In early 2015 I was proud to be a trans actor auditioning for a new film, The Danish Girl, which I was sure would advance the nascent dialogue about transgender issues. Looking back over the whirlwind that’s been the last nine months, I would be hard pressed to pin down one stand out moment since auditioning for The Danish Girl last March. I remember the initial phone call offering me a part in the film and the realisation that, if even in a small way, I would be involved in a groundbreaking and historic film. I was honored and privileged to have been given the opportunity to work with a dedicated team including Tom Hooper and Eddie Redmayne and humbled to be able to film in locations such as the stunning Horta Museum in Belgium. The year held too many milestones to list.
Whilst landing my part was certainly a great moment, the buzz and excitement surrounding this project had, for me at least, begun much earlier. The first rumblings of the wonderfully talented Eddie Redmayne being cast in a trans role had already elicited much online response from the trans community. Sadly, some of it was negative. "Why have they given another of OUR stories to a cis gender actor?" people asked, while also demanding "How can they cast a cis man in the role of a trans woman?". The criticism, now an almost knee jerk reaction, was not something that resonated with me. As a trans person who had grown up with little to no points of reference of the community, nor representation on screen, the prospect of a director so talented as Tom Hooper taking in hand such a project filled me with great excitement and hope. There was the possible reach that this film would have, the opening of minds to the story of a trans woman being sensitively and authentically told, and the acceptance that this might afford members of our much maligned community. To be honest, not at any point did I feel that this might be anything less than the stunning movie that it promised to be.
Once the shoot had wrapped, things quietened for the summer. The film’s phenomenal and hardy producer, Gail Mutrux, and I stayed in touch while the team geared up for the film’s release at Venice Film Festival in September. The week of the world premiere, Gail arranged for me to have a private screening of the film, to which I took my mother. Sitting there in the dark, we both cried at the beauty of the film, at the honesty and power of the two lead performances, and, for a mother sitting with her transgender son, at the rawness that the film held for both of us.
Having opened to rave reviews at the Venice and Toronto film festivals, the buzz around the film only grew, and I was overjoyed when I received my invitation to the UK premiere in December. Little did I know what was being lined up over in the US. That weekend I came home to a gracious invitation to the White House’s ‘Champions for Change’ event, which would be followed by a screening of the film. Three weeks later, Rebecca Root, a co-star in the film, and I were standing outside The White House alongside Tom Hooper, Alicia Vikander (who plays Lili’s wife, Gerda), the stunning Transparent team, and a host of inspirational young LGBTQI fighters and campaigners. As the Secret Service cleared us for entry, Rebecca and I squeezed each other in disbelief and wonderment that we were here, among so many of our peers, in this great place. This was a historic transgender-specific event at the White House, and as we were shown around, I would
catch the eye of one of our little party of queer misfits, and we would smile and shrug, totally incredulous that the world had apparently moved on so much.
The rest of that spectacular day passed in a blur: the screening of the film to a standing ovation,
Transparent star Jeffrey Tambor taking Tom Hooper by the hands, tears in his eyes, and thanking him, truly moved at what he had seen, and the Q&A panel on which I sat between Rebecca and Alicia, jet lagged but happy. To cap off the night, I was taken by the all too lovely Focus Features team for hot wings and beer, and awoke the next morning, unconvinced that it hadn’t all just been a dream, but with a warm glow of hope that things could be changing.
The London premiere, held two weeks later, could hardly compete with the whirlwind of Washington, but it certainly tried, and for this I was lucky enough to once again take along my mother. As we walked the red carpet in Leicester Square, Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander floated past us, and waved hello to me. I could feel my mother glow with pride. Later, when I took her to our assigned seats, Tom Hooper took the stage and thanked Rebecca and I personally for being a part of the film; my mother and I were both speechless. It was my second time seeing the film, but certainly no less emotional, and once again tears flowed freely from both of us.
The after party was warm, exciting, and congratulatory, and we spent much of the evening chatting to the author of the original book, David Ebershoff, as cast and crew milled around. As the party wound down, and I bid farewell to the LA contingent, I must admit to feeling a little sadness that the journey was over. Then I remembered the faces at The White House, the tears and applause for the film, the feeling of anticipation at the understanding that this groundbreaking story could elicit, and I realised, with a little flutter in my stomach, that the ride was just beginning. Being a part of this incredible film, and working with such a talented, uncompromising and dedicated team had given me hope that the door had been opened, at least partially, to tremendous opportunities in the future.
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