eyes, revealing new layers each time she graces the screen in an iconic pantsuit.
Speaking to Hailey via Zoom last month was like speaking to an old friend, a rock star, and an icon all in one. Her voice was unmistakably Alice’s, making it all the more difficult for me to separate the two. But a deep conversation with Hailey — in which we talked about all things “Generation Q,” her feelings about, and hopes for Alice, and about what it’s like returning to the most talked-about TV show in the lesbian universe — gave me insight to the fascinating, kind, and funny person that she is in her own right.
GO Magazine: Alice is my all-time favorite character. I came of age with “The L Word,” so it’s a true honor to be speaking with you. Thank you for taking the time to speak with GO Magazine.
Leisha Hailey: Thank you! Nice to meet you. How old were you when the first show came out?
GO: I watched it when I was in middle school, and I would have the remote in my hands and then I’d frantically switch back to Nickelodeon or something if I heard my parents’ footsteps.
LH: Crazy, that’s crazy. What a great story!
GO: Now that I work in lesbian media, am no longer watching “The L Word” in the closet, and am talking to you, it’s kind of bananas. What was your initial reaction to the first day of filming “Generation Q” — was it emotional, was there a sense of home knowing how much the original meant to so many of us?
LH: Oh, god, yes. Well, my first day working with Jennifer [Beals] and Kate [Moennig], where we were at the restaurant drinking coffee– The three of us, including Ilene [Chaiken], had worked so hard for so many years to try to get this show rebooted. Because we all felt like it ended prematurely and that so much has happened and changed in our culture that we wanted to just start telling the stories again, and bringing these characters back to life. So we’d worked so hard to get to that moment when we walked on set that day. I think the three of us were a little shell-shocked when we just sat down at that table and all of a sudden, we all just immediately fell back into our characters. So weird. It was a mind trip, I’ll tell you– but it was incredible. We couldn’t believe we were there.
GO: Yeah, seeing that scene of you guys all together was just like, AH! I can’t imagine how it felt to be there.
LH: And then we all kind of walked away, we were like, ‘Did we just do that? Was this a crazy dream?’
GO: Did you see yourself as a mentor to the new cast? What was it like meeting the new “Gen Q” cast for the first time?
LH: No, I never feel like a mentor. I mean, that’s not a role I ever really play, because I feel like I’m learning so much myself every day. But it was amazing how special it was for [the new cast] to be a part of the show. And they kept making that very clear to us as well; it’s not like passing the baton because we are still there with them. But in a way, it’s like everybody knew what they were holding and the responsibility they were holding, to hold really authentic, honest stories about our community. We wanted [the new cast] to feel like they had the space to tell their own stories and not feel like they were in the shadow of the original show. So everybody was, I think, for the first season, we were all just kind of figuring out how to do that, how to blend the old with the new, right? Those are actually the stories I crave telling on a daily basis with the show. I want more conversations about or between the characters, about the differences in their experiences, and just having [them] learn from each other.
GO: There are a lot of new faces for this season: we have Vanessa Williams and Rosie O’Donnell. Were you able to create a synergy, despite the Covid restrictions? Who were you most excited to work with?
LH: Well, I was most excited to work with Rosie O’Donnell because I’m a massive fan of hers. I mean, massive! Yeah. I want to work with her more. Covid restrictions changed everything on our set. God, it was the weirdest thing. It did change how we got to hang out on set or in our task holding areas. We were all spaced out and we had to keep masks on at the beginning, but towards the end of shooting, most people were vaccinated and we could all hang out a little bit more. We were always in our masks, but it just felt a little more like we could breathe a sigh of relief.
GO: I can basically recall everything that’s ever happened on “The L Word.” Alice went from obsessed with a cardboard cutout of Dana to being in love with Tasha to hooking up with Papi to playing mom to Nat’s kids, to a three-way girlfriend. What is the emotional journey of relationships like for Alice and what do you think her character ultimately wants from love?
LH: Well, I can tell you that she’s definitely still searching. I think she’s a very, very open and experimental person with her sexuality. I mean, it’s very clear she’s a bisexual. Ultimately, I think Alice is craving some sort of domesticity where she’s settled down, but she has someone. I really think she needs someone to make her laugh in order to keep her interested. And that’s what Dana used to do. So I think she’s looking for that partner, that [is] much like a friend. I think that that’s kind of what my hope at the end of this series would be, that she found love. I think she’s set career-wise, like, [she’s] definitely reached a lot of goals. But I think love is the one thing she’s still looking for, and I think losing her best friend and girlfriend, Dana, really just kind of derailed the train. I hope — I wish that for her. I hope that for her, that she’s going to end up with someone perfect.
