Bilal Baig | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Bilal Baig is ready for the next chapter of their career. Sort of. They just have some goodbyes to say first.

The writer and actor had already found some success in their native Canada with their play Acha Bacha, but they burst onto the international scene with their Max dramedy Sort Of (a co-production between HBO and Canadian network CBC), which premiered in 2021 to great acclaim.

The story of a directionless genderfluid millennial named Sabi who juggles multiples jobs while contending with their Pakistani immigrant parents, Sort Of isn’t exactly autobiographical for Baig, but the series has always drawn from their lived experiences, and put them in the spotlight as the first queer South Asian Muslim actor to lead a primetime series.

After the second season was warmly received in 2022—and even honored with a prestigious Peabody Award in entertainment—Baig announced that Sort Of‘s third season would be its last. “We set out to tell a story about a kind of transition in Sabi’s life, and how those around them also change,” they wrote late last year, “and we feel in this coming season that story came to an end in a way that felt right for us.”

Fittingly, these final episodes find Sabi trying to say goodbye to their father after his unexpected passing, dealing with grief, yes, but also finding freedom in a life without the constraints of his expectations and navigating a new path forward.

As season three makes its debut on Max this week, it was the perfect time to check in with Baig and welcome them as the latest guest in our rapid-fire Q&A series, Dishin’ It. In our conversation, Baig talks about the lessons they’ve learned from Sort Of, reflects on the episode they’re proudest of, and teases what might be next for them. They also open up about the celebrity interview moment that changed their life, and share why they find it so hard to eat ice cream.

Is there a piece of media—whether a movie, TV series, book, album, theater, video game, etc…—that has played an important role in your understanding of queerness? Why does it stand out to you?

Mysterious Skin and Keep The Lights On were two films that pierced me when I was younger and trying to understand my own queerness. I encountered them years apart from each other but they both allowed me to really feel my queerness and my sadness at the same time at different integral moments in my life.

A defining moment in my gender journey was when Laverne Cox shut down Katie Couric in that iconic interview maybe a decade ago now? I was starting to feel my transness then, and was already seriously internalizing shame about it, but that moment helped me see how deserving we are of dignity. And that was major for me to feel so early on my path towards trans-femininity.

Going into this third season of Sort Of knowing it would be your last, what’s one thing you knew you absolutely couldn’t end the show without doing? (Either a plot point, story beat, character goodbye, etc…)

I felt curious about Sabi’s grief. How does someone who usually has their guard up grieve the loss of someone, particularly someone they had a pretty complicated relationship with? And through the grief, I love that Sabi found some agency and made major choices for themself and the life they want to live.

Image Credit: ‘Sort Of,’ Max / CBC

Not to make you pick favorites, but is there an individual episode (either from this new season, or previous) that you feel most proud of? Why does that episode stand out?

The second episode this season, “Sort Of Chaaliswan,” felt very special right from its conception because almost all of it takes place in a mosque. It felt exciting to explore where the Mehboob family is at emotionally in this episode, forty days after the passing of Imran, and how each of them express—or are allowed to express—their grief in different ways. I love how we get to explore the intersection of queerness and faith in this show, and that the episode was written by a queer Muslim person, Ian Iqbal Rashid, and directed by a queer Muslim person, Shamim Sarif.

Through the process of working on Sort Of these past few years, what’s something you were surprised to learn about yourself, about what you’re capable of?

Being a leader to me means making enough space so people can bring themselves fully to their work. And I tried my best to do that every year with every aspect of Sort Of (from writing to pre-production to filming and beyond), working with so many artists along the way. I’m surprised it worked out pretty well looking back at the whole experience, given this was my first time doing anything in television.

Image Credit: ‘Sort Of,’ Max / CBC

Sort Of also doubles as something of a love letter to Toronto, and the multitudes that city contains. There are a handful of fantastic real-life locations that pop up throughout the series, but do you have a favorite LGBTQ+ inclusive/friendly spot in the city that doesn’t make an appearance? What do you love about it?

The place that comes to mind right now is my doctors office. I know maybe that’s a bit weird, but it’s such a friendly vibe and my doctor works with a lot of trans patients so it’s really nice to have a positive/comfortable experience with a doctor. And I know how lucky I am because that’s not the reality for so many trans folks.

Given you wore many hats for this show, as you look toward the future, what do you hope to do more of next? Are there certain genres/mediums/roles/kinds of stories you’d like to explore?

It’s hard to choose because every hat I got to wear on Sort Of felt special in its own way, but I think I feel hungriest to keep writing—particularly in a completely different genre and medium from Sort Of. I’m working on some plays right now and they’re pretty twisted and a little fantastical. And I’ve got a great manager so I’m auditioning for some cool things.

Similarly, Sabi has had a few different gigs on the show: bartender, nanny. What’s an earlier job/gig you’ve had that, for better or worse, you’ll never be able to forget?

I worked with my mom at a Baskin Robbins when I was seventeen or something. Scooping ice-cream all day long was tough, especially through the summer when it got really busy. I had a hard time eating ice-cream for years after because it was too triggering.

Who is a queer or trans artist/performer/creator that you think is doing really cool work right now? Why are they someone we should all be paying attention to?

In the Toronto theatre scene, I’m really thrilled by performer-creators like Makambe Simamba, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Yolanda Bonnell and Celia Green. In film, I still think about Luis de Filippis’ stunning feature called Something You Said Last Night and Carmen Madonia’s magnetic lead performance in it. Such an honest portrait of a trans woman and her family. Also I deeply loved Alina Khan’s radiant performance in a deliciously subversive Pakistani film called Joyland.

Don't forget to share:

Help make sure LGBTQ+ stories are being told...

We can't rely on mainstream media to tell our stories. That's why we don't lock Queerty articles behind a paywall. Will you support our mission with a contribution today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated