Jen Richards: Her Story Reawakened My Love For Acting
Writer, actress and activist Jen Richards tells Carrie Lyell what it’s like to be trans in Hollywood right now.
Jen Richards is the co-writer and star of Emmy-nominated web series Her Story, about the lives and loves of two trans women in Los Angeles. She’s also a passionate activist with a kind heart and infectious laugh who’s not afraid to speak her mind. She took time out of her birthday to talk to DIVA about putting trans visibility at the heart of Hollywood.
DIVA: Your background is in activism and non-profits. How did you get into acting?
JEN RICHARDS: I’ve acted ever since I was a kid. I did theatre in high school, continued into college, and then as an adult I did community theatre. It was just something I loved to do, but I never had any professional aspirations. And then when I transitioned, I gave it up.
I just assumed that with this change, I would never act again. There aren’t many roles for trans people – certainly not enough to stay active in the theatre – and I couldn’t conceive of a time where I would feel comfortable just going out for a regular female role. That’s what I believed at the time. I feel differently now.
What changed your mind?
An opportunity came up to write a web series for a production company, which eventually became Her Story. When we started, it was just this little passion project that a few friends were doing, so we were going to act in it, too. I never anticipated that it would end up having such a gigantic audience and that there would be all this pressure on my performance! It ended up being very terrifying. I actually tried to pull out of it, last minute. The rest of team said “nope, that’s not an option”.
Thank goodness they did!
Her Story reinvigorated and reawakened my love for acting and reminded me that I do have some skill there. And it just happened to come out right at the time when this conversation began in Hollywood around trans representation. I had the right marginalised identity at the right time and in the right place!
You really didn’t anticipate the success the series would have?
No, no, no... [laughs]. It’s absurd. It was so outlandish it didn’t even enter into that realm where we could dismiss it as outlandish! We certainly thought it was pretty good. We were very proud of it. But no, there’s no way we could have predicted the success it would have.
It certainly has opened doors for you like you say. And there is this conversation happening now. But what is like to be trans in Hollywood right now? Day to day, as a working actor, what is it like?
It basically means I don’t get auditions. The truth of the matter is I only get called in for trans roles. And that’s frustrating. It’s partly because it just doesn’t occur to casting directors to consider a trans person for a non-trans role. It takes them interacting with a trans person for them to even think about that, and then I strongly suspect it just goes out of their head too, once I leave the room. Some of us had this additional difficulty – we couldn’t get cast even in trans roles because we didn’t look trans enough. Often, these casting directors have in mind what they think a trans woman looks like, and that idea is informed by previous castings of cis men as trans women. So rather than thinking of someone like me or Trace Lysette or Angelica Ross or Rain Valdez, they think of Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, Eddie Redmayne... We come in and they’re worried that their audience might not know we’re trans and then it kind of ruins the character for them, which is obviously a problem, and something we have to work through. But the deeper layer of that problem is, that’s only an issue because these characters only exist to be trans.
Read the rest of Carrie’s interview with Jen in the March issue of DIVA. On sale here.