Real Life After The Real L Word
Kiyomi McCloskey, Lauren Russell,Whitney Mixter and Sada Bettencourt open up about what they learned from reality TV, new shows in the works and their New Year’s resolutions
Is there life after reality TV? Can you live down the more embarrassing on-air fights, thrown drinks and teary breakups, witnessed and recapped by thousands? According to cast members of The Real L Word’s third and final season, the answer is an emphatic yes.
The Showtime series was just the beginning for Whitney Mixter, Sada Bettencourt, Kiyomi McCloskey and Lauren Russell. Whitney and Sada, fixtures for the entire run of the show, gave us a relatable look at a modern relationship’s ups and downs—and got married just before the credits rolled. Kiyomi and her band, Hunter Valentine, injected some East Coast cool into the L.A.-based show. She and Lauren, the pink-haired voice of reason among the volatile cast, adorably fell in love at The Dinah. Fairy tale endings all around!
Now, with the wisdom they gained in front of the cameras, the four are pursuing new projects and looking forward to New Year’s Eve in NYC.
GO: Whitney and Sada, you were part of the entire run of The Real L Word.That’s a long time to be under the microscope. What did you learn from the experience?
Whitney: You learn at an incredibly accelerated pace about yourself. It's basically a crash course in a personal self-help workshop, really. I think it made me mature faster, and it made me realize what I wanted and what was important to me at a faster rate. And, yeah, I would probably still be the same person that I am today, but the show just expedited the process.
Sada: Watching myself played back is a hard thing to do. It was very hard for me at first, in the beginning of the process, to open up and be myself on camera—I had to learn how to be OK with being vulnerable. I felt like I was vilified on the show, but I kind of grew a tough layer and was able to defend against what was said about me and still hold my head up high and face the world, so to speak. When I watch it back, I can see myself being a bitch to Whitney. [Laughs]
Whitney: I can just go back to Season 3, Episode 6 and be like, ‘You were bein’ a bitch.’ [Laughs]
GO: And that's my next question: what effect did the show have on your relationship? You were kind of on and off throughout the three seasons, and now you're married.
Whitney: It was challenging, for sure, because it was all put out there. Little things, that normally one doesn't know that the other is doing, are all aired out. So, on one hand it was good because we knew all the shit that was going on—but on the other hand, it caused distrust. But going into Season 3, we kind of threw in the towel on our own pride and our own fears and we just went for it, relationship-wise, and it really worked out for us. We've been married now for a year and a half.
Sada: I think it put a huge strain on our relationship because I didn't want to be vulnerable on camera, and we couldn't get to the point where we needed to be to move forward in our relationship. I had an enormous wall up. People were trying to keep us apart. It felt like us against the world. So, I think it took us longer to get where we would have eventually. Whitney is my soulmate, and I know that we would have ended up together, no matter what. Because of everything that we've been through, I think we can go through anything and make it.
GO: And Lauren and Kiyomi, you two met during Season 3. Do you agree with Sada in that it's difficult to put yourself out there on camera and really be yourselves, especially when beginning a relationship?
Kiyomi: Yes, people change so much when they're in front of cameras. It's shocking and very scary. It's so important to remember who you are and what you stand for. It's kind of a weird thing to meet somebody romantically on a television show because you're like, ‘Wait, are you really this person?’ But it turned out that we both were the people that we were on camera! There was definitely a lot of pressure around the relationship working out because we met on television. Like Whitney and Sada said, it has to be ‘you guys against the world.’
Lauren: Neither of us expected it; neither of us knew how to deal with it; neither of us had done it before. It was just a whole different experience— not only being on camera as a couple, but meeting on camera as well. I had to continue what I was doing in the first place: being very open and not closing myself off. Whitney told me, ‘Don't guard yourself. Be as open as you can. The more that you give on the show or to the cameras, the more you'll get.’
Kiyomi: I think that Whitney and Lauren had similar experiences, whereas Sada and I had similar experiences. I felt like I was vilified, too. [The producers] have to break a character or cast member completely down, so that they can build them back up again. They made me look like an asshole for a while, and then they showed my soft side and who I actually am. They did the same thing with Sada. It takes a lot to shake that experience off, where the whole world is thinking you're a jerk, but you just have to keep remembering who you are and what you stand for.
GO: Do any of you have regrets about doing or saying something on TV? What stays with you?
Sada: There was pressure on the show to be a certain way and do certain things. I do wish we could have changed the way production showed us to the world. Those are things that are out of our control; you give your trust over to people you don’t know, and hope that they take what they get from you and turn it into something beautiful and make art from it. Do I wish things had been shown differently? Absolutely—but that’s the way it was done. Living with regrets isn’t useful.
Whitney: The best thing I learned to do is just own it. Don't be embarrassed about it; don't be ashamed of it. Because the more you do that, the more people will focus on it. I did some crazy things; would I do them again? Maybe, maybe not, but that’s got me to where I am now. I’m not ashamed!
Lauren: I also wonder why [the producers] chose to reveal what they did. I was really confused by a lot of the process. I regret some of my naivete, but as a whole it was a really positive experience.
