On this fourth episode of the mini-series with GLAAD, Leslye Headland, Emmy-nominated film and television director known for her 2015 film Sleeping With Other People and the Netflix series Russian Doll, chats with Raina Deerwater, the Entertainment Research and Analysis Manager for the GLAAD Media Institute, about queer women’s representation in the entertainment industry, the power that comedy has in exploring deeper subjects, along with a discussion on how to continue amplifying LGBTQIA+ creators’ voices.
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Leslye Headland is an Emmy-nominated writer, producer, and director. She began her career writing and directing the SEVEN DEADLY PLAYS series (IAMA Theatre Company), including Bachelorette and Assistance, which both had successful runs in New York. Bachelorette was the basis for her directorial film debut starring Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, and Rebel Wilson. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012.
Most recently, Headland served as writer, director, and showrunner for Netflix’s acclaimed series RUSSIAN DOLL (co-created by Natasha Lyonne and Amy Poehler), which was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards and nine Creative Arts Emmy Awards, the latter of which it won three.
Headland is currently working on the STAR WARS series THE ACOLYTE for the Disney+ streaming platform and serves as writer, executive producer, and showrunner. She also recently directed and executive produced the Freeform pilot, SINGLE DRUNK FEMALE written by Simone Finch, executive produced by Jenni Konner, and starring Sofia Black-D’Elia, Ally Sheedy, Rebecca Henderson, Sasha Compère, Lily Mae Harrington, and Garrick Bernard. In addition to Star Wars and Single Drunk Female, Headland has signed a multi-year, overall deal with Fox 21 Television Studios to create, develop and direct series for network, cable and streaming platforms.
Her other film credits include writing the 2014 remake of ABOUT LAST NIGHT starring Kevin Hart and writing/directing SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE starring Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie which also premiered at Sundance in 2015.
Headland’s additional TV writing/directing credits include: pilots for HBO, ABC and NBC, as well as TERRIORS (FX), BLUNT TALK (Starz), SMILF and BLACK MONDAY (Showtime), and HEATHERS (Paramount)
Raina serves as the Entertainment Research and Analysis Manager for GLAAD Media Institute. In this capacity, she provides research and is a contributing writer for GLAAD’s Where We Are On TV and Studio Responsibility Index, our two annual reports examining the quality and quantity of LGBTQ representation in television and Hollywood film. In addition, Raina authors regular posts for GLAAD’s website.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Chloe Coover: What's up, world? We're back with the FREE THE WORK podcast. For the next few episodes we're bringing you, FREE THE WORK: FOCUS PRIDE, a special mini series supported by our friends at GLAAD spotlighting some of today's leading LGBTQIA+ creators. On this episode, Raina Deerwater, the Entertainment Research and Analysis Manager at GLAAD Media Institute, chats with Writer/Director Leslye Headland about Queer women's representation in the entertainment industry, what's missing in LGBTQIA+ storytelling along with the discussion on how to continue amplifying LGBTQIA+ creators' voices.
Raina Deerwater: Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining us for the FREE THE WORK podcast mini series supported by GLAAD if you're just getting familiar FREE THE WORK is a nonprofit global initiative and searchable talent discovery platform for underrepresented creators. And as a disclaimer, we got to say the views and opinions of the guests do not necessarily state or reflect those of FREE THE WORK. I'm Raina Deerwater, the Entertainment Research and Analysis Manager for the GLAAD Media Institute. Today I'll be speaking with director Leslye Headland whose work includes writing and directing the 2015 film Sleeping With Other People, co-creating Russian Doll, as well as writing and executive producing her own Star Wars series for Disney+ entitled The Acolyte. We'll be talking about the Queer women's representation in the entertainment industry, the power that comedy has in exploring deeper subjects, along with a discussion on how to continue amplifying LGBTQIA+ creators' voices. So thank you so much for joining us, Leslye, a lot, a lot to look forward to in the next hour or so. But just to start with- you've, you know, been in this industry for a while and worked on so many different projects. And I just want to know, there's a lot of people talk about, like, how it's changing, or how it hasn't changed. And so what's your experience on like, how the industry has changed in the last decade, when it comes to centering women's voices and Queer voices and underrepresented voices?
