Jen Richards took some time over the weekend to talk to Solzy at the Movies about her role in Easy Living and transgender opportunities in TV and film.
Thanks for joining Solzy at the Movies today. How are things treating you?
Jen Richards: The sun is shining, I had fried chicken for breakfast, and the Clash just came up on my iPad, so I’d say things are treating me rather well.
You’re co-starring as Danny in the upcoming film, Easy Living. What drew you to the script?
Jen Richards: A job offer! There’s not a whole lot of work for trans actors. Now, what excited me about the script was the ways in which Adam subverting so many tropes. Not only in the questionable behavior of Sherry, the lead, but in having the stable best friend be a trans woman. My character wasn’t there just to be trans, which is more typical. It’s a subtle, but powerful, shift that puts Adam way ahead of the curve. He recognized that trans people are first and foremost people. That we can be ordinary. I was also blown away by the fact that while he always envisioned the character as a trans woman, and wanted an out trans actress, it’s never once mentioned in the script. I’ve never seen that before, save Silas Howard’s character in By Hook or By Crook, which was over 15 years ago.
What did you bring to the character that wasn’t in the script?
Jen Richards: For the most part I’m not a showy actor. I see my job as simply meaning the words I say. But it does take some work to get there. The lines and actions and relationships are all pieces of a puzzle that you’re there to figure out. You use them to build a picture and then make it real inside you. Everything flows from that once you have it. When Caroline and I met, the evening before I started filming, we immediately found a shared vision of our character’s relationship and backstory. And in the case of a film like this, everything has to be in service of her character. All my lines, all my actions, have to be in support of her story. Caroline is such a compelling actress that it becomes pretty easy.
DS: As a transgender film critic and aspiring filmmaker, I’ve been very outspoken on improving transgender representation in the media. Do you see things improving for us within the next few years?
Jen Richards: Oh yes, it’s already improving. It’s sometimes hard to see from a day-to-day perspective, but if you look at all that’s changed over the last decade, it’s actually quite remarkable. Trans people are steadily finding footing in every aspect of the industry. And if we continue to prove ourselves and advocate for each other, it’ll quicken. It’s too a point where I think I could make a short film with an all-trans crew.
Trans children now are benefiting from having trans talent to look up to. Had I known what my thoughts and feelings were due to in the late 1990s, I would have come out to myself much sooner than 2015. Do you think the increased awareness and education will prove to be helpful to those children struggling with gender issues?
Jen Richards: Absolutely! There are children right now who haven’t known a time before they could see multiple trans people on magazine covers and on television. It’s increasingly normal for them, which will allow trans people to come out sooner, and will make for a more understanding community they can transition in. Parents want their kids to be safe and happy. Now that they know transition is the cure for gender dysphoria, attention will turn to making the world safer. It’s beautiful to watch these parents fight for their kids.
This past year, you appeared on Doubt’s fourth episode with both Laverne Cox and Angelica Ross. Even though the series was ultimately canceled, how much does it mean to have three trans actresses in a broadcast network series?
Jen Richards: How extraordinary was that? Like with Adam’s work, it was subtle in being so ordinary, just three women chatting over lunch, but completely revolutionary. We’ve never seen three out trans actresses on network television together. We kept cracking up between takes because the conversation was so familiar. Laverne, Angelica and I have all been friends for years, we’d had actual lunches just like it. It was surreal. And credit goes to Joan Rater and Tony Phelan, the creators of Doubt. They have trans people in their life, so we weren’t exotic to them, just part of their world.
Do you think we’ve seen the end of cis men being cast as trans women with Anything and Transparent? Or will this be a trend that unfortunately continues?
Jen Richards: I think we’ve seen the end of it in American film & television. As far as I know, Anything still hasn’t been released. Even if it is, I suspect it will lose a lot of money, just as Stonewall did. Hollywood is learning its lesson. I’ll also say, I believe that Matt and Mark sincerely believed they were doing a good thing. They were horrified once they understood the argument I was making. Jeffrey and Jill have both said they wouldn’t have made the choices they did if they knew then what they know now. And I’ve had film festivals tell me that they’ll no longer program movies where cis actors play trans characters. We’re seeing a slow, but irreversible, education of the industry. However, we’ll continue to see the practice continue in international films, anywhere that hasn’t had this conversation yet.
What’s the best advice you can offer to someone working on a screenplay for an indie comedy with a transgender woman in the leading role?
Jen Richards: Make sure the character would be just as compelling if the audience never knew they were trans. If being trans is the most interesting thing about a character, or the only reason they’re in a story, then they’re not a person, but a prop. And I think the way to prevent this from even coming up is to have trans people around. Get to know us, listen to us.
What other projects are you working on?
Jen Richards: I have a feature script about three trans friends in Chicago. I want to re-write it one more time, but it’s getting good. But most I’ve been focused on an hour-long drama about a trans single mother who returns to North Carolina to take revenge on the white supremacist religious cult that raised her. I have the whole five season arc and it’s so fucking good. Leaps and bounds beyond anything else I’ve done. I’m obsessed. Beyond that, I’ll be making appearances in the occasional movie and t.v. show.
Thank you again for your time.
Jen Richards: My pleasure!