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

For six seasons of The L Word, Mia Kirshner played one of the most polarizing lesbian characters of all time. At the end of her run on the show, queer women might have been divided on Jenny Schecter’s likability, but one thing we could all agree on was that Kirshner was a remarkable actress. She embraced every incarnation of Jenny, from the manatee-conversing depressed artist to the gum-spitting, manic movie-maker, and infused her own affection for the character into her portrayal. After The L Word, Kirshner wrote a book called I Live Here, a four-volume anthology about vanishing communities around the world. Her travels even inspired her to raise funds for a juvenile boys’ prison Malawi. These days, Kirshner can be seen on Syfy’s new post-apocalyptic drama, Defiance, where she plays Kenya, the owner of the town’s brothel, as well as the mayor’s sister.

Recently I chatted with Mia about her new show, her fondness for deeply complicated characters, and her lasting love for The L Word.

Photo: Michael Stewart/Getty

AfterEllen: So, Defiance is spectacular. I just finished watching this week’s episode where we start learning some of Kenya’s backstory. What a fascinating character she has turned out to be. What drew you to the role?
Mia Kirshner:
That’s very kind. What drew me to Kenya, to be honest, was the medium, as much as anything else. I like being a part of things that are doing something new. I liked the fact that there was a video game component, and I think that’s one thing that’s changing the way people watch television. As far as Kenya goes, when I decided to do it, my hope was that I would be able to play a character who is a very complicated woman. With Kenya, what you see isn’t really what you get.

AE: I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately about how science fiction and fantasy television often affords women more complex, layered roles than other, more traditional genres.
MK:
I think there’s some truth to that, but I also think The L Word did complex women extremely well. There wasn’t a simplistic character on that show. I think all of the women were incredibly complicated, which probably comes down to having an all-female cast and group of writers. But obviously that’s an exception. Generally, I do agree that women are given much more complicated, much stronger characters in science fiction.

But I also have to say — and maybe this is politically incorrect — that I see nothing wrong with playing a weak character, or a character who views herself as a victim, because there are people like that in the world. Just playing archetypes doesn’t really interest me. I’m much more interested in playing someone real, someone I relate to or have known in the past.

AE: Do you see Kenya as weak? I mean, she definitely could have been a victim, she could have been a tragic character, but I don’t think she is.
MK:
No, she’s not. She’s very tough and strong and proud of who she is. I mean, certainly she is very much aware in the town that her job is looked down upon, but Kenya doesn’t give a fuck. She feels like it’s their problem. She likes what she does. She set that business up for herself, as a way of expressing herself sexually, and the business is a byproduct. In fact, I don’t even think she intended it to become a business. I think she set it up as a place for like-minded people with similar needs, who wanted a safe way to have sex without monogamy.

Photo courtesy of Syfy

AE: Right, and one of the best revelations about Kenya in this week’s episode is when Stahma Tarr tells Amanda that none of Kenya’s girls will look at her, but that Kenya holds her head high and meets Stahma’s eyes and even goes as far as genuinely thanking her for sharing her husband. Kenya doesn’t let herself be slut-shamed.
MK:
Yes, exactly. Kenya has no problem with what she does, and I think that’s to be applauded. Amanda has a problem with it, but it’s less about the business and more about a big sister worrying for her little sister and wanting her to have a stable relationship.

More you may like