Classic Curve: Laurel Holloman Gets Personal About Tina
Photo: Paul Michaud/Showtime
In person, there is something savagely sweet about actor Laurel Holloman, the beguiling blonde who plays working mom Tina Kennard on Showtime’s The L Word. It’s been there all along, of course, and even viewers of her magnificent 1995 debut as butchy and lovestruck Randy Dean in The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love could see it too. Thirteen years later, Holloman is one of the most talked about actors on The L Word. An openly bisexual woman off-screen, Holloman’s character started out four seasons ago as half of gyno-America’s most popular couple and has gone through a grueling couple of years playing, in successions, a stay-at-home wife, doormat, cockled lover, a confused lesbian or reluctant bisexual (depending on who you ask), die-hard friend, single mom, entertainment mogul and, possibly now, forlorn lesbian ex. Phew.
For Holloman, whose sweetness hides a wickedly fun underbelly, that’s all a part of the ride. “Why be on a show for five years and just be mother earth that everyone gets a long with? That would have been really boring for me as an actor.” With an acclaimed role on Angel and a handful of indie films like Tumbleweeds, in her resume, Holloman (whose nickname is Little Monkey) is set for another season of adventure. And her fans can’t wait.
What was your reaction when Ilene Chaiken told you Tina would date a man?
I was really thrown. I asked her why, and she just said, it was because it was a story she felt that needed to be told. She said she’d known some men and women that it had happened to. She had seen it happen with couples that were broken ... some lesbian women get thrown into the straight world especially after they have kids. She felt that since Tina’s history was that she had been engaged to a man when she met Bette, that possibly she was bisexual. Another thing that she said that did make sense to me was that she saw and kind of what you see is that Tina had a lot of codependent behavior.
So part of that is like at some point Tina needed to go off and be alone which she eventually she does when she ended it with Henry. But part of what I found really interesting is what Ilene said is that it’s interesting when you look at Tina when she actually was with Henry. Unfortunately, I wish it had been explored a little bit more. She’s in a less traditional role. He’s really comfortable with her working. He doesn’t make it all about his career. And these are some of the issues she had with Bette. And in some ways she ends up with a guy, and she kind of fleshes out some of the things she needed to get done, like she needed to feel good about her career, where she was going and her parenting. Part of what was going on in the Bette and Tina relationship was a lot of Tina losing her identity and that she was getting a little bit squashed by Bette’s control issues. And I think that’s kind of an interesting thing for Ilene to bring up and it was therefore I could kind of take what she was saying and go with making some choices.
I think what was unfortunate in that around the time Tina went with Henry we had a lot of new characters on the show, which are all really wonderful and great, and a lot of people didn’t want to see Tina with Henry. The relationship didn’t get explored. You didn’t get to see what type of guy Henry is … And I asked her [Ilene], what type of guy Henry was and she said he’s a really great guy who supports her career and doesn’t play games, but ultimately she got bored. She didn’t fall in love with him. When you’re just thrown such a major curveball you just make the best of it. And in a lot of ways it just fueled the drama you know, and we have a very high drama show. And in a lot of ways it helped this character. It really helped her find her strength and her power I don’t think she found it because she was with a guy, I think she eventually found it because she realized she needed to be alone.
Ilene makes some interesting choices with her character arcs.
[Tina] didn’t need to be with Bette, that wasn’t working, and she didn’t need to be with Henry. She needed to figure out who she was and she certainly didn’t need to jump to be with Helena at that time either. … I would say she’s not a player, she doesn’t date a lot, she sort of bounces from serious relationship to serious relationship. And she tends to find people that want to take care of her. You know Helena, Henry, Bette. And with Henry, that wasn’t really explored but I got a lot of what Ilene said. I like Ilene, I like what she does. She doesn’t create these black and white characters, she throws you curveballs and she gives you a lot of great things to play.
Where’s Tina this season?
The fifth season is a really great bookend for who Tina was first season. She’s grown so much and she really has a lot of power in the work world. There’s a great exploration in this season of her career, and also of the movie industry, and she’s now actively a part of it. Sometimes she behaves horribly, too which I kind of enjoyed playing. [Before] she never got anything done because she lived too clean. She was too nice. And now she’s playing the Hollywood game and she’s getting what she wants.
What’s been the hardest season for you?
Season four, the relationship with Henry wasn’t explored so you never really saw why she went there and all of a sudden you see a lot of feelings for Bette come back … maybe they really never went away. It was as if it was something she had to get out of her system because it was the only way she was going to grow. And once she starts to grow, Bette finds her more attractive, too.
Do you feel at this point she is her own person in a relationship?
