Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Showtime's Foray into Genderless TV: Actor Asia Kate Dillon Is the First Nonbinary Gender-Identifying Actor on Mainstream TV

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Showtime's Foray into Genderless TV: Actor Asia Kate Dillon Is the First Nonbinary Gender-Identifying Actor on Mainstream TV

Article excerpt

IN ORDER FOR a movement to flourish, you need to have a trailblazer. Asia Kate Dillon (who uses the pronouns they and them) has been blazing trails long before becoming the first nonbinary gender-identifying actor to be cast in a major television series.

After a memorable role as racist skinhead Brandy on Netflix's Orange is the New Black, Dillon joined the world of high finance and politics on Showtime's Billions, as Taylor. In a TV first, a nonbinary gender-identifying actor is portraying a genderless character.

Before playing Brandy on OITNB, Dillon was already redefining the way casting directors and audiences look at gender. After graduating from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA), they were chosen from nearly a thousand actors to participate in a workshop of 50 new plays by Tony- and Academy Award-winning (