Laurel Holloman, known for her role as Tina Kennard on Showtime’s groundbreaking series The L Word is back to welcome the next generation of queer people talking, laughing, loving, breathing, fighting… in Los Angeles. Now in its second season, The L Word: Generation Q goes all-out with returning cast members Jennifer Beals (Bette), Kate Moennig (Shane), and Leisha Hailey (Alice), along with newcomers Jordan Hull (Angie), Arienne Mandi (Dani), Rosanny Zayas (Sophie), Leo Sheng (Micah), Jacqueline Toboni (Finley) and Jamie Clayton (Tess).
Holloman’s guest appearance on the highly-anticipated sequel was a welcomed surprise for fans of the original series considering Holloman left the acting world in 2010 and has spent the last decade honing her craft as a renowned painter. As you could imagine, the Art world couldn’t be any further from the entertainment field as the two move at polar opposite paces. Prior to reprising this role, the acclaimed actress had no immediate plans of rejoining the small screen as she continued to focus on her robust painting career, but here we are! Despite scheduling hurdles, and jitters surrounding performing again, Holloman dove back in effortlessly with the help of original series creator Ilene Chaiken and showrunner Marja-Lewis Ryan, and of course her on-screen cohort Jennifer Beals. I mean, how can you have an L Word reunion of sorts without Tina? Answer: you simply can’t.
Holloman’s shocking return to The L Word scene comes 12 long years after audiences last saw the fan favorite pairing of Tina and Bette together. In Season 1 of the new series, it’s revealed that over the course of the last ten years Bette and Tina did indeed tie the knot in hopes of raising their daughter and sharing their lives together, but inevitably parted ways when Tina left Bette for another woman. Dun, dun, dun. Bette and Tina now share custody of Angie, who predominantly lives with Bette, due to Tina’s blossoming career. Holloman hinted that this reworking of the relationship was a result of her demanding schedule, which is understandable. How else would you explain Tina’s absence? It seems far-fetched that Tina would leave her family without good reason– and falling in love with someone else seems to align with The L Word drama-filled landscape.
FANDOMIZE had the pleasure of speaking with Holloman about her epic return to acting, playing opposite Jennifer Beals again, and what it means to showcase co-parenting between same-sex divorced couples on TV. We reminisce about Tina’s journey throughout the years and where the new series might take her beloved character…
MCKENZIE MORRELL: Can you talk about reprising your role as Tina Kennard. How did that come about with your hectic schedule?
LAUREL HOLLOMAN: I didn’t plan on acting again. I was super excited that they were doing the show, but at the time that they were creating it, I wasn’t planning on returning to any acting. There was too much on my plate, art is structured in a long lead way. Very, very different from television shows, which might get a green light and go really quick. You can have an exhibition that’s two years out. Around the time that they were putting the show up, I was committed to a show in Milan and then already working on the Paris show that was two years after that. That’s how that works. Right before I left for Paris I talked to Ilene for a little while and then I went and met with Marja. We talked about the characters and Marja was still coming up with ideas of how to incorporate Tina into everything.
MM: What emotions did you feel stepping back into this role?
LH: The fun part was just getting back in there and working with Jennifer. They were also still trying to figure some things out story wise so I got to be a part of that with Jennifer. Backstory on what we thought had happened to Bette and Tina in the last ten years and where they were and why they were there. It felt really surreal, they’re like my family. I remember Jennifer sitting in my living room and we were running scenes together and there was a moment where I felt like we picked up right where we left off. On an emotional level, that’s pretty powerful. Also, for me it was really interesting to work out this acting muscle that I hadn’t done in a really long time. I don’t think I could have done that without Jennifer Beals. She gave me a lot of confidence letting me know that it was going to be fine, because I acted straight for 20 years, so it was surreal to step back into this. And what a blessing to step back into a role that I lived in for six years.
MM: Right. It’s like riding a bike. It probably was as if time hadn’t passed at all.
