AE: And the show has been successful so far. Did you ever have any worries about ABC Family fans taking a lesbian storyline on the show?
BL: When we did the pilot, it was funny because to just read the line, Maya obviously has always been confident and self-aware and she — one thing I love about her is she just kind of jumps in fully. She’s not testing out the waters — she knows what she wants, she knows who she is, she feels a kindred spirit in Emily, and I think she really sees Emily’s bull and is like "OK — why are you denying this?" or whatnot.
The lines, they could have come off a little more maybe forward or seductive and because they weren’t sure how much ABC Family was going to allow — like a subtextual thing versus right on the surface, so everything, so even if the line was more seductive and obvious, I kind of had to say it very innocent and opposite. "Was that — is she a lesbian?" It seems to me that once the pilot aired, they were like "OK!" They’ve really embraced it and I don’t feel like anything has had to be tiptoed around. I wasn’t sure but I was also on The Secret Life of the American Teenager and they tackled some serious stuff on there. So it’s interesting.
I wasn’t worried, I was curious about how it would evolve. Things have been really great and we kind of jumped right in there.
AE: ABC Family lately has been tackling some issues that might have been thought of too taboo for the age group they’re going for. With Aria dating her teacher, I was interested myself to see if someone might be offended by the lesbian relationship but not the girl dating her teacher.
BL: It’s sort of a new day and people — there are some things that people are always going to have a hard time with lesbian storyline because more people are sort of coming out and speaking out about it. And networks like ABC Family is really trying to explore it in a loving way. I think people that aren’t actually open minded, I think there’s more that are like "This is awesome and a really positive thing."
I feel like there are always going to be people that have a hard time, but there’s a much bigger audience now especially the youth as it is right now. Young people are a lot more accepting and a lot more open and progressive than maybe they would have been if it aired 10 years ago.
AE: It seems like you’ve had so many roles on pivotal teen television shows like Buffy, Saved by the Bell: The New Class, My So-Called Life throughout your whole career, so you’ve been playing a teenager for more than a decade now! Do you not age?
BL: That’s really, really sweet. I think it’s genetics. I’m not a super-healthy person! I am kind of lazy, I eat tons of junk food … I feel really blessed that I get to play all these great characters even though they might be a lot younger or whatever their age. I feel happy about it. It’s so funny people ask me that, if it’s weird. But as I get older I feel like I’m regressing a bit, like Maya is a lot more mature than I am. [Laughs]
AE: What role do you get recognized for the most?
BL: I definitely think I get recognized for Buffy and Save the Last Dance. Every time I meet people, they’re like "Oh my god — I thought you were going to be such a bitch."
AE: You used to be such a bitch in so many things!
BL: I know, I know! I think it’s my face. It’s nice now. But I have played other parts, it’s just that the ones I’m always noticed for were always kind of that same role. I’m happy that with Maya I’m being allowed to explore other facets.
AE: Do you get a lot of good roles coming to you or do you ever feel as a woman of color you don’t get opportunities other women might?
BL: Hmm. It’s an interesting thing. I never feel like — I know that it’s not totally balanced but in my personal experience, I have to say I haven’t, but I’ve seen the struggle for my friends that are actresses. I’m extremely lucky to be working all the time and get really exciting characters so I’m grateful. But I know for my friends that are actresses of color that it has been a struggle.
I think it’s getting better, I do. I look at someone like Zoe Saldana or Paula Patton or Kerry Washington and I see them playing these really complex characters so I think it’s getting better. … The parts that I’ve had to kind of obsess over and claw my way to end up coming out and nothing kind of happens with it and the parts that are the most rewarding to me are the parts that kind of come to me and I didn’t necessarily even know it was going to be as amazing as it was. I’m kind of one of those people that let’s the universe do what it’s going to do and not obsess about it. When I obsess about something, it doesn’t work out.