Daniel Sea opens up about Max Sweeney’s ‘The L Word’ return

As a trans and nonbinary actor, a real punk, and a child who grew up taking part in Dungeons and Dragons, Daniel Sea isn’t any stranger to complexity, the facility of storytelling and the skinny line between what occurs on set and in on a regular basis life.

From 2006 to 2009 Sea performed Max Sweeney, a kindhearted but difficult transgender pc programmer on Showtime’s now-iconic sequence “The L Word.” Whereas Sea, and Max, have been forward of their time in some ways, Hollywood was not prepared to totally embrace nonbinary actors, trans characters, or trans storylines through the time that his 4 seasons have been filmed.

Throughout the framework of a groundbreaking present about lesbians in Los Angeles, Max, the primary recurring transmasculine character on TV, supplied risk for trans futures whereas additionally bearing the brunt of transphobia from the writers room and from the press. Sensationalized storylines have been frequent, and Max was usually introduced because the antithesis of the company, femme-centric fundamental characters; he was even bullied by them. At occasions diminished to a caricature of the pitfalls of masculinity and unfounded anxieties about trans and genderqueer life, Max shouldered the burden of representing not simply trans males, but in addition butches, gender non-conforming individuals, and rural and working-class queer communities.

What usually will get misplaced, obscured, and even erased within the dialogue of flawed trans illustration within the unique “L Word” and the funding in additional nuanced trans storytelling in reboot “Generation Q,” now in its third season, is an acknowledgment of the gender-expansive actor who performed Max, the interventions they tried to make within the character’s arc, and the humanity with which they invested him.

After greater than a decade away from tv, Sea returns Friday as Max to “The L Word: Generation Q” in an look certain to fulfill followers who’ve lengthy known as justice for his story. The season’s fourth episode, “Last to Know,” finds the character thriving as a trans elder — a lovely rarity within the depiction of trans individuals on display screen. Sea spoke to The Instances just lately about his punk rock roots, Max Sweeney and trans happiness, returning to a extra equitable Hollywood, and extra. The following has been edited for readability and size.

Leo Sheng as Micah and Daniel Sea as Max in “The L Word: Generation Q.”

(Nicole Wilder/SHOWTIME)

Whereas most individuals know you on your work as Max Sweeney on “The L Word,” queer punk appears like an enormous a part of your power on-screen. Are you able to discuss a bit bit about that and your connection to punk?

I come from the punk scenes of L.A. and the San Francisco Bay Space. As a younger artist I didn’t see myself mirrored, so I took myself to an underground group who helped me see myself. As a younger teen within the late ‘80s in L.A. I encountered punk music such as the Bags, Catholic Discipline, Black Flag, and Chumbawamba. This music shined a beacon of joyful living outside the mainstream and pointed me in a queer direction.

Growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s on the Westside of L.A. with artist parents of the 1960s generation, my filmmaking father coming out in the late ‘70s, I developed in a house that valued play and questioned everything. From a young age I have embodied different characters. Later, when I left home for the Bay Area, as many queer and trans people did in the pre-internet early ‘90s, I found a community in punk that saw me and helped me become a working artist at the age of 19, touring internationally with an East Bay punk band the Gr’ups, and organizing with each the Gilman Avenue and Q-TIP, Queers Collectively in Punkness, collectives.

Throughout this time I studied performing and improv at Oakland’s Laney Neighborhood School, Peralta Faculties, birthplace of the Black Panthers, and I felt honored to be within the studying surroundings that they and their legacy created. Learning theater arts there’s a deep a part of my method. Years later once I received the prospect to take my efficiency into the mainstream of TV, I did my finest to hold this spirit of radical artwork and liberation actions of the Bay Space with me, for steering and inspiration. I’ve carried that, in addition to the homecoming that I discovered within the queer and punk avant-garde, with me all through my life.

That absolutely explains the Gossip poster in Max’s room when he’s launched as a personality within the unique present. It appears to me we’re additionally speaking a bit about queer communication by gesture, which is an enormous a part of how trans individuals have at all times engaged with visible media each as actors and as viewers.

I needed to convey a few of my queer group to the area, so I put in posters from my pals’ bands. “Gesture” is a beautiful phrase to seize the best way I try and infuse the area with some power that feels empowering to me; a language I’m talking as a trans one that understands the facility of subtlety and symbolic imagery. I did one thing related for this season of “The L Word: Generation Q” with a poster artwork piece of Audre Lorde that Miriam Klein-Stahl made. By calling on queer ancestors like Audre Lorde, I hope to summon her teachings into the area. Hopefully it transmits one thing of her legacy into the story.

Talking of “Generation Q,” how did you become involved in coming again to “The L Word?”

[Showrunner] Marja-Lewis Ryan approached me and the very very first thing she mentioned was one thing like, “Max has meant so much to me and my generation, and I really wanted to see him thriving and happy and having a great life like he deserves.” That basically touched me.

That’s so stunning, particularly after the remedy that Max had on the unique present.

