Erin Daniels on life after The L Word: fans are mourning Dana Fairbanks—but we still have Erin Daniels, the actress who made The L Word’s Dana come alive. An Advocate exclusive interview

Kera Bolonik

From the moment she first exchanged sardonic quips with Alice and Shane in the Planet, tennis player Dana Fairbanks emerged as one of the most beloved characters on The L Word, in no small part due to the courage, intelligence, and impeccable comic timing of actress Erin Daniels. Dana’s death from breast cancer on March 12–in one of TV’s most honest depictions ever felt as shockingly real and devastating as losing a best friend. Daniels spoke to The Advocate about the poignant experience of being Dana Fairbanks and the heart-wrenching process of saying goodbye.

What is it like for you, Erin Daniels, to say goodbye to Dana Fairbanks, after inhabiting her tennis shoes for three seasons?

When Ilene [Chaiken] told me that Dana was going to die of breast cancer [back in March 2005], it was like going to the doctor with your best friend and hearing the doctor tell you she has nine months to live. So I knew that I had a time limit to get everything that I could out of it. Dana is a part of me. It felt like I was experiencing the slow death of a best friend, and of course that was really painful because I’d become so attached to her. I knew her better than anybody else, and I still do and always will.

Seeing Dana bald and sick was a shock. What was it like for you?

It was absolutely bizarre. It was a long process to put on the bald cap and the prosthetics, so I had time to get used to it. I think it was most surreal for the cast and crew, who stared and gasped when they saw me in my bald cap and makeup. It was very interesting to see how people treated me, even though they knew it was fake: They treated me as if I were sick.

We’ve witnessed Dana come out to her conservative Republican parents, fall in and out of love with a soup chef, a publicist, and even her best friend. And soon after she wins a national tennis championship, she loses her battle with breast cancer. What was the hardest part about being Dana?

Having her have breast cancer has been the biggest challenge I’ve ever had as an actor but also one of the most rewarding, because it was so hard on many levels and I was so proud to be doing it. I hope I did it justice. As the episodes were airing, my parents would actually call afterward and say, “We just needed to hear your voice.” But when I was working on it, I definitely felt like I was in character, researching and living that cancer research for a long time. And because it was tied in with my leaving, there were moments on set when I would be reflective and look around me and take it in because I knew my time there wasn’t going to last much longer, and it would kick up the sadness a notch.

I can imagine.

The coming-out-of-the-closet story line was my favorite, however, because it was also incredibly challenging in a different way. So much of Dana was wrapped up in that: how she was with her friends, how she was with her family, how she deflected her insecurities and pain through sarcasm and humor. The only time she was confident was when she stepped onto the tennis court.

There are two random act openers in the episodes before Dana’s death that provide a glimpse of Dana and Alice’s breakup. The emotion you and Leisha bring to the scenes are as raw and anguished as a final farewell.

Those scenes were symbolic because they marked the end of Leisha and me working together. It was like saying goodbye to the show, to these people, to the relationship between Dana and Alice, and to this character. It was incredibly sad and definitely what I was feeling in that moment.

You had to keep Dana’s fate a secret from fans and the press for a year. That must have been hard. Were you ever tempted to let her story slip out?

It was particularly hard to keep it from fans because they asked me all the time: “We heard a rumor that Dana’s dying.” I can’t tell you how many times I said, “I can neither confirm nor deny,” just because I didn’t want to [reveal the stew]. I wasn’t contractually bound not to say anything, but I knew it would be a disservice to Dana and to everyone involved, and I love the show too much to have done that.

Once Dana came out of the closet, she became quite the heartbreaker.

I’m proud of Dana for that. When we started the first season, everyone–Shane, Alice, Bette, Tina–was giving Dana such a hard time for never being able to get a girl, warning her she’ll never have sex if she didn’t figure out how to wax her butt or whatever. I have to say for the record, I think Dana had more–and better–sex and had it more continuously than anyone else on the show.

If Dana’s cancer had gone into remission, what would you have wanted to see happen for her?

I would have loved to see her get back together with Alice–period.

What will you miss most about being on The L Word?

I’ll miss Dana, of course, because she opened me up and made it OK to be vulnerable and goofy and awkward. Once, this woman walked up to me and said, ‘Thank you for giving the dorks somebody to look up to.” That put the biggest smile on my face. Ill miss working with those girls more than anything else, especially Kate and Leisha, who have become two of my best friends on the planet. No pun intended. [Laughs] On my planet in the real world.

Editors’ note: Daniels will play the lead in Fox’s comedy pilot Julie Reno: Bounty Hunter, planned for the 2006-2007 season.

Bolonik is author of The L Word: Welcome to Our Planet, the official Showtime companion book to the series.

COPYRIGHT 2006 Liberation Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group

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