These days gays, lesbians, drag queens even male-to-female transgender characters are almost as common in movies and on TV as the "bitch diva" and "fat funny guy." But except for the tragic Boys Don't Cry, women who yearn to be all man are rarely seen. Showtime's look at L.A. lesbian life, The L Word (returning for Season 3 on Sunday at 10 pm/ET), remedies that with a new character named Moira/Max, nutty Jenny's (Mia Kirshner) latest squeeze. We interviewed Daniela Sea, an actor active in New York's downtown art scene, about playing a girl who wants to be a boy.
TVGuide.com: Who is Moira/Max?
Daniela Sea: Moira's a gentleman, as much as a girl could be. She's sweet and insecure. As the episodes go by, she starts to realize that part of her insecurities have to do with the fact that she sees herself as a man. And maybe she should make it happen so the rest of the world can see her that way as well.
TVGuide.com: So she starts the transition to become a man?
Sea: Yes. She starts to take testosterone. Or, I should say, he does. He gets it in an underground way.
TVGuide.com: Why do you call Moira "he"?
Sea: I make the distinction whenever the person does. In one of the episodes, Moira asks people if they would start calling her by the male pronoun, even though they haven't seen much effect from the testosterone yet just a bit of facial hair.
TVGuide.com: What kind of physical changes does the character go through while transitioning from Moira to Max?
Sea: Facial hair and a little bit of muscular bulking up. You'll see Max lifting weights. He hasn't saved up enough money to get top [breast] surgery, so there's a top-surgery benefit party for him. He uses a specially made breast binder, and has prosthetics to put in his pants.
TVGuide.com: Speaking of the bulge in his pants, does Max want the entire gender-reassignment surgery? Or will he be happy being a bit of both?
Sea: He isn't sure. Right now, his main goal is just to be able to pass in the world as a man. That's why top surgery is the prize. That's where he's exposed to the world as a biological female.
TVGuide.com: What was the toughest part of playing a manly character?
Sea: My voice isn't low, so I had to work with a vocal coach. And learning a different kind of confidence, like taking up the space a guy does. But I've actually lived as a man in India, for about six months, so I've had practice on how to pass as a guy.
TVGuide.com: Well, that's a real "wow." Why did you do that?
Sea: Women there are not free in the same way as men. I could just go out at night and feel safe and make friends with strangers. It was also to see what [being a man] would feel like.
TVGuide.com: What did it feel like?
Sea: Sometimes it felt a little scary, like someone could discover that I was a woman. But it felt really good.
TVGuide.com: It's scary enough here, remembering the murder of Brandon Teena [the inspiration behind Boys Don't Cry]. Wasn't it even riskier to try that in a place like India?
Sea: I feel like it would be scarier here, actually. Men are a little more feminine-seeming there. I learned a lot about myself and about a different strength I had never developed before.
TVGuide.com: Did you have to do any research at all to play Max?
Sea: I made a point of hanging out with people in Vancouver while I was shooting who were female-to-male [transgenders]. It was important when I was in the midst of portraying it to have a network of people whom I could ask questions.
TVGuide.com: Max is interested in women, so he won't be gay, he'll be a straight man. Is that his goal?
Sea: That question is posed this season. He hasn't thought that far ahead. His eye was on getting the job, a better job at the same company where he was refused as a woman.
TVGuide.com: What's his relationship with Jenny?
Sea: He's in love with her. He's intrigued by somebody so artistic. She's very supportive and even helps him find the testosterone.
TVGuide.com: The L Word has an established ensemble. How was it coming in to such a tight group?
Sea: It's really great. It's been a really positive experience for me.
TVGuide.com: What do you hope people will get out of your story line?
Sea: I'm hoping that it builds tolerance and that people will understand why somebody would make a decision like that.
TVGuide.com: What else have you done professionally?
Sea: I've done a film that's coming out this year with John Cameron Mitchell from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, called Shortbus. [Before that] I was mostly doing music and street theater. I didn't pursue acting until pretty recently, and within a month or so I got John's movie and then [The L Word]. In John's movie I play a character named Little Prince, who is loosely based on me.
TVGuide.com: You're obviously interested in gender fluidity, aren't you?
Sea: Yes. I feel like I live in the world like that. Since I was young, I'd be mistaken for a guy, then sometimes be considered a pretty girl. I identify myself as a tomboy. That's an old tradition in our culture. My grandma was a tomboy, too.