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Erin stars as "Dana" on Showtime's series "The L Word", a lesbian based genre that resembles a setting of the famous series "Sex & The City." Erin grew up in St. Louis, MO where she attended Clayton High School. She graduated from Vassar College with a degree in architecture and art history. In 2002, The St. Louis Film Festival awarded Erin the Emerging Star Award. She appeared in One Hour Photo, Wheelmen, and House of 1000 Corpses before taking on the role of Dana Fairbanks in Showtime's The L Word. When asked by AfterEllen.com's Sarah Warn, if she were concerned about how playing a lesbian would reflect on her ability to get future roles - matter-of-factly she stated, "No, Not even remotely." Because you think people don't care? "Because I don't care. I don't pick roles based on how famous they are going to make me, I pick roles based on how they're going to inspire me intellectually." Erin was born as Erin Cohen on November 9, 1973 inSt. Louis, Missouri, USA. Her height is 5' 6" (1.68 m). Erin Daniels relocated to New York to begin her entertainment career. She later moved to Los Angeles to further her career.
Her personal quotes:
"No, Not even remotely...Because I don't care. I don't pick roles based on how famous they are going to make me, I pick roles based on how they're going to inspire me intellectually." On being asked whether or not she was worried how playing a lesbian (on Showtime series, "The L Word") would reflect on her ability to get future acting roles.
Interview with Erin Daniels on The L Word
When talking to The L Word's Erin Daniels, one thing becomes clear almost immediately: she's really smart, as comfortable discussing French Existentialism (she took a whole course on it in college), furniture design (what she might do if she wasn't acting), or her favorite books (anything by Milan Kundera, and all the Harry Potter books, which she calls "candy for the brain") as she is talking about what drives the insecurities of the closeted tennis player she currently plays on Showtime's new lesbian ensemble drama.
Daniels first got into acting when her mom (a clinical social worker) and dad (an architect) enrolled her in acting classes as a child in St. Louis, Missouri, and she began to pursue acting professionally while an undergrad at Vassar, where she received a degree in architecture and art history.
Daniels had a small but powerful role in last year's big-screen thriller One Hour Photo, starring Robin Williams, but it's her role as Dana on The L Word that's really getting people's attention, as she discusses in the following interview.
How did you come to audition for The L Word?
I was actually in school again for environmental design at the time, sort-of rethinking my career. I was taking a break from acting because I was frustrated that all the parts for women were so shallow--and whenever there was a part for a thinking woman, the producers were always more interested in big names and a lot of beauty.
Then The L Word came along and I thought “OK, this is something I could do.”
Did you immediately go for the part of Dana?
No, actually, it was funny—I first read for the part of Bette, then I read for the part of Alice, and then one of the producers asked me to read for the part of Dana, and it just sort of went from there.
What do you like about Dana? What do you find most challenging?
It’s such a joy to play Dana because she’s so complicated and she’s still figuring out who she is; she’s struggling with so many real issues and she doesn’t claim to have it all figured out. She might pretend to, which is what a lot of people do, but she’s still trying to figure out where she fits in. That’s my favorite part about her, that she sticks her foot in her mouth, she makes mistakes, she trips over her own words, she’s not even close to perfect.
The only thing I find challenging about Dana is when she has to deal with really emotional situations, because I think you have to find a certain amount of your own personality in the character you play. So when she has really emotional events happen in her life, I go through them with her, and it’s emotionally taxing. But it feels great at the same time, because I want to do her as much justice as I can.
Overall, I’m really proud of my work on this show—I think Dana’s a really honest character. She’s just lost, you know? It was a challenge to blend the comedy and the drama, and that was one of my goals.
How much of the character is in the writing and how much is your spin on it?
It’s funny, when I first read the script, there wasn’t a whole lot of definition to Dana. But the beautiful part was that we were able to sit down with Ilene [Chaiken] and Rose [Troche] and Guin [Turner] and talk to them about ideas we had; it was very collaborative, and a lot of times those ideas would end up on the show.
It was obvious to me from the beginning that Dana is defensive in a very sarcastic way because she has something to hide. I think it’s very honest when you see people’s flaws because everyone has them. And for a woman who’s struggling so hard to fit in and figure out who she is, who just wants so badly to be loved...I decided to spin her that way, and in sort of a goofy way, because I think most people are goofy…She tries so hard to be cool and it just backfires, which (laughing) God knows I’ve done, so many times.
Dana is really graceful and confident on the court, but awkward and insecure off the court. How did you capture that so well?
I approached it more from a psychological standpoint: here’s a girl who grew up playing tennis, and she’s really, really good at that. She’s capable of being herself on the court because she knows she’s good at it, but off the court, she has to suppress who she is.
When she’s on the court, she can gauge where she is in the sports strata: am I good? Am I acceptable? The more successful she is on the court, the better she feels about herself, but the minute she steps off the court, she has to struggle again. That’s a really difficult way to live because it forces you to question your identity.
How did you prepare for playing the closeted part of Dana?
