Elizabeth Keener is one busy lady these days. After her scene stealing performance as club owner and all around badass Dawn Denbo on The L Word, Keener has joined the cast of Crystal Chappell’s highly anticipated web series Venice. Recently we had a chance to chat about channeling her inner Dawn Denbo, the exciting new frontier of staring in a web series and getting duct taped by Eminem and Dr. Dre. Don’t ask…just read the interview, it’s worth it!
EM: On The L Word you played the crazy character that everybody loved to hate, Dawn Denbo, and you were brought in right at the end of the series. Was that awkward at all for you or was it a pretty easy integration?
EK: You mean with the other actors and such? You know what, I’ll tell you not awkward at all and I’ll tell you in the sense of a couple things. One, I’d met a couple of the people before so Leisha (Hailey) and I met Kate (Moennig) once. So I think what happened was there really isn’t a shy bone in my body but I get going in where they’re all established but I’d known Ilene (Chaiken) through…I met her in the past and then through the audition process so I felt coming in that along with the character I was playing, I felt like I need to come in very strong anyway. I mean I’m a strong person in reality but you know what I mean? I didn’t want to come in going “Hi I’m…” that and there were open arms. They were all amazing. The moment I met each one I hadn’t met or I met in the past, they were wonderful “Hey how ya doin? I’m really excited you’re doing this character and the character’s exciting.” So it ended up being open arms and I was very fortunate. I went in not very nervous, just going in as myself thinking it will all be ok and it was good, it was great!
EM: So that’s great! You had a really good experience and your character…how was the character of Dawn Denbo described to you when it was first brought to you?
EK: What happened was Ilene Chaiken, who’s the creator, again I had met her in the past just socially and then through a mutual friend reconnected over coffee so that was it. I don’t think the character was…that was months and months before. And then I guess I was still in Ilene’s brain because I got a call from well an email from her actually just months later and said “Hey listen would you come in and read for a character on the show?” and I said “Absolutely.” First of all absolutely it’s fun that show’s amazing and I said “Will you send me the sides? If you’ll send them to me I’d love to look at them.” And that was it. That was in an email. I got them and I read them and I’ll tell you the two scenes people will remember, one was when I come in and I break up the party, that scene. That’s one. And the other scene is where I’m enticing Kate’s character Shane to have a threesome. So those were the two scenes! [We both laugh] Those were the audition scenes. And I loved; I’m like oh my God I really feel like I can do this character with my eyes closed! Not that Dawn Denbo is me, [sure Keener we believe you] but whatever Ilene saw in me I felt too. I’m like oh ok got it.
So after I sent her an email back and my manager and I said of course, they were having one audition for an hour the next morning. Basically it was me and the only other person auditioning…there was nobody else auditioning for Dawn Denbo, the only other person auditioning was Alicia Willis who was my lover Cindi. I met her there. I said “What are you here for?” and she said, “I’m going in for this Cindi character.” So I went in, she went in, they brought us in together just to stand next to each other and just look at us together and that was it. Literally an hour later I got a call from Ilene and that’s when she told me. I had heard from others that the writers had been looking for this character for a really long time. Then went through people in Vancouver and then Ilene I guess when the writers were together she said, “Wait a minute! I know who we haven’t auditioned and who would be great as Dawn Denbo…Elizabeth Keener.” So she was the one and she started telling me when I got the job she said, “We are so excited about this character. There really hasn’t been nemesis or arch enemy of the group and you’re going to come in and it’s going to be you against all of them.” And I’m like oh my God how fun! [Laughing]
EM: It was so much fun to watch I can only imagine how much fun it was to play.
EK: Thank you! It was so much fun and Kate, Mia, all of them are really good at improv and we were able to improv. They do a lot of that on the show. The writers do a great job and then they’re able to add…that’s why the characters are so real. They really add their own flavor. There were so many things I would throw out and Kate would just come back with something great or with Pam Grier same thing. They were just all amazing and really great actors. It was just fun every day. The scene where oh the oil-wrestling scene was fantastic and a blast. There were just so many scenes. So much fun…really fun!
