Trans Actress-Activist Laverne Cox Talks "OITNB," Dream Roles and Starting a Casting Revolution on Stage and Screen

By Whitney Spaner
15 Jun 2014

Laverne Cox in "Orange is the New Black"

Although her days and nights are now filled up with promoting Season Two of "Orange is the New Black," the whole of which was unleashed on Netflix June 6, and educating audiences about the trans community with appearances on Katie Couric and Wendy Williams, as well as speaking engagements across the country, Cox said she's itching to get back on stage, especially since many of her "OITNB" costars like Kate Mulgrew, Uzo Aduba, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Pablo Schreiber, Maria Dizzia, Emma Myles, Tracee Chimo, Lea DeLaria and Kimiko Glenn are theatre regulars. "I talk a lot about theatre with Emma, who plays Leanne, and Lea — she's a Broadway legend," said Cox. "And, oh my God, Uzo has a crazy voice. She studies opera. I'm a huge opera queen (if you will) and a hack opera singer. Uzo did it for real, but she won't sing opera for me. [When I ask,] she's like, 'How much are you payin' me?'"

Cox did mention that she's been in talks regarding a New York stage project, but it's currently in limbo because of scheduling conflicts. She won't give any more clues, except to say that we can pretty much rule out the Hedwig sequel. "I don't sing in public anymore," she said with conviction. "I like singing, it's therapeutic for me, but I shouldn't sing professionally — I have not always known that, but I know that now." Non-musical roles she would like to play include Lady Macbeth; "I love the sinister, ruthless pursuit of power in relationship to the patriarch," she said, adding, "I wonder if there's something for Raisin in the Sun for me? It's funny because it's not necessarily written for trans, but I just love that play."

For all the progress that has come with reaching "the transgender tipping point" Broadway — as well as Hollywood — has yet to publicly cast an openly trans actor in a non-trans role. And it's still very rare for a trans actor to be cast in a trans role. Cisgender actors Jefferson Mays and most recently Neil Patrick Harris earned Tony Awards for portraying transgender roles on Broadway and many people in the trans community were upset when the first trans teenage character to appear on Broadway — a high school cheerleader named La Cienega, in 2012's Bring It On: The Musical — was played by male actor Gregory Haney.

"As an artist I'm never one to say that another actor shouldn't play a role," said Cox. "I think we all want to play a wide range of characters — but I do know that when a trans person is playing a trans character it can be truly transformative for audiences. My life and career is a testament to that. They find themselves not only empathizing with a trans character but with a trans actor who's playing that character and it can change lives. I've been so blessed to hear of people who have transitioned because of my character on 'Orange is the New Black' and have been able to have more fulfilling conversations about their identities."

And, although it's unclear when a trans actor would be cast in a revival of A Raisin in the Sun, Cox feels that things are looking up for trans actors in the casting room. "Years ago I was at a workshop and I straight out asked a casting director if he would ever cast a trans actor in a role that didn't call for it to be trans," remembered Cox. "And he said, 'No.' It's a business, so I was like, 'OK, how do I not take this personally?' But I think that's going to change. I'm hearing about a lot of projects now where there are trans characters being written and they are looking for trans actors. I have a couple of girlfriends who are trans and are auditioning for these parts," she said. "It's happening in New York and it's happening in LA. I'm really excited about that."

As for Cox's own tipping point — it couldn't have happened on a better birthday. "I don't think I would have been ready for this 10 years ago," she admitted. "I believe that this is happening to me at a moment when I am somewhat prepared, but I don't know if you can ever be fully prepared."

Previous 1 | 2