L Word is Good for Series Local Star - 2.3.04

By Gail Shister of The Philadelphia Inquirer

The L Word's resident heartthrob grew up terrorizing Rittenhouse Square on her tricycle.

Katherine Moennig and her pals gleefully caused havoc as they sped around the park on their noisy Big Wheels. They called themselves the Big Wheels Harley gang.

"I was 100 percent tomboy," says Moennig, whose father, violin-maker William Moennig, runs the family business in Center City. "I had the biggest Big Wheels... .We made loud, ear-piercing noise."

L Word is making noise, too.

After just two 10 p.m. Sunday episodes, Showtime last week renewed the new lesbian-theme drama. That makes L Word the fastest - you should pardon the pun - pickup in Showtime's 27-year history.

Production on 13 hour-long episodes begins in June in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Moennig, first cousin to Gwyneth Paltrow, plays L.A. hair stylist Shane, the androgynous chick magnet in her group of lesbian friends.

Like Warren Beatty's hairdresser in 1975's Shampoo, Shane attracts women like moths to light. Without even trying.

In fact, L Word creator Ilene Chaiken modelled Shane on Beatty. Chaiken introduced Moennig to Shampoo so she'd get a feel for the part. (Moennig, 27, wasn't even born when the movie was released.)

Shane "is a fantasy for a lot of women, gay and straight," says Chaiken, 47, an Elkins Park native and Cheltenham High grad. "She has a smouldering sexuality and an intriguing personality."

A perfect fit for Moennig, according to Chaiken. The actor, she says, is as androgynous as the character she plays.

Moennig "brings that revolutionary androgyny that confounds. She can pass for a boy, yet she's totally sexy. I think men respond to her as much as women do."

To wit: Moennig played a girl passing as a boy in her first series, the WB's Young Americans (2000), set at an exclusive boys' boarding school. When the dean's son fell for "Jake," he was labelled gay.

Playing a Sapphic stud "is interesting," says Moennig, who won't discuss her personal life. "I like it. Shane is so comfortable in her own skin. That's an attractive quality. That's why she attracts everyone."

Shane begins a major storyline in episode nine (March 14), when she gets into a hot relationship with a married customer played by Rosanna Arquette (Pulp Fiction). It gets more complicated, of course.

Nothing complicated about L Word for Moennig. It's her big break, and she's lovin' it.

After graduating from Villanova's Notre Dame Academy in 1996, Moennig moved to New York to pursue an acting career. She had been unemployed for almost a year when her agent sent her The L Word script.

"Within the first two pages, I thought this was one of a kind," she says. "It was going to make an impact. It had a solid voice that people could understand."

Doing sex scenes with women is no big whup, she says. "I knew what I was walking into when I took the job. When it comes down to doing the deed, all the love scenes are nicely written."

No problem for her parents, either. Her father and mother, former Broadway dancer Mary Zahn, "are stoked" about L Word, Moennig says.

"I come from a family of artists. It's my world. I'm here to play different characters. This one happens to be a very sexual one."