Lesyle Headland: It's changed so immensely in 10 years in ways that I truly never thought it would, you know, my introduction to this business was one where like, you know, abusive, you know, behavior was basically the norm, you know, like there was, you know, everyone engaged in it, everyone in a power position, engaged in it in some way. And you know, it was a trickle down effect, for sure. And that, you know, the concept of people being called out for that type of behavior now, is something that I'm like, absolutely shocked by, I just never thought that would change. It's just kind of like, it was just kind of a given that if you were going to work in this industry, that you were going to encounter that type of person at some point as you rose up, you know, the ladder of people that you are working with. So really all you can do is be the change you want to see. And that was a decision I made like really early on when I moved to Los Angeles with literally like no money, and then started writing Bachelorette and kind of thinking which eventually ended up becoming my first film and my first produced play in New York and just kind of thinking like, I just want to write what I want to write. And any of if it doesn't work out, at least I'll know I'll do it because I did it the way that I wanted to. I was shocked at how many people responded to the script, and especially people in Hollywood, how they responded to the script, both positively and negatively. I was very surprised at how much goodwill it kind of sprouted up for people. And I was also shocked at how openly people would say, "Oh, we are going to spend money on a movie like this. This is a female R rated comedy, or female driven or female centric", which again, had never occurred to me, again, I'd never heard that word before. So I was like, "a what?", you know, it's just like- Literally in every meeting, they proceeded to tell me that because this movie, The Sweetest Thing that I think came out in 2001 was not a successful- this is 2008 you know what I mean? Like, they proceeded to explain to me that because this other movie had come out eight years earlier, or whatever, that it would be impossible to make my film you know. And I was just like, it really, I was just like, "I don't know what you're talking about." Like, this isn't something that I ever kind of think about when I'm writing I don't think like, "I wonder if this is gonna appeal to people? Or is this a story that fits into-", the way that those projects were sized up at that time was also so different. And the way that immediately if something had a Queer character in it, or a female lead or you know, like it was considered to be that kind of a movie, you know? This is a female movie, female centric movie, which means females watch it, you know, like, and-
RD: -for being like a niche for being about like half the population.
LH: It was very off. I mean, I guess I should have known that but I didn't. It came as a huge surprise to me that this thing that I wrote that was what I felt was the best display of what I had to offer as an artist would be reduced to that. I was very surprised by that, you know, and now I would say, the big difference 10 years later is that those types of differences are considered assets. Now, it's like, we love that this is about, for example, I think if I were making Bachelorette today, I think they would be like, “we love that this is a female centric, you know, we love that this is about addiction. We think this is a really important topic right now”, like, there would be a totally different conversation. And I think if they didn't want to make the movie, it would be a completely different conversation about why they didn't want to make a movie, it would be more about streaming and budget, and so on and so forth, it would be much less about the identity of the characters. Cause to me, I never really considered the characters in that movie to be like, female, you know, like, I just considered them to be characters that yes, identified as female, and were were women, but I never thought of them as then completely translating to a female audience, I guess I don't know if that makes sense. Like, to me, the audience of it, I assumed would be the people that related with the behavior, not the gender, or the assigned gender of the characters. One thing I thought was so interesting about Sleeping With Other People was that when we tested- we tested the movie several times. And it always tested higher with men, like it always tested higher with young men. And yet, because I was a female filmmaker, and because it was a rom com, which is considered to be a female genre, the constant notes that I got back from my producers were about, “how can we rise this score for women, the women don't like this part. They don't like that this thing happened”, you know, and I was kind of like, “I disagree. That's just like, that's not exactly how I feel about it. I don't think that-”. I remember when I was shopping Bachelorette around, like the word that they used was, or the phrase that someone used to me was like, “Women talk this way, but they're not going to pay to watch women act in this way.” And I thought that was such an annoying, kind of gross thing to say, because it made the concept of a female experience, one that would only make money if women were able to consume it. And I just was kind of shocked by that, which I should not have been because but you know, at 27 you know, I just did- I didn't know any better. I was like, “Oh, okay, you know, thanks for the feedback about the thing I can't change.” Do you know what I mean?
LH: You know, like it just like or, you know, I guess I could have made them all men, but then everybody would be like, this is just 'churly burly'. You know? Like, I don't know, the movie was always kind of about that stuff. But it didn't seem gender specific to me. It just, I think the thing that was cool about it was that I just hadn't seen women in like, a mainstream movie deal with that.
