Rose Rollins Dishes Her Secrets
Photo: Tony Donaldson
She’s got a classic Hollywood backstory (discovered in a mall in Yonkers, N.Y.), a dream job (“I was really into The L Word before I got the role. I watched every episode. It’s one of my favorite shows.”) and rock-hard abs, but actor Rose Rollins is more than just the tough girl she plays on Showtime’s smash hit. After a successful, albeit unfulfilling, turn as a model, Rollins made her acting debut as C.J.’s assistant on The West Wing. A smattering of films followed, including Undisputed, 13 Moons and Mission: Impossible 3, but it was her role as Tasha Williams on The L Word that brought her instant fame. Well, almost instant fame. (“I don’t think I’m any comparison to Shane,” she laughs.) Just back from Iraq, the sexy soldier who won Alice’s heart and caused a scandal by bucking the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is now among the most popular lesbians on television and one of the few of color. (“I’m very aware of not allowing her to fall into any stereotypes.”) Tasha was one of the almost 10,000 troops discharged in the last decade or so for being queer, and Rollins played her with a brave butch authenticity rarely found on TV. Now, she’s showing us both sides of herself—the strong silent one found in jeans and dog tags, and the sexy siren vamping it up in curls—and talking frankly about the most important role of her life.
The L Word did a great job dealing with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in a humane way. Talk to me about your research.
I had spoken with probably around 10 different soldiers and just listened to their stories, and they all were so different. Some people were relieved to be removed from the military and others still wanted to fight it out. Many felt betrayed and…basically abandoned because they fought so hard and then were under review for something like, so simple as sexual orientation. But all the women, they were just so strong, and I definitely commend them for just even being out there and fighting for our country, especially in this state that our country’s in right now today.
Do you have newfound respect for military women?
Oh absolutely. One hundred percent. To this day there are women who approach me and show me their military badge. They’re just really proud. And I just feel honored that I can even represent them in any way, shape or form. I’m just one little voice on such a small scale, and I just feel so honored because I have so much respect for them.
How do they feel about your character?
They love it. And I’m so relieved because it’s such a serious issue, and I was definitely intimidated. I just wanted to make…them proud.
I was shocked to read that up to $363 million has been spent training replacements for the almost 10,000 people who’ve been discharged in essentially the last decade.
Wow, huge number.
Is our next president going to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?”
Absolutely. I think the policy kind of backfired. I absolutely think when Barack is president [laughs] there’ll definitely be a lot of changes. I have a strong feeling about that.
So you’re a Barack Obama supporter?
Oh, yeah. Definitely.
I think it’s amazing we’re at this point where we’re choosing between an African American man and a white woman as the Democratic candidate.
Yeah, exactly. Who would have thought that it would be in our generation? I’ve noticed that there are just so many more people out there now that are voting for Democrat. [Obama] won Mississippi last night and I guess there were 400,000 people who voted for Democrats and 130,000 voted for Republicans. There’s definitely going to be a Democrat in the office.
Do you think that has a lot to do with the war in Iraq?
Yeah, absolutely. I think people are ready for the troops to come home. I think we don’t even know at this point what we’re fighting for. But so many more of our people are dying. And for what? I feel like we can’t even trust who’s representing us right now. We don’t even know [President Bush’s] truth.
This season you actually got to play off Kelly McGillis, who I thought had a really great role as your military prosecutor. In the ’80s when Top Gun was out I don’t think there was a lesbian alive who didn’t fall in love with Kelly McGillis.
[Laughs.] Yeah, definitely. She’s really on top of her stuff, and we had a great rapport. She’s very serious about her role…she had a smaller arc, but she took it very seriously. It’s great to work with her.
So in the end do you feel Tasha chose love over duty?
I think there were more variables involved, but, at the end of the day, yeah, I do. But I don’t want anyone to think that she chose Alice over her career. There’s a difference. I think she finally realized what it is she was initially fighting for. Just kind of like the war going on now. In the beginning, yes, we were fighting for this. But now, what am I really fighting for? I’ve come to a crossroads and now I’m having to lie about who I am and it’s just getting too ugly and—you know what—if they don’t want me, I don’t want them. And I want to continue my life and maybe choose another path as to where I can be happy and also be proud of who I am and not have to hide any longer. I think my character was just tired of hiding. Tired of denying her life and everything about her. It was hard.
It’s amazing people do manage to do that for decades, because that seems so psychologically difficult to do.
Yeah, even preparing for it is. Especially when you’re simultaneously just a proud individual; you stick to your morals, but then having to hide who you are totally contradicts everything you stand for.
So it sounds like you would have come to the same decision Tasha did?
Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
Tasha is more reserved than the other characters on the show. Are you the strong silent type off-screen as well?
Um, no. [Laughs.] I feel like I’m changing. I’m turning 30 next month and…I’m seeing a difference in myself. I definitely like to have fun.
Do you get the overwhelming crush of fans that the other actors on the show already have?
Well, I definitely do get my fair share. When I go to…the Abby in L.A. or…to gay establishments, then it’s overwhelming. Like whoa, OK. [Laughs.] But day-to-day life, every once in a while someone will just say, “I really love you on the show” and I definitely appreciate that. But I don’t think I’m any comparison with Shane or Kate.
You don’t have to worry about paparazzi outside your house every morning.
