Chris Godfrey spoke to the star of BBC sitcom Boy Meets Girl about her experiences in the media industry and changing attitudes towards trans actors.
Hey Rebecca, how’s the response been to Boy Meets Girl so far? Is it what you expected?
You know what Chris, I didn’t really know what to expect. I just hoped that people would like it. And the people who’ve contacted me – and I’ve had hundreds of messages – have all loved it. I’ve had yet to have a negative comment from anybody who’s written to me. I don’t know what the reviews have been like. But I know that in the previews and things we’ve had pick of the day, pick of the week, that sort of thing. I understand the critics have been kind as well, but in terms of the popular public response it’s been amazing.
What sort of messages are you getting from people?
Oh god it’s just been incredible. I’ve had messages from – you might say the usual suspects – people from the trans community. The LGBT* community. I would expect them to respond to it, and they have. There are people who’ve said ‘watching this helped me come out to my mum and dad’ or ‘helped me have a difficult conversation at work because I’ve got a reference point’ and people see the ‘normalisation’ of being trans. I’ve had messages from people who transitioned decades ago, in the 70’s and 80’s, who’ve said ‘I’ve waited years to see this sort of storyline and this level of sensitivity of portrayal on TV’.
And then I’ve had messages from people who are not from our community, who are not trans, not even gay, they’re just people who were channel surfing. One guy said ‘I was just looking for the rugby; I got drawn into the show and by the end I was in tears. And he said: ‘I’m a gruff old rugby-playing ex-soldier. I bet you weren’t expecting to get an email from my demographic.’
It is isn’t it! It’s really incredible.
And to what extent do you think we’re going to see a surge in roles available to trans actors? Do you feel as though we’re on the cusp of something?
I do! There are more and more people who are comfortable identifying as trans publicly. The community is being seen in a much more positive light now. And I think storywriters, novelists, scriptwriters and so forth, are keen to explore new communities, new populations, different stories et cetera. Where they’re not necessarily making a big thing of it, I think people are realising there’s a big section of society which has been underrepresented. And I think people are just exploring that, because there are more people, particularly in the acting profession, who identify as trans, who are going to be able to play these parts. It’s the word ‘exponential’. The ratio is growing at the same time. More trans visibility leads to more storylines, and it increases cyclically I think.
Do you think we’ll reach a point where trans actors play roles where the character is cisgender?
Yeah, for sure. I’m almost certain of it. Maybe that will happen more easily and more quickly in theatre.
“The people who’ve contacted me – and I’ve had hundreds of messages – have all loved it.”
Why do you think that?
I think there’s a slightly different relationship between the audience and the performer. The mode of storytelling is slightly different in theatre. You walk into what is essentially a room, with five or six hundred people – maybe more, maybe fewer – you all sit down, usually, and you watch other people telling a story on stage. When somebody watches TV people are doing the same thing, they’re sitting down collectively somewhere and watching something. But the thing is when you’re watching TV, there’s more distance between you and the performer. And there’s a different context, people think what they see on TV is much closer to real life than what they see on stage. Because there’s an element of performativity, because although you’re reflecting life, you’re not necessarily attempting to be realistic. I went to see a great production at the National Theatre last week, an adaptation of Jane Eyre. It was just awesome because it was a very bare wooden stage, with just some platforms and different levels, a small band, and about eight actors playing maybe forty different parts, it was so theatrical, but totally absorbing and totally believable. We were all sat in that theatre and believed it. That’s a long-winded way to answer your question, but I just think that at the moment in TV, we’ll have the trans parts, and then we’ll gradually take over just playing parts.
And what’s next on the cards for you?
Well I’m going to be doing a Radio 4 play about a composer who happened to be trans. It’s a true story, her name’s Angela Morley. It’s about the composition of the soundtrack for Watership Down. The story is less about her being trans and more about her being drawn in to compose a film soundtrack in the space of about two weeks. I’ve got a small part in The Danish Girl too; I’m going to wait for the DVD to come out and then freeze-frame it.