EM: I’m sure! So I have to ask, was the “my lover Cindi” written or was that improvised?
EK: It was written definitely. They had “my lover Cindi” and then I decided to I kept saying it. I think the first episode I came in was like episode four where I met everyone “Welcome to my club” you know. And I said it a couple of times I may have said it three times I think it was written only once but I thought it was so funny to just say it every time I introduced her because I combined it with funny because I even that character you love to hate her and she was horrible, I did try to put humor in there like her humor like what she might think is funny. So I tried to make some humor for the audience and I didn’t want to just make her one-dimensional but also that combined with I think that she is very much…that’s her possession. Her lover Cindi is her possession so she’s gonna let everybody know that’s her lover Cindi, not her friend, not just her girlfriend but that’s her lover Cindi! [We both break out laughing] I ask Ilene I said, “Where did you get that? That’s the funniest thing ever!” and she said that she had a couple of guy friends that the one guy would always introduce whoever it might be as “This is my lover John” to everybody! And I said, “Oh my God Ilene, it’s the funniest thing ever!” That was it! They took it upon themselves to make everyone say it. It was so funny to hear Bette say “Oh look it’s Dawn Denbo and her lover Cindi.” It was just so funny and that was them (the writers) doing it, that was the writers putting it all down and it was just really funny.
EM: It really was! It was one of the best parts of the character just the way that she would use it every single time. It cracked my ass up! [We both laugh]
EK: Oh I’m so glad! Thank you! It was really a combination of everybody involved. I was lucky. I asked Ilene in the beginning can I improvise things and they loved that so it was kudos to all of them.
EM: Did you get any feedback from the fans of the show either negative or positive when Dawn entered the scene?
EK: You know what Tiffany I got only positive. Whether I get something like if I do an article and then on the internet there’s feedback from it or when I’m out in person and somebody comes up they will say either oh my God I love to hate you or they’ll say, I’m quoting, “You played such a bitch but I love you! Can I get a picture with you? You’re awesome!” So I’ve never ever gotten one bad. Even some tough fan, loved all the characters and they’re tough in life would come up and go “Man you were an asshole but I loved you were awesome!” Honestly the fans were fantastic to me and I’m glad they liked the way I did it and I’ve only gotten positive, positive, positive!
EM: It’s good to know that the fans were able to have a sense of humor about it because like you said they are such a devoted group of fans when you have a series like that. You just don’t see Gay representation like The L Word. It’s dwindling more and more every season. So I could imagine there would be some negative feedback but that is fantastic that the fans were so open.
EK: I think they got it and I think that because there was not a character that went against them at all in the whole thing except they went against each other sometimes. I think people were yearning for that and if you noticed I got my just desserts you know. There were times even though I took over, I’m sure they were thrilled when Rachel Shelley’s character (Helena) got me back or Kate (Shane) got me back in the oil wrestling. They were able to you know get back at that Dawn Denbo. [We both laugh]
I have to thank Ilene Chaiken so much. It really was the best character ever. To play a villain is so much fun.
EM: With your work on The L Word and then also your work on the web series Three Way, you’re no stranger to the lesbian storyline or working on a web series so really it’s a perfect match for you to join the highly anticipated web series Venice.
EK: Thank you for saying that. You know I knew of Otalia, I’d heard of it but I really don’t watch a lot of TV let alone daytime or anything like that and what happened was my friend Hope Royaltey who is one of the producers on Venice, I hadn’t talk to her in years…she moved to New York we were friends in LA but still but I had not talked to her I don’t even know how long they were in New York five years or something. Apparently what happened was they were sitting in the room it was Crystal and Kim Turisi, who’s the writer, and Hope and they were sitting trying to figure out for this character Lara Miller, who could they get that maybe the fans if we don’t know we have no idea what’s happening but if the two Ani (Jessica’s character) they don’t end up together who can we get that the fans might like enough that go oh ok maybe I could see her with her or whatever it might be who the fans might like. I think it was Kim and Crystal, one of them said, “What about Elizabeth Keener?” and Hope goes, “Oh my God I know her!” [Laughter] So then I get an email from Hope. I hadn’t talked to her in so long but it’s like the same you know when you’re friends you’re friends it’s like I saw you yesterday. She emailed and said, “We’re doing this web series and it’s called Venice. Would you be interested?” and I said, “Well send me a little material.” Then I talked to Kim and I’m like oh that sounds fantastic I’m in! So that’s what happened it was cool and exciting.