[Laughs.] No, not at all. And that’s still good. Something bothered me though…I’m visiting my grandmother here in Sacramento [Calif.] right now, so yesterday we were at the airport. I was with my little brother and my grandmother is in the hospital, I wasn’t feeling too well, and there were two women who I had noticed, and they definitely recognized me, and I never have a problem with anyone asking, “May I take a picture?” That’s fine. But I got really annoyed because then I went to meet my mother, and we were across the street, and I just see them snapping pictures across the street, and I just feel like that’s just so invasive and rude. I got really pissed and I’m like, “Oh, my God, I don’t want to turn into one of those people.” I just really felt like, OK let’s move, so…I got out of sight of them. You know, that’s when it becomes a little overwhelming, but overall I’m so appreciative. That just means I’m doing my job well and I appreciate anyone that acknowledges me.
A lot of lesbians think that Tasha was the most authentically butch character on the show. Was that difficult for you or were you kind of a tomboy as a kid?
I still am a tomboy! In my everyday life, I’m a lot more feminine, but I’m definitely a tomboy at heart. And I was able to access that side of me very easily. I was raised with five brothers so I definitely had to fend for myself. It’s kind of my comfort zone. I didn’t want to fall into the trap of trying to be a butch if that is not who I essentially am. I think that that would come across as disingenuous. So, I wasn’t even trying to be a butch. I was just bringing what I knew…to this character without trying to be someone who I’m not.
That’s the authenticity fans felt. It’s not an act. You don’t need like, a fake mustache to play butch.
[Laughs.] In one of the episodes that recently aired I read somewhere, “Oh Tasha runs like a girl.” And I’m like, Oh no! I forgot. I still feel like there’s so much of myself in this character that OK, maybe they caught me running like how I would normally run. In some cases you definitely have to butch it up a little. It was so embarrassing, I felt like I was caught with my pants down. [Laughs.]
Tasha is from a very different world than Alice, not just in that she’s a patriotic supporter of the military but probably in her class and cultural background as well. How much back story did you give Tasha?
In the beginning, they didn’t know where they were going with my character. Initially, I was supposed to play basketball. I definitely didn’t want to make her stereotypical at all. I did give her a certain level of respect that I felt I always wanted to make sure she worked to attain and maintain.
One thing that The L Word hasn’t touched on enough is the sizeable African American lesbian community that’s not always represented in white lesbian culture.
Yeah, I was talking to Angela Robinson, because you know she’s a black lesbian, obviously, and I was talking to her about that. I went to Atlanta for Gay Pride and I did notice there’s this huge, huge, black lesbian population that is definitely not getting touched on at all on The L Word. I brought that back to Angela and talked to her about that and…the next week it was in the script. [I’m saying] “Oh yeah, it’s a black club downtown, you don’t know anything about that” and Alice is like, “Oh, I thought I knew all the lesbian clubs.”
One thing I love about Tasha that maybe gets overlooked because there’s so much talk about this being a lesbian show but really she doesn’t fall into any stereotypes TV offers up for African American women on-screen.
That is also something that I’m very aware of. I kind of had to modify some situations. I’m very aware of not allowing her to fall into any stereotypes. Even for my introduction on the show there was a time when I was coming across as so angry…it’s a very fine line. Yeah, I have some shit going on. I have a right to be angry without it being stereotypical, but you just have to be careful. And then I also wanted to be specific about the fact that anytime a friend of mine was introduced, he or she was black…it just doesn’t make sense that I’m with a white woman, and I’m so comfortable being with a white woman, but yet my entire world is black, you know? Let’s just bring a little more diversity, so that there aren’t so many color lines. That’s definitely an issue. And Ilene [Chaiken]…didn’t even realize it. “She’s like, oh actually you’re right. I didn’t even think about it.” And it’s never been a problem, but I’m always aware of that.
Next year’s going to be the last season for The L Word.
I just spoke to Ilene a few days ago and she just said, “Well, anything goes.” And it’s like, uh oh! [Laughs.]
Could be a bumpy ride. What would you like for Tasha?
I’d like her to find her own identity outside of the war and outside of her relationship. I would definitely like for people to get to know her a little better, because I still feel like there’s a lot of ambiguity surrounding her.
Love it or hate it, The L Word has offered a common language that the lesbian community speaks with now. Do you think the impact it has on the lesbian community will live on after the series ends next year?
Yeah, I definitely think people will still watch it. I think it’s already going into syndication. The people who love the show, love the show. It’s a cult classic.
It was certainly groundbreaking, a show almost entirely about queer girls. Will we see that again on TV?
I think we will, but at this point it won’t be as original as The L Word was. But I think they have to. The girls need a voice!
Have your eyes been opened by The L Word?
Not really. I’m a pretty open person in general, and I was also really into The L Word before I got the role. I watched every episode. It’s one of my favorite shows. I definitely gained a lot. I got the opportunity to work with such talented women and I made a few friends. We have so much fun in Vancouver [British Columbia]. We kind of act like we’re away at camp.
Will there be a movie, like Sex and the City?
We all joke about the possibility sometimes. You never know. The show has a very strong fan base, so they might write into Showtime and harass them until it happens. [Laughs.] But Sex and the City [gets] four or five girls together after a few years but with [The L Word] it’s getting 12 women together.
The West Wing was your first little break.
Yeah. It was a very small role. It was nothing in comparison to this role.
When did you think, Oh, this is my break?
Never. [Laughs.] I feel like you never really get a break; you can never call it your break until you can actually support yourself as an actor. And with this show, it’s been the first time I’ve been able to support myself and live comfortably through acting. That’s a break. I’m not trying to become a star; I just want to live a comfortable lifestyle doing what it is that I love to do. That’s it. I’m in heaven.
Does acting still terrify you?
Oh my God, yes. Every single moment, every time I step out there, and even when I go back to shoot the next season, the first day I’m gonna probably pass out. It never gets easier, even though I know Tasha so well at this point.
Fast-forward one year and the show is just ending.
I’ll be 30 and I’m ready for this decade. I’m excited; it’s a whole new chapter in my life.
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