RD: Yeah, it's kind of demonstrative. Okay, if it was so hard for you to get that native, well, that's why there haven't- you don't see as many of those because it's all of those roadblocks. You have to get over how women should be portrayed? Oh, yes.
LH: Yeah, yeah. And that like, in some way, if women don't respond to this female centric subject matter, then it's a failure, you know, like, like, then, you know, if you don't get the core audience of the people that it's about, then that somehow means it isn't worth making or putting out there. You know, I think it's just different now. Like, I think if I pitched that movie now, I think everybody would be like, much more excited by the other aspects of it beyond just- these are female characters. But at the time, it was just kind of about that, I guess, you know? And a good example of like, how Hollywood worked, then it still does kind of now. But like, a good example is like, Bridesmaids went into production. And because there was an R rated female centric comedy with Judd Apatow behind it. That's when everybody was like, “oh, let's make let's make Bachelorette now!” I mean, like, it was like, “oh, okay, somebody else is doing it.” And I feel like, one thing that will probably never change about Hollywood is that in Hollywood, nobody wants to be first. Everybody wants to be first to be second. So that's always gonna be the same. What I think is different is the way that people discuss it. People aren't as rude. You know, they're not as thoughtless in the way that they size up your work. I mean, some people are but you just, you know, I'm lucky enough that I've had enough success that I don't have to work with those people. I could just be like, “No, thank you.” So I'm very grateful for that. But another interesting thing about Sleeping With Other People was that I really wanted Lainey’s character, Alison Brie's character to be bisexual. It was just this runner you know, like that, she was also vice that she was also sleeping with women.
RD: -sleeping with other people, not just men-
LH: Not just men, you know, like, there were a couple of jokes about it. And then anyway, it was just this thing that I thought was kind of an interesting aspect to her character to kind of point out that I don't know “bi people exist”. One thing I've also noticed about this change that's happened is that you can kind of bring up aspects of being a woman or a Queer woman without it being the whole centric part of the- meaning like for me in Bachelorette, a character having had an abortion was something that I was just like, “I don't think the whole movie needs to be about her having an abortion.” I think that like she can just have had an abortion, had feelings about it, and have it be part of her storyline, like, you know, in the same way that I felt like Lainey could just be bisexual and we didn't need to have several scenes unpacking it. And I think that the notes that I got to cut were really not about people not wanting to see those characters. It just becomes like, “do we need to break all of that down? And do we need to amplify this difference?” And that's, that's where I've ran into a lot of trouble early on in my career, especially in the comedy world, which is why I'm really grateful to have moved away from it. I feel like in a way, as you move into sci fi and fantasy and starting to introduce that into Russian Doll like it was a lot more fun because I think that's actually a genre where you can start exploring weirder stuff without everyone kind of going like “what does it mean? And what if people don't understand what that is?” You know, it's like, “ugh-”
RD: Yeah and I think it's this thing that I encounter like, all the time in my work at GLAAD is like it's getting much better than it was a few years ago. But just like if they're like, yeah, this character is bisexual, we still reference sleeping with women, we don't need to like she's an adult. She's not 13 figuring it out. Like these are people you see every day who just happen to be bisexual and every conversation you have with them isn't a deep dive into their sexual orientation, but there's this roadblock to getting that portrayed on screen specifically TV is doing great, but still in like mainstream films, like just having a character be casually Queer is still such a roadblock. So also that's Sleeping With Other People like now looking at that movie with I'm like, I can see Lainey as by like, a lot.
LH: Yeah, I just think she was- I mean, if I'm remembering correctly, like this hospice character was like an ex girl was kind of an ex girlfriend. You know, it was kind of someone she hooked up with a bunch and she kind of was saying, like, I've always seen you doesn't matter who it's with, you know, I just want you to find it, you can kind of still see it in that scene, whether it's a woman or a man, like I just want you to be happy. And I think that but yeah, you're right. It's kind of relieving to hear that that's happening on another plate because I was like, “Am I crazy?”
