More Lesbians Than Ever on “Nip/Tuck”

After a summer of rumors and spoilers — many of them centering on a lesbian relationship involving characters played by Joely Richardson and Portia de Rossi — the fifth season of Nip/Tuck premieres tomorrow night at 10 p.m. ET on FX. The series, which centers on plastic surgeons Sean McNamara and Christian Troy, has featured lesbian characters and story lines since its first season, but this fall promises to be more queer than ever, with three lesbian/bisexual characters and two out lesbian actors (de Rossi and Rosie O’Donnell) joining the cast.

As this season begins, Latina anesthesiologist and lesbian Dr. Liz Cruz (Roma Maffia) is surprised to learn that Sean’s ex-wife, Julia (Richardson), is exploring a new relationship with a woman — Olivia Lord (de Rossi).

“Julia falling in love with Olivia is kind of unexpected,” said Roma Maffia, who took a break on the set of Nip/Tuck to talk with about the show. Though she was in the middle of getting ready for a shoot and was being shuffled between makeup and hair stylists, she was warm and talkative, even offering me chocolate (which always results in a better interview) as we chatted in her trailer on the Paramount Studios lot.

“Liz doesn’t believe that Julia is a lesbian,” Maffia explained. Until Julia’s affair with Olivia this season, she had only been involved with men.

In a preview of several fifth season episodes that Nip/Tuck made available to, Liz displays the typical ambivalence that lesbians often show toward bisexual women. Still, Liz makes the sisterly gesture of supporting Julia’s decision to enter a relationship with a woman.

“But,” Maffia concluded, “I don’t think Liz thinks this is anything that is really going to amount to anything.”

Liz herself has a history of being unlucky in love. Maffia described her character as being “very practical” except in matters of the heart, where “she sort of loses herself.” In Season 4, for instance, Liz is briefly involved with Poppy (Alanis Morissette), a relentlessly upbeat, success-minded woman who convinces Liz she needs to undergo plastic surgery to enhance her appearance and become her best possible self.

Though uneasy about Liz’s motivations, Drs. McNamara and Troy agree to undertake the operation. But both doctors balk when the controlling Poppy bursts into the operating room, instructing them to perform liposuction and additional procedures while Liz is under anesthesia. When a clued-in Liz breaks things off, Poppy suddenly falls apart, revealing the desperate neediness beneath her brazen self-assurance.

The conflict between inner and outer selves — between what’s real and superficial, what’s secret and what’s displayed — is a major theme of Nip/Tuck. In Liz and Poppy’s relationship, this theme expresses itself as a tension between strongly voiced outward convictions and inward self-esteem.

In the series, the disparity between inner and outer selves is evident in the signature question Drs. McNamara and Troy ask every prospective patient: “What don’t you like about yourself?”

In another fourth season episode, Liz has the worst one-night stand ever when she becomes the victim of organ robbers. Picked up by a beautiful woman in a bar, Liz falls into bed and winds up drugged and missing a kidney the next morning.

The incident leads to one of the finer dramatic moments in Season 4, in which Liz, on dialysis and desperately awaiting a kidney donation to replace her failing organ, is offered a replacement by a stranger. That stranger is lottery winner Dawn Budge, skillfully played by Rosie O’Donnell; she reprises her role as Budge this season.

Although the kidney replacement story stretched believability to an extreme, Maffia said she doesn’t get distracted by the freakier elements of Nip/Tuck‘s plots. “Whatever happens on the top, it’s still going to boil down to the same ingredients,” Maffia said. “And so it’s going to be the human condition.”