Monica’s Trace Lysette weighs up Oscar chances – and how things are different for cis actors

Trace Lysette

Trans actor Trace Lysette is fighting to land an Oscar nomination for her role in Monica as an estranged daughter reconnecting with her dying mother.

The 42-year-old actor and vocal trans rights activist first rose to prominence in Prime drama series Transparent. Now, Lysette is making waves on the big screen after her starring role in Andrea Pallaoro’s latest film Monica, opposite Patricia Clarkson.

The film premiered at Venice Film Festival in 2022 where it received an 11-minute standing ovation for its “intimate portrait” of a mother-daughter relationship in small town America and vital representation for the trans community.

In an interview with Variety, Lysette (who landed an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Lead Performance) reflected on the “deeply exhausting” task of staying relevant in the awards season race, especially when up against big budget movies.

Trace Lysette as Monica (L) and Patricia Clarkson as Eugenia (R).
Trace Lysette as Monica (L) and Patricia Clarkson as Eugenia (R). (BFI Flare)

Lysette set up a GoFundMe to hire a publicist and, alongside her co-star Clarkson, the pair are putting in countless hours of work and their own money to promote the movie.

For Lysette, securing an award would be “much bigger” than just a personal success – it would be a win for the whole trans community.

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“I’m 42, I’m a transsexual woman. And as a minority in this business, I often feel invisible,” she told the publication. “I know this performance is worthy and solid – Venice told me so. But even that, it’s just been such a battle.

“I sometimes wonder if a cis actor went to Venice and got an 11-and-a-half minute standing ovation for playing a trans role, I feel like the Academy would be coming in their pants and the press opportunities would be insane.”

We need only to cast our minds back to 2016 when cis actor Eddie Redmayne scored an Oscar nod for his portrayal of a trans woman in The Danish Girl. Redmayne received backlash from the LGBTQ+ community and later admitted taking the role on was a “mistake”.

“So it’s disheartening,” Lysette concluded. “But I’m trying my best to lean into the good. However it pans out, the work has already changed people’s lives. And so that’s what I cling to.”

Director and co-writer Andrea Pallaoro explained his refreshing approach to exploring a trans character’s relationship with their family an interview with PinkNews earlier this year.

“I was aware from the very beginning there was the opportunity to tell a trans story in a way that we are not used to. We are not focusing on the transition or exile but what it means to reconcile and forgive,” Pallaoro said.

After meeting Lysette, the director had no doubt that she was the right person to do this story justice.

“It took me over a year to meet Trace and it was lighting from the very first moment,” Pallaoro said of the casting process. “I knew I had found the person that could embark on this journey and sculpt this character. From the very beginning she had this strong need to tell this story.”

Oscar nominations will be announced on 23 January 2024.