fans of Transparent will recognize Trace Lysette. For five seasons on Amazon’s groundbreaking sex and gender series, she played Shea, a transgender yoga instructor who helps Jeffrey Tambor’s character — and non-trans audiences — understand trans lingo and culture. .
It was also Lysette who came forward, in 2017, claiming that Tambor had sexually harassed her on the Transparent together, one of many allegations that led to Tambor leaving the show after its fourth season.
Her performance as Shea helped Lysette land the role of Tracey in Lorene Scafaria’s 2019 blockbuster Hustlers alongside Jennifer Lopez, one of the first times a trans actor had a starring role in a major Hollywood film.
And then, nothing. Aside from the occasional guest appearance, voice work on Netflix’s short-lived LGBTQ animated series Q-Force and a supporting turn in Ty Hodges Venus as a boyLysette’s fledgling career seems to have come to a halt.
“Outraged Hustlersthere really wasn’t a lot of movement for me personally, in my career,” says Lysette THR. “As a transgender actor, I don’t have the luxury of digging through a handful of scripts every week, saying, ‘Oh, I’d love to play this one or try to read for this one. “
A script that came out in December 2016 was for Monicaa family drama by Andrea Pallaoro, the Italian director of Medea (2013) and Hannah (2017). Lysette was set for the eponymous lead role, playing a trans woman, estranged from her family, who returns home to care for her sick mother (Patricia Clarkson), whom she hasn’t seen since before her transition and who does not recognize Monica as his child.
“Here was a transgender protagonist, the film was centered around her, seen from her lens,” Lysette recalls, “and that’s rare. It’s also rare that it’s done well. And I think they [Pallaoro and co-screenwriter Orlando Tirado] wrote a very good screenplay, centered on family and survival, without being too face-to-face.
Lysette read for the role, going through several rounds of auditions. But it wasn’t until last year that the project finally secured funding, got the green light, and gave Lysette her first starring role. Monica will premiere in competition at the Venice Film Festival, making it the first film with a trans lead role to grace the Lido.
While the actress says she always tries to find a personal connection to the roles she plays – “I get a parallel in my own life and then some kind of tai chi in character” – Lysette found that much of the film’s story was autobiographical.
“I don’t want to dive down the rabbit hole of my trauma, but I think Monica’s story – being kicked out of your birth family when you’re young and queer or, you know, assigned male at birth – is pretty typical,” she says. “And so, spoiler alert, the fact that she had to survive on her own was something a lot of trans people identify with. I think that grabbed me.”
Not that Monica is a message film. A sin Hannah, also premiered at Venice (best actress award for Charlotte Rampling), in her latest feature, Pallaoro favors slow burn over melodrama, the subtle over the explicit. There is no glaring confrontation between Monica and her mother, no big reveal. Instead, we see Monica go through a series of struggles – learning to be a caregiver for her mother, reconnecting with her brother (Joshua Close) and playing aunt to her children, maneuvering the online hookup scene – à la both poignant and banal. In the end, his victories too are underestimated and conditional.
“It would have been easy to make it shinier, more Hollywood, but I think the way we did it was extremely true to life,” Lysette says. “You don’t always get the black or white answer or the revelation you’re looking for. Often life is just a gray area where you have to find the good and find happiness and your satisfaction in that.
The heart of the film’s story – Monica’s reconnection with the mother who once rejected her – was something Lycette said she “definitely could relate to in my life”. The actor has spoken publicly about how she was estranged from her family for a time during her transition, but how she reconnected with her mother, who became her “greatest cheerleader”.
For the film, it didn’t hurt that Patricia Clarkson’s manners “remind me a lot of my own mother,” Lycette says. “I sort of hung on to that. She was so warm and welcoming and complimented my work which really helped me feel even more at ease.
Hollywood, says Lysette, has gotten a little more comfortable with trans actors since Transparent. But true equality is still a long way off, she says, as she continues to push for more and faster change within the film industry.
“There has been progress, there have been changes, but it’s been slow, if I’m being honest,” she says. “I feel so honored to be able to play trans characters, and I think there are so many more trans stories worth telling. But at the same time, I don’t want to have to limit myself in the same way. way that other leading ladies don’t have to limit themselves. It would be awesome if I could be in the Marvel universe or play someone’s friend or aunt in another indie movie that touches your heart… I just hope that people who see this film and know that a trans actress is directing a film in Venice, will make it happen and when people watch this film and see that the transit is very discreet and that the role could be any female lead, they’ll see that maybe being a trans actor doesn’t have to be this niche thing It’s so weird that Hollywood locks us down sometimes, and I think we want just go beyond that.
This story first appeared in the August 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.