RD: I mean, I think there's this big push for casual representation, which is like, some people confuse it with like, small representation. But when you have like a story about Queer people, five people, trans people, like anyone like that doesn't have to be the story that's like, who they are like, I am a person who is a lesbian. But every sentence I say is an exploration of that. That's just like, I'm around. So we're trying to get that onto film. Moving on. But there's so you talked about Russian Doll and Sleeping With Other People. And both of those are very, I noticed a lot of your work is character driven, like what sort of goes into like when it comes to scoping these really dynamic leads of these shows? And like, how has that worked with Russian Doll? And is there a difference when it comes to things like Star Wars? And like working with characters that may already exist? How is that process for you?
LH: Well, I always kind of come from this place where these characters already exist somewhere in the ether. Even Lynch talks a lot about ideas, right when he is promoting T.M. (Transcendental Meditation), or he is kind of describing what his process is, which is that he, part of the reason meditation is such a big important part of his process is that he wants to invite these ideas to come in. And then once the ideas are there, like they just exist on their own, and he's kind of servicing whatever that idea was, you know, like- So for him, it's like, Blue Velvet came from the concept. I think, if I'm remembering correctly, it came from like, you know, this severed ear, like he thought about this severed ear and like, from there, like, that's the idea that then dictates and I would just say I usually start with character. Like, I usually start with a character that comes to me and starts to kind of haunt my house. And then that's it, you know, like, and then I'm just really doing what she wants to do. You know, like, I think, you know, I get notes I- I try some different things. She tells me she doesn't want to do that stuff. You know, like, just kind of like she's the driving force of the story. Like one- one example of this is Jake and Lainey in Sleeping With Other People like Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie’s character, spoiler alert for every rom com app. You know, they end up together at the end. And there was this moment where I was getting feedback from the producers that were like, “are you sure you want them to get-” because I think at the time, it was kind of popular to subvert this genre where like, at the end, they wouldn't get together or something. And I just, you know, I would meditate on it, I would think about it, they just kept telling me, they were like, “We really want to be together like this, we need you to bring us together with this story.” The point of this story is these two like souls that complicatedly find a way to be happy. And that happiness, I think, iconography wise, the best way to describe that for the two of them, who had struggled so much with their sexual relationships was monogamy. Like for them that was what they wanted to do. They wanted to commit to each other and do that. And I told the producers what I just told you, and they looked at me like I was crazy. That's kind of it. That was just kind of it. But that's kind of where I come from. And- And honestly, Star Wars is not that different. You know, like, I can't talk too much about the characters. But I would say I feel very close to them in the same way that I just described.
RD: That's good. They're talking to you already.
LH: Yes. Yeah. They're like, "I don’t want to do that."
RD: That's great. So like, on the note of people talking to you. Are there standouts you’ve collaborated with, and then sort of beyond that, like, what makes someone a person that you want to keep working with on different projects?
LH: I would say, I really gravitate toward hard workers, I think because I also do like when I'm in love with a project kind of can't stop thinking about it and working on it. And so that kind of dictates I would say what's up like Alison Brie is like the hardest working actress I think i've ever, I mean, I feel like if I had asked her to, like crawl across hot coals or something, you know, like, I feel like she would have done it. Like, she's just so committed to the performance and to giving the director what they need. And she's also excellent at taking care of herself. Like, I don't know, it was just kind of astonishing to watch her do that. And Jason's kind of the same way too, he just, you know, he goes through the script in a way that so it's just, it's like a writer, it's the same way I work. It's just like going through every single kind of beat and every single moment and really, you know, sometimes challenging it and saying, “Well, what does this mean”, and, you know, the ramifications of utilizing this instead of this. And so he's kind of more of a heady guy. And then and then when we're there like, onset, just a dream, like, you know, he let me almost hit him with a car, you know, it's just like, you know, like, like, just stuff that of course, everything was safe. But I just mean, like, you know, I'm, like, obsessed with keeping people safe. But he trusts me, like, he gets it, he knows it. He understands it. He wants to work as hard as I do. And, you know, it's not surprising, given both of their work since then, you know, like, the kind of heights that they've risen to. And- but yeah, I can keep going. I mean, Rebel Wilson, oh, my God, one of the hardest working people I think that ever existed. I mean, what she's made for herself is so gorgeous and the journey that she's been on the past year is astonishing to watch. It's like I do. I feel like she could run a country if you want to give out. But yeah, I would say that that's probably the common denominator is just people that really, really, really, really work hard, or think really hard about things and want to like go through all the different aspects of how something could work or not work. I think I'm attracted to that. Even in the room I'm in now, like, all of my writers are so brilliant, you know, like, they really like they want to go through things the way that I want to, which is like fine tooth combing everything.