Completely She starts season five and she definitely doesn’t like dating. She does some dating and it’s hard for her. But she’s grown up a lot. I think the character’s grown up a lot, it’s been a nice arch. I think Ilene made two very specific characters. In some ways Bette’s learned how to be less controlling and not to be so dominating. By being with Jodi, who’s so passionate. Tina’s learned to speak her mind by being away from Bette and not always being so Beta. I think that these women would have stayed in a very unhappy marriage if they had stayed in their roles.
You got to touch on what can happen to a bisexual woman who’s been in the lesbian community and then finds herself in a relationship with a man.
I think Tina was very lonely.
Yeah, it seemed like a very lonely season.
It was really lonely place for her and I think there were some characters that she thought would be more sympathetic, some characters that claimed to be bisexual that weren’t that sympathetic to her. One of the great things was Shane was the least judgmental but then Jenny, who was sort of the newbie, was the harshest on her. I know someone who identifies with being a lesbian and feels she’s a lesbian and [later dated] guys and she said it has been a hard place and it made her friends really angry and it was difficult. Maybe she just needed to have that experience.
Now you don’t have a lot of control over how Tina is written?
Ilene gives you the bare bones and you come in and you can put some flavor into it. She listens and she’s always been very open to listening. I think Jennifer and I have always wanted Bette and Tina to just be together, but that doesn’t quite make for very high drama. I don’t know. I mean I guess that’s more dramatic.
Do you ever have moments when you’re like, “Gosh Tina wouldn’t do this?”
Yeah, many times. And there are certain times [Ilene] says, “OK we can change it.” And other times she tells you why she thinks she would do it. She’s not that interested in [you if you’re] dead set on being the likeable person. It’s not about likeability; it’s about the truth of how people behave sometimes. Tina really behaves quite horribly when she was in the position where she was making the money and Bette was struggling. I think that that can happen sometimes. I don’t think that Tina is a horrible person, I think she was had seven years of never having any control in the marriage because she never made any money and when she had it she vented. People unconsciously behave that way whether they go to therapy and go, “wow, why did I do that” but [for] me as an actor it is more interesting to play. I think that I was really read to make her not so …
Yeah that’s it.
Yeah. I really liked that you got to flip that power dynamic and also experience how know how money does make people behave.
In all partnerships money’s always the something that can make people not behave it’s like … the trump card. The one who works so hard can be bitter because they don’t want to work so hard. And the one who stays at home with the kids might be restless because they want to do something creative. We put value on money in our society and it’s a very complicated thing.
Now you say off-screen you are more like Bette than Tina. Is that true?
Yeah, I’m probably a much bigger control freak. Sometimes I would be in certain situations and I would really kind of see how I behave like Bette. And in a lot of ways I’m a lot like Tina. You know I think you try to look at a character and you’re like, I really get this. You connect on an emotional level. I think on an emotional level I really connect to Tina as a character. I think in the way I behave sometimes, I might behave more like Bette.
On the show Tina never gets to be the pursuer. That’s the one thing she’s never the one actively pursuing in season five. Does that change?
I know, I always beg for that. I’m always like can’t I just go to a bar and pick up a young girl or something? And there are some interesting things that happen in the fifth season. I don’t know if Tina’s so much the pursuer but she gets out there she definitely gets out there.
Is that part of her like again coming into her power after this last year just a natural extension?
I don’t think Tina uses sex as a power trip. I think she really needs to feel a very genuine and intense connection. And not just physical. And not just she just has to feel something. And I think I don’t know. I think that’s part of her whole make up. As far as dating goes she’s not interested in, “Well I’m going to pick up an easy target and just have sex and not talk to her.” I don’t think that that’s her behavior.
How much of that is like Laurel in real life?
How much is that like me?
I don’t know. I’m married.
So it’s all moot?
It’s all moot. Prior to being married I think in some ways I wasn’t like Tina. For about seven years I didn’t have too many long-term relationships and I just dated a lot. I travelled a lot and I probably had some commitment issues like Shane.
I think at every … at some point you grow up and say my life isn’t fulfilled this way. You know at this point. I think I wouldn’t behave like Tina behaves single. She’s like a little calm for me. [Laughs] But I’m not single anymore so there you go.
Some viewers this season were a little concerned that there was little mention of Dana’s death last year. How did that feel for the actors on set?