The present and the remedy of Max was a mirrored image of wider attitudes to trans individuals on the time. Previously 15 years society has advanced in our understanding of the nuances of trans and marginalized identities. We’re in a way more expansive age of understanding now, which is mirrored in a few of our up to date tales. Due to the work of trans and queer activists, artists and organizations in our business, there are trans characters now which can be absolutely realized in all the difficult and various experiences of being human. There continues to be a whole lot of work to do. Moving into Max’s character on this present second is a chance to revisit this iconic trans character and do some reparative work by the story itself.

One of many highlights of the episode for me was the intergenerational alternate between Leo Sheng’s character, Micah, and Max, as a result of it displays care, kindness, and genuine connection between trans masculine individuals.

That’s so essential to have an actual, nuanced method to trans illustration on-screen.

It wasn’t straightforward for me as a trans actor again then. … The gender binary in wider society was nonetheless very inflexible in 2006. The business has advanced in its understanding of the various experiences of queer and trans identities. Working with director Em Weinstein, showrunner Marja-Lewis Ryan and author Nova Cypress Black was a extremely constructive expertise. The whole lot from make-up to costumes to utilizing appropriate pronouns was thought-about.

A man and a woman standing and chatting in a nightclub

Daniel Sea as Max and Kate Moennig as Shane in “The L Word: Generation Q.”

(Nicole Wilder/SHOWTIME)

I do know being part of activist artwork communities within the U.S. and overseas is an enormous a part of who you’re and what you do, are you able to discuss a bit bit about that?

I’ve been residing between Vienna and California since 2017, and have lived between Europe and California for many of my grownup life, working as an artist and musician in a large number of activist and avant-garde communities. I just lately co-created a theater piece with the superb artists Marissa Lôbo and Jota Mombaça. We labored collectively to create a decolonial theater piece, collaborating with Brazilian artists Ani Gonzala, Juliana Dos Santos and Indigenous chief Sônia Guajajara. I work by language, music and memoir in a observe that’s expansive, crossing a number of mediums, and now circling again to mainstream performing, efficiency being central to my inventive life. The business has modified a lot. Thanks partly to the work of trans and queer activists, organizations and professionals working in our business, there may be a lot potential for absolutely conceived trans and non-binary characters in each the mainstream and the avant-garde.

As followers know, Max is a sophisticated character that you just labored laborious to convey humanity to. What has your relationship with Max been like during the last 17 years?

I’ve acquired so many letters and messages. Folks nonetheless cease me on the road. I’ve spoken to individuals about Max for the previous 16 years. It’s at all times a humbling expertise as a result of it was a big honor to play this position which for a lot of trans individuals was the primary time they received to see themselves mirrored in actual life or in fiction. I introduced myself to the character in addition to my queer underground and trans expertise into the position. Max for me was greater than only a position I performed. His expertise and the best way he was handled and misunderstood mirrored mine.

What does it imply so that you can see Max come again to “The L Word” immediately?

To see Max glad, and to have his storyline be a reparative story and expertise, made me actually glad as a result of he does dwell on as these characters do, particularly since he was one of many first recurring trans characters on TV, and positively the primary recurring trans masculine forged member. Characters who’re firsts similar to Max dwell on in individuals’s imaginations and their hearts. I’m not conscious of every other time that this type of reparative storytelling has been achieved for a trans character from tv’s previous.

This has been very cathartic for me to have this chance to revisit this character in such a restorative approach. … It’s been a therapeutic expertise.

Do you’re feeling like this new episode has modified your private relationship with Max?

I don’t really feel it’s modified. I suppose that is the place the magical factor is available in. As a toddler who grew up taking part in Dungeons and Dragons and studying fantasy and sci-fi, he’s actual to me, in a sure sense, you already know? He lives with me, he’s like a bit brother, like a sibling that lives on in me. And he’s additionally partly me.

What do you hope for the way forward for trans and queer TV?

I need to see extra of it! I need to see all types of tales being made! Additionally, it’s not sufficient to only make an awesome story. We’ve to ask, “How are these stories being made? How are people who have been historically excluded from our industry and storytelling being treated?” … Inside narrative storytelling we are able to ask ourselves, “What kinds of stories are we retelling? Are we replicating the same old tropes or is the industry making space for everyone, especially those traditionally marginalized by Hollywood,in order to ensure a brighter future, a future of mutual aid and care and trust?” We’re in such a sketchy second in historical past. These concepts will information us to a greater future.

We’re on the very starting of one thing I by no means thought that I’d see in my lifetime. I by no means thought the mainstream would get hip to queer and trans information. I thank the individuals who went earlier than us to make this doable, the whole lot they confronted with bravery and brilliance, my friends and the younger individuals for taking the area that was made and carrying the probabilities additional, together with gender stuff. There’s much more work to be accomplished, that is only the start.

‘The L Word: Generation Q’

The place: Showtime

When: Sunday, 8 p.m.

Streaming: www.showtime.com, any time

Ranking: TV-MA (could also be unsuitable for youngsters below the age of 17)