BY NATASIA LANGFELDER
Like most millennials, I was introduced to Guinevere Turner as the heart breaker Gabby on “The L Word.” She played every queer girl’s cruel, beautiful ex-girlfriend — the one that doesn’t want you, but won’t let you go.
I was in a grrlbar when Alice, the object of Gabby’s torturous affection, yelled “Step off, bitch,” at her in order to break cycle of dysfunction. The bar erupted in applause and Gabby, with an arch of her perfect eyebrows, stepped off.
Turner remained with “The L Word” as a writer through the first two seasons and briefly reprised her role as Gabby in later seasons, returning primarily to eat a sandwich and disappear into Papi’s bedroom. And while Turner’s work on “The L Word” was my introduction to the talented performer, it was far from her first work.
Turner initially made a splash on the queer entertainment scene twenty years ago in “Go Fish,” a product of Turner’s collaboration with her then girlfriend Rose Troche, who also directed the film.
The movie, produced on a shoestring budget and requiring over two years to complete, told the story of Max West and her Gen X lesbian friends. Unlike most of the other available queer content of the time, “Go Fish” wasn’t a coming out story – all the women in the cast already knew they were gay. Instead, the women dealt with familiar issues such as homophobic families, meeting the right woman, keeping a relationship together and coping with the often harsh expectations that we impose on each other as women. “Go Fish” also included the stories of queer women of color, a rarity as the lack of minority representation in queer film remains a hot-button issue in the community 20 years later.
Turner’s Max West was both likeable and bratty — pathetic but relatable. She represented every young lesbian coming out, paradoxically both full of herself and full of self-loathing.
In the 20 years since “Go Fish,” Turner’s career has grown and evolved as she applied her ample talents to all aspects of production — writing, acting, directing and producing on various projects. In this interview, Turner discusses her career, favorite projects, funniest moments and what we can expect from her in the future.
Turner caught me off guard, initiating the interview with a question of her own.
Do you know that I’m gay?
Um, I think I do. From your work I would guess so. You recently co-starred in the SHE4ME PSA for marriage equality. Do you have plans to get hitched anytime soon?
Oh my god! I believe in everybody’s right to get married. I myself, no, never! It just seems like a really crazy thing to do.
Your latest full length film, “Crazy Bitches,” is about several friends who go away together for a weekend and fall prey to a psychotic killer. Why did you choose to get involved in this project?
I met the director, Jane Clark, at a party and we really hit it off. And by hit it off I mean, I said, “Are you making a movie? Is there a part for me in it?”
I thought the title (of the movie) was really funny. Jane said, “Actually you’re too old. All of the characters are in their 30s.” A week later she came back to me and said. “You know what, I found a way to make one of the characters older.”
Was that kind of hard to hear, to be told you’re too old?
No, as someone who has been in casting and directed, sometimes people are just too old. I know I look good for 45, but no one is going to believe I’m 32. Remember in “Beverly Hills 90210” where there were actors in their 30s pretending to be in high school? I wouldn’t want to do something like that.
I’ve lived with the realities of Hollywood for a long time now. The reality is that I’m a woman in my 40s and there are fewer roles for us than there are for women in their 20s certainly, and women in their 30s, as well.
“Crazy Bitches,” is a black comedy much like the film you co-wrote, “American Psycho” and your latest pet project “Creeps.” What is it that draws you to this genre?
It’s funny because all of those movies are so different, but they could be called dark comedies.
“American Psycho” was different. Mary Harron, the director, asked me write it with her. I’m such a total scaredy cat when it comes to anything like horror. Mary told me I would have to read the book and she was like, “I’m sorry you have to read this!”
I just thought the book was funny! I think that dark things are funny.
Have you ever heard of the movie “Happiness?”
It’s from the late 90s and it’s the most hilarious movie. It makes my work look like the family channel. How the heck did the movie get made? It’s about Philip Seymour Hoffman as a pedophile.
I can see how a lot of people wouldn’t think that was funny.
You recently had an Indiegogo campaign to fund your latest black comedy concept “Creeps,” which is about two queer best friends who decide to stay sober for a week so they can have great skin for a party — is it still going to happen?
Yes, we are still doing fundraising on it. We are reworking it, we feel accountable to the people who gave money to the Indiegogo campaign so we are repurposing it as a TV pilot. We see it as a long-term story arc and with all these new platforms that have original programming. It’s a really great moment to target some of that.
Things like Amazon and Netflix, it’s the wave of the future. Actually watching TV shows on the TV as they air is becoming antiquated. Although the campaign has ended you can still learn about the project and donate on the website.
You’ve been on all sides of the camera as an actress, writer, director and producer. Which of these roles do you enjoy the most?
Writer first and foremost; always will be, always have been — even as a kid. I am more comfortable with writing because I know I’m good at it and I like doing it. But then it’s really lonely.
And then I love being an actor and director. I love being on the set and collaborating with people. But then I get a little overwhelmed and I can be alone and write again. Being a producer sucks — it’s the hardest job. I’ve only done it when I’ve had to. Other than that I love it all.
