Trace Lysette is not holding back when it comes to discussing the realities facing trans actors in Hollywood. After receiving critical acclaim for her starring role in Monica, Lysette says she has yet to be offered a single film role.
“It’s been a struggle,” she said in a new interview with Vulture. “And it’s sad to say that. I’m sorry, I wish I had something more hopeful to say about it. I know that all actors struggle at certain points in their career, unless you come from a very well-connected something-or-other. So, I want to first say that, but I do think there’s an added layer for trans people. It’s two or three times harder than it is for, say, a cis actress.”
Monica has been hailed as a breakthrough role for Lysette, who in recent years has appeared in small roles in shows like Transparent and David Makes Man as well as the 2019 film Hustlers. An intimate indie drama, Monica rests largely on her quietly expressive performance. After the film’s world premiere at last year’s Venice Film Festival, Lysette reportedly received an 11-and-a-half-minute standing ovation.
“If a cis actress went to Venice, one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world, and led a film and got a near-12-minute standing ovation and came back to the States, one would think that she’d have some jobs waiting for her,” Lysette told Vulture. But that hasn’t been her experience.
“It’s been eight months, and I haven’t had a single offer,” she said. “So that is sobering. I’m trying not to let it steal my joy, especially with all the love we’re getting right now. But all I want to do is feel safe. All I want to do is feel like I have jobs to choose from instead of living gig to gig. I really hope this doesn’t sound sad. What I hope people get from me talking about this is that they get activated, that people in power in the industry say, ‘You know what? I want her in my movie.’”
Despite the near-universal praise for her performance in Monica, which was notably the first film featuring a transgender lead to compete at the Venice Film Festival, Lysette says she has only had three auditions this year.
“I would not say that’s a lot compared to my cis actor friends,” she explained. “Even my cis actor minority friends audition more than I do. I guess that tells me that being trans in this industry is really something that we are still trying to figure out as a whole.”
Hollywood is notorious for casting cisgender actors in prestigious, award-baiting trans roles. Cis actors Hilary Swank and Jared Leto both famously won Academy Awards for playing trans characters, while Felicity Huffman and Eddie Redmayne each received Academy Awards nominations for playing trans characters.
But Lysette suggests that she wants to see trans actors like herself considered for more than just those trans roles, and for Hollywood to rethink the kinds of characters trans people can play.
“I keep trying to steer people toward this casting conversation,” she said. “If we can just start thinking of characters as an essence. What is the character, and who can play that? Probably a number of identities can play this essence. It doesn’t always necessarily need to be in the script. It’s just getting people to use their imagination.”
Lysette also addressed her role as an unpaid consultant on 2015’s The Danish Girl, the film for which Redmayne earned his first Oscar nomination. Asked why she wasn’t paid for her work on the film, Lysette points to the “predatory nature of this business.”
“Here you have a young trans person in New York City. At that time, I didn’t have a lot of access to the industry. I didn’t really know how things worked. I didn’t have a lawyer. I didn’t have a team of people to protect me,” she explained. “My acting teacher at the time asked me to meet with one of the producers, so I did. In hindsight, I would have put some protections in place to get some sort of consulting credit or fee instead of lending my life experience to a film that would go on to win awards for cis people yet again. It was a lesson learned.”
Asked whether she regrets participating in the film, Lysette says she regrets “that the world doesn’t take better care of marginalized groups.”
“It’s crazy to me what this world will do to have-nots for no other reason than the fact that they can,” she added. “You can’t do that to a Vanderbilt’s daughter or a Hilton or Fonda or a Barrymore. You can’t do that to Lily-Rose Depp. And I hate that.”