Actors’ union Equity urges directors to cast more transgender performers in non-trans roles

A picture of Scarlett Johannson, who Andy Serkis believe should have been casted to play a trans character.

The UK actors’ union Equity has issued guidance calling for casting directors to cast more trans actors in cis roles.

The guidance, which is for entertainment industry professionals working with LGBT+ performers, says that some trans actors are better suited to playing cis characters.

“The fact that [a performer] is trans may be completely invisible in the role or production, but it powerfully represents diversity in the industry,” Equity said. “This ‘invisible’ diversity is just as important as more physically recognisable forms of diversity.”

It added: “It is hard for trans actors to build a career out of the very small amount of trans-specific roles if these are the only roles for which they are actively sought.”

Trans-specific roles are also often played by cisgender actors, like Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl.

Scarlett Johansson quit her role in Rub & Tug last year after anger at her being cast as a trans man.

At a National Theatre launch event for the Equity guidance, Tigger Blaize, the vic-chair of Equity’s LGBT+ committee, said the guidance was designed to “help you to help us”.

“We don’t want to bash anyone,” he said. “This is a new area to many and it’s OK to make mistakes.”

Equity’s guidance says it should be standard industry practice for people to introduce themselves with both their name and pronouns, and advises asking performers what their pronouns are rather than assuming.

“If you make a mistake, apologise, correct and move on. No dramas,” the guidance reads.

Harrison Knights, a trans actor, said he sometimes struggled to get parts playing trans characters because he has a beard and a low voice, “which they’re not expecting”.

Knights added that all roles are assumed to be cis by default: “An unnamed drug addict on Casualty, we assume he’s cis. A trainee barrister on Silk, we assume she’s cis. In fact, we assume everyone is cis unless told otherwise.”

“It is not until [trans actors] are being cast in major cis roles because we are the best actors for the role, rather than because we tick a box, that we will have truly arrived,” he said.

Blaize, who in a 15-year career has played male and female roles, said he hoped the guidance would be useful.

“We are in the middle of a really horrible media storm of misinformation about us,” he said. “There are horrible stories coming out from hate groups and we need some positive representation.”