You’ve played a huge role in queer visibility in film — starting with writing and starring in the groundbreaking “Go Fish,” to being the inspiration behind the titular character in “Chasing Amy,” writing and acting in “The L Word” and even writing “Bloodrayne,” which produced Michelle Rodriquez’s and Kristanna Loken’s amazing, but brief, romance. Where do you see the future of queer entertainment headed and what part do you see yourself playing?
I didn’t know that they dated — that’s so funny! When I wrote that script I had no idea who would be playing those parts. But I thought, “How can I lez this up?” The answer — gratuitous underwater girl-on-girl fights. So, you’re welcome, lesbians.
Whenever anyone says that I’m the inspiration for “Chasing Amy” I want to make it clear that I’ve never had sex with Kevin Smith. The second part of that movie has nothing to do with me!
What’s interesting about what’s happening right now is trans and gender-queer visibility is skyrocketing. It’s happening so quickly everyone is going to be over the “LGB” and focus on the “T.” The “T” is so new to people but, obviously, it’s not new to me, I’ve been in friendships like that since my early 20s.
People are putting transgender characters in their stories the same way they used to use gay characters in their stories. There’s even a show on Amazon called “Transparent” about transitioning.
I feel like with things like the new online way of watching television there are so many more opportunities for even more LGBT queer stuff to be available online. I was just talking about the show “The Fosters” on ABC Family. I watched it when it first started airing and I was like it’s good, its a little too ABC Family for me — it’s vanilla. I’m glad it’s on, but I’m not going to watch it. And to be like, “its here but I’m not going to watch it” is progress! It’s a show about a lesbian family.
There are also shows like “Orange is the New Black.” It’s just exciting there are so many ways to create queer characters and get them out there. It’s a little sad that people aren’t going to movies as much, which means indie movies aren’t getting out there as much. I might sound like an old lady when I say that; it’s nostalgic. People that are outside of the urban areas and more isolated have so much access to everything. There’s more out there than when I was in my 20s. The future is exciting is the short answer to that.
Aside from “Creeps,” are there other projects you’re working on?
I’m writing a TV pilot, that centers around a CODA [Child of Deaf Adult]. Working on that and putting deaf characters out there is a big deal to me.
I’m working on other cool projects but I’m afraid I’ll jinx it! Check back in with me.
Let’s bring this conversation back around to “The L Word.” As both a writer and an actress on the show, how do you feel about the fans’ “love/hate” relationship with it?
I feel like, of course, the community is going to be hypercritical of the show. Especially when it was airing — it was the first of its kind and the first time the general public was having access to our lives. Of course everyone is going to be hypercritical!
It was such a huge thing for six years and it all came down to one person — one person’s vision, Ilene Chaiken, who created the show. She controlled what was on the page and what ended up on the screen. It’s one person’s perspective and vision — of course other people are going to love it or hate it. If I were at home watching it I would probably be throwing popcorn at the screen during some scenes. Buzzfeed had one of those lists and it included “A thing that lesbians do is hate ‘The L Word,’ but we all secretly watch it.”
What’s your favorite “on set” memory from “The L Word”?
An episode that I had written was being shot with Kate Moennig and Susan Arquette. It was directed by Mary Harron who is my friend. I was in the production office it came over the walkie. Mary said, “When she calls for a blue dolphin dildo in the script, does she really mean a dolphin dildo? Does such a thing exist?” — that’s working on “The L Word!” And I said, “It sure does!”
I have a real life dating experience with it. A girl I was seeing was all excited whipping out her dolphin-shaped dildo and I was like really? Am I supposed to be turned on right now?
I think the sad part is that I’ve also had that happen!
I don’t want to sexualize a dolphin in that way.
Out of all the projects you have worked on, do you have a favorite?
It’s all been so great and nighmare-ish all at once. I think the most fun I’ve had was a movie that I acted in called, “Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf” that’s going to available for streaming this summer. I’m playing the part of Elizabeth Taylor in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” I told the director “I’m not going to play a good actor,” which was great because nothing was too over the top. I could be the most outrageous actor and also the director is a good friend — it was just really a fun set to be on. It was my idea of a good time.
What advice would you give young, queer women who are just starting out in their careers?
Stay passionate. I feel like when I watch “Go Fish” I think, “Wow, we were so passionate about what we were doing I cant believe we actually got that done!” — with no money, no email, no smartphones. It took two years; we broke up, but we were just really passionate about getting this message out there.
If you want to make money there are a lot of different ways to do that, but if what you want is to be happy, do what you’re passionate about. In my career I’ve taken jobs because I needed to pay the bills and ultimately that made me miserable and I didn’t do great work. So I try to make sure I don’t do what I love for money. If I do it, I love it and hopefully I make some money.
You’ve been in the entertainment business for over 20 years — what do you want your professional legacy to be?
Surprising! Some filmmakers get stuck doing the same particular genre of film and my work is all so different. I want my legacy to be, “she was good at everything.”
When you say legacy like that it scares me — I’m only 45. I’m extremely confident it’s only going to get better from here. What I’ve done so far, it’s not going to be what I’m known for.