Kate Moennig on playing Shane, the legacy of The L Word

(Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)

Kate Moennig has captivated us for years, and the actress and celesbian icon continues to intrigue audiences with her timeless appeal.

I recently sat down with Kate to talk about what she’s up to these days, her character Lena on Ray Donovan, and how she feels about her legacy as Shane on The L Word and its contribution to the lesbian community.

AE: Kate, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. It’s going to make a lot of AfterEllen readers very happy!

KM: Oh, you’re welcome, thank you.

AE: Alright, so, I’ll just jump right in. We want to know what you’re up to these days, and I know you have a new movie that’s coming out soon, Lane 1974. Can you share a little about the film and what drew you to the role?

KM: Sure. Well, it’s based on a true story. It’s based on a book called The Hypocrisy Of Disco. This was a whole lifestyle that I wasn’t really aware of, so that  grabbed my attention. The director, SJ Chiro,  had so much experience in that world, and she was so passionate and thorough. She was just very detail oriented about how everything not only looked, but how people behaved, how people spoke, and how they lived. There were so many things that I never knew about, and she inspired so much enthusiasm. It was also a female-driven production, and primarily a female-driven cast, and I haven’t had that in a long time. So I was excited to have that kind of female energy again.

AE: Right, because Ray Donovan is actually the opposite of that, which you’ve talked about before.

KM: Yeah, with Ray Donovan, there’s no female energy in that show, so I was happy to have the opposite experience.

AE: And are you definitely returning to Ray Donovan as Lena for Season 5?

KM: Apparently, yes. I believe I am. We go into production next month.

AE: Okay, so let’s talk a little bit about Lena. What is it about that character that you love the most, and is there something you dislike about that character? What would you say is her flaw? 

KM: Hmm, well, I enjoy playing her. I enjoy her independence and fearlessness. That’s what I initially liked about her, and I like that she’s able to hold her own in this very violent underbelly. As far as any kind of flaw, I sadly find missed opportunities in terms of what they could do with Lena. I mean, in my dream world, I’d love to see more about her. I’d be curious about where this person came from and why she does what she does, and why she has this job as an aspiration. Because actually, it is a bizarre thing to be so loyal to. I guess it’s a double edged sword. Some people say the mystery is what keeps it intriguing, but I think at a certain point that starts to get a little one-noted, and for me it begins to feel like a missed opportunity.

NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CA – APRIL 28: Kate Moennig arrives at Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” special screening and panel discussion held at Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre on April 28, 2014 in North Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic)

AE: Right because fans have also talked about the fact that she doesn’t really get a lot of love interests on the show, in her personal life.

KM: Yeah, as far as love interests, they hint at that left and right. That never really bothered me as much as just knowing who this person is as a whole and what her history is. Then the love interest would become more interesting because we’d know why there are certain people she gravitates to, as opposed to having them just pop up in a scene.

AE: You tend to be drawn to roles—and correct me if I’m mistaken—that you can really dive into and research heavily. Maybe even do some method acting?

KM: If I’m given the opportunity to, sure. I love the research aspect. I’m certainly not a method actor, and I don’t know if I have the stamina to keep that up [laughs], but yes, I enjoy doing the research when the opportunity presents itself. That’s what I like about the film that I just did, LANE 1974, because that actually required a lot of research. It kind of gave me the opportunity to go into my little hole and learn about something I really didn’t know anything about before.

AE: Yes, well you’ve played so many diverse roles, but what they have in common is they’re all very strong women, and so, I’m wondering, out of all the characters you’ve played, do you think there’s a little bit of Kate Moennig in each one? And if so, is there a character  you’ve played who you relate to the most, and if so, which one?

KM: I would say I personally feel I’m a part of all of them. In terms of relating the most, it’s weird. I think I relate to all of them in the moment I’m playing them, and then once it’s over, I disengage. And that’s part of  the reason why I’ve taken certain jobs and said no to others, because I have taken on roles that I could  relate to, even if it’s in a very small way. And the longer you spend with these characters, the more you get to know them, and so I could eventually find those similarities. Then when the job is over, and you’re no longer portraying that person any longer, they become strangers. It’s kind of like they suddenly become friends from your past.

LOS ANGELES, CA – APRIL 11: Actor Katherine Moennig attends Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” season 4 FYC event at the DGA Theater on April 11, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)

AE: That’s an interesting way to look at it, like friends from your past. Alright, I don’t know if this is going to be annoying for you, but my readers would kill me if I don’t at least mention Shane.

KM: [laughs]

AE: I know you probably get asked about her in every interview, but AfterEllen has a big fan base for Shane, as you can imagine. Before I ask this, I just want to say it is for good reason, and I know you spoke about this in Philadelphia when you received your Human Rights Campaign award.