RD: Yeah. And it shows such respect for the work and commitment to like, make it as great as it can be, which is what we all want at the end of the day.
LH: I think so. Yeah, I do think so I think weirdly, going back to like how Hollywood has changed. I think there was this real tough guy patriarchal dive for, I don't know, a century, you know, where in order to get people to work that way you had to be an asshole. You know, you either had to be a genius, or you had to be an asshole. And I think that for both, you know, and I think now, or you could show up and just do your job and just do the work in. That's also an option. And I think everybody's interested in doing that without having that- anything hanging over them. Any kind of negativity hanging over them. The work is hard enough as it is. Yeah. I mean, it breeds people going like “I disagree.” I don't think that's right. We shouldn't do that. You can't collaborate without having conflict. So why escalated even further, it just doesn't make any sense.
RD: Sort of off of that, there's FREE THE WORK and a lot of these places are working on hiring practices for getting like new people into the industry as opposed to the century of angry men. What are your thoughts on how hiring practices can create more opportunities for all these underrepresented voices, including LGBTQIA creators behind the scenes as well, like in writing positions and directing positions and things like that?
LH: I mean, this is tough, because I want to make sure I talk about it in a really thoughtful way. And not some way where I'm like, just flippantly saying something, you know, like, it's like, but I think that one thing that's been super helpful has been people who are already in this position, meaning their show runners or their creators or their filmmakers, who are a woman, Queer, LGBTQ, Black, POC, not white people, you know, like, if those people are in a position where they are hiring, what I found to be very helpful is contacting them and saying, I would like recommendations for people, you know, like, I would like, you know, we even add Shoot Till Midnight, have gotten very good at this kind of tracking where these people are for heads of departments and writers and below the line and above the line, and all that kind of stuff, and, and being able to source options and candidates, because I have to say most most of the people that do the hiring, like, you know, whether it's line producers or or executives, I think it's very easy for them to just say, “Oh, yeah, we just don't have any options like that, you know, like, there aren't a lot of people like that, that have the experience that we need”, you know, like, it's like, there's this real sense of like, I don't want to do the work around what it would be to reach out and try to source options that are not just the guy you went to Harvard with, you know, like, it's like, I think it's just, it takes more time, it takes maybe saying the wrong thing, you know, like, which I also think makes everyone really uncomfortable, like, you might reference someone in the wrong, you know, with the wrong terminology, or like the wrong pronoun, or something like I think everybody gets scared at having to be having to go through the process of sourcing those types of people and hiring them. It really comes down to their discomfort, not the lack of people. And I wouldn't, you know, I would include myself in that category for a while, you know, like, I would say, up until a couple of years ago, I was definitely somebody that just didn't, I kind of went okay, you know, that's just kind of like, I guess is the way it works. I'm just happy to be here, you know, like, and kind of realizing how I was part of the problem and realizing I need to step it up, I need to do these things. Like I need to, I need to educate myself, I need to walk through something, even if I feel uncomfortable and feel like I'm going to say some stupid thing. Because why are you going to deny somebody the opportunity to do what they love, just because you don't want to feel uncomfortable for 15 minutes? You know, it's like, it just seems like it seems a little nuts today. So I think for someone like me, it's about reaching out to people that understand what it's like to be in the position that I'm in and say, Hey, I'm looking for some options for a job here. I'd be interested in a pretty diverse pool. Are there some people that you can suggest, you know,
RD: You mentioned- you mentioned Shoot Till Midnight, your production company are there like, as far as that goes? Like, what are your overarching goals for Shoot Till Midnight, like, what is like the dream, you kind of want to get out of that looking towards the future?