GO: I do, too. Dana is a hard act to follow, but we will hope.
GO: Season one of “Gen Q” left the viewers and a few character arcs in limbo. Do you think we’ll see a resolution for Sophie, Finley and Dani? And as a fellow character in a love triangle, what advice would you offer to Sophie?
LH: My love triangle was very different.
GO: At least you were in on it.
LH: I have to say, I think a good TV show never has the resolution. I think things can get close to being resolved. But first of all, I can’t spoil anything. And second of all, I mean, I’m personally interested in shows where it’s kind of always stringing me along, right? Not to say that that’s what they’re doing. But I don’t know if anybody… Does anybody really figure it out? Do they know?
GO: Yeah, that makes sense. Especially when it comes to love. My all time favorite OG sex scene in “The L Word” was when Alice met Ula, the ‘vampirologist,’ and the threesome in “Gen Q” was so sexy. What was your all-time favorite sex scene to shoot? And what was it like filming sex scenes during a pandemic?
LH: I think my all-time favorite sex scene is the first one I had with Dana with Alice, when they first got together. I remember, we were so invested in telling that story well, and excited to have these characters finally come together. I remember we had so many meetings back in the day with our director and just [came] up with all different ideas of like, ‘Okay, how would they have sex? And why?’ Because they’re so playful. What would they — what would be the things involved in that night? We just wanted to add a little humor to it. So I remember that being a really collaborative and funny experience. I loved the result of the whole thing. I have to say that’s my favorite. And what was it like shooting sex scenes in a pandemic? Strange, but it’s also that, you know, Showtime, and Viacom kept us very safe. Very, very safe. We were constantly tested. And then if we had a sex scene, everyone would get rapid testing. And so by the time you were doing that, [you] felt very safe. But it was just an odd thing to go from, like, fully vaxxed and chill to being very intimate. I’d have to say it was odd, but it was cool.
GO: How has Alice’s character developed and what is her biggest realization or change now in “Gen Q?”
LH: I think the thing that she’s realized is that she put her grief aside. When it came to Dana, her coping mechanism was to throw herself into her work and though that ended up a successful path for her, I think she’s buried a lot of pain, man. And it was important for me to tell that story this season. So I think she really realized that she needs to deal with that.
GO: Yeah, Alice is such a nuanced and complicated character. She’s funny, and she is heartwarming, but there’s so much more under her surface, and I love that.
LH: Yeah, I think that’s it. I’m happy to hear you say that, because that’s kind of the side I wanted to show. Because she often ends up with one-liners and can keep a lot of things surface, but what’s really going on, her vulnerability really, really comes through. Her vulnerabilities are what I really wanted to explore.
GO: Do you consider yourself similar to Alice? Would you be friends with her? Would you date her?
LH: I’ve never been asked that. The narcissist in me wants to say I’d date her. I’m similar in the sense that I have a– or I’m told– I have a pretty bubbly personality. I’m definitely a witty person, but I think she has — there’s people you meet in life that are so funny, like, out of the blue. They can take any moment and turn it into humor. I don’t necessarily have that, and that she has. I would love to have more of that. But that’s easy when you have writers writing. I’m definitely more of an introvert than Alice, and I’m definitely more of a homebody and probably a lot less experimental with my sex life, I think. I think she’s definitely more of a free spirit, unicorn type.
GO: How has the fan response been to “Gen Q” compared to that of the original?
LH: Well, it’s been fantastic. I mean, I think what surprised us — I guess it’s surprising, but it was interesting to see because we were so used to our fan base from the original — but we didn’t really know who was going to come along to watch this new iteration. But not only did the original fans of the show come back to watch, there’s a whole new group of people that are learning and interested in this show for the first time, and [are] now actually going back to watch the original. It’s been really amazing.
GO: I just can’t help myself– I have to ask. Who do you think killed Jenny?
LH: I don’t think anybody killed Jenny. I think that was left in a way that probably shouldn’t have been left out there for the world to sit with for 10 years. But I also honor Mia Kirshner’s wishes and she thinks Jenny’s alive. Okay, so, I suppose anything. I feel like it’s not in my hands.
GO: It’s taken on a life of itself.
LH: That’s a great way to put it. It feels irresponsible to just answer it willy nilly, totally. I honestly don’t know, I didn’t write the show and I didn’t play the character. So I kind of feel like it’s not my place.
GO: What is your all-time best memory working on “The L Word,” be it “Gen Q” or the original?
LH: Forming the friendships that I still have. I mean, there’s nothing that has touched it since. You know, some of my best friends are from the show. And I just felt fortunate that I got to meet these amazing people that are so important to me. It’s precious and amazing.