It’s hard. Kate [Moenig] said it one time, it just sucks that she died, and I feel the same way. It was hard. It makes a great story line but there’s such a … she just clicked with everything. Erin’s ability to do comedy. And how great an actress she was. She’s just really missed. It’s a television show and they don’t want to deal with the darkness too much and I felt like Alice would be mentioning her more. It does come up in this season we do address it. I can’t give away too much storyline, but we do address the loss of Dana. But I guess again, I think season four there were lots of storylines, it was like a spider web that branched way out.
Yeah you had a lot of new characters.
Yeah there was a lot going on. I think it was hard to kind of get everything in. I think in some ways there are a lot of really great new characters for fifth season, but it’s kind of pulled back a little more back to the original group. The friendships are really explored and I think the friendships are the real base for us.
Is there a pressure to do so much with it?
There is. And it’s a well I feel like fifth season is going to be one of our best seasons. When Bette and Tina started to become friends, there’s something really great about being able to play that—just to show that these women can behave in a much more pleasant way. They were pretty nasty to each other for a while, it was hard actually to play sometimes.
Yeah the custody battle, and a lot of the stuff around that, was pretty brutal to watch.
I felt that was the farthest out of Tina’s character that I could go. One thing that Ilene said was [to] play her like a mother trying to protect her cub. And now she just feels like someone’s going to take the baby from her. She always intended to share custody, and now she feels like her baby’s going to be taken from her so she’s going to throw the Henry Card out there. Which is nothing; she doesn’t even love him and it’s just bad behavior I guess.
One thing that’s fun about our show is that we get to play very heightened situations.
Yeah. Do you think Bette is the love of Tina’s life?
Do you think viewers will ever get the satisfaction of getting to see that again?
I don’t know.
[Laughs] Do you believe we have one loves of our lives or do we have many?
God, it’s really tough. I think if you live a really long life and you lose people … I’d like to think we have many, because you’d always want to be loved or feel love.
But that major soul mate, that biggy, I don’t know. I kind of think that’s a one-time thing. Once it’s ther … if you both work hard you might grow as individuals, but can you grow together? That’s the question of the day. If you can do that, then you can save it, save that love forever. But it’s kind of a trick question I guess.
What would you do for love that might surprise people?
Like the love of your family or the love of like just a lover?
[Laughs] I’m leaving it open for you.
Yeah, I don’t know. When you have children you’d kill for your children … It’s very primal. Once you become a mother, everything is deeper, on much more visceral level, so yeah, you feel like you’d do anything.
Anything that it takes. I feel the same way about my partner, I guess.
You, Jennifer and Ilene, have kids. Do you ever have kids on the set there?
Yeah, and they come visit and Marley has kids. And our daughters play together at times. My daughter was at preschool this summer in Canada. So she was a little busy, so she wasn’t on set as much. When she was a baby she was on set a lot.When they’re young it’s easier to have kids on the set, but then they reach and age where it’s not as stimulating.
It’s interesting what a global impact The L Word is having. Seeing it launch in all these other countries.
I’ve been in other countries [where] people recognize me … like a tiny island in the Caribbean where two girls came up and said, “We love your show." [Women] come up and say I got to show it to my parents and it’s helped so much. And that’s not going to come from any TV show; it’s going to come from our TV show.
Very early on you were saying I’m really bisexual I just happened to fall in love with a man. It would be easier for you to say you were straight.
To be honest I’ve never gotten any flack for it. I was always a girl that dated guys and then I shot Two Girls in Love and was dating a guy and then I had a relationship with a woman. I thought, I can’t say I’m straight anymore, that would just be a lie. I looked for other relationships with women and they didn’t happen. I don’t know if that’s because I’m shyer with women. And then ultimately I met my husband and got married. I wish I had met more women [laughs]. I guess people can define my sexuality however they see fit, but I mostly just don’t define it.
Other queer women see that you don’t have to actually define yourself but doing so lets people know there are so many different ways you could be and still be part of this queer world.
I just feel like when you fall in love you can’t help who you fall in love with. You love who you love; it just is what it is. My mom is very supportive, very open. My mom actually met the woman I dated after I shot the movie. I hope I can raise my daughter that way. I just want her to be free to be who she is.
Other actors end up spending so much time having to dance around it, and maybe it’s just a little easier for you.
I’ve definitely been in the middle of interviews where I can’t believe I’m being asked the same things again and there’s just no creativity. Someone asked a couple of months ago “… are you worried what’s going to happen to your career? [Laughs] And I’m like, “Are you kidding? I did a lesbian movie. And I worked more than I’d ever had after that. I did all these movies and it’s been great and I think part of the reason I got The L Word might have been because of that. And so to never work again?” No. I don’t feel that. And I don’t feel anyone in our cast feels that way. You kind of just want to say, “What world are you living in? Because I’m not living in that world.”