Ugly Betty star Rebecca Romijn reveals she ‘jumped at the chance’ to play trans character Alexis Meade

On the left, Rebecca Romijn in a black and silver dress. On the right, Rebecca Romijn as her Ugly Betty character Alexis Meade.

Rebecca Romijn, the actress behind the pioneering Alexis Meade in the comedy-drama series Ugly Betty, has reflected on the decision to have a cisgender actress playing a trans character.

In an entertainment world devoid of LGBTQ+ characters and still crammed full of subtle homophobia, Ugly Betty was a buoy for young queer people in the mid-2000s.

Michael Urie, who identifies as queer, was Marc St James, the out, proud, and albeit stereotypically, bitchy assistant to Vanessa Williams’ unforgiving, hard-nosed Wilhelmina Slater, the creative director of Mode magazine.

Then, there was Mark Indelicato playing Betty Suarez’s camp and effervescent nephew Justin, who gloriously came out in the show’s fourth and final season.

While Hacks star Indelicato, who is openly gay, has since admitted to PinkNews that he found it “embarrassing” being a “poster child” for queer youth, it’s undeniable that Justin was a beacon for those struggling with their sexuality.

Michael Urie as Marc St James and Mark Indelicato as Justin Suarez on Ugly Betty (ABC)
Michael Urie (R) as Marc St James and Mark Indelicato as Justin Suarez in Ugly Betty. (ABC)

Even Betty herself, played by Barbie star America Ferrera, was an emblem for outcast youngsters trying to navigate a world that didn’t accept them for who they were.

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But, with all that marvellous representation, there was one character who today would face endless scrutiny: Alexis Meade.

Played by X-Men star Romijn, Meade facilitated the shocking twist during Ugly Betty’s inaugural series. She was hidden in the basement of the Mode office by co-conspirator Wilhelmina Slater, wrapped head-to-toe in bandages. 

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The big reveal, though, was that Alexis was actually the sibling of Mode editor-in-chief Daniel Meade – known to Daniel and his family as Alex – who had supposedly died in a skiing accident several years earlier.

As the show put it, Daniel’s brother was actually his sister, and she was back to try to take over the company.

Although introducing a trans character in any regard in one of the Noughties’ top TV series was seen as ground-breaking at the time, Meade would absolutely not pass the acceptability test today.

For one, while the show was progressive in some ways, it was never in short supply of transphobic jokes at Alexis’ expense. In addition, Romijn, who is currently starring in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, is cisgender, which would now no doubt ignite endless debate about cis actors taking roles from trans stars.

In a new interview with The Independent, Romijn explained how the decision came to be made that a cisgender woman would play the role, and spoke about whether she would ever join an Ugly Betty reboot.

“The executives at the time didn’t love the idea of the character,” she revealed, adding that there “was a real boys’ club behind the scenes at that point”.

It’s disappointing but not exactly surprising that the largely male Hollywood executives would have scoffed at the idea of a trans character, but even more eye-rolling to learn that they swiftly changed their mind when Romijn’s name was mentioned.

“To try [to] make it palatable to the boys’ club… they pitched me. And I jumped at the chance, [I] wanted to do that character justice and make her as hot as possible,” Romijn said.

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While she’s aware that times have moved on, she is at least pleased to have helped get a bit of trans character representation on such a popular show.

 “I never would be cast in that role today, but I feel it helped open doors for the trans community. I’d like to think that, anyway. I don’t want to pat myself on the back too much.”

And as for any reboot?

She would be up for it, but “Alexis should be cast with a trans actress, that would be the correct thing to do”, she added.

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