Kiyomi: What’s done is done, but I do wish I’d taken the time to take a band member aside and say, ‘listen, this is just a show, and it’s only going to last so long. It’s important for us to treat each other the way that we’ve always treated each other. Cameras don’t matter at the end of the day.’ In five years, who knows whether anyone will remember this show or not. But you’ll always remember the friendships and relationships you’ve had in your life. That was a tough thing for me to realize.
GO: Now that The Real L Word is over, are you relieved that cameras aren’t following you 24/7?
Sada: I’m not saying we wouldn’t do something like The Real L Word again, but when you can go back to normal life, it’s a relief.
Whitney: It just feels like one chapter is done in our lives and we’re on to the next one. The Real L Word was an amazing experience overall, it was a challenging experience, we made a lot of everlasting friendships, and I learned a lot about myself and my relationships from it.
Kiyomi: There’s always the next thing, once you start building your career and trying new things. Like, Whitney and Sada are going to be on another show—I’m sure they’re a little nervous about it coming out—and I may or may not have done a new show where a lot of crazy shit happened and I’m waiting for that to unfold. I’m happy that I did The Real L Word, personally.
GO: So let’s chat about your new projects. Whitney and Sada, you’re going to appear on the new season of Couples Therapy on VH1, which premiers in January. That implies that there may be some relationship issues to work out…
Sada: I’ll start off by saying I’m a huge advocate of therapy; our agent contacted us about the show and thought that we’d be a great fit, and it all fell into place. Honestly, going into Couples Therapy, we thought our relationship was perfect, it’s great, we’re so strong—and we’re going to get through this. And there were times when I thought it was going to break us. Talk about an accelerated time period of growth! Eighteen days of intensive therapy—I cried every single day. We argued every day we were there. The format put us under scrutiny so we were able to work on our issues. We’ve been getting a lot of negative feedback from people saying, ‘I can’t believe you guys need therapy.’ Honestly, I think people should have couples therapy before they get married—not to save their marriage after the damage has already been done. It was a tremendous opportunity for us. We worked with Dr. Jenn Berman who is an amazing psychotherapist, and we also made some everlasting friendships there.
Whitney: The thing is, I had never done therapy before. I was hesitant. I was nervous and I didn’t want to stir the pot, if you will. But it made me realize that the pot needed to be stirred! You can’t go into a relationship and expect that everyone’s going to be on the same page on every facet of life. We learned so much in this experience: communicating and taking time to grow as individuals and grow as a couple. Without a doubt, it made us stronger. I don’t even want to say that, actually—I want to be like, [whispering dramatically] ‘stay tuned to see if it made us stronger!’ [Laughs]
Sada: The people on Couples Therapy with us now know more about us than our friends and family members do. The hardest thing was opening myself up more than I ever did on The Real L Word, in front of cameras. I hope people enjoy the show and learn from it, because I think there’s a lot for people to relate to.
GO: Kiyomi, can you tell us about the show you may or may not have done?
Kiyomi: My band Hunter Valentine was getting ready to go on a full U.S. tour recently, and got a call to audition for a new series. I can’t reveal too much about it just yet, so stay tuned.
GO: Let’s talk about New Year’s Eve—all four of you will be at GO Magazine’s party at AOA Lounge in TriBeCa. What are you most looking forward to?
Lauren: I’ve spent many a New Year’s in New York, but I think this one is going to be the best. The best in a long time.
Whitney: It’s exciting for me to come back to New York and see this amazing party in the works, and to bring Sada because she’s never had a New York New Year’s Eve experience. And we get to share it with some of our closest friends. The venue is going to be off the hook and it’s going to give women a cool, safe, fun place to go.
GO: Kiyomi, I hear that this party is also serving as the kickoff for your new monthly event happening in the city. What’s the scoop?
Kiyomi: Lauren and I have always wanted to do a monthly party that’s a little more rock n’ roll, ‘cause that’s our background. I’ve been on tour for a year straight, but now I have a really long break and can get started on it. I’m really happy that Whitney and Sada will be there, because they’re pros from hosting Juicy in L.A. We can learn a lot from them and hopefully give the ladies something a little different every month.
Sada: I love New York City and I just know we’re going to throw the best party and it’s going to be so much fun! We’re going to bring in the new year with love and happiness and—
Whitney: —and flowing beverages! [Laughs]
Kiyomi: We’re always working in different cities and we rarely get to have appearances together. Lauren and I were in Houston last year and it was really fun, but it gets lonely in a way, because your friends aren’t around. This year it’s gonna be great. Like a reunion.
GO: Looking ahead to 2014, what are your New Year’s resolutions?
Whitney: I thought I still had six weeks left to marinate on that!
Kiyomi: I’m going to try and achieve the different things in my life, whether it’s writing or acting or music or whatever, and not be so focused on being a perfectionist. And also to not be such a fucking control freak.
Lauren: Kiyomi, I will second your resolution! I had a very stressful year with work, so I’m going to take daily steps to make sure I’m healthy and happy and try to keep the stress down.
Sada: Both Whitney and I work hard every day and my goal is to work smarter, not harder, and figure out ways to become even more successful in our relationship and our careers. And learn how to meditate.
Whitney: Yeah, yoga and meditation.
GO: Sounds like we’re all gonna have a really relaxing 2014.
Whitney: Yeah, right! But to be honest, I want to remember to enjoy the moment.