We spoke to the actor and screenwriter ahead of the 28th Seattle Queer Film Festival (SQFF) this year where she will be receiving the Queer Luminary Award
BY ELLA GAUCI, IMAGE BY LIONSGATE
Go Fish. The Watermelon Woman. The L Word. These films and shows are some of the most iconic pieces of lesbian media that have ever existed. Can you guess the common denominator? American actor, screenwriter, and film director Guinevere Turner wrote and starred in them all.
Back in the 90s, there weren’t many openly-out women in writers’ rooms. Guin changed that. Go Fish exceeded everyone’s expectations when it was released, grossing $2.5 million despite its small budget. It was stories like this which set the path for the sapphic films we love today.
At the 28th Seattle Queer Film Festival (SQFF) this year, Guin will receive the Seattle Queer Film Festival’s inaugural Queer Luminary Award for the work she has done for the queer community.
DIVA sat down with the star to walk through her extensive career and find out a bit more about what happened behind the scenes.
Your film Go Fish was so important for showing that lesbian storylines could be popular on the big screen. What inspired the film and what was it like to see its astounding reception?
The film was inspired simply by the fact that Rose Troche (the director) and I felt frustrated that there were no lesbian films out there that represented life as we knew it: not about coming out, not about a lone woman on an isolated journey of self-discovery. Our lives were about all of our friends, most of them queer women, and our relationship dramas and family dramas – you know, like everyone who is alive. We had no idea that it would get the attention and distribution that it did! We were thrilled and astounded. I still have boxes and boxes of fan mail from that year from all over the world. (Ya know, actual envelopes because it was 1994).
American Psycho is one of the biggest films of all time. What was it like working on that film and why do you think it is still just as impactful as it was 20 years ago?
It’s incredible to me that this film just seems to be getting more and more popular! Working on the film was great – director Mary Harron and I had already written the script for the film that would become our The Notorious Bettie Page and are working together still (on our fourth film together!). We like to joke that it was ahead of its time. It is essentially about toxic masculinity before that term had been coined.
It didn’t get great reviews at the beginning – it felt like audiences and critics didn’t know what to make of it, and new-wave feminists were against it without even seeing it. Heck, I wouldn’t have seen it if I didn’t write it (and get killed in it!), but that’s just because I don’t like scary movies, particularly ones with violence toward women. Many women came to me a decade or so later to say “Wow – I finally saw it – it’s actually feminist!” It just needed a couple of decades…
The Watermelon Woman was another hugely important moment for the queer community. How did you get into the character of Diana? And why do you think that film has resonated with so many people?
That one is amazing too – I love that The Watermelon Woman is having this resurgence of awareness and popularity. As for getting into the character of Diana, she’s just a kind of white woman I know. Well-meaning, politically aware up to a point, but kind of so un self-aware. It was really fun. I laughed my butt off with my co-star Valarie Walker who plays Tamara. She is a hilarious woman and we remain friends to this day. I think the film was also a bit ahead of its time in terms of talking about representation of underrepresented communities – a conversation that is thriving today, thankfully.
The L Word is the holy grail of lesbian TV – what was it like working on the show? Do you have any favourite moments from being on the set?
Working on the show was so much fun. For one, I’d never worked in TV before, and the long hours of throwing ideas around and then shaping them into a coherent story really suited me as a job.
Also, I had Rose Troche with me, and we laughed and had a great time working together 10 years after Go Fish. We could never have imagined there would be an actual show and that we would be so integral to what it became. And working on that first season, there was so much excitement in the air – the first lesbian TV show! What will the response be? Can we even believe it’s happening?
Being on set was really fun – especially when I was playing Gabby Deveaux and the crew was used to me as a writer so everyone was like what the f*** are you doing here, all dressed like that?
I loved the time Mary Harron was directing and Snoop Dogg was in the episode and he said he was a huge fan of American Psycho and when he saw me later said “What’s up, L’il Mama?” and gave me a low five. (Not a high five because damn that man is tall!) Possibly the coolest I will ever be, just for a second.
I also loved the day me and Ilene Chaiken came up with the title of the show. She credits me, but really it was a conversation between the two of us in the writer’s room that finally gave birth to The L Word as the title.
How does it feel to receive the Queer Luminary Award?
Absolutely fabulous. I’m thinking about a speech now! Can it begin, “When I was just a little baby dyke, way back in the 90s…”? Just kidding, the new generation is not so comfortable with the Dyke word, I’ve learned. I’m OK with Queer too. I am all those things. Anyway, I’m delighted to be getting the award. I guess I really have done a lot of Lez Stuff.
Why is it so vital to have lesbian representation both on screen but also behind the writer’s desk in film and TV?
It literally saves lives to have representation on screen. I’ve had countless people, young and old, tell me that Go Fish or Watermelon Woman or the L Word was something they found at a point in their lives where they either didn’t know who they were or thought they were the only queer person in the world or didn’t know how to find the queer people in their town.
Behind the scenes, it’s just everything. We know our culture and stories better than anyone, and we alone can ensure that it is culture and not exploitation. Also, we like jobs, and the more jobs we get, the more we can give opportunities to other women who are coming up.
Also – and this might blow some people’s minds – we have other stories that aren’t necessarily focused on queerness! And we need opportunities to learn and be able to tell ALL the stories that a Lez might want to tell, queer or not.
In a time where shows surrounding lesbian storylines are being cancelled, how can people support queer writers and actors?
I guess for starters be aware that it’s not just the actors who make the show. Learn who the writers are, seek out their work elsewhere, watch things, and post on social media about them. Show the world that there is a passionate audience for lesbian content out there. Remind the world to value writers and creators as much as the people you see on screen. Just be a big Mouthy Lez in whatever way you know how!
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