I did talk to a lot of people specifically about their experiences being closeted--although it’s funny, a lot of my friends never really were closeted—but I also know a lot of people who really had to struggle with that.
But I also believe it’s one of those human conditions, where you’re hiding something that you want to be true to yourself about but you can’t, so I sort of drew on my own experiences with that.
Did your friends give you any particular advice?
Their advice was more emotional, around what it’s like to be out to friends and not to family. I gave Dana a backstory, which you may see bits and pieces of later on in the series.
Dana’s always been a lesbian, since the day she was born...
“SO gay” is how her friends describe her on the show...
She is! She tried to fight it and she couldn’t, she fell in love with the wrong person and when her parents found it, it was messy. They’re in denial about the whole thing, think it’s a phase and all that, very similar to the stories I’ve heard.
There will be episodes in the future that involve Dana’s family, especially if we go to a second season. The pandora’s box will definitely be opened.
How do you think Dana fits into the group?
Dana’s entertaining, that’s for sure. On the subconscious level, she’s the sort of schadenfreude character of the group, she makes the others feel good about themselves because she has so many problems. But at the same time she’s a really good person, a really good friend. She’s very open about questions she has with her friends, especially Alice and Shane. I give Alice a hard time because she’s bisexual and I want her to pick a side, so I know where to put her, and I give Shane a hard time because she has everything that I don’t, everything that I think I want.
Also, Shane being so out is a direct threat to Dana...
Exactly, but at the same time I think there’s a lot to be learned from Shane because she’s so comfortable being out, and Alice is so comfortable being bi, she knows who she is, too. I think they’re a really good influence on Dana. But I also think Dana’s a really good influence on them, because she asks them questions and forces them to question who they are. Dana’s one of those friends you just love because she is who she is, she can’t pretend to be anyone else when she’s around you.
Do you have a favorite scene?
Definitely. I’d hate to spoil anything, but there’s a scene with Dana and Mia [Kirshner]’s character Jenny that is one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever done.
How soon beforehand do you know what’s going to happen on the show?
You know, it depends. Sometimes when we were shooting the season we would get scripts weeks in advance, and then they would change the night before. It really depended on the episode, and the writers and the network, of course. It’s television, so things change real fast.
What was it like working with such a strong group of writers, actors and directors?
It was amazing, the creativity and energy on the set was incredible. It was really inspiring. The cast is a group of smart, sophisticated, but very laid back women, who can just hang out and watch a movie, order pizza, whatever, and just step outside the whole Hollywood bubble.
Kate [Moennig], Leisha [Hailey] and I work together all the time because our three characters are together all the time, and the three of us are super close and support one another.
Any guest stars in particular that you enjoyed working with?
Honestly, I have no complaints about anyone I worked with. But I loved working with Lolita Davidovitch and Kelly Lynch. Loved Kelly, she’s a cool woman. And of course, I loved working with Lauren Lee Smith [who plays Dana's love interest Lara, the sous-chef].
You two have really good chemistry.
(laughing) yeah, that’s what I hear. We definitely did, we worked really well together.
Was it weird doing these intimate scenes with someone you just met?
A little, but once you step into your character, it’s real—or as real as it can be with 150 people standing around. But you put that out of your mind, because you want to be true to your character, and Lauren was the same way.
Anything unexpected you learned about yourself by working on the show?
Working on this show really forced me to question myself, because Dana’s always doing that. So I really had to face a lot of my own issues, and my own insecurities, because when you step into someone’s shoes who is so insecure, you start to feel the same way when you’re off-camera. I had emotional spill-over.
I did learn to play tennis, too. I played a little bit before, although they never asked me about that when I auditioned for Dana. You don’t see a whole lot of Dana playing tennis this season, but you’ll probably see a lot more next season...(laughing) because I will have taken a whole lot more lessons by then.
Are you concerned at all that playing a lesbian on The L Word will negatively impact your ability to get future roles?
No, not even remotely.
Because you think people don’t care?
Because I don’t care. Anybody who did care about that I probably wouldn’t want to work with. I don’t pick roles based on how famous they’re going to make me, I pick roles based on how they’re going to inspire me intellectually.
I've played a lesbian before, on [the Fox TV series] Action—well, she was really more bi-opportunistic (laughing). We all know people like that. It was so much fun—I played Ileana Douglas’ girlfriend. It was a great show, but I don’t think the network really knew what to do with it, so it got canceled.
Have you started getting recognized yet from being on the show?
No, not yet. As an actor, I change from role to role, I don’t look the same ever. After I finished shooting the show, for example, I died my hair back to its natural dark-brown color because I just can’t keep it up.
Kate and I have talked about it a bit, though, because she gets recognized occasionally, which I’m sure will be more than occasionally in the near future.
What are you doing between seasons, assuming there’s a second one?
I’m going to auditions, working on my writing, hoping to direct a short I just wrote. Fixing up my house, just being a sort-of normal person.
Do you think The L Word is going to be successful?