EM: Obviously it’s a passion project, it’s not like anyone is getting paid for this it’s going to be on the web…
EK: Wait a minute Tiffany; I’m supposed to get ten thousand a webisode! [Hysterical laughing] You know what I’ll tell you in these times especially, in these weird times when there’s strikes…if you just find something that is a passion project, it’s from love and it’s really great actors and good writing and you know you’re gonna have fun and you hope that money comes later honestly it really is…with the web you can reach out to so many people…it’s really a no brainer when you have these people attached to it let alone the other actors besides the producers, it’s a no brainer!
EM: Can you tell us anything about Lara Miller?
EK: Lara is a children’s book writer and basically what she is she’s the kind of woman…what happened was she was engaged to a man and she fell in love with her Editor who happened to be a woman and then after that she realized now she lives her life as an openly confident gay woman and she learned who she was. She’s kind of a knight in shining armor feel to her not really a player. She has quirkiness to her and she’s humorous and all those kind of things. She meet’s Jessica’s character (Ani) and who knows what happens! [Laughter] A big difference between the Dawn Denbo character and this character Lara Miller is their approaches to dating. It’s very different.
EM: Well she sounds like an interesting character. I can’t wait to see how she turns out!
EK: I know I’m really excited about it too and I can’t wait to delve into it and I’m excited about having the relationship with Jessica’s character. It’s gonna be fun opening a new relationship. It’s going to be magical and creating something new!
EM: Do you know or are you aloud to say how long throughout the series this season you’ll be on screen?
EK: I don’t know if I can say too much but I believe I come towards the first season…you know it’s a twelve episode kind of thing five or six minutes long so you can do ten seasons in a month. [We both start laughing] I’m kidding! I’m exaggerating, that’s the web! So I think I come in towards the end of the first season and then I’m there so you don’t know what happens. There’s a lot of peaks and valley’s in the second and third and fourth seasons. It’s gonna be great fun! You know what I love too is I also have this Here! Project, do you know the Here! Network?
EM: Yes! I was actually going to ask you about that.
EK: My point is that the same with them in this one it’s really not a gay web series it’s the relationships of father’s daughters and siblings and love interests and friendships and that’s what I like and that’s what you really want. I think that’s what everybody wants whether you’re gay, straight, bi-sexual when you’re watching or in the real world you want someone that just happens to be. That’s why it doesn’t make sense when people are homophobic it just doesn’t make sense. People are just people so in this there are character’s that are gay characters and they embrace it and there are people that are straight but it’s really just about realness and families and friendships and relationships and that’s what I like.
It’s the same with the Here! project. It’s a character that happens to be gay, she embraces her gayness but it’s like she just happens to be. You know some of these shows or movies they put too much in the forefront and it kind of loses the realness or the writing. You embrace it and I just mean it to be as part of who I am and those are the character’s that I embrace whether it’s a web series or TV show or a movie and I don’t care if it’s gay, straight, bi whatever the character is that’s what I embrace…the realness of it. And that’s what this show, Venice, will be.
EM: With so many actors creating their own projects kind of fed up with the current system, do you think that the web is…I mean you’re really able to take control over a project when you take it to the web. Do you think the web is going to be the next big wave?