KM: Yes, yes.

AE: That show, The L Word, has played such a significant part in LGBT history. I remember watching it myself, and you know you and I are the same age, and I was just surprised back then and delighted to see that there could be lesbians represented on a major TV network. A show made by female writers and show runners who were representing lesbians in a positive way. That was huge.

KM: Right? Yes, it was!

AE: And I think now as people are still finding it for the first time, it’s become multi-generational. Lauren Russell from The Real L Word has even mentioned the part that watching The L Word had in her own coming out process. And many younger girls still are finding it, even now. 

KM: Oh, that’s amazing. That’s the beautiful thing about television, and yeah, you’re right, the younger generations have discovered the show, and that just makes me so happy. It really was an important show, and it came out at an important time, and that’s what made it such a wonderful experience.

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO – JUNE 11:Actress Kate Moennig attends a photocall for the TV series “The L World” during the Monte-Carlo TV Festival at the Grimaldi Forum on June 11, 2009 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)


AE: The character of Shane really broke the mold, too. We as lesbians have a history of being sexualized for the male gaze, and for the first time you were seeing a character – a sexually empowered character – for the female gaze, you could say.

KM : Yes, right.

AE: And I think that’s a big part of why Shane holds a lot of staying power. So I guess the question is, did you go into it with that expectation? I know that you knew the show would be a big deal, but did you ever work with the writers or play any part in developing that process, with the idea in mind of representing the way lesbians are portrayed?

KM: I mean, I don’t think anyone ever walks into a job thinking it’s going to be this huge thing. If you really are passionate about a job you’re going to do—like anybody, doing any job—you’re going to think, “Oh yeah, I hope this goes really well.”  But that expectation? I personally don’t ever walk into a job with that expectation. Because that would be such a disappointment if it didn’t do anything. Thankfully, The L Word worked. Mercifully, it did grab people’s attention, and it did so much. Sure there was a lot of scrutiny next to a lot of praise, and I think the two go hand-in-hand. We were fortunate to work with the creative team during the show to help come up with ideas, to give input, and to challenge certain ideas if we didn’t think they were going to fly, or if they just kind of felt a little off the mark. And that is a rarity, especially in television. Your job, typically,  is to show up, hit your mark and say your dialogue. It’s not to sit there and debate whether or not this character would be doing this thing or that thing. But we were fortunate enough to be given this open door policy from the get-go. We could come in with ideas, and share our thoughts. That made it such a collaborative working environment for eight years, and I think that’s why everyone in the cast took such pride in that job, because a lot of our heart and soul went into the roles we were all playing. And a lot of that came from a collaboration of effort between the writers, actors, and with the directors. It was such a beautiful machine of creating something as authentic as we could. Playing Shane, it took me a minute to kind of understand who she was and where she was coming from because she was extremely bold. I can’t even tell you when I started to truly understand her because  it was so long ago, but there was a moment I recall when I thought, “Oh, okay, she’s beginning to make sense to me.”  I don’t know if I did a good job with this or not, but my intention was never to play the idea of someone who was this desired, sexual person. If that worked, great, I’m happy it did. But I always found that character’s strength was in her subtlety, and so I always had that in mind.

LOS ANGELES, CA – APRIL 18: Actresses Katherine Moennig, Jennifer Beals and Leisha Hailey backstage at the 20th Annual GLAAD Media Awards held at NOKIA Theatre LA LIVE on April 18, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage)

AE: And do you feel like that character, because she was so iconic, did it lead to any type of typecasting in your career, and is typecasting something that you actively avoid? I know that you’re very selective about what roles you take on, as one should be, but I’m just wondering if that’s ever been an issue for you?

KM: Well, typecasting is alive and well, and it is always a really fun thing to deal with, as you can imagine. I have done my best—my absolute best—to try and go in and do something a little different, and sometimes I do well, and sometimes I don’t. I did have a battle with it, and I still battle with it, although not as much now. But certainly when the show ended, I was thinking, “Okay, let me see if I can have the opportunity to do anything different.” Here and there I was able to, but really, at the end of the day, I’m not in a position to pick and choose everything I want. I do read quite a bit of scripts, and there is not a lot out there that really grabs my attention. The things that do grab my attention are always characters who can stand on their own two feet, regardless of their moral compass or independence, and that’s just what I’ve naturally gravitated to. I don’t even know if I’ve answered your question, to be honest. (laughs)

AE: [laughs] You did. That makes sense. I mean, I’m sure that there are gonna be people to this day who think, “Oh, I’m going to get Shane.”