I do. I think the beautiful thing about this show is how well it blends humor and drama. You really do see humanness going on. I think the show is amazing. I’ve heard some people say we don’t represent enough of a cross-section of women, but if I look at my group of friends, for example, they don’t represent a cross-section. You gravitate towards people you have things in common with, so that’s one thing I’ll certainly argue for. Of course I’m biased, but I think I can honestly say it’s a really good show. It’s really well-written, very smart and very honest.
That’s another reason I wanted to do this show: it’s very rare in this business that you get to do something that’s socially important. I’m really proud of us.
Erin Daniels on "The L Word"
In "The L Word" actress Erin Daniels ("One Hour Photo") plays Dana Fairbanks, a closeted tennis pro who has eyes for a lovely sous chef. But can Dana shed her self-loathing and take a stab at personal happiness? We'll have to tune into Showtime on Sunday nights to find out. In the meantime, we called Daniels to talk about the new series, find out if the L cast really gets along, and why it's a natural progression for viewers to go from watching "Sex and the City" to "The L Word."
Q: So how does it feel to participate in TV history in the making and star in a groundbreaking show about lesbians?
I'm so happy. It is a great feeling and it's a very rare opportunity where you get to do something socially relevant in the entertainment business. Oh God, that sounds terrible. You know what I mean: It's a wonderful opportunity to do something socially relevant.
Q: But I think you're right. TV roles that are socially relevant are rare.
The roles are rare. Ultimately in this business, it's entertainment. You can make cathartic art on a regular basis - if you're lucky - but to do something that is cathartic as well as something that is socially important and landmark is an exception.
Q: I've watched the pilot and the cast emits great chemistry. Would you say the cast instantly clicked with each other?
You know, we did click. We obviously know each other much better than when we made the pilot but at the same time we were all flown to Vancouver where none of us knew each other or anyone else, so it was sort of like camp. We got to know each other very quickly because we had no distractions. But because of that we realized how much we like each other so quickly. So the chemistry you see on screen is absolutely there in real life. I just got together with Mia [Kirshner] Kate [Moennig] and Leisha [Hailey] the other day for lunch, so we do that. We were actually sitting at the coffee shop shooting the shit so to speak. I can honestly say some of these girls have become my closest friends.
Q: I read that there will be a lot of guest appearances on the show during the first season. And people like Anne Archer, Roseanna Arquette and Kelly Lynch, I can understand. But Snoop Dogg makes an appearance?
Believe it or not but we had a really good time with him. He was a lot of fun. He was smashing in his suits.
Q: Does he play himself?
He was playing a character similar to himself as a musical artist.
Q: And you play Dana Fairbanks, the closeted pro tennis player. To me, Dana is a mess. That is, despite being a pro athlete she lacks fundamental sexual self-confidence. Tell me, what are the challenges to playing Dana?
The real challenge to me was not to let her insecurities bleed over to my own life. Dana is very confident on the tennis court. She knows who she is and what she's doing out there. She can fit into a category. She is a tennis pro and she's good at what she does and people applaud her for that. But in her private life she is a mess. She just wants to be loved but she can't tell anybody how she wants to be loved and she can't express it - and that's a personal hell. Unfortunately, it leads to a lot of insecurities which I was lucky enough to portray on the show. But for me the problem with that was how to not let Dana's insecurities influence Erin's insecurities because it's like 'Wait a second, I overcame this issue three years ago' but Dana's dealing with it now. So it brings up a lot of emotional baggage and that sometimes can be draining.
Q: Erin, are you gay?
No, I'm not actually. I'm straight.
Q: I thought so, but you mentioned how Dana's insecurities with her homosexuality brought up your own insecurities?
I'm not gay but we all have insecurities that we go through and we've hidden things from family, friends, or from ourselves. I think being honest to ourselves is one of the hardest things in the world to do.
Q: I know this is a question that every actor is asked who has a sex scene with a person of the same sex, but were the sex scenes in "The L Word" an issue for you?
No, not at all. I'm very fortunate to be very comfortable in my sexuality, and I think women are incredible. And another thing about doing these scenes with women is that there's something about another woman who understands where you're coming from emotionally when you're working so it's sort of a symbiotic relationship. It's very comfortable, and women are so easy to talk to. It was a lot of fun. A blast.
Q: Reviewers are comparing "The L Word" to "Sex and the City." Besides the obvious - that both shows are about women - do you see the similarities?
I see some but I think the parallels end at a certain point. Obviously there are very few shows - a handful I would say - about women where the women are the central characters and they're smart, funny, witty, and sophisticated. The thing about "Sex and the City" is that it's much more of a comedy than our show. Our show has comedy, but it really dives into relationships and personal issues and drama. However, that being said, there are definitely parts that are funny. You know, Kate, Leisha and I are sort of this triumvirate. One short of the four from "Sex and the City," and the three of us do everything together. We have this repartee in that sense. But it's also a thinking person show - not that "Sex and the City" isn't. But "L Word" explores the drama of personal relationships more than "Sex and the City." And I think "The L Word" is just a special thing. I really think the show is going to be fantastic.