Mad About Marlee: Extended Interview
Photo: Naomi Kaltman/Showtime
As The L Word actors prep for the sixth and final season on Showtime, fans are keeping Netflix busy renting the newly released season five DVD set. For those who missed it, season five was a heart-wrenching exploration for the 43-year-old Marlee Matlin, who plays Bette’s lover, Jodi. “She got trampled on in season five,” Matlin admits. But in season six, “It’s time for her to come roaring back, in ways you wouldn’t necessarily think, to show people she’s as strong as ever.” For the deaf, Jewish, one-time child actor, who still holds the record as the youngest Oscar winner in the Best Actress category, The L Word has been another jewel in her crown.
I hear you're a Blackberry addict? Has technology made it easier for deaf folks to communicate?
Technology has made access nearly 100 percent for people like myself who rely on texting, emailing and video messaging. The Blackberry is my cell phone. I am constantly texting and messengering just like hearing people are chatting on their phones. No more talking through second parties or interpreters. The Blackberry is something I just couldn’t live without.
You've done a lot of acclaimed TV shows. What has surprised you most about your time on The L Word?
What has surprised me the most is how many stories that are out there that have yet to be told. In the case of The L Word, there obviously was an intense interest in the show because I would look at boards and blogs and see hundreds and thousands of women and even men discussing the show in detail saying the show finally was telling their stories. Many just said they were grateful to find characters they could identify with, while others said they liked being able to see characters that were new and refreshing. Story telling in TV is rarely as diverse as what you’d see on The L Word and what surprised me was how many people responded to it, both gay and straight.
The L Word is one of the few shows on now that's all about women. How much do you think that has or will affect the rest of television, especially knowing that in January the sixth and final season will be airing.
Well, The L Word has certainly become part of the pop culture with references in other TV shows like The Sopranos and The Office, so I think the door is now fully open and there will be more to come. There’s even talk of an L Word spinoff which is not surprising to me considering how popular the show is and how audiences are hungering for me even after the show is done.
Is there an episode in season five that really resonated with you?
I like the episode where Jodi confronts Bette with all that’s in her heart, something that Jodi wasn’t accustomed to doing when we first met her on the show. The scene was a heavy one for me to play where I had to simultaneously be angry and sad and speak all at the same time. It was very intense and I was glad to see that it came out as I had envisioned it - raw, in your face, which was just awesome.
I know you're married, but how would you rank yourself on the Kinsey scale (where 0 is exclusively heterosexual and 6 is exclusively homosexual)?
As an actor who’s dedicated to my craft, I am full and proud 6 when it comes to The L Word. But with my husband, who is the love of my life, I’m a big 0.
You and Jennifer Beals have been friends since the '80s. Was it strange playing lovers?
Actually it was easy and the whole experience went smoothly. Often times, an actor has to get to know someone in order to find the chemistry that works on screen. But having known Jennifer for 20 years, it was easy. We never had worked together but we knew each other’s sensibilities, moods, and sense of humor well enough in order to click right away in our first scene. It might have seemed strange kissing your friend but if it had to be anyone, I’m glad it was Jennifer. It was hard not to laugh at ourselves and yet we took it very seriously. I loved working with her.
Your character Jodi was actually named for a friend of yours. Can you tell me about that?
All I can say is that she was named after a gay woman I knew who died of cancer. I asked Ilene if it would be possible to give my character the first name of someone I knew who had passed away and she didn’t even hesitate to say yes.
What will you miss the most after the show ends?
The camaraderie. I loved hanging with the girls on the show and I loved doing stories that respected women whatever their sexuality. Strong women, beautiful women, smart women - that’s what The L Word was all about, and I know that’s pretty rare in the TV landscape. I’ll miss that.
I'm sure you hear constantly from lesbian fans who are excited to see you representing them. What kind of feedback do you get from other deaf women?
Many said it was about time that someone showed the lesbian experience through deaf eyes. There are so many deaf lesbian and gay people out there who have never seen people like themselves on TV. The fact that there aren’t many deaf characters in general represented on TV though we make up 10 percent of the population and American Sign Language is the 3rd most used language in the U.S. makes Jodi such a hero for many deaf lesbians. Like any community there are people who might disagree with Jodi’s tactics or style but I’ve gotten nothing but “Good job!” from deaf lesbians that I’ve met. I’ve also gotten praise from hearing lesbians who have lesbian lovers or friends who were deaf.
It seems like more often you're now cast in roles that aren't necessarily written for a deaf actor, which I think is a good thing. Do you feel like that's becoming more common, to have deaf actors cast in roles that aren't all about their deafness?
Not necessarily. I’m still finding scripts that focus on deafness rather than the person who happens to be deaf as part of a general storyline that has nothing to do with being deaf. I’ve been fortunate to have played roles like that on Picket Fences, The West Wing and The L Word . Sometimes, however, I still find myself in storylines that focus on deafness, even recently! I must say I’m tired of doing them. They tell the same story over and over again - “I’m deaf and I’m angry because I’m deaf or I’m deaf and I want to hear.” So now that I’m thinking about it, I should just say no and let the producers find someone else to do them. [Laughs]
If you could make one change in the world today, what would it be?
Turn up the volume on tolerance. There are so many people, for whatever reason, that are not willing to be tolerant whether, it’s of people of different gender, sexual preference, race, religion or ability. I say let’s increase love and tolerance and stop being so judgmental. No one has the corner on what’s right. We all deserve dignity and respect.
Don't miss your chance to party with The L Word stars! Curve is thowing two L Word parties in January — one in San Francisco and one in Sacramento. Parties will feature appearances by secret L Word cast members, exclusive previews of the final season of The L Word, Curve subscription and Sweet Vacations cruise give-aways, Miami's DJ Pat Pat and much more. Space is very limited, so please book early! Find out more and book your tickets today.