KM: Sure, sure, and honestly, I get it. Typecasting is frustrating, but it’s also understandable.  I guess the short answer is that I try my best to work with what I’ve got.

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO – JUNE 10: Actress Kate Moennig signs autographs after the photocall for the American T.V series “The L World” during the 2009 Monte Carlo Television Festival held at Grimaldi Forum on June 10, 2009 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

AE: Well that brings to me my next question actually, because talking about what roles you choose and the writing that you’re attracted to, a big conversation that readers of AfterEllen have—and I agree with them—is that there isn’t quite enough LGBT representation on TV, especially for lesbians. And there’s this whole, I don’t know if you’ve heard of this, but this “bury your gays” trope where gay characters are so frequently killed off early on.

KM: Oh, okay, wait. Is this a saying that’s going around?

AE: It is, yes, with all the killing off of gay and lesbian characters on television these days. That, and also seeing so many characters with the angst of being gay or the angst of coming out and being comfortable, which are not the types of roles that you’ve played actually. Shane wasn’t uncomfortable in her skin, and Lena isn’t either. So I’m just wondering if that thought is in your mind when you’re choosing roles. Especially lesbian roles where she’s not going to get killed off, or in constant turmoil about her sexuality. 

KM: I mean you really, truly have no control. It’s a TV show. You don’t know where they’re going to get rid of characters, especially if your show is going on for season after season. One day you could get a script where, hey, guess what, I’m dead on page 36, and I would hope there’s a really solid reason for it. I haven’t been in that situation yet. If  I ever happen to be, and I see that it wasn’t done for a valid reason, I would certainly take a stand against it.  You know, that’s a tough thing sometimes to fight for. Maybe you’re not the lead on the show, so you don’t have a lot of say. You’ve got to work with it, but you’ve also got to keep in mind the authenticity of the character you’re playing, and if something feels off-kilter, you say something. That’s always how I approach it. If I believe in something, I will certainly stick to my guns.

AE: Ok. So now I have a fan question for you from an AfterEllen reader. Do you think that gay women in Hollywood are subjected to the same amount of ageism as straight actresses are?

KM: I think that ageism is going to hit women regardless of their sexual orientation. And that’s so fucked up. But, yeah, ageism unfortunately does exist, and some people are able to get around it better than others. I haven’t hit that point yet where it has affected me, but I anticipate it will. And when it does, I don’t know if things will change. I would like to think they will. I think that women get better with age, I really do. It’s disheartening to think that ageism exists, but it does for everyone.

NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CA – APRIL 28: Actress Kate Moennig arrives at Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” special screening and panel discussion at the Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre on April 28, 2014 in North Hollywood, California. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/WireImage)

AE: But that’s, truly, I think, the great thing that you’ve been able to do. You have so many young fans that it’s kind of like you haven’t aged, and that’s amazing to see because that’s very rare.

KM: That’s a really nice thing for you to say. I wasn’t aware.

AE: It’s very much true. There are mentions of you all the time.

KM: I think that character, Shane, is far more significant than me. I was just lucky enough to play her, and I’m assuming that maybe the reason she’s been able to withstand this test of time is because she was so comfortable in her own skin and aware of who she was. Even though she was incredibly flawed, she was someone who was unapologetic for who she was as well, and she stood up for herself. Those qualities in a person make people sit up and take notice,  and I feel like those attributes are timeless, really.

AE: Definitely, yes, I agree. Okay, I feel like I’m asking a lot of hard questions, so just to shift a little bit, you also DJ. I was wondering if you could share a little bit about how you got into that.

KM: Oh sure, it’s just something I enjoy doing.  It’s really my hobby, to be honest. I like the way two sounds come together, and I just like watching how beats match with each other. And to do that manually makes me really happy. It’s really bizarre, but it’s just a weird, nerdy thing. That’s why I do it. It activates the technical side of my brain, and the nerdy side of myself.

AE: I really enjoyed your set at the Hot Rabbit party during Pride month in New York, and I know you DJ regularly at The Bassment parties in L.A.

KM: Yes. Some friends and I started it with the thought, “Alright, let’s start a night where people can go, and just give them a place to have a good time. And I hope people do have fun.

AE: Well, I think it’s great for people to see that you do that because it’s also another way that you’ve been really great at connecting with your fans on social media, and that’s another outlet for that, also.

KM: Oh, that’s so nice to hear.

AE: Well, again, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with AfterEllen. I look forward to seeing Lane 74 when it’s released, and a new season of Ray Donovan.

KM: You’re welcome, it was lovely speaking with you.

-Katherine Moennig interview with Memoree Joelle, January 2017 for AfterEllen.