Ilene Chaiken talks sex and storytelling at Los Angeles premiere party for “The Real L Word”


She brought us The L Word, broke our hearts when Dana died, infuriated us with Jenny’s death, tried again with a spinoff that stalled in The Farm and returns again this month with a reality series that we’re prepared to love to hate and hate to love. lene Chaiken‘s new show, The Real L Word, revolves around six Los Angeles lesbians and is set to premiere this Sunday on Showtime. caught up with Chaiken at the Showtime/Human Rights Campaign’s invitation-only The Real L Word premiere party Tuesday night at West Hollywood lesbian hotspot East/West Lounge to discuss the show’s casting, diversity, on-screen sex scenes and the target audience for the show. How did you approach casting for the show? What were you looking for?

Ilene Chaiken: We were looking for a great group of women. We were looking for diversity — diversity of character and diversity of story as well as the more conventional cultural diversity. But we were also looking for a group of women who said some of the same things that The L Word said. In other words, I don’t pretend to be portraying all lesbians. The L Word as a brand means something about aspiration and culture and popular culture and ambition and affluence in varying degrees. But we were definitely looking for those same values as well.  

AE: People have been very critical about the cast’s seemingly lack of ethnic diversity and butch representation. What do you think?

IC: I say the same thing I said when I was asked those questions about The L Word: Personally, I do think it’s a diverse cast. I don’t think diversity is represented only one way, but there is some cultural ethnic diversity in this cast. We represent a real range of experience. Secondly, the longer we get to go on doing this and telling these stories, the more people we get to represent. So if the community and the world at large comes out and supports us and embraces the show, we’ll keep on doing it and we’ll expand the ensemble and hopefully do it in other cities. We’ll represent much more fully and completely. These are six women. 

AE: What was your reaction to seeing the sex scenes for the first time?

IC: Awesome. My reaction was, that’s life. It’s a part of life. We don’t go for it, we just let it happen. I’ve never thought of sex scenes — either in a scripted show or in a reality show — as a thing unto themselves; it’s a part of telling stories. 

AE: What do you think the depiction of sex — Whitney uses a strap-on — will do in terms of lesbian visibility?

IC: I think it’s simply true and it’s one portrayal of lesbians in a sexual context. I’m not afraid of it, nor do I think or hope any of us should be. Again, it’s about diversity. 

AE: You received a huge reaction at West Hollywood Pride this past weekend.

IC: That was fun.  

AE: The marketing stickers — “We’ve got your housewives licked.” Was that you?

IC: No, that was not me. I don’t come up with the fabulous marketing slogans. 

AE: Aside from being about a group of lesbians, how is this show going to be different from other reality shows? What sets it apart?

IC: The thing that really sets it apart from many reality shows — not all but many — is that it’s really unscripted. It really is a documentary drama about the lives of six women. 

AE: What didn’t make it onto the show and was left on the editing room floor?

IC: Millions of hours didn’t make it. We were looking for good story. We didn’t cut things out because we said, “Oh, we don’t want to show that” or “That makes us look bad” or “That makes her look bad” — we simply had hundreds and hundreds of hours of footage and we had to craft that into a story. 

AE: Do you have any other reality shows planned?

IC: Maybe, but nothing to talk about yet. 

AE: Possibly The Real L Word: New York after this?

IC: I would love to do The Real L Word: New York, but that’s just me. 

AE: What will be the barometer in terms of deciding if there will be a second edition? Ratings?

IC: I don’t know; that’s not a question for me. I would love to do many more and I hope Showtime wants to and I hope that the show performs for them in a way that makes them want to.  

AE: What audience are you looking for with the show: the lesbian audience or more of a heterosexual audience?

IC: Do we have to distinguish? I want a huge audience that includes gay and straight people, women and men.

The Real L Word debuts this Sunday, June 20 on Showtime.

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