Actress and stand-up comedian Rebecca Rootknown to British audiences for her work on the BBC series Boy Meets Girlappears in two new films, Colette and The Brothers Sisters. Root, who is also a prominent voice coach, spoke to Windy City Times about the films and the career challenges often facing transgender actors.
Windy City Times: One of the things that surprised me the most in watching and later reading about Colette was the progressive casting, in that it had not one but two trans actors in cisgender roles. What does this say to you, since, during your time, it has generally been harder for trans actors to find work?
Rebecca Root: I think Wash Westmorelandthe directormade inspired casting choices. I mean he didn't just cast trans people in cis roles. He cast actors of different ethnicities to the ethnicity that the person they were portraying at being in real life possibly. And I think that was inspired really and frankly visionary. I think we need to see more casting like that.
WCT: I know, it almost reminded me of the Hamilton musical.
RR: Right, although I haven't seen Hamilton. I've seen clips, so I know what you're talking about.
WCT: Regarding your role of Mayfield in The Sisters Brothers, how did you approach the role and what type of direction did you get?
RR: Well, I approached the role in the same way that I do any other role. So I do as much background reading as I can. I researched the period. I look at pictures, arts, read literature from that time. I tried to get a flavor of the atmosphere of the world that is being depicted. Obviously, I read the source material, so I read the novel. I like having to think about people that are similar that I could draw on, or maybe take some take some inspiration from. I felt that Mayfield had something of Margaret Thatcher about hertending to be not motherly but certainly quite charming, trying to be charming and trying to make sure that everything's running smoothly but with a heart of steel or stone or ironif there was a heart at all. That was the kind of inspiration that I had for Mayfield.
You asked about the direction. The direction came from one of cinema's great masters. Even though we were working largely through an interpreter, we already had established a close relationship in terms of there was great amity on set and certainly I felt I could just trust Jacques. I trusted him, so I just followed everything that he wanted and tried to deliver as best I could.
WCT: If you were in charge of an entire town, is there anything that you could do in real life?
RR: You really put me on the spot with that one. I would probably lower the age of voting. I would up the legal age of smoking. I would definitely aim for gender parity on paymale and female need to be paid the same. I would certainly instigate working hours legislation so people can't be taken for a ride working 18 hour days without a break. That kind of thing. This is just completely off of my head.
WCT: Now things seem to be changing here in the U.S. ever so slowly. What's the current state of things across the pond? I know that you found success a few years ago in the BBC sitcom, Boy meets Girl.
RR: I think we are catching up with the States. We've got trans actors in two soaps. Annie Wallace is in a soap called Hollyoaks. It's a young kind of person soap. Ash Palmisciano is in a more sort of a middle-age kind of soap called Emmerdale. He is a trans man. Annie is a trans woman. Previously, we had we had Riley Carter Millington in EastEnders, which is a major soap in the UK. They're very visible in our in our TV screens. I think we're catching up. I think we're giving you guys a run for your money.
WCT: What else do you have coming up?
RR: I'm rehearsing a play in Dublin at the moment called Rathmines Road, which is a co-production with a company called Fishamble and the Abbey Theatre, which is basically the National Theatre of Ireland. It's part of the Dublin Theater Festival, which is a major international festival of theater. The play runs until the end of October. … It's a world premiere by a very exciting contemporary playwright by Deirdre Kinahan.
After that, I have a couple of TV things that I filmed earlier this year coming out; [the first is] a show called Flack in which I guest in one episode that's coming out sometime in the autumn or maybe new year. I'm also in an episode of The Romanoffs, which is the new Matthew Weiner piece. That's hitting AmazonI thinkin October or November. My episode is at the end of November.
And then I did a voice for guest role in a TV animated series called Moominvalley, which is based on The Moomins by a Finnish writer, Tove Jansson. So that's coming out in February. It's an exciting project. It has Kate Winslet and Rosamund Pikea high-profile cast in that show. So yeah, lots of things coming up which I've already done. After the play, I have an empty diary. Hopefully, it will fill up soon.
WCT: What advice would you offer to a trans actor looking to break into the industry?
RR: Read. Read plays. Go to the theater. Read screenplays. Go to the movies. Watch DVDs or watch movies on Netflix. Try to get an understanding of the industry. Listen to radio. Listen to radio dramas. Listen to audio books. Listen to what people do with the voices. Train your voice. Take class. Do improv class. Engage with the industry. It's not just all about being a star, but being part of an industry. Support your union. Pay your subs. It's all about the practicalities of being an actor. Being famous or getting a Hollywood star on the Walk of Fame or whateverthat's really kind of the icing on the cake. The cake itselfthe 99% of the rest of itis all about the work that you put in, the spade work, the hours, the craft that you build, develop, polish and hone over the years. Things don't necessarily happen quickly. Keep going. Have faith. Believe in your ability. Believe in your talents.
I would say that talent wins out. So if it doesn't happen this year, it may happen the following year. Just keep going. Never give up. That's my advice.