Signs of the J-Word on Showtime Hit

By Josh Richman

Published February 09, 2007, issue of February 09, 2007.

We know that Jodi Lerner — the fiery new deaf character who debuted last month on Showtime’s “The L Word” — is out of the closet. But is she as Jewish as her name sounds?

Probably, replies the actress who plays her — Academy Award winner and Emmy nominee Marlee Matlin.

“We haven’t discussed Jodi’s religion or culture, but there are a lot of Jewish writers on the show,” including series creator Ilene Chaiken, Matlin told the Forward in a telephone interview via her sign-language interpreter, Jack Jason. And although her character’s Judaism hasn’t been emphasized so far, Matlin said: “You never know what the writers are going to do on the show. If they do it, I’ll be thrilled.”

Matlin, 41, fondly recalled her own Jewish upbringing and attending services at Congregation Bene Shalom in Skokie, Ill. — founded specifically to serve congregants who are deaf. The performer, who lost most of her hearing when, at 18 months old, she became infected with roseola infantum (also known as baby measles), won the best actress Oscar in 1986 for her debut role in “Children of a Lesser God.” Since then, she has kept busy with many projects, including a starring role — a Jewish starring role, she noted — in the 1991 to 1993 NBC series “Reasonable Doubts,” and recurring appearances as pollster Joey Lucas on NBC’s “The West Wing” from 2000 to 2006.

Matlin says that her longtime friendship with “The L Word” actress Jennifer Beals — whose character, Bette Porter, strikes sparks with Jodi Lerner — helped clinch her decision to take on the role.

She expects to know soon whether “The L Word” and her character will return for another season, but she’s not waiting idly. During her interview with The Shmooze, Matlin expressed excitement over heading to Miami to sign the national anthem beside Billy Joel at Super Bowl XLI. She’s also about to make her third appearance on NBC’s “My Name Is Earl” and will visit Capitol Hill later this month to lobby for expanded video relay services for the hearing impaired. Her third children’s book will be published in November, and she’ll soon start work on a second book series aimed at younger readers.

“What helps me is I have a great husband. He’s 100% supportive, very mellow, very levelheaded,” she said, praising husband Kevin Grandalski before also crediting her dad, Don Matlin; her mentor, actor Henry Winkler, and her interpreter — “the four great men in my life.”

Despite the importance of the M-word in her life, she jumped at the chance to work on a women-run show. “What drew me to the character is that I’d never had a chance to play a lesbian before; that was interesting to me,” said the mother of four, whose husband is a police officer in Burbank, Calif. “As an actor I want to do different things, and this was certainly very different and challenging. At the same time, I’d heard it was a show that was run by a great group of women, and I wanted to have a chance to work with an ensemble of women.”



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