LH: My dream has always been in this business, like I always joke, the quick, like version of it is to send the elevator back down. Like that's always been my, my big passion now that I have achieved this, I've achieved what I'd like to achieve, you know, which is that I get to work in this business. Like, I'm not one of these people that sit around being like, “Where's my Oscar?”, you know, it's like, I'm happy, like, I'm very, very happy. I never thought I would end up getting this far. Working on an IP, like Star Wars that completely saved my life when I was in seventh grade. You know what I mean, like to be able to, like give back and like put creativity back into that like is astonishing. I can't believe that's what I get to do. So yeah, to me, it's like then the next step is, you know, mentorship and that mentorship into autonomy, not that mentorship and now you owe me something, you know, like that's the thing that I think is so creepy about some of these relationships in Hollywood between, you know, production companies and and the people that they claim to kind of like uphold you know, like my goal has always been like, I would like to find people that have stories that they really want to tell that they that I feel like haven't been told And that haven't had, you know, that kind of proper platform to execute it. So how can I help build that? And then how can I build it in a way that you don't need me? You know what I mean, like, you don't actually need me in the room anymore, you don't need me, you know, to make these executive decisions for you should be able to do it on your own, because you're your own artist, and I don't see, you know, we're really young, the company, but that's essentially what I've done with all of my assistants, you know, all of my assistants, I've essentially said, like, the goal here is to put you into a position where you can succeed without depending on me anymore, you know, like, I'm very happy that my girls have all gone on to you know, one is like the VP of a production company now, one of them just sold her pilot, they're shooting it up in Canada right now. Another is a high level, high level assistant and support for, you know, an A list actor, and she works with him and his, his, his reps and writes their own stuff. And either like, I'm just really proud of seeing all of them go off and do their own individual thing. And like, to me, I would love to have a company that just did that. But you know, on a larger scale, like how can we get your projects going? And, yes, we're part of getting you set up and creating an instance infrastructure. But after that, you shouldn't need me. Another example of it is like the theatre company that I work with in Los Angeles, like, when we first started working together, my plays were the plays they were doing, and it's definitely a symbiotic relationship, I'm getting my plays done, I'm becoming somebody that I really like, you know, like, I'm becoming an artist, I like, you know, I'm learning, I'm learning that my writing sucks by directing at myself, you know, and I, they're giving me space to fail. And, and then, you know, here we are 10, I think there were like, 12, year 12, 11 or 12. And they're making theater, like, you know, and they're making like, COVID safe theater through the pandemic, and, you know, and like figuring out how to survive through that, you know, and it's like, I think that's, that would be my goal, ultimately, is to be some sort of, to create some sort of thing like that for people.
RD: That's great. And it seems like you're well on the way to that already-
LH: -Baby steps, baby steps, you know, like, we're getting there, you know, but it feels like, it just feels like there's this, there's this weird feeling that I get some times when people are like, “Who are your mentors”, and I was, like, don't really have any, you know, because it always felt like this, like deal I was gonna have to make where I was gonna have to just continue supporting this person and not doing something that I want to do, you know, that I've had many people be incredible sponsors, like, you know, people that gave me opportunities that were incredible. And I would not have gotten it if it hadn't been for them. And they didn't want anything in return. You know, they were like, Here you go, there's, here's your shot, go take it, which I think is much more my style than them being like, okay, now, here's my, like, how can you help me more, you know, like, now that now that you've gotten the, you know, the promotion and the job, like helped me more like you can take take, take, take take, nobody wants to give. Not nobody, but like, you know, you get into that headspace of just like, I don't want, I don't want to get you know, I'd rather just make sure I have all my stuff, you know?
RD: Yeah. Going back. We touched on this briefly with the potential of Alison Brie being bisexual way back in 2015. Because right now, like the work that we do at GLAAD of myself personally is all about Queer representation on screen and having that keep expanding because right now, it's like a classic, it has gotten better, but it could get much better. So when it comes to seeing those stories, LGBTQIA stories on screen, like what do you think is missing? Or like, what would you like to see more of in that regard?
