Interview with The L Word ‘s Daniela Sea

Daniela Sea as Moira in The L WordDaniela Sea with girlfriend Bitch

You may have never heard of Daniela Sea, but after the third season of The L Word premieres on Showtime on Jan. 8, she’s going to become a household name. As the new recurring character, Moira, who falls in love with Jenny Schechter (Mia Kirshner), Sea promises to bring a butch sensibility to the show that has been criticized for playing it too safe on the genderqueer spectrum.

And if any actress should know their way around the complex politics of queer identity, it’s Sea. The daughter of a gay father and raised in a liberal, hippie family, Sea came out when she was a teenager and soon moved to San Francisco, where she began playing in punk bands. As an adult, she backpacked extensively through Europe and Central Asia, going so far as to pass as a man while traveling through India.

Prior to her stint on The L Word, Sea was probably best known for being the significant other of indie musician and artist Bitch (formerly of Bitch and Animal, now known as Capital B, and pictured with Sea in the photo above, right). We talked to her the day after she returned to the New York apartment she shares with Bitch, following a whirlwind six months on the set of The L Word.

AfterEllen: How did you come to get this role on The L Word?
Daniela Sea :
For a lot of years I’ve just been concentrating on traveling and writing and music…and about a year and a half ago I started taking my acting seriously. I had studied it when I was younger, at Laney College in Oakland. I’d run away from home when I was 16 and moved out there.

AE: You ran away from home?
Yeah, I ran away when I was 16 from L.A. and I moved to the Bay area, like a good gay kid would. I took my GED and I started studying at Laney College, and I had this great improv teacher, Lou. It was so cool, because it really was a great learning environment for me because I responded well to being in a really diverse class. There were single moms and senior citizens and people my age, and all different cultural backgrounds. It was really cool, so I really enjoyed it.

But I think growing up in L.A., I had this feeling that being who I was—you know, being such a tomboy, basically—why would I think I could…pursue acting? At the same time I was involved at the Gilman Street Project in Berkeley. We did some theater stuff… but mostly it was music. I was also a musician, so I started playing in a band and then I started touring and I kind of left the acting thing behind, although I did do a lot of street theater in my coming years in Europe.

AE: What kind of musician are you?
DS: I played in some different punk bands. I played in a San Francisco band, The Cipher in the Snow, it was an all-women band. And I played in a band called the Gr’ups—we’re actually doing a reunion in the spring, which is really cool. That was a punk band out of Gilman, and we toured in Europe and the U.S., and I ended up staying over in Europe. I did some street theater stuff, and I traveled with a Polish circus, and I just really lived a pretty different life than what I grew up seeing around me. And that’s what I’d always dreamed of, so that was great for a lot of years.

Then I ended up back in New York [due to] a lot of different circumstances, and while I was here I just realized that I’d been missing this thing [acting] that I loved so much.… So I just [began] letting everyone know that’s what I was doing now. Basically I just said, OK, I’m an actor, and…it just felt to me, now, that there was a place for a person like me in movies and TV. It just seems like so much has opened up for queer people, you know?

So I followed my heart. And a few weeks after letting people know, I got this audition for John Cameron Mitchell’s coming film [Shortbus], which will be coming out in February. I got called back a few times and I ended up getting the part, and that was great because it was so part of my culture and scene, and it was a good…introduction into the film world, because that’s something I really believed in; I really saw his vision. I really loved the people I worked with, and it was a real communal feeling. Actually a lot of the script was based on improvisation, and…it was really exciting. We workshopped that for a while, and he came up with a script, and then we started shooting it the following year, which would be last spring.

AE: 2005?
DS: Yeah, spring 2005. At the same time I was working at my restaurant job in the West Village, and I was making myself a reel. I made myself a reel and sent that off to somebody who I’d known from the Bay area who was on the writing team at The L Word, and they passed it on to whoever, and after that I got another call saying, “Can you send us an audition tape?” which Bitch and I and my friend made. We set up lights in the house. It was all really DIY and it was all really last-minute, like “Can you have this thing to us in three days?”

AE: So what do you put on an audition tape?
DS: They tell you which sides they want you to read, which are in the script, and then you just…act it out. I’m not sure how people normally do it. I’ve seen that someone’s agent would set up a little studio area and they would make it, but we just made it in our house. About two days after I’d wrapped on John’s film, I was back at work. It was my first day back at the restaurant, and I got this call, it was a Thursday evening, and it was like, “Can you be in L.A.”—I’m in New York, right?—“Can you be in L.A. tomorrow at noon?”

So I said yes. And my friends were so great; they took all my shifts for me, and I just flew out there, spent my last money on tickets, and I did the audition. By the following Tuesday—so that was a Friday audition—by next Tuesday I got the call that I got the job. Then they flew me out Wednesday morning, and I actually haven’t been back to New York until last night. And that was May 30th, I think. A town car came and picked me up at five in the morning, and by the next morning I was doing my first scenes.

AE: Wow . So when you went to L.A. for the audition, did you meet any of the cast at that point?
Mia auditioned with me because my role is as her new romance. They wanted to see how we would work together.

AE: So tell me about the character that you’re playing.
Moira. Moira’s really cool. [She’s] this Midwestern butch; she’s a computer technician; really gentlemanly. Actually she has a really sweet side also, as a lot of butches that we know do. In a way, she’s a real gentleman. I feel like she’s the type who’ll open doors for the femmes, or carry heavy stuff, but also I feel like [she] has a real respect for people on the more feminine side of the spectrum as intellectuals. Definitely Jenny Schechter’s character is really brilliant, and that’s what Moira loves in her. I don’t feel like she’s condescending; she just likes to be the strong guy around to help her out.

Basically we see [Moira and Jenny] fall in love and make their way to L.A., and then in L.A., Moira starts to learn a lot about herself and…what’s possible for her in the world, kind of feeling her way out—not just to fit into L.A., but just kind of taking up space in the world. We’ll see the different trials, the cultural differences between [the Midwest] and L.A., and also a lot of class stuff. She’s coming from a working class family.… She’s a college graduate and has already started working in the tech world, but [she’s] culturally pretty working class.

AE: Do you feel that you resemble her at all, or are you totally different from her? DS: Yeah, I feel like there are a lot of similarities, definitely. I feel like my world travels and my upbringing by really liberal parents—that’s something that makes us different. But at heart, and on the spectrum [we are both on] the more boyish/tomboy side—and also the gentlemanly [behavior], we definitely have a lot in common. I just think Moira hasn’t seen as much of the world as me, and also has had quite a different upbringing [in] a more conservative area. She was also brought up with Catholic things, unlike me—my parents were total hippie artists. [But] it wasn’t a huge stretch for me at all. I could really sympathize with Moira, and of course I see myself in her in some ways.

AE: Does she get involved with anyone besides Jenny?
DS: Well, that’s…I can’t answer that one.

AE: What was your favorite part about being on The L Word?
DS: My favorite part? That’s a good question; I should have a ready-made answer for you. I’m not sure about my favorite favorite, but at this moment when I think about it, I think it was really great to just be able to do the work, to delve into being an actor—and on such a scale like that and for so many months. To be concentrating on that for five months was great for me. I just learned so much. I guess another thing would be that the learning environment was so welcoming, and…I really feel like I made a lot of good bonds there with terrific directors. I just learned a lot.