LH: It was just like riding a bike, and that’s what everyone kept saying. I think deep down, I was thinking that it would be fine. I tend to be a little bit of a perfectionist, so I was just nervous. Then when I got on set, I will never forget this one moment… every time I was exiting, Alice was coming back in so we kept criss-crossing paths on the doorstep of Bette’s house… which was not on camera, it was just how it was structured. It was surreal. Looking up at Leisha, she looks exactly the same as she did 10 years ago with that big smile. It was really crazy and really great. I was so impressed with how everybody got together to push it through, to get the show up again, because I don’t feel that there was another show like The L Word during that ten year timeframe.
MM: Definitely not. Are you able to see the feedback from the fans on social media? Has it been overwhelming? Exciting? Were the fans shocked to see where Tina and Bette landed?
LH: Of course. Yeah, but I think they were really shocked to see Tina back there at all because I have a full other career doing something else. For me, it was just a testament that these are the best fans ever. They just simply are. We have great fans. I think a lot of people want Bette and Tina together, we’ve played a lot of scenes together. Right now, I think what’s going on with them is a more interesting dynamic to see where they could be going. I feel like what Marja has done with it is really interesting.
MM: Angie is all grown up. I recently spoke with your on-screen daughter, Jordan Hull. We spoke at length about how surreal and exciting it was to watch a new generation continue these stories that so many of the LGBTQ+ youth have watched almost two decades ago. Will we get to see more of Angie and Tina’s relationship unfold as the season progresses?
LH: I’d love to see more of it. The next episode I’m in is episode five. You’ll see more of the family dynamic and the complexities of bringing a new person into that family. When you have divorced parents and a new relationships starting, that’s a really important storyline. Basically Angie wanting to know her donor. What’s coming up is going to be really profound. It was probably some of my favorite writing. I think the writers have dealt with a lot of really important subject matters, which is Angie wanting to meet her donor, issues of race, identity…
MM: Do you think that Tina anticipated this happening? Angie searching for answers? Do you think it made her feel that there’s this void or do you think there’s two sides to the feelings and that those are valid as well?
LH: I think both sides are valid. It’s a story that needs to be told. I have friends that have used donors and there’s all different ways to do this. There’s no one way it’s just how each couple feels is the best way for them. I think it becomes a challenge of letting go for Bette and Tina. The importance of identity is there, too.
MM: Nobody’s really exploring that type of storyline on TV in terms of same-sex divorced couples co-parenting. We saw a little bit of that on Grey’s Anatomy, but obviously it wasn’t explored to its full extent and I feel like they’re really going deeper with The L Word: Generation Q and that’s wonderful.
LH: It is something you don’t see with same-sex couples and it’s also something I think is really important to tell. I know for a lot of what I had to play during the season is… There’s a real internal fear when you’re co-parenting with someone new. Will this person love my child as much as I do and my ex partner does? That’s really big. That’s a huge part of the equation. Rosie O’Donnell is an amazing actress, but there’s something in this new relationship Tina is having, which… Carrie really wants to be part of this family and she has a lot of energy towards it and that’s really appealing to Tina. There’s more layers to this relationship than what people have just seen in this first episode, which I hope will show up later.
MM: You’ve spent so much time playing this role and you jumped back into it after a while. What would you say is the biggest similarity between you and Tina that you’ve learned over the years?
LH: I think the biggest similarity is, I have a pretty strong desire for everybody to get along. There’s a certain positive nature and a certain nurturing nature to Tina that I really relate to. She’s a peacemaker. Not to say that in those six years she didn’t behave pretty crazy at times, especially when she was in the film industry. You don’t want to completely play a character for likability. You just want to know what their authentic truth is. From the beginning of seeing her in season one of the first series to now… she’s an incredibly nurturing person. She’s also a very authentic person and there’s a certain depth that you’ll see in her relationship with Carrie. I do my own backstory, and what you might not see on screen is what really changed with Tina and why she left Bette. You see a little bit in the monologue she does with Angie in season one. She didn’t really feel fully seen and she didn’t really feel like she was growing. What’s interesting about that is she got out of it mainly because she didn’t want her daughter to see her that way. It’s a way to mirror your daughter… I want to be stronger and I want my daughter to see me happy. Maybe there’s still some feelings, I don’t know.
