Wednesday, May 25th, 2022

Jamie Clayton Will Steal Your Heart

 Your Heart If you’re watching The L Word: Generation Q, it’s because of her.

Just a few weeks ago, L Word fans at watch parties lost their minds seeing Rosanna Arquette make a surprise midseason cameo at Shane’s bar. Like most of the show’s stunt casting, the iconic actress’s appearance was kept under wraps, with Arquette reprising her role from the original series, a bored, rich “straight” woman named Cherie Jaffe whose love affair with androgynous heartbreaker Shane (Kate Moennig) ended so badly, the latter shed actual tears for the first time in her fuckboy existence.

But ten years later, when Cherie popped in the L Word’s reboot Generation Q, it wasn’t Shane she was going down on in the bar’s back room — it was Tess, the hottest new member of the new generation played by Jamie Clayton.

Though not a series regular, Tess has become a new fan favorite. A leggy blonde jane-of-all-trades who doesn’t need a drink to have a good time, Tess is a sizzling scene-stealer with sex appeal and a sense of humor who, in her spare time, deals cards at secret stud-poker parties hosted by a Lena Waithe–esque character played by Lena Waithe.

In a soaptastic series where most of the characters lead dramatic, self-involved lives, Tess stands out as grounded and unselfish, thanks in part to Clayton’s cool delivery. On a show of hot messes, Tess is just plain hot.

It’s no surprise, then, that viewers might project some specific fantasies upon Clayton and ask, quite candidly via Twitter, if Clayton likes women.

“Of course I do!” Clayton responded to a recent tweet. “But, I think what you’re asking is who I sleep with, right? If so, the answer is no, I’m straight.”

Then came the inevitable fallout.

“Did it hurt? Jamie Clayton saying the words ‘I’m straight’?” bemoaned one fan.

“She’s too hot to be straight!” commiserated another.

The original poster apologized for putting everyone through “so much distress in the community.”

This is not exactly a new concept, as mostly straight women have played the queer women roles on television (such as most of the original L Word cast, including Jennifer Beals). And Clayton, who is indeed too hot to be hetero, finds the messages sweet.

“Like, trust me, if sexuality was a choice, I would not choose men,” she said with a laugh.

Clayton, a fan of the initial L Word, insisted she was up for anything. “We got to talk about what we were comfortable with and what we weren’t comfortable with, and I was like, ‘You can do whatever you want to me!’” Clayton said, and the way she laughs, I trust she’s quoting herself verbatim.

Clayton is dolled up and chic in a top of thick sheer stripes — white, pink, and purple — with tousled blonde hair and trademark Delevingne brows. She’s video-chatting with me from a Serbian hotel room between shoots of a top-secret movie project and tells me she watched all six seasons of the original L Word at least twice before being cast on the show.

“I was a fan of the show, and now I’m on it, and I’m opposite Kate,” Clayton said giddily, like she’s still pinching herself.

Kate Moennig’s Shane is one of the originals to return for Generation Q alongside Beals’s Bette Porter and Leisha Hailey’s Alice. The fervor for the show rested largely on the three originals coming back for the sequel not only as stars but executive producers. The new, younger cast had equal screen time but more work to do in order to endear themselves to fans. And while all three had active sex lives, Shane, in particular, supplied a lot of The L Word’s steamiest sex scenes as a hyperactive Casanova who appealed to women of all orientations.

It was thanks to Clayton’s chemistry with Moennig that her role was expanded. Originally cast as a recurring character for only a few episodes in season one, Tess spent most of her screen time helping Shane, a salon owner and hairdresser, transition to bar owner — someone seasoned in the service industry willing to show Shane the ropes of management and event production. For classic L Word fans, Dana’s (named after the show’s most beloved dead group member) is the new Planet — the center of the action, from karaoke to cunnilingus.

“It was a smaller part and the role was actually a little different when I went in to audition,” Clayton said. “And then Kate and I just really hit it off, and so I got more episodes during season one. It’s a great thing when it happens for any actor, you know, but you just get there and then they start seeing the chemistry and the fans’ reactions, and you get to start doing a lot more — there’s just so much I love about Tess.”

So despite Shane having hooked up with Tess’s girlfriend (such a Shane thing to do!), Tess stuck around, seeing her character develop into a key player who now appears in every single episode of season two. A recovering alcoholic, Tess’s sobriety is a sizable part of her story line, as is her mother’s failing health and Tess’s need to monetarily support her through the bar and any other work she can pick up. And as of last week’s episode, the will-they, won’t-they tension between Tess and Shane has officially entered romance territory as the two shared a steamy kiss in a freak rain shower.

But what sets the role apart for Clayton, and for trans actors more generally, is that Tess is cisgender, a decision made in part by Clayton’s early casting conversation with showrunner Marja-Lewis Ryan as well as the show’s producers and casting director.

“I said, ‘Is this character trans?’ And they said, ‘We don’t know,’” Clayton said of the audition. She explained how they talked more broadly about trans actors and the kinds of roles Clayton and her peers are generally given opportunities to play. In part, Clayton said she was interested in playing roles outside of the trans narrative.

“And then weeks later when I found out I got the part, Marja called me to tell me that I got it, and she said, ‘I want you to know that we really appreciate the conversation that you had with us. We listened. We want to have more of those conversations with you,’” Clayton recalled.

Still, some fans inevitably find a trans narrative in Clayton’s portrayal and her visibility is a boon to those who are searching for trans lesbians where there are otherwise few (HBO’s Euphoria the most notable). The L Word does have one regular trans man character, Micah, played by trans actor Leo Sheng, and Bette and Tina’s teenage daughter has a girlfriend named Jordi, played by trans actress Sophie Giannamore who, similar to Tess, doesn’t discuss her gender identity onscreen.

“The thing that I love about Tess is that whether she’s cis or trans or whatever she is, it’s not part of her story, which I really like, because to me at the end of the day, the only difference between a trans character and a cis character is that cis characters aren’t going around talking about their gender all the time,” Clayton said.

Her breakout role as trans hacker Nomi on Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s sexy sci-fi Netflix series Sense8 also had her in a lesbian relationship, so it’s to be expected she’d have a rabid queer fan base. Other roles on Designated Survivor and Roswell were shorter-lived and less developed, so when it comes to playing a trans woman in a relationship with a cis man onscreen, there are very few opportunities, and Clayton has yet to have one.

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