Transgender actress reflects on ‘complicated’ role of playing trans character in hit Netflix drama

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Transgender Actress Laverne Cox has reflected on her role in hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black, to say that she is “grateful” for the role to have come her way, and spoke of the challenge it offer to her, saying she was one of the most “complicated” characters she had taken on.

Speaking in an interview with Tell Me More, Laverne Cox said she brought her own personal experiences into creating the character in the hit series, which features a very diverse range of characters in a female prison in up-state New York.

On her personal experiences, she said: “My third-grade teacher, Ms Ridgeway, called my mom and said, ‘Your son will end up in New Orleans wearing a dress if we don’t get him into therapy right away,'” she went on to say that she only met other trans people when she went to college.

Reflecting on her transition, she said: “Through all the things — the difficulties of what it means to be who I am, I love myself. And I am so grateful that I get to live authentically now.”

Speaking on the character of Sophia, which she plays in Orange is the New Black, she said: “When it came along, I thought, what a wonderful opportunity to talk about and highlight issues of trans women in prison. Certainly, Sophia has been one of the most complicated characters I’ve gotten to play as an actress, and I’m really grateful she’s come into my life.”

She also reflected on difficulties faced in being black, saying: “It’s hard. The issue of not just being trans, but also being a woman, and it’s being black. And the industry historically doesn’t think that we are marketable, or they want to cast us in very limited ways. But I think that the wonderful lessons that Orange Is the New Black is teaching us is that it shows our industry — the entertainment industry — that you can cast women of different races, you can cast different ages and body types, and folks will tune in and be interested. And the public is craving that.

“When folks want to write a trans character, the first thing that they think of is sex work. And part of the reason is that the most visibility, really, that trans folk get is through sex work. And then there is also crazy unemployment rates among transgender people; it’s like twice the national average. If you’re a trans person of color, it’s four times the national average. So, so often the only job opportunities presented for trans folks are in street economies, including sex work. Obviously there are lots of trans women who don’t do sex work, who have all kinds of professions.”

She said she had received some very positive feedback, particularly noting responses from people who changed their perception of trans people through seeing her in the role.

“A beautiful blog was written by this woman who said that she didn’t really approve of the transgender thing and had all these misconceptions about trans people, and Sophia’s storyline changed that for her.”

At the end of June, Netflix renewed the programme for a second season.