EK: I think it’s here! There’s another series where I don’t play a gay character called The Green Birds that I’m producing and staring in too. My friend Cameron Manheim is in it, which we are trying to sell. I tell you here’s the thing with the web, it’s really not saying F U to the studio’s. It’s people who have a labor of love or have an idea but either doesn’t have the funds or whatever it might be but want to work and want to express themselves. You can go as simple as YouTube. Somebody who’s not even an actor, writer or in the business at all and they get a million hits on something and they’re so happy because they expressed themselves in whatever way it was. It’s the creativity its not having to…because look, I embrace still the studios they’re the ones worried about money that’s what it is they’re worried about viewers about all those things. They need to because things can happen and somebody can tank and then go under. But if you have the web it allows people to just not worry, not sit back and wait for someone to say yay or nay to them and wait for months of whether it’s an audition or whether it’s writing or any of that. You can just do it. You can get a flip camera and shoot something for nothing and if you can get sponsors then you’re able to either sustain or make a little money off of it. The viewers, people get to sit at home and watch it over and over again whether they have to pay a dollar or whatever it is to keep it going is awesome. The viewers and the fans for something like Venice is crucial because they’re the ones that perpetuate it and allow it to keep going and the sponsors go hey ok people are watching. So it’s kind of the whole gamut. I don’t think it’s a fad at all I think it’s now, it’s just another added way, it’s another medium to allow people to express themselves and a lot easier to get it out there. And on the other end it’s instant gratification that people get to watch. It’s fantastic for anybody creative and wanting to express and let people see what they have in their minds and their hearts and whatever it might be.
EM: I see that you recently joined Twitter. So what do you think of the Twitterverse?
EK: TIFFANY THEY MADE ME DO IT!!!!! [Laughing] I WAS SCARED!
EM: Same thing here! I didn’t want to do it either. I was forced into doing it and now it’s like a crack addition.
EK: Let me tell you I think it’s an amazing thing. What they did was they put me on that one night and we were all twittering and unfortunately I have been working so I haven’t been able to do it but now once I get back on it and within hours I had a thousand followers! It was crazy! [We’re both laughing hysterically] The thing is I’m truly a private person you know I’m out there and goofy but I really am private when it comes to family or me or my personal life I really am. But this is the thing; you can be as personal or impersonal as you want. I think people were asking me “What’s your favorite drink?” or “What are you doing right now?” and I would say “I’m gonna go see my friend Tim who makes me laugh.” or I could have said nothing or I could have said “I’m going to dinner.” It’s good to engage them. The fans are working so hard on this Venice project, wow it’s amazing! When my manager got the call from you I was like how did they…it just happened, I just got the job! I was like wow that’s amazing!
I have to go back to what you said earlier about there’s so much demand and there’s little supply. I’ve found so many fans…they weren’t just gay women and they weren’t just gay men; they were straight men, straight women, families. I was in a Rite Aide once and this woman with her two kids, the kids kept following me around. I’m sure she cuts stuff out but they were like thirteen they were still too young in my opinion for L Word but she said “We sit and we laughed your character my kids, you were their favorite character!” Then I was in Vegas once and a rapper, I mean I knew after the fact that he was a rapper, he just came up at like four in the morning at the hotel and I was getting a coffee and he tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around and he’s like “Hey how ya doing, were you Dawn Denbo?” and I said yes and he turns around and yells and his entourage is about fifteen feet away all of them are like woo hoo and I was just like wow…everybody! So that’s the thing, hopefully Venice will attract EVERYBODY and that’s what you want. You want people to realize it just is what it is and you have people who are gay, straight, bi whatever they are and they’re just people and you can extend that to the real world.
EM: So what do you have coming up?
EK: Danny Ducovny who’s a director/ producer, he’s David’s brother, we worked on a project once and we decided to work together on a web series. It’s called The Green Birds and what it is we’ve got French Stewart, Camryn Manheim, Maile Flanagan from Reno 911…a bunch of people. It’s basically environmental green meets comedy. Nobody’s really doing that. It’s kind of a Curb Your Enthusiasm feel to it and we have it out to sponsors right now, which is what you do on the web. Fingers crossed I think it’s going to be great. So that’s one and also the Here! project in pre-production. We want to get that just right and auditioning and you know HBO called with something interesting. There’s just some really great stuff in these slow times.
EM: So to round things off I have just a couple ridiculous questions from some of our readers just for fun. If you wanna answer them that’s fine but if not that’s cool too cuz they’re silly. [Both laughing]
EK: Come on girl, bring it!
EM: What’s something that you treat yourself to that is under $10?
EK: Under $10 that’s tough. Well I will say when I’m really wanting some sweets, my favorite sweet is peanut butter M&M’s. Get myself a bag of those [laughing] with no guilt what so ever.
