During her career Chloe Sevigny has played an HIV+ teenager (KIDS), the girlfriend of a bisexual murderer (Party Monster), a trans-teenager’s girlfriend (Boys Don’t Cry), the voice of Warhol’s transwoman superstar Candy Darling (Beautiful Darling), and a 1970s lesbian lover (If These Walls Could Talk 2 pictured right). But now she’s working on her southern Irish accent for a miniseries where she’ll play “a pre-op male-to-female tranny assassin” (her words, not ours)—a very cool, edgy role for an actress who made her career tackling roles of different sexualities. But will her miniseries face the same flack that Trans-America did for casting Felicity Huffman instead of a transgender actor?
In her interview with Blackbook Mag, Sevigny says she expects the series to have an edgy, realistic appeal as it involves the creators behind the original Skins:
I feel this will be my most feminine, most glamorous role to date. I hope that I have enough gay stripes that I won’t get totally attacked. It was the creators’ idea not to hire a boy to play the part, and of course as an actor you’re going to jump on that. I’m going to try to play it as beautiful and as feminine and as glamorous as I can—not like Transamerica.
Rachel C. Thompson, the transsexual reviewer for The Advocate, ultimately liked Transamerica, but she did not like its overall representation of trans issues or Huffman’s portrayal: “[Huffman] did a fantastic job of acting the part of a transsexual—of the 1970s. But the movie is set in the present.” She wondered whether producers asked Kate Bornstein or Namoli Brennet to audition, something she says is highly unlikely.
Looking at a current list of famous transgender actors any producers looking to create a successful miniseries with a trans lead would have to cast a young, unknown trans actor and make them a breakout star.
But is the outrage over trans-roles needing to be played by trans-actors really fair? Consider the outrage when Abigail Breslin played the blind-deaf Helen Keller in the New York revival of The Miracle Worker. Advocates of the deaf and blind asked “Why not get an actual blind or deaf actor to play Helen?” The show’s producer claimed that he needed a star instead of a deaf-or-blind unknown to ensure a return for his investors. Yes, big names bring big bucks, but producers always fall back on the almighty dollar as an excuse to keep the door closed to actors from diverse backgrounds. At this rate no trans actor will ever achieve star power, unless LGBT media heavily promotes them first and then helps them crossover into mainstream work.
Ironically, an inexperienced transgender actor might play the role of an FTM assassin less ably than a cisgender actor. We’ve seen lots of independent gay films where gay men play gay men horribly compared to more nuanced performances by celebrities such as Tom Hanks, Kevin Kline, or Greg Kinnear. While LGBT actors deserve the spotlight and badly need promotion, we shouldn’t lambast any production with queer-scripted characters not played by queer actors. After all, authenticity really depends on the demands of the role and the skill of the actor, not their sexual identity.
And talking about straight actors playing gay roles, here’s comedian Drew Droege playing Chloe Sevigny, herself. Let them teach you how to make a to-ast.
Image and link via AfterEllen