Trans performer Trace Lysette grew up in Dayton, Ohio before moving to New York City to pursue a new life. Her television debut on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in 2013 made her one of the first trans people to appear in a cisgender role on primetime in the United States.
Lysette came out publicly as trans while playing Shea on the television series Transparent the following year. She portrayed Tracey in the feature film Hustlers, and guested on Pose, Texas, Midnight and Drunk History.
She plays the title role in the new film Monica, which tells the story of a trans woman returning home to care for her dying mother played by Patricia Clarkson. The film premiered at the 79th Venice International Film Festival on September 3, 2022, with an over 11-minute standing ovation at the screening.
Lysette zoomed in to chat about the importance of Monica to audiences everywhere.
Windy City Times: Where in the world are you right now?
Trace Lysette: I am in Los Angeles, and it is cloudy right now.
WCT: Well, it is sunny in Chicago. Come visit!
TL: I was only there once when I was 18 years old. I went to the Prop House, which was a house music club.
WCT: Talk about your latest project, Monica.
TL: I got the script in 2016 and auditioned over the course of 2017. They asked if I had thoughts about the script, and I gave some notes. That turned into dinners and at some point, there was an offer where I came on as an executive producer as well.
There was a waiting game after that. We had Anna Paquin for a minute, then we lost her, and we got Emily Browning to play Laura. It was all a journey, to say the least.
WCT: How was working with Patricia Clarkson?
TL: She is amazing and an incredible actor. I learned a lot just being on set with her, and seeing her stillness between takes. I talked to her about the industry. I felt like she looked out for me a lot. I really appreciate working with seasoned actors who I can learn from.
WCT: How is the character of Monica similar or different from you?
TL: There are a lot of parallels with the trans experience. One of my favorite things about her is that she is a fully realized, well-lived trans woman who has been this way for a long time. I feel like those stories are rare to see.
I have been living as a trans woman for over 20 years, longer than anything else. I think there is value in that, and living in that space is a life lived through a lens that is not shown very often on television or in film. I was excited about that.
I can tell her shell was different in the way she dresses, and the music she listens to. I had to put pieces of Trace into her, which I think was the overall thing to do because it made her interesting.
WCT: Speaking of the music, did you have any say on the soundtrack?
TL: No, that was all Andrea Pallaoro. He chose all of the songs. The music made it fun to dive into what Monica likes.
WCT: Monica seems like a movie that everyone should see, especially the people who claim to not know the transgender population. Do you think that is why there is such a disconnect with some people about trans rights?
TL: There is a lot of misinformation and innocent ignorance, mixed with willful ignorance. That is all flying around the country right now.
WCT: What would you like audiences to take away from Monica?
TL: I hope they see our humanity, and that trans people are just like everyone else. I think they can see that through Monica doing ordinary things, like holding a baby on a dock in the sunshine in a bathing suit, and talking to her brother, or yearning for love [while] on the phone with her ex.
There are universal themes in the movie that everyone can identify with. I hope it starts conversations. Since it is so delicate, I hope that it is more digestible to the masses that might be resistant to something that is more preachy.
WCT: What is the significance of the wolf in one scene of Monica?
TL: Oh, the coyote. That is LA, and they are everywhere! It is up to the audience to decipher what that means, but there are all kinds of possibilities. There is an unwavering strength that Monica has while staring it in the face. There is also a parallel to being a lone wolf. She has lived a life on her own and had to be strong.
Andrea probably has his own ideas on what that abstract scene is about, but for me, it is about strength and what the character will do next.
WCT: So that leads me to the next question. What will you do next?
TL: I am delving into the world of audio erotica. It is a new thing that is foreign to me but sounds interesting. It is a women-led company, and it is tastefully done.
In terms of acting, I shot a movie right after Monica called Dope Queens. It's a romantic thriller in the vein of Pulp Fiction, and is set in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco. Hopefully, it will be out in the world soon.
Beyond that, I am on the audition grind, looking for a good series to be a part of. I am constantly fantasizing about being on White Lotus. I am manifesting the next gig!
WCT: You have broken several glass ceilings in your career. Is there one moment that was special to you?
TL: Venice with the 11-and-a-half-minute standing ovation for Monica was powerful. There were a lot of question marks floating around in the air at that time, and getting that seal of approval from one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world felt really good.
It is a double-edged sword because it took almost 80 years for a trans actor to lead a film in a competition there. It feels validating, and hopeful that the doors are starting to open for us.
WCT: Do you hear from fans that tell you how important you are?
TL: Yes. I am overwhelmed with messages on social media from trans people all across the world. That lets me know how important our stories are. There are trans people everywhere who are craving a bit of themselves to be shown on TV and in movies.
Honestly, those messages are what keeps me going.
WCT: You have to keep on going, and so does Monica!
Monica debuted on May 12, 2023, in select theaters and more information can be found at Ifcfilms.com/films/monica .