MM: Being with someone for so long there has to be some lingering feelings… I’m going to be 33, so I was probably right around Jordan’s age when I started watching the original L Word.
LH: That’s fantastic.
MM: It’s really fun to watch the new series, to be speaking to you… seeing it all come full circle, because where we were back in the day is not where we are now. There’s still work to be done, but obviously there’s been progression, which is good.
LH: It’s full circle for me because I have two teenage daughters. I have a 13-year-old and a 17-year-old. So I’m doing this for my daughters.
MM: That is so amazing. Unfortunately, the common theme between Bette and Tina throughout the years has always been, I think, Tina being in Bette’s shadow and it’s interesting to see that she did follow her dreams and take this job and try to find herself outside of Bette because obviously when you think of them, you think of them together.
LH: I do think that… and that is somewhat true. I feel like it’s a slight generalization, because if you look at season five and season six, Tina did get out of that shadow. You also have to look at the time that Bette was with Marlee Matlin’s character, right? There was this timeframe where a lot of my scenes were with Mia [Kirschner] so if you look back to the film industry you see this mother hen nurturing type character that’s trying to wrangle the craziness of what was going on with Jenny and her making the film. In the kitchen scene when she’s with Bette, every time she’s back side by side with Bette, there’s loads of chemistry but then there’s also baggage and pain and this feeling of whatever happens in Bette’s world–because Bette’s such a charismatic character, that world gets really big. I think a lot of people have this sometimes in partnerships where one partner is larger than life and charismatic and really dynamic. What keeps happening with Tina is she gets caught up in that storm, that drama. When she drops down on that doorstep, when you open the door and you don’t expect to see Tina there… she’s dropped in right during a lot of drama. There’s a pattern and no matter the chemistry and the love, it must’ve gotten hard for Tina.
MM: Oh yeah. Without a doubt. Do you think that’s why Tina is drawn more to the character of Carrie? Because she is so different in terms of temperament, personality, from Bette’s character?
LH: Completely. There’s also this thing as you get older into your late forties and fifties, which is… I want to relax. I want less drama. I want to just be myself. I think that Carrie makes Tina feel so seen, and she’s funny, and it’s a lighter relationship and completely different energy.
MM: We get to see Carrie’s perspective of these two as well, because from her perspective she believes that Bette is still in love with Tina and wants to be with her. Despite that observation she still seems secure in the relationship with Tina.
LH: I do think that Tina, since she has that personality of always keeping the peace and wanting everybody to get along, is a little blind and naive to what her energy with Bette is really like to other people because sometimes when you’re inside of it, you don’t see it and that’s threatening to someone coming into this co-parenting situation. I think Bette and Tina try to have all the proper boundaries, but again, they’re co-parenting in a really unique dynamic that is pretty tight and it’s hard to kick it in that circle.
MM: The lines are definitely blurred sometimes, but that’s Bette and Tina for you! There’s obviously no shortage of dynamic and interesting characters on this new series. From the new crew, who do you think that Tina would gravitate towards the most and maybe hang out with?
LH: Tess. I love all the new crew. They’re amazing. I’m not going to say anything because there’s more stuff coming up.There’s definitely an overlap to look forward to…
MM: Say no more. At this point, I’m sure you’re aware that Tina and Bette were probably one of the most shipped couples on The L Word. What do you think gave them that “it factor” despite their differences, despite all the turbulent times that they had, why do you think fans were constantly rooting for them– even in the new series when they are currently apart… that longing for them to ultimately end up together?
