Eddie Redmayne is having a heckuva February! First he wins an Oscar for his role in The Theory Of Everything, and now the first image of him in the upcoming biopic The Danish Girl has been released, and is blowing people away.
He stars in the film as Danish artist Einer Wegener (who later changed her name to Lilli Elbe). It's based on the novel of the same name by David Evershoff, and follows Wegener and wife, Gerda, as they explore Einer's gender identity, becoming one of the first people to ever undergo gender reassignment surgery. This is a historical piece, set in the very early 1900s, but more than that, it is a love story, and a story of personal growth.
There is little doubt in my mind that this is going to be an incredibly powerful film, but if I wasn't sure, the casting of Eddie Redmayne would have confirmed it. Undoubtedly having the Oscar-winning actor on board is going to bring the film a lot of publicity, and hopefully bring in the crowds to make it a success. I'm thrilled to see more films including trans characters who are not there as a cheap joke or a dead hooker. I hope that this is a far more sympathetic interpretation of what it means to be trans, and that it can help increase support and awareness for the trans community. Having such a big star at the helm will obviously be a boon to that, and I have little doubt that Eddie can do the part justice.
The issue, it seems, is a circular one. Studios claim that they don't want to cast a relative unknown in a starring role, in case they simply aren't a talented enough actor. (This despite the many times that unknown actors have been given a big break in a larger role.) There simply aren't very many well-known trans actresses in Hollywood. This is true, but there will never be a huge pool of trans actresses to cast from if there are no roles for them to play!
Thus, we are at a standoff. It seems that the only solution is for a studio or a director to make the leap. To take a chance on an actress who hasn't had the opportunity to prove her mettle in a range of roles, because she keeps only gets called for vaguely offensive bit parts. It worked for Laverne Cox in Orange is the New Black!
As Einer was Danish and white, whoever plays the part needs to have skin on the paler end of the spectrum, and she would need to appear to be in her 30s to fit the time frame of the book and film, and cover the periods of Einer/Lilli's life before she was openly female. Here are some of my suggestions for trans actresses that should have been at least considered for the role. (In no particular order.)
1. Jamie Clayton
Jamie is a stunning actress, known for her work on Hung, Dirty Work and Are We There Yet. She is starring in the upcoming Netflix series Sense8, which will be looking at the ideas of gender, sexuality and identity as a group of strangers find themselves mentally linked.
2. Stephanie Michelini
Best known for Wild Side, Michelini is currently working mostly in French cinema, and I would love to see this talented actress cross into Hollywood films.
3. Michelle Hendly
If I had to pick one from this list, Michelle Hendley would be it. Spotted on YouTube, Michelle has so far starred in only one film "Boy Meets Girl", a romance centered around a transgender girl in Kentucky that was only released last year in film festivals. The youngest woman on the list, I cannot wait to see what else Michelle has in store.
4. Candis Cayne
One of the best known transgender actresses in the US, Candis Cayne is probably best known for her roles in Dirty Sexy Money and Nip/Tuck. She may be a little older than the rest of the women on the list, but that simply means that she has more experience to draw on.
Extra Bonus Inclusion: Andrea James
Finally, while she may prefer to be behind the camera, I would love to see Andrea James involved in this movie. She is an accomplished scriptwriter and producer, as well as an activist for LGBT rights. She would be the perfect person to help Redmayne understand and truly get inside the experience of being Einer.
Redmayne himself has spoken to the Telegraph about the fact that many people would have preferred to see a trans actress in the role. While some of his comments seem well-thought-out and sensitive to the trans community, others... fall a little wide of the mark.
There is an incredibly valid discussion for why a trans actress isn’t playing the part, because there are so many brilliant trans actresses, and I’m sure there are many who could play this part sensationally. But one of the complications is that nowadays you have hormones, and many trans women have taken hormones. But to start this part playing male you’d have to come off the hormones, so that has been a discussion as well.
There’s also a great history of cisgender, cis people sort of gaining on the back of trans stories, and I absolutely understand that that is not cool.
Given the ability to use makeup, costuming and effects to make actors appear older, fatter, or even a different species than they are in real life, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that a trans actress wouldn't have to stop taking hormones in order to play a trans woman pre-transition. Even if there was a fully nude-in-front-of-the-mirror scene, it wouldn't be difficult to use CGI or even a stand-in for the sake of a single scene, if it meant casting an actress who could fully understand the character in a way that a cis actor never could.
He does go on to say that he hopes that the period nature of the movie will remain one of the more important elements, and that this does make a difference to performance and casting.
But I hope firstly this is a specific period piece, and really is set in its time, in which the bravery that it took, if you were in your mind not of the same gender as your physical being, to undertake when there was no question… no one had done it before. So it was basically death or… But the absolute need to be authentic and strive to be comfortable in your own… or to be your own gender, was pretty formidable and brave to me.
Although I would much prefer to see more transgender actresses in Hollywood, especially playing trans characters, I will say that I am happy to hear that Eddie is approaching this story with not only empathy, but with great respect.
The Danish Girl comes to theaters in 2016.