LH: You can't underestimate how powerful it is. I mean, I just watched an Orbit commercial that had gay couples going on vacation and I cried, because I was just like, “Oh, yeah, you never see same sex couples, essentially treated just like couples.” They're always, you know, it's like, it's always like, in relation to you know, like, you can't underestimate what it's like to do that. And it's something I think about straight people- not that they don't understand it. But I think they just because heterosexuality is the norm, I just think that whenever they see something that's other, they're like, Oh, that's other, you know, for me, being gay is my norm, you know what I mean? So, when I see it, I don't see it as others say, I'm like, oh, there's me. There's me on vacation, I want to go on vacation. You know, like, it's like, you know, it works and the way I think that that, of course, is always important, and that more stories like that, that can be and characters like that, that can be pushed into the mainstream. But another thing that I do that I don't think a lot of people talk about is creating gate content. You know, like I would consider Russian Doll to be incredibly gay, like, you know, like, there's literally opens with Like that, on that door is a huge vagina that she like walks into, you're like, I'm just like to be that kind of imagery. And really like, what Alan is going through in Russian Doll is so similar to what I was going through when I was in the closet, you know, like just that feeling of like, I have to get this right, I have to get who I am, right, I have to have this particular relationship if I don't have that particular relationship. And then the, the, the monologue that he has in the seventh episode, you know, where he's like, my, “I'm trapped in this world, where, you know, like, I can't, you know, my, my body can't keep lying the way that my mind can, you know, my mind is like, this is what's happening, this is what's happening, but my body is like, I can't do it anymore. You know, I can't, I can't go through this anymore.” And so, you know, that's not something I discussed with, Charlie, you know, like, that's not something that it's explicitly said, you know, but when I watched that storyline, and when we were creating it, I couldn't help but be like, this is so exactly what I went through. I don't know, to me, I'm like, you see it, you either see it or you don't see it. And I don't know if I have to explicitly say like, this is my story, as a gay woman coming out, in order for it to be valid. I think I can just create it and have it out there and say, like, “this is my experience. I'm having a Black man have that experience in this show. You can read into it however you'd like. Let me know what your thoughts are,” you know, I don't know if it it's like, I would love that from from gay artists as well. You know, it does happen.
RD: Yeah, yeah, I think there's like such a deeper level to it where we have been inundated with straight stories all our lives. And that includes both literal right romances, but also the way a story is told can be very straight. I don't know if I'm doing the same thing you do. But I think when that those narratives, and those stories can be cleared in a way that's like, “these are Queer characters. We love them. This is a Queer romance,” but it's hard to explain. But like, this is like a gay person watching media, sometimes you just sort of know that someone behind the lens is similar to you, or at least there is an experience that's similar to you. So like when it comes to all forms of art, there's such a way to convey that that can no pun intended, like straight on or that can I don't know, like what you're describing with Charlie's character in Russian Doll.
LH: Yeah. And that's, you're absolutely right. You know, in my mind, I was like, do we make this more explicit? And I think maybe we did talk about it, possibly with at least Tashi and I. I can't I honestly can't remember, but it was like, should we talk about that? And to me, because it was Nadia's story, it felt more like a proper B story runner of like, everybody feels like this. It's just that when you're a marginalized person, in terms of you don't fit into, you know, hetero normative or I don't know how else to put it except like white supremacy. Like, if you don't fit into that, then you're subconsciously being told all the time that you are different. I mean, it's kind of like when Hannah Gadsby. I mean, spoilers for Nanette. But you're listening, you're listening to a GLAAD podcast. So like, when she talks about her mom apologizing to her for raising her straight. That's kind of what I feel like, there isn't even this wiggle room for stuff. That could be a little bit how I've tried to put this, it's like, it's so the default that anytime you're telling a story that has any kind of Queer narrative to it. A lot of times people are going like, well, if you don't put a Queer character in there, then how are we supposed to know? You know? And it's like, well, I don't know if I need to tell you to be honest. Like, it's like, it's gonna hit the people it's supposed to hit. And that's great. But I would also say that something like Clio’s movie is wildly important. On the other end of that spectrum, it is wildly wildly important that you take a mainstream genre at a high level studio, and put Queer people in, you know, like, put lesbians in it. I do think that's wildly important.