EM: Are there any songs on your iPod that you would be absolutely horrified if anyone knew you had it?
EK: [laughing] Well…let’s see. I love Kelly Clark…son. I have two, “Miss Independent” and what’s the other big one, uh. There are three of them now I have the “We Belong Together” [laughing]. You know her biggest one. No I love Kelly Clarkson, she’s awesome!
EM: Well I have to admit the one I’m completely obsessed with right now is that Miley Cyrus song “Party in the USA”.
EK: Wait! I don’t even know it! I don’t even know what it is!
EM: Oh my God, it’s so catchy you’re gonna die! It’s terrible. She mentions Jay Z and Britney in it and that hook is in your head for DAYS!
EK: Oh my God I HAVE to listen! Oh by the way, you know the last Eminem CD? I was on that.
EM: Were you really?
EK: So I worked with him and Dr. Dre, met Marshal. There’s two, one called Tonya’s skit and it’s in the beginning. I don’t sing or rap I just have a skit of me being a hitch hiker my car breaks down and I’m trying to catch a ride and he’s the one I catch a ride from and he duct tapes me and blah blah blah [laughing]. Then there’s another one I play an EMT.
EM: Oh my God!
EK: Kinda cool, right?
EM: I thought my job was crazy but you’ve got me beat!
EK: It’s the weirdest thing how something works like that. A neighbor friend who became a good friend he works with Dre and Eminem and produces a lot of 50 cent video’s and he knew I did voiceover’s so he just called and said, “Do you wanna do a voiceover?” I had no idea what it was for but he’s my friend and I’m like “Whatever you want!” I go and it’s like Keener this is Dre…oh my God hello. Em’s on the phone and then I came again to do another project and they flew me to Vegas to do the second project the Tonya skit…ridiculous!
EM: I’m definitely going back to check it out! [Both laughing]
EM: Ok last one! You’re at a bar and you’re approached by a group of fans that want you to do a body shot off of them. What do you do?
EK: Do you mean do I do it or what shot do I do? [Both laughing]
EM: Ok, A. Would you do the shot? And B. What shot would you do?
EK: Of course I’d do it for the fans!!!! For fans, YES! Unless they are dirty filthy [both laughing] but I’ve never experienced a dirty filthy fan, they’ve all been really cool and looking good! I would do a kamikaze shot because I don’t do tequila anymore, no tequila for me anymore. That got me good! So I’ll do a kamikaze shot or you know I’d do whatever shot they want that doesn’t have tequila in it! I would be game. They could put a Jell-O shot on their body and I’d suck it off! [Both laughing]
EM: You KNOW that’s going to happen now once people read this! [Both laughing hysterically]
EK: I KNOW!!! Now it’s gonna happen!
EM: You’ll have rows of Jell-O shots everywhere you go! [Both laughing] [I’m crying and choking]
EK: [laughing] I’ve been asked to sign arms and tits, I’ll just say the word, and it’s like aren’t you going to wash that off? I mean don’t you want me to sign something else? [Laughing] Oh it’s just funny! So sure, I’d be game!
Interview by Tiffany N. D’Emidio
It's great to hear from Keener and what she thinks about her projects, and they were good questions, but the grammar in this is awful! I know that her replies have been put down word for word, although they could have been cleaned up, but there's punctuation mistakes everywhere too. Does no-one know how to use an apostrophe any more?!
This was strange…I was scratching my head at times and thinking blah, blah, blah…Some of those answers were like something you would hear from someone that was drunk or stoned! Rock On EK! LOL
Anyway…so it sort of sounds like 'Ani' is going to hook up with 'Lara'? That's going to be hard to see Jessica with anyone other than Crystal. Maybe 'Gina' will get jealous of 'Ani' and want her back. 'GIANI' forever and always!
Either that's a bad transcript or Keener can't complete a sentence. Knowing the actors I know, it most likely is the latter. Ugh.
The writer of this piece failed to edit it properly. It was your job to make your subject interesting, Tiffany. You failed to do so. Actors aren't expected to be articulate. Journalists, however, have no excuse.
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