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:: E R I N  D A N I E L S  I N T E R V I E W ::
By Kelly Hamilton Alive Magazine, April 2006

Erin Daniels - On luck, her love affair with acting and growin’ up in the Lou.

She got her start producing puppet shows in her parents’ Clayton backyard, honed her early acting skills at Webster University’s theater for kids, starred in off-Broadway productions and a handful of TV shows in her 20s and even shared screen time with Robin Williams in the 2002 creep-fest One Hour Photo—the same year she took home the Emerging Actor Award at the St. Louis International Film Festival.

But it is Erin Daniels’ role on Showtime’s groundbreaking series “The L Word”—a no-holds-barred drama about the lives, loves and friendships of a close-knit group of lesbian women living in Los Angeles—that has Hollywood buzzing. Known for its rich characters and stellar cast (which includes Jennifer Beals, Leisha Hailey, Pam Grier and a slew of guest stars), the show is praised for helping redefine what’s possible on television, especially regarding its provocative, universally appealing storylines that explore the places in human relationships where issues of sexuality, race, class and gender intersect.

Since its record-breaking debut two years ago—the first two episodes received four times Showtime’s average primetime ratings—Daniels has been a fan favorite, winning hearts with her honest portrayal of character Dana Fairbanks, a geeky-but-gorgeous pro tennis player who struggles to strike a balance between her personal and professional lives as she comes out of the closet to family and fans. During the third season, Daniels broke hearts with her performance when Dana is diagnosed with breast cancer, a battle she ultimately loses before the March 26 finale. I caught up with her by phone on a sunny Saturday afternoon at her home in Hollywood Hills.

Kelly Hamilton: Hi Erin!

Erin Daniels: Hi! I’m so sorry I’m calling you late. One of my dogs [she has two Boston Terriers, Henry and Max] is allergic to something. We don’t know what it is, but every once in a while he gets into whatever it is and ends up with all these little bumps.

KH: Did you take him to the vet?

ED: Yeah, he gets a shot of Benadryl and then he’s fine. He has no idea.

KH: Wow—so other than that, how are you?

ED: I’m fine. I’m used to it now that I know he can be medicated!

KH: Tell me what you’ve been up to since wrapping up the third season of “The L Word.”

ED: I spent some time with my family in Texas and caught up with friends in LA., started auditioning for things here and there. In January, I went to New York for a few weeks to work on Tom Cavanaugh’s show “Love Monkey”—so much fun. I love doing comedy. Third season of “The L Word” for me, not so funny!

KH: But your character Dana is very funny—she’s quirky, naïve, sarcastic, even goofy in a very endearing way. Do you see any of those characteristics in yourself?

ED: Absolutely, especially the goofy part. And I love characters that are awkward and flawed—I think we’re all kind of like that no matter how together we tend to be.

KH: Dana went through a lot of very tough emotional evolutions on the show, from coming out of the closet in the first season to battling, and eventually succumbing to breast cancer in the third. That’s some pretty heavy stuff. How did you prepare for it?

ED: For me it was spread over three or four years, so that made it easier. As far as coming out of the closet, that was something that many people I know and love have done, so I talked to them. And because I’ve never had to do that before, I looked at the character and said, “The truth is, she’s facing something about herself that she’s had a hard time accepting,” and then asked myself what I have had a hard time accepting that was difficult to tell my parents about. And I’ve certainly had those experiences, so I related it to that.

KH: Any in particular you’d like to share?

ED: Specifically…[laughs] No, nothing I’d really want to expand on.

KH: What experiences do you think led up to your big break in acting?

ED: I moved to New York in the middle of my junior year at Vassar [where she got a degree in art history and architecture] and commuted—I was just so eager to see what was out there for me in terms of working as an actor. I met a manager through a roommate and was introduced to an agent, and the next thing I knew, I was auditioning for a bunch of stuff, commuting to school and writing my thesis at the same time. I kept going until I realized I was in over my head and wasn’t ready to do it for a living. So I stopped and studied acting for two years with William Esper [who’s worked with Kristen Davis, Jennifer Beals, John Malkovich and countless other A-listers]. He turned everything around for me.

KH: It seems drive and determination have played a big part in your career.

ED: I’ve also been extremely lucky. There’s sort of a common theme there—every time I push my acting career away, it comes back to me twofold. Sort of like love—when you’re not looking for it, it comes to you. I guess you can call this a love of mine. I wasn’t looking for it, but it came back to me when I was ready and then I was off and running.

KH: Is that when you ran into “The L Word?”