RD: No, I mean, I just think it's what is hard about existing as a Queer person or existing as like anyone who's not like a straight white guy is that you want that at all levels. If one thing happens if it's like, Hey, why don't you have a Queer person, it's like, that should also be happening. Like we should be telling these Queer stories in a very explicit way and in a very artsy way, in every single way. But oftentimes, you have to do this one way or else so there should be projects like Russian Doll, and then please film and all these things that's like, this is the most mainstream and then this is half mainstream and Queer people entry level-
LH: Right. It's like, I think Queer culture has always up until very recently has been counterculture. But then with the invention of the internet, there kind of isn't any counterculture anymore. Like, in a weird way, if there's like, if you want something, it's up there. So go check it out, you know. So in a way, as we move into being more part of the mainstream, it just becomes about, like, how do we want to be represented there? How often in what way, all of that is a super valid conversation that everybody should be having. But I think Queer artists, just all they have to ask themselves is like, what kind of story you want to tell. And I think just by default, I'm usually going to be telling some version of what my experience has been in the world. François Truffaut said, you know, “every filmmaker makes the same, makes a movie, breaks it apart and makes it again”, you know, like, so I feel like we are all maybe not telling the same stories over and over again. Exactly. But you are essentially kind of working through the same narrative that you have for yourself as an artist. So I think that to put any pressure on on Queer artists to do one thing or the other, I think, is just a little bit difficult because the air is always changing. And you know, so you kind of have to go where your artistic wind kind of blows you. And just and then yeah, go from there.
RD: Great. So one more question before we wrap it up is there like something when you were younger whatever that a piece of media that sort of stuck with you over the course of time that's this is it like I want to tell stories, make movies, etc, just something that sort of use that phrase, wherever your artistic wind blows, but something that ignited, said artistic wind?
LH: You know, I was raised at a really religious home-, really Christian religious home. And so my experience of art was one that was very carefully curated by my family, like, even up until high school, you know, like, I really came of age in those like mid to late 90s, of like, like The Big Lebowski was like one of the first movies I watched that I was like, “Oh, my God, like, it's just like, this is so cool.” You know, like, up until then, I've been watching MGM musicals. And like, older films, which were very oddly very well curated, but but still just didn't really have a feeling of what was going on in those guys, and definitely had no idea what was going on with Queer and Queer culture, in any way, shape, or form beyond like Fran Lebowitz, and like Andy Warhol, like, that was it. But I think the thing that really kind of changed me and that popped out for me was that, once I left home, one of the first things that just happened to happen was that I watched The Shining, and it just changed my life. Like it just completely and utterly changed my life. It was- it hit me on so many different levels, you know, not just like how scary it was, and how well done it was in the fact that it was art and like, Oh, my God, like, film can be art, what are we talking about, you know, like all of that. But also, I think what really emblazoned itself on my mind that I can't kind of shake is this concept of being trapped inside this otherworldly space. And this father is chasing down again, spoilers, through the water and glass clouds just a bit. But this, this father chasing down his son, which to me means like, your older self chasing down your inner child like, and trying to completely and utterly destroy them, because they were trying to contact outside people. You know, like, to me, I was like, that is a perfect understanding of my psyche. You know, like, being raised in such an isolated and religious upbringing. You know, like, I don't want to be here, you know, I'm trying to contact the outside world. Like, it's like, I have something that's different about me that no one seems to recognize except other people that have it. And it was really, you know, it just, it hit me on such a deep, deep level that I think I've been kind of making some version of that, like, ever since. I always I'm always sad that I wasn't exposed to a lot of Queer or gay culture until I was much older besides musical theater, which of course, you know, I was a big big fan of big big partaker in in high school, you know? I think you have to be those are where all the gay people are, you know, like, it's like, you know, we're all making the plays. We're all auditioning for a chorus line, you know, like it's like I can't even sing that well you know, like or do anything really that well I'm not a performer but it's like you know, where else was I gonna go? Yeah.
RD: But yeah, you know, but that means like it all it all tracks it all works together The Shining, musical theater, here you are. Thank you so much for coming on and for doing this episode and for speaking with me, really appreciate it and thank you for FREE THE WORK for having us. Be sure to search freethework.com for more filmmakers to work with Follow the FREE THE WORK podcast on all podcast platforms for the next episode of this mini series. Thanks to Leslye. Thanks for FREE THE WORK. Y'all are the best. Thank you.
CC: Thanks for listening. You can watch Leslye's Russian Doll on Netflix and find her other projects Bachelorette and Sleeping With Other People available to stream. Don't forget, follow FREE THE WORK and GLAAD on all social media platforms.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai