The L Word’s Daniela Sea on Being the New Hot L Girl

The L Word’s Daniela Sea on Being the New Hot L Girl
Photo: Brie Childers

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There’s something wickedly sexy about Daniela Sea. Perhaps it’s the fact that she has been a nomadic world traveler, her wanderlust taking her from her Southern California roots to as far away as Kurdistan and India, where she spent eight months passing as a man.

The child of hippie artists and intellectuals, Sea was just 3 years old when her father came out as a gay man. A mere three years later, after her mother remarried, Sea took to the surf under the tutelage of her stepfather, a former Motown exec who moved the family to Hawaii to catch more waves. By the age of 12, Sea had taken a job at a biker bar, serving pitchers of brew and dreaming of getting her own car, and by 16, she had moved to San Francisco to join the punk artist feminist collective Gilman Street Project (which was home to Green Day and Miranda July, among others).

And that’s not the half of it. Long before she hit Hollywood, this L Word hottie was living every bit the cinematic life — playing guitar with The Gr’ups, herding goats in abandoned villages in Italy, hitchhiking through Turkey and Eastern Europe, hiking for a month through India’s Rishekesh while drinking water from the Ganges and collecting wild plants for food. In Poland, she joined a traveling circus and spent years with the same tribe doing performances on the streets of Europe, traveling by foot, living off the earth and cooking over open fires.

Flash forward to 2006, and Sea is the hottest new star of Showtime’s hit lesbian drama The L Word. She’s got a superstar girlfriend (Capital B, the musician formerly known as Bitch), a home in Brooklyn and a plum little role in John Cameron Mitchell’s much talked about new film, Shortbus. We caught up with the performer-turned-actor to find out how it feels to be the L’s new “it” girl.

You have such a richly textured background, it’s almost hard to see you in Hollywood.

I know, it’s funny, right?

Is it surprising to you that you’re at this position?

It’s surprising to a lot of the people I’ve known, but it kind of weirdly makes sense, also. It’s like the next adventure. It’s weird, I would never have expected it in my life a few years ago, and it’s all been a whirlwind, but you know [in a] strange way it seems to be kind of fitting. It’s almost like everything’s coming back to where I started.

Full circle; that makes sense.

Yeah, like right now I’m sitting on the highway up above where I grew up in L.A., where I used to wait for the school bus beside the highway. I just think it’s kind of funny because I left home so young.

Do you have any issues about that? About coming full circle.

Well, what has it brought up for me? I guess a lot of the judgments I would have made when I was younger about show business. … I feel like maybe I made a blanket statement about the whole thing as if it was all, you know, somehow corporate or something like that. And I’m realizing now that … there’s a lot of people with a lot of great things to say and they’re … making their art and making things different in the world, but it’s kind of in the landscape of where I wouldn’t have expected that when I was younger.

Let me take you back, actually, to childhood a little bit. Your father came out as gay when you were 3 years old, and after your mother remarried, I know you tried to have the perfect ’70s household with the whole family living together. After that stopped being the case, did you still see your father while you were growing up?

I did, but soon after we moved to Hawaii for three years. My stepdad was a surfer, and he was in the music business, but he just dropped out of it and he went out there, so I only got to see him on holidays, and I would spend the summer time with him. When we moved back to L.A., I would see him every other weekend.

How did your parents react when you came out?

I guess they weren’t that surprised. They were really supportive, you know, and most of all my grandparents also were really supportive, and they’re a traditional Christian family. But yeah, on that end it was pretty easy. I mean, my mom was a bit worried. … I remember the first time she said, “Well you don’t call yourself a lesbian though, do you?” And I guess we just had to redefine what that meant in her mind because she had been raised with a whole different thing about that. She came to hang out in the women’s community with me up in San Francisco … and she realized that we … had so much substance, and they’re so expressive, and she liked hanging out with them and she was happy for me.

It’s interesting how much cultural baggage can come along with just one word.

Mm hmm. She was fine with me being in love with a girl that she met, but then the idea that I was a lesbian meant something else to her at the time.

Well, I can’t believe you started working in a biker bar at 12.

Right.

That is hilarious.

It’s up the highway from where I am. It’s not what people would think of as, you know, Malibu, but Malibu in the ’80s and ’90s was a different place, and it was a good experience for me. Basically what I wanted to do was, I wanted to save up money, buy a car and leave as soon as I could, and go adventure around, so that’s what I did. [It was] a good experience.

And did you end up working there until you saved enough money for a car at 16?

I worked there for two years over the summer and weekends, and then I got a job at a fancier café where I would make more money. … But yeah, I worked there for years and my parents used to hang out while I worked there.

I guess ’cause they were hippie artist types, they were OK with you working at a biker bar at 12?

Yeah, they were. … I think they liked the idea that I was doing something rather than just swimming and hanging around my brother or something. And I was definitely having that working-class ethic of wanting to make something of myself.

Right. And then, were you a teenager when you quit or a young adult when you quit film study? You left thinking there was no place in film or theater for a queer person, right?

Yeah. I’d been studying improv and theater up at Laney College in Oakland. … I lived up there with my boyfriend and then I came out, and … I think that’s what happened in my mind. I didn’t really realize that’s why I stopped, but in retrospect years later, I looked back and I was like yeah, that’s exactly why, I just figured there was no place for someone strongly genderqueer or, I don’t know, just a tomboy like me.

And do you think that that’s dramatically changed, or have you changed?

I think both. I think I’m willing to take up space and realize I’m a unique person and that there’s probably a place for all kinds of people, you know, in whatever art form. And just following my heart, making the kind of art I want to make, usually pays off anyway. But also, I think definitely there are way more roles in general … so you aren’t playing as much of the stereotype … and there’s way more queer stuff being made also. Between those two, I think it’s made room for someone like me.

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