ED: [After appearing in several off-Broadway productions in New York and guest-starring on several shows including “Law & Order”] I moved to L.A. and did a couple of pilots and a couple of series [“Action,” “The Outer Limits”], and I was frustrated at the time, because it’s a very frustrating business, especially for women. I hit a wall, and said I’m tired of auditioning for the bimbos and young, naïve girls. I went back to school for environmental and interior design and told my agent I was just not interested in anything unless it was brilliant or showed women as intelligent. One day my manager called and said there’s this great script you should read. My first reaction was, “Ugh, lesbians for cable? It’s going to be the “Red Shoe Diaries”; I’m not interested!” She said, “Just read it—it’s different.” And she was right—that was the only project I auditioned for that whole summer and my life changed.

KH: How does your family react to the steamy girl-on-girl love scenes?

ED: My family has always been extremely liberal. They didn’t care whether the character was gay or straight or sexual or not; they just wanted to make sure I was happy doing the work I was doing. And my grandmother actually watches the show with her friends. She leaves the room when there’s a sex scene—not because it’s with a woman; she just can’t stand the fact that I’m actually naked on television.

KH: Your parents sound very supportive of your acting. How did you get started?

ED: My friend and I used to put on puppet shows for our parents. I loved the whole process of it—I didn’t know what I was doing, I just knew that I liked it. Luckily my parents saw that and put me in classes at Webster University’s theater for kids when I was around six. After that, I was done. I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I suppose I just needed the attention so badly that I was like “This is great! This is more attention than I could ever need right here!”

KH: But you’ve certainly garnered a lot of attention for “The L Word” [which attracted close to a million viewers in its pilot episode, was just picked up for a fourth season and generates more than a third of all traffic on the Showtime website]. Did you know the show would be this successful?

ED: I had no idea. The only thing I thought about was that the characters—the way they were written—were very smart, very interesting and very complicated. That combined with the fact that it was a cast made up of thinking women blew me away, because unfortunately, up until that time there wasn’t a whole lot of that. “Sex and the City” had just started to become popular and it’s really been in the past four or five years that people have realized producing shows about intelligent women actually makes successful television.

KH: “The L Word” has definitely played a role in that shift. What did your role mean to you personally and what do you think it has meant to your viewers—both gay and straight?

ED: I’ve loved being part of a show that has changed the social fabric of television. Making TV that actually touches a lot of people very personally is an incredible experience. And playing this character in particular, because she has such a journey, has been phenomenal.

KH: And Dana’s battle with breast cancer—that’s a storyline that speaks to all women.

ED: That’s something Ilene [Chaiken, the show’s creator] and I talked about when she told me the plan for the third season [to have a character die of breast cancer, with Dana being chosen because she was well-loved, not in spite of it, Chaiken told The New York Times]. It wasn’t my decision to leave the show, and I was very sad to see Dana go. But it was an important storyline to tell that applies to all women—something I think all women fear, and that’s huge.


Upcoming projects: I’m looking at a TV series [Fox’s upcoming pilot “Julie Reno, Bounty Hunter,” for which Daniels was cast as the lead]. And I’m producing a film based on a British novel I optioned about a group of friends dealing with the loss of a friend.

Being from The Lou: I had friends in college who were from Manhattan and they’d say, “You’re from Missouri? Do you live on a farm?” I was like “No, you’re from Manhattan. Do you own a gun?!”

High school hangouts: Hi Pointe, Cheshire, Venice Café, Blueberry Hill, the St. Louis Art Museum. If I was having a bad day I’d go and just walk around for an hour. It sort of became my temple, my church. It’s probably why I ended up studying art in college.

Guilty pleasures: I can’t believe I’m going to admit this, but I really like Mariah Carey’s new album. Any man that was interested in dating me I think just lost interest.

Food faves: I’m a hardcore Midwestern girl, no question about it. I like fancy French food, but I’ll also have my steak and potatoes, thank you very much!

Must-have duds: A black corduroy jacket that I bought at a flea market in Paris for like 20 bucks. I wear it at least once a day. And I’ve always been a big fan of Costume Nationale and Chloe.

Dream co-workers: I was really impressed with Paul Haggis [director of Crash]. I’d also love to work with Cate Blanchett and—it’s almost cliché because she’s so good—but I’d love to work with Meryl Streep.

Erin Daniels (born Cohen) graduated Clayton High in 1991, earned a degree in architecture and art history from Vassar and studied under the renowned William Esper in New York before pursuing her acting career full-time. Daniels guest-starred on several series before landing a starring role as pro tennis player Dana Fairbanks in the hit Showtime series “The L Word"

The L Word Online has been designed by Oz and Slicey.  Unique images designed by Oz.  Site maintained by Oz & Slicey.  This website is intended to be fun and informative, and was created with respect to show appreciation for the women and men involved in the creation of TV's first real lesbian drama.  This site is not endorsed, sponsored, or affiliated with Showtime Networks Inc., the television series "The L Word," or any person involved in the making of the show.  No copyright infringement is intended.  Images and other borrowed content are copyright their respective owners.  Credit is given where due.  All original content is the sole property of  the creators of The L Word Online copyright October 2003.