LH: Because they represent so closely that relationship that turns into the love of your life and having a family together and going through some of the storms that they’ve gone through together. Whether it was someone being cheated on or Tina’s character being bisexual… having a baby together, so many things. The issues of healthcare for same-sex couples, some of the stuff that we covered there. You root for them. You want them to make it. I have dear friends, they’ve been together for 27 years, and they were like, we watch your show and we see ourselves in them and we’ve never been able to see a reflection of our life and our partnership on TV until that moment and it’s so powerful for us. They happen to be my good friends so that’s a different thing, but when I hear that from fans or strangers it’s very powerful and it’s so important. I like what’s going on with the new characters, too, because I feel like you need to be able to turn on the TV and see a story representing what you’re going through, what kind of relationship you want. I hope that the co-parenting story keeps evolving in an authentic way and I think it does. This is the next chapter of what this will be for this couple.
MM: The original L Word was a pioneer in its day and even with the new series, I think it’s still pioneering this genre because it’s not really a “coming out” story… or something that is defining these people for the sole purpose of the storyline. These are their lives. It doesn’t matter who they love or what goes on in that sense.
LH: I think if you look at this next generation, it is different. There are more kids coming out in middle school, or even before middle school. There’s more fluidity. I just feel this is like watching a slice of life, of these lives. I think it’s more reflective of what’s going on right now.
MM: Oh, of course. At the end of the day, we’re all people, nothing else matters.
LH: The base of the show is love at the end of it.
MM: So true. This is totally random, but I like to incorporate my signature question into all of my interviews. If you were to construct a donut based on Tina’s personality, what kind of donut would she be and what toppings would be on it?
LH: She would be a chocolate covered donut with brightly colored rainbow sprinkles. Tina does have an inner joy and the cream is the gooey filling, because I think she’s a very sensitive character and very emotionally sensitive to what might be going on with other people. So she has to have the gooey filling.
MM: She does, I mean, she’s been through a lot from the beginning. We’ve seen a lot of iterations of Tina, but at the end of the day, that’s what she is at her core. As we wind down, is there anything you would like to add for the fans? Why should they tune in to The L Word: Generation Q?
LH: They should tune in to The L Word: Generation Q because we’re still making wonderful stories. There’s still a lot of untold stories that they’re going to see, and I feel really grateful to come back and play Tina. It’s a more unexpected ride and that’s what makes for great television. You have to start from somewhere to get somewhere else. We’ll see how these characters unfold and the storyline. In general, it’s great getting back with my L Word family and then the new additions… Jordan, who’s playing my daughter, it’s very obvious that she’s amazing. And to work every day with Rosie, what a gift. She’s a legend, and she’s totally a joy to work with.
MM: It’s obviously a testament to the characters, to The L Word family, that they’ve pulled you out of this whole new career you’ve built for yourself to bring you back and reprise this role. I know that the fans appreciate it as much as I’m sure your onscreen counterparts.
LH: Seeing the feedback from the fans that they were so happy that I came back meant so much to me. In the beginning there was a big fear. How was I going to straddle these two things? The L Word is part of American pop-culture, and the art world is very academic. It’s very different. My career mostly takes place in Europe, so I was extremely nervous to go back on TV. I was frightened that it was going to affect what I worked so hard for the last 10 years in art. I think there was a moment where I told myself… hey, I’m just going to jump off the cliff and not worry about it because I’m so proud of this character I created and so proud of what Jennifer and Leisha and Kate had put together that I had to go do it. That’s what it felt like. It’s just part of who I am. The feedback from the fans afterwards was validating.
MM: You can’t have an L Word sequel without Tina, come on.
LH: Yeah? That makes me feel good.
MM: Come on. Bette and Tina were one of the centralized couples on the show so without you, it probably would have not felt the way that it feels for fans from the beginning to see. We do appreciate it, all of you coming back to continue these stories.
LH: It’s just super fun.
MM: We can’t wait to see what happens. I mean the Tina and Bette fans, they’ll hold out until the end, so we’ll just have to see how that unfolds.
LH: Oh it’s going to be a journey.
MM: It always is, right? I do appreciate you taking the time. It’s been awesome. Coming from watching the show when I was a teenager to now as an adult covering the new series, it’s been a blast. I truly appreciate you taking the time. It’s been a wonderful chat.
LH: Thank you so much, McKenzie.
The L Word: Generation Q airs Sundays on Showtime at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
Interview edited for length and clarity.