An hour with Lea DeLaria


To some Orange is the New Black fans, Lea DeLaria is an overnight sensation. But the stand-up comic, actor and singer has been working in show business for more than 30 years, from her first-ever television role on Matlock to roles on Will & Grace, Friends and a recurring part on One Life to Live from 1998-2011. And that’s just her work on the small screen. Lea is also an accomplished stage actor and has played in national tours of Chicago and on Broadway as part of The Rocky Horror Show revival, Hair and On The Town.

But in the role of Big Boo, which she will reprise for the hit Netflix series’ fourth season, filming now in New York, Lea is portraying an important character who depicts the kind of real life butch women that are never visible on any stage or screen. We spoke with Lea DeLaria about her career, activism, the queer community and so much more during a one-on-one interview at TCA this week.

476769788 I feel like you have probably been through at least three different eras of your career now that were considered a time of “lesbian chic.”

Lea Delaria: I think this is the third or fourth insurgence of that I’ve seen.


AE: And now Orange has a part in that, and with Ruby Rose as the new face of androgyny—

LD: Is Ruby the new face of androgyny? Makes me laugh!


AE: According to women’s magazines and a lot of places on the internet.

LD: Oh no way—good for her. Good for Ruby. We have a little Twitter battle going on, me and Ruby right now. I just keep putting up pictures of us saying, “Admit it, Ruby—I’m prettier than you.” It’s so funny because people get really serious about it. They’re like, “Ruby’s hotter than you, Lea!” I‘m like, are you kidding? Are you 12? Of course they are 12.


AE: But you probably see this kind of thing every couple of years.

LD: Yeah, in fact I’m making T-shirts that say “I survived lesbian chic,” and the chic is going to be written with lipstick.


AE: I love that. I want one. Well why do you think it comes around every couple of years and then disappears?

LD: I think every dog has its day. The first time I remember lesbian chic would have been ’91, ’92. That’s when they were making all those horrible movies like Bound that were supposed to be lesbian films but written by men, directed by men, starring straight women, always. And then they would offer me some under five role to legitimize their flick. And for a while, I took it. It took me a minute to go, “Wait a minute,” so I got the perspective that I just viewed. So I started saying no to those things. I think that was the first one. And then right after that it became really cool to be a gay man. That’s where Will and Grace and that kind of stuff came in so lesbians were kind of pushed to the backside for a little bit. And then we came back—The L Word and that stuff.

The thing about lesbian chic is and, again, it’s happening, it’s a marketing tool for old white straight guys to make a lot of money. That’s basically it. It’s never—I always love the lipstick lesbian crap that used to come out. Yeah, there’s always been lipstick lesbians—we call them femmes. What I’m actually more excited about is the face of trans and what’s happening for us queers around that. Really exciting stuff right now, thanks to Caitlin [Jenner] and Laverne [Cox] and Jamie—Jamie Clayton. That, to me, is amazing and surprising and, again, have to say it has a lot to do with us winning the hearts and minds of people. Because it used to be all about just getting our rights, getting our rights, getting out rights. Now as our rights start to come, it’s definitely gone more towards the hearts and minds of people. And these shows that I’m discussing, even some of them are like dinosaurs—you’ll never get me to say a good word about The L Word. [laughs]


AE: Did they ever ask you to come on The L Word?

LD: Oh, I turned that show down. When I auditioned for a part—and I’m not going to tell you which part—and they didn’t give it to me but they gave it to the person they gave it to—again, not going to say who it is—let’s just say my fiancee, when I told her, could not stop laughing. She could not stop laughing. I wouldn’t have turned down the part I auditioned for, but then it was for the same sort of thing—you know, “Can you come do this under five?” No. No. N-o. But when Will & Grace called I was right there because it’s Will & Grace, a beautiful, well-written, funny, wonderful show. And no offense to The L Word—honestly, it was soap opera. It wasn’t real. I think that’s why it came out like [it did].

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