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Budding Beauty

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If you think ‘Isabelle Hodes’ is mature,  wait ’til you meet Allie Grant

by Nancy Ford

Allie Grant makes the concept that the children are our future far less terrifying.

AllieGrant
AllieGrant

But she’s not really a child, is she? Now 15, almost 16, Grant has been gainfully employed for more than five years as the precious, precocious Isabelle Hodes on Showtime’s mega-hit series Weeds. Grant plays Isabelle, the teenaged lesbian glue with Mensa-level intellect who holds her sometimes-homeless, occasionally held-hostage-by-Central-American terrorists, frequently sex-drug-and-alcohol-addicted family together, as well as taking on the indelicate task of educating her mother, Celia (Elizabeth Perkins), on the fine art of “lesbionics.”

“But I think it’s very important to see her vulnerability,” Grant says, with balance, of her character. “Throughout the seasons we’ve seen massive blocks of time where Isabelle questioned who she was and what she stands for. But I don’t think she’s ever doubted herself. So even though doubt has consumed her, oddly enough, I don’t think it’s ever eradicated her self-confidence.

“You would think that would be the first thing to go,” Grant adds, laughing. “But it hasn’t. She’s grown stronger as the series has progressed, and we’ve also seen her take a much more mature route than maybe other 11-year-olds would. Instead, she’s going to be the leader of this family. She was going to take care of everything whether they liked it or not!”

Grant, who also had a recurring role on the Disney Channel’s Suite Life of Zack and Cody, is currently performing in Paula Vogel’s 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama How I Learned to Drive, in Los Angeles’ 40-seat Chandler Studio Theatre Center. Serendipitously, Mary-Louise Parker, who stars as Weeds’ matron Nancy Botwin, originated the role now played by Grant.

Prior to the release on DVD of the fifth season of Weeds chronicling the Botwins and Hodes et al’s escapades in cannabis, Grant spoke to OutSmart from Los Angeles about her character, her fan mail, and, oddly enough, what scares her.

Nancy Ford: I can’t think of any other television series that features such a young lesbian as one of its characters.
Allie Grant: Our show, in general, is rather groundbreaking, and I think this might be one of those instances. Isabelle came out when she was 11, so I think it’s probably a record somewhere.

What’s the most significant thing you’ve learned from playing Isabelle?
I think—no, I’m confident in the fact that I’ve learned a great deal from her. I think one thing I admire most is her strength. It’s so relentless. And I’ve been able to grow up with her, and that’s been really, really terrific. And I think she’s got a really good soul.

It must be a huge character jump to go from Disney fare like Suite Life of Zack & Cody to the sophistication of Weeds. Has it created two completely different fan bases for you?
People who have watched Weeds from the very beginning often ask me the same question. I did Weeds before I did anything else. I did the pilot before I did anything, and then I did a couple of Disney things. [The Disney experience] was very bizarre. I remember not really fitting there exactly as how some people would have wanted me to do. Oddly enough, I guess I was doing what some 11-year-olds dream of doing, but I didn’t really feel comfortable there. I was more comfortable doing uncomfortable scenes with Elizabeth Perkins [who plays Grant’s character’s mother on Weeds]. It was much more appealing. [Laughs]

What’s your fan mail like? Is it mostly from Weeds fans, or from Suite Life fans?
It’s mostly from Weeds fans. And it’s mostly from the college demographic, which I think is great. Not to be political, but I think that this election really signified that it is the youth in this country that matters. I don’t mean “matters.” I think it’s the youth that … they have a voice. That’s what I want to say.

A voice that seems to be getting louder…
And it seems to be coming to a crescendo. After all, they elected the president of the United States. And they have a really clear voice, so to be able to hear from them is really great. College kids have followed us since season 1, and I really, really appreciate that kind of support.

Do you get fan mail from young lesbians? Do they see you as a role model?
I’ve actually gotten some startling mail in the sense of what some of these young girls go through at school or home or wherever it may be. They don’t feel understood. One letter really made sense to me. In it, she didn’t want to be understood, she didn’t want to be accepted. She just wanted to be acknowledged. We should all be acknowledged. As humans. I thought that was really profound.

What can you tell us about the upcoming season of Weeds?
Oh, I wish I could tell you something. I have no idea. We start shooting in April. We really don’t even know ’til the script is delivered, and I don’t think Jenji [Cohen, Weeds’ creator] ever even leaves the set in between seasons. I promise she’s cooking up something really, really great, but I don’t have the slightest idea of what it would be. We never do.

It must be just crazy working with Mary-Louise Parker and Elizabeth Perkins.
It’s so, so wild. I think they’re both just extraordinary, really. They’re both just so brilliantly, brilliantly talented. And they’re both such fearless actors and so thoughtful and generous and wonderful—they’re just everything—just every definition of the word amazing, the two of them.

The cast seems to work so cohesively together.
I have to say, we’re a close cast. Massive, massive kudos to Jenji and our writers, because they have really assembled some amazing, amazing people. In comparison to a lot of shows, we’re a relatively small cast. There aren’t a lot of us, and we’ve all been there since its beginning, so we’ve really had the chance to bond. It really changed my life. They’re a huge part of my life.

You’ll be turning “sweet 16” on Valentine’s Day this year. Any thoughts on how you’ll celebrate?
I don’t really think I’ll do anything too outrageous or ostentatious. I don’t think I’m doing the car and all that. I’m trying not to think about it. I’m a little terrified! I’m terrified to drive and to turn 16. None of it is appealing to me. So I’m just taking it one day at a time.

SIDEBAR

Weeds
Weeds

High hilarity: will Nancy (Mary-Louise Parker) settle into matrimonial bliss with her Mexican drug lord/politician husband? Will Celia (Elizabeth Perkins) find success as a dealer? Will Shane (Alexander Gould) become a croquet champion? Before these questions and many others are answered when Weeds returns to Showtime this summer, revisit the award-winning series’ darkly uproarious season 5. Available January 19 on DVD and Blu-ray disc from Lionsgate (lionsgateshop.com). For more info on Weeds, visit sho.com.

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