EXCLUSIVE: Mia Kirshner on playing a brothel owner on “Defiance,” and her enduring love for Jenny Schecter

AE: My favorite Jenny is season five Jenny, when she’s making the Lez Girls movie after writing her book.
MK:
Me too, that’s my favorite too. I think they really got the best of Jenny in that season. I think she’s so out there and so strange and funny, so it was great to see her like that, instead of being so tragic all the time. She’s an extreme narcissist, so that season was perfect for her. I think we, the actors, had the most fun in that season. We laughed a lot.

AE: It’s been four years since The L Word ended. When you look back on the show with the luxury of time, how do you feel about it?
MK:
I am so proud of The L Word. It was the greatest work experience of my career. I don’t think I’ll have that again. When we were shooting, we were just up in our little bubble in Vancouver, so I don’t think we really understood the impact that the show was having. When people would come up to us and say how much the show had helped them, I thought they were just being polite. But now that I am able to step away from it, I do realize how important it was. It was the first of its kind. Not that it was indicative of every gay or bisexual woman’s life, but I am very proud to have been part of something that changed things for so many women.

I still remember — you know that last scene of the show, the dream sequence where we all sort of walk off into the ether? I was the first one who wrapped, and I remember standing up and saying to everyone, the whole crew, that it was the longest time I’d spent with any group of people since grade school. I think I knew, even then, that I’d never have that kind of experience again. And I care about all of those people very, very much. I am so grateful they kept me on the show, in spite of some of the hatred for Jenny.

Photo courtesy of Showtime

AE: Can I ask you about your book, I Live Here? I was so moved by that book when I read it, and it just reaffirmed my most deeply held belief that stories are just the most important thing.
MK:
I agree, and I think so much of what came out of the book is proof of that. There are so many hidden stories — everyone next to us has a story, and it can be life-changing to seek out those stories and investigate those stories and write about those stories. And once I had collected them, I felt like I needed to give back, which is why I started the school in Malawi. It’s been running for quite awhile now. We have a full staff. The Norwegian embassy gave us a huge grant, which was used to build a school structure. The kids are sitting their exams right now. And I have to say, that prison is nothing like the prison when I first wrote about it. The ministry of education is planning on taking over when our grant runs out. In fact, I’ll be visiting them again at the end of May.

AE: Wow, that’s amazing. You must be so proud.
MK:
Yeah, I have my moments. It’s hard work, but it is very rewarding to set out to do something — whether it’s big or small — and see it accomplished. Can I ask you something, speaking of accomplishments? How do you think television is progressing for gay women?

AE: Well, you know, it’s getting there. We have more lesbian and bisexual characters than ever before on our TVs right now, but queer women are still wildly underrepresented. And even on the shows that do have queer female characters, we don’t often see a lot of complexity. NBC had three gay ladies on prime time this season, and two of the shows, Go On and 1600 Penn, are probably getting canceled, and the other one is doing a pregnancy storyline that has teased a lesbian relationship with a man.
MK:
Yes, I’m still not comfortable with the portrayal of gay women on television, especially network television. We’ve still got a long way to go. Hopefully, it’ll change. Gay women are such a diverse community; there’s so much to explore, so many stories to tell. It doesn’t have to stop at coming out stories. Those are important, of course, but there’s so much more. And I think TV is really the only medium that infiltrates people’s homes, so seeing those portrayals of gay and bisexual women extinguishes all sorts of hate and ignorance toward gay people. I think TV has a duty to show these stories, these complicated and diverse stories.

AE: You guys in Canada are so much better at it than we are down here in the States, both on TV and in politics.
MK:
I’m proud of us. I think we’re getting there.

AE: OK, just one more question: How much more Keyna are we going to get to see on Defiance? I started recapping it just for you, Mia Kirshner.
MK:
[Laughs] Thank you. I’m there. You’ll see me, and I’m sure you’ll want to ask me a lot of questions by the end of the season. You’ll understand why I’m saying that soon enough.

AE: I would expect nothing less!
MK:
Hey, and thank you to you and to AfterEllen for always being so supportive.

AE: Of course! And listen, if you ever need any Don Draper/Jenny Schecter narrative analysis …
MK:
I know just where to go!

Defiance airs Monday nights at 9:00 p.m. on Syfy.

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