Actress Abigail Thorn on the rights and wrongs of trans representation on-screen: ‘Producers – be less timid’

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Abigail Thorn has opened up about trans representation on-screen (Pictures: Getty)

Actress Abigail Thorn has urged producers to ‘have more courage’ when it comes to including transgender representation in scripts – and following through with it.

The actress and YouTuber, who’s about to star in the upcoming Sky series Django (based on the 1966 film) and has written her own play, The Prince, explained to Metro.co.uk that she’s seen brilliant trans roles written into and then cut out of scripts after producers were left ‘timid’ over the decision to include them.

‘Things are definitely getting better,’ she explained. ‘I think there are more roles for trans people out there and we’re creating our own stuff now which is good. I think writers are definitely getting bolder – I’m getting more scripts now with trans characters in, and writers are also getting good at saying, “Hey, we want a trans person to come on and help us shape this.”

‘And also something that this country’s particularly good at – I go up for trans roles and cis[gender] roles, mainly cis roles actually. It’s really good now that casting assistants and casting directors are getting trans actors in for cis parts. We’re not just getting stuck in a rut.

‘Where I’d like to see it go – first of all, representation doesn’t help with stuff like equal rights, or reforming the NHS. Representation’s good but you can’t pay your rent with it. The other thing is that writers are definitely getting bolder [but] in my experience, producers are still a little bit timid sometimes.

‘There have been been quite a few occasions where I’ve been given scripts that have really, really good characters in, that have something really powerful to say about transness, or have a really well-written trans character, and everyone gets excited about it and work on it and I, often doing the consultant role, put in a lot of work to help develop that, and when it comes close to the time, the producer says, “I’m not sure about this,” and it gets cut.’

Abigail Thorn
Actress Abigail came out publicly as a trans woman last year (Picture: YouTube / Abigail Thorn)

Abigail added that there have been times when she’s gone to set with sides in her hand to find out that producers have cut the scene.

‘I’d like to see producers to have a little more courage and say, “Okay, maybe we don’t get this, but let’s give it a go,’ she added.

Despite some negative experiences, Abigail reflected: ‘I have optimism about this sort of thing and as I say, we’re making our own stuff now, which is great.’

In recent years, there have been huge discussions about if it’s ever okay for cisgender people to be cast in roles as transgender characters. Last year, Eddie Redmayne admitted it was a ‘mistake’ for him to play a trans woman in The Danish Girl. Benedict Cumberbatch has also said that playing a non-binary character in Zoolander 2 ‘backfired’.

Abigail Thorn
Abigail said her experience in the acting industry since coming out has been ‘overwhelmingly positive’ (Picture: Twitter / Abigail Thorn)

Abigail says there’s not so much a hard and fast rule, but actors should consider if they are best for the role.

‘I’m reluctant to hurl commandments from Mount Olympus!’ she said.

‘I think it depends a little bit as well – if you have, for instance, a cis woman playing a trans man, or a cis man playing a trans woman, then people will look at the poster and they’ll see a man in a dress. And when people see trans women as men in dresses, that’s what gets us killed.

‘I do understand that acting is an industry, and moral reasons are not the only reasons people consider, but just me personally – I think, for instance, is a cis man was offered the role of a trans woman, there might be reasons they want to consider that would lend themselves to passing that role onto someone else.

Eddie Redmayne
Eddie Redmayne said he wouldn’t play his role in The Danish Girl now (Picture: Dave Benett/Getty Images)

‘But I don’t want to say it can never, ever, ever be done, because casting can be a bit of a funny thing. Consider a writer like Caryl Churchill – her plays sometimes deliberately cast people “the wrong way round”. So you will have white men playing Black female roles, and people swap around over the course of the play as well. I don’t want to say never, ever, ever, because you could have clever, artistic reasons as to why it can be done. But I think as a general rule of thumb, there are moral reasons why cis actors might want to turn down playing a trans role if it’s cast “the wrong gender” as it were.’

Abigail pointed out that plenty of actors have come forward to say they played roles in the past that they wouldn’t now, and added: ‘I think we’re in a rapidly improving place with that sort of thing.’

In January last year, Abigail came out as a trans woman on her YouTube channel, PhilosophyTube.

Since, she said she’s had an ‘overwhelmingly positive’ experience in the acting industry, pointing out: ‘It’s been really lovely to see how people have adapted.’

She now balances acting and writing with YouTube, explaining: ‘With The Prince, I’m starting to put [the two jobs] together because the play is going to be filmed and put on [streaming service] Nebula.

‘I think if the play does well, it’s potentially a bit of a game changer for the acting industry because a streaming service commissioning a play is kind of new territory. I hope that if it does well, that will open up new spaces for people to create new projects.’

‘My audience are wonderfully supportive,’ she added of balancing the two jobs. ‘They’ve known for ages that I’m theatrical and I love my writing and my acting so it’s been wonderful to see how supportive they are.’

Sky series Django does not yet have a release date. Tickets for The Prince at the Southwark Theatre are on sale now.

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