Trace Lysette spoke with Solzy at the Movies about Monica, making history in Venice, and the state of transgender representation.
While Monica touches on the topic of familial rejection, it does not deal with the cliches that other films might use. It’s a nice change of pace when it comes to transgender representation in that the character is a three-dimensional transgender character. Also, a transgender character is lead and most importantly, the character is not in the film as a gimmick. The fact that this film made history during last year’s Venice Film Festival is something that we really need to talk about. Why is it that Venice never selected a film starring a trans person in a leading role until 2022?
IFC Films releases Monica in theaters today. Please check your local listings for details.
It’s so nice to see you again for the first time since the Disclosure premiere at Sundance which feels like several years ago.
Trace Lysette: Oh, wow. Yeah, that was, that was a few years ago now. That was a fun trip. Nice to see you.
Yeah, and then come back and the world shuts down shortly thereafter.
Trace Lysette: Exactly.
How honored were you to make history with Monica having its world premiere at Venice last year?
Trace Lysette: It was a huge honor. I felt like it came with a lot of responsibility. And yeah, it was just a whirlwind. Venice is a whirlwind. There’re the big studio films and then there’s the little indie films like ours that are up in the mix. I don’t know, it felt really special.
What was it about the script for Monica that drew you to the role?
Trace Lysette: Just seeing her in the title character and that the story was so beautiful. I think because I knew it was going to require a lot of acting in between the dialogue, that would be a challenge, but also exciting to try to take on.
Did you bring anything in particular to the character that wasn’t on the page?
Trace Lysette: Oh, yeah. Typically, I try to go in and deliver what’s on the page first, just for the writer and the director, and then we kind of get loose with it and add things and play. There’re always little bits of improv sprinkled throughout the film. One example of that would be outside of the bar, in the green dress, and I’m on the phone, kind of like that phone monologue. I think I’m smoking a cigarette and there’s people staring me in the door. I just look at them and was like, what! That was not written but it just was something that kind of needed to be there. I’m always just trying to find the truth of the scene.
What do you typically look for in a character when you’re reading a script?
Trace Lysette: I look for humanity. I look for how the story is going to impact the world. I look for if I can really bring myself to do this character in a way that is believable. I look at the overall arc of the story. A lot of times, I’ll start at the back of the script and read how it ends or how that character leaves the project. And then, if that’s okay, sometimes I’ll go towards the front and read the whole thing again.
Are there any other factors that you consider when deciding on a role?
Trace Lysette: I try to stay away from things that just don’t feel good to my soul, whether that’s something exploitive or if it just doesn’t feed where I’m at artistically. That’s ever changing, I think.
Even though this film was about a character who had experienced familial rejection in the past, I appreciated that it wasn’t another coming out movie about a trans person.
Trace Lysette: Oh, thank you. Yeah, I was glad that it wasn’t a cliché, even though some of these things have been touched on elsewhere. I was glad that it was not a transition story. It was not really a coming out story. It was more just about this fully realized trans woman who’d been living her life this way for a while and reconnecting with her roots.
How do you feel transgender representation has changed on screen in the past decade or so?
Trace Lysette: In the past decades, so that would be 2013—I think at that point, there really wasn’t much. We had Dirty Sexy Money with Candis Cayne. Before that, we had Alexandra Billings on Grey’s Anatomy at some point. And then, we had the talk shows of the 90—is it a man, is it a woman, Maury Povich-type stuff. I think in 2013, I was playing a sex worker named Lila on Law and Order, who was not trans. I wasn’t even out in the industry yet. Shortly after that, Orange is the New Black hit with Sister Laverne, who is a dear friend of mine for almost 20 years now, and that really cracked open the door for change. I would say there’s been a good amount of change. I don’t know what percentage but there’s always room for more. I think in the film space, it’s pretty rare for us to have trans characters that are either leading or strong supporting. The fact that Monica is the title character is pretty amazing.
Do you feel like Disclosure is making a difference?
Trace Lysette: I think so. It was such an in-depth analysis of what we’ve been through. It’s there for people to reference. It’s there for studio heads and executives to look back at it. I hope it’s created a shift, but I honestly don’t know.
There have been so many attacks on transgender rights this year alone. Do you feel like the entertainment industry can be doing something to fight back?
Trace Lysette: I think everyone could be kind of digging their heels in a little bit more. I think trans people, especially those of us who have been in this life for a long time—a lot of my generation—I think sometimes we get a little bit tired so it’d be nice if our allies could pull up.
I’ll add that if it hadn’t been for the success and education awareness that came with Transparent, I might still be in the closet.
Trace Lysette: Really?
Yeah. It wasn’t until November 2015 in which I had that oh, shit moment.
Trace Lysette: Wow.
Yeah, and then all those repressed memories just started coming back.
Trace Lysette: Yeah. Transparent is definitely a staple on the timeline of trans representation.
It was so nice getting to chat with you today and congrats again on the film and making history at Venice.
Trace Lysette: Oh, thank you, Danielle. It’s nice to meet you.
IFC Films releases Monica in theaters today.
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