Love for Leisha
She didn’t have much luck finding a girlfriend at the bar, but she did find her people within the drag community at the Pyramid Club, around the block from her place in the East Village. “I feel like I was raised by drag queens because that community embraced my band. They’d have us open for them all the time.”
Between making music and taking roles in shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” over the following years, she eventually heard about “The L Word” pilot from a friend and went out over and over for the role of Shane. When Kate Moennig got cast for the part, Hailey thought it was over––”but then I got a call that they wanted to bring me back in for a different part, which was Alice. And [show creator] Ilene says they created that role for me, because they liked me––that started the process of my life changing.”
“The L Word” was well loved; delivering the stories of six friends in and out of romances and drama, who always managed to find their way back to, and ground one another. It normalized queerness for women in a way that hadn’t been done before on TV––and hasn't really been done since. All this before gay marriage was even legalized in California, where the show took place.
The show concluded after six seasons in what felt to the cast like a premature ending; and within a couple years of being off set, Hailey and her co-stars were working to bring it back. Eleven years later, queer culture’s grown and shifted enormously, and the show’s returned to grow with it, and us, in the series sequel, “Generation Q.” In it we see three of the main castmembers reprise their roles, including Hailey's Alice, alongside a younger generation of new characters whose diverse identities usher "The L Word" into the modern day.
office sat down with "The L Word" star to talk growing pains, lesbian visibility, and finding a girlfriend in '80s New York. Read our interview, below.
Do you feel like you’re pretty similar as a person to your character on "The L Word"?
It’s a little hard. There are qualities that are the same. Obviously I’m not Daniel Day Lewis so I’m not completely transforming into someone too outside of myself. But there are qualities about Alice that I don’t have. I think she’s a little more sarcastic. I’m a witty person but I’m also much more of a shy person, or more of an introvert. It’s fun to play someone who’s constantly commenting on everything around her and everybody. Those are the things that I’m nothing like. But I think energetically, we’re pretty on point.
How do you feel like "The L Word" has impacted TV and culture during its run, around lesbian visbility?
Well I think everything that comes out that is about the gay or queer community helps. I never think one project changes everything, but I do think we were a big part of giving lesbians visibility. It’s hard to imagine now, but even back in 2003, the world was so different. You didn’t see any queer television, it was really rare.
There was “Queer as Folk” on Showtime, but I mean, [shows that were] lesbian-centric just weren’t around. I really feel like we were guiding people. We were showing people this is what the community looks like––at least, some of the community. And I think it was pretty profound, how "The L Word" impacted the world.
Do you feel like you had any examples of queerness at all when you were growing up?
I had nothing. I grew up in the '70s. So back then you had to find people. It’s not like I was looking for queer people, but when I’d watch television I’d look for people that felt like me.
I remember Jo on “The Facts of Life” was a big one for me. There was just something about her that felt familiar. And “Cagney & Lacey” was a show that was on TV that, the bond that these women had––they weren’t lovers––but something about that rang true for me. But there was nothing. "Rocky Horror Picture Show" was the first time I found my people––I was like, I need to go there and be around those people. Where are my freaks?
What was it like when the show ended in Season 6?
It was very sad. It did feel premature but it was back when all the shows were stopping at six seasons, like "Sex and the City." It didn’t feel ready to wrap up, and it was sad. I think it took me a couple of years to come down from it because we really did form such a family. We lived in Vancouver and all we had was each other. Coming back to LA and plopping back into my normal life was really strange. And just figuring out what to do next was also crazy. It was hard.
This last 10 years we’ve missed it so much, and it was part of what drove us to start pushing to bring it back. The process of what you’re seeing now has taken the last six or seven years––we started talking about bringing it back about three years after it was over.
What were some of the challenges brought up about bringing it back?
There were a million. We were still in the middle of so much change. There was marriage equality, we were in the middle of it, so I think to Showtime it didn’t feel like it was timely. And looking back, I think they were right, because when they finally said yes, it was like I get it, it’s the right moment. We weren’t done telling our story. So part of the catalyst was that we were ready culturally to be telling these stories again.
What’s feeling different to you about "Generation Q" from the original series?
There’s a lot that’s different about it. I think we have a long way to go; there was so much pressure around how to incorporate the old cast and the new cast and how you blend these worlds. Age-wise, I have a lot of younger and older friends, but what I’m craving to see as we continue the show seasons on, I want to have those conversations with someone from the queer community that’s 17 or 21, and I want to hear those stories, and I want those characters to learn from someone who’s my age. It just melds together better. I think we have a lot to teach each other and a lot to learn from each other. I’m excited to watch those conversations happen.
I think it’s nice we're seeing this new dynamic between the older and younger generations.
Yeah because we’re all the same. The world has changed, but it’s all the same. The conversations are the same, just contextually they’re different.
What zodiac sign would you say Alice is?
A libra. I think I know what she is and now I’ve forgotten. I feel like she’s a libra.
She seems like a libra, that makes sense.
Really?! I got it right, good. She’s probably not a libra at all but I guess I’ll find out.
What was your coming out soundtrack?
It was “Troy” by Sinéad O’ Connor.
What was your strategy if you saw a girl you were into at a bar? We’re in the era of dating apps and all this convenience now, but you didn’t grow up with that kind of thing.
We didn’t even have computers. I used to leave school. Being gay, it was like, 1989, people knew I was gay but it was more secret back then. You had to find each other. I don’t want to say it was seedy, but it wasn’t easy, you had to really search and find bars and people. It was way different than it is today. So I would always leave school, I would go to the original Cubby Hole, I had my sister’s ID because I was underage and I’d go for happy hour and sit at the bar and all these people would trickle in. If I saw someone I’d send them a drink.
Yeah we’d end up talking, they’d realize I was 18, whatever I was. I had no game. I had zero game. I was trying to figure out all by myself in the city, how to talk to women. It wasn’t easy.
Did you ever end up dating someone from Cubby Hole?
Nothing. Zero. I’m actually glad it happened that way because… my life would’ve taken a different path. No, I just would end up falling in love with my best friend. It was very insular how my love life began.
Do you have any favorite gay spots in New York or LA?
I’m so out of the loop. I was actually hoping when the show started back up I’d learn where people hang out now because I don’t know anything anymore. If I go somewhere it’s because there’s an event or an appearance situation. I don’t hang out at bars anymore, so I wouldn’t know. If you have any let me know.
Gush is cool. You should come when you’re in New York.
Okay. I used to be in a band called Gush.
What are some of your favorite moments for Alice from the old series?
I think for me the show is about friendship and in a nutshell, it should always be. Any scenes we had together where the whole group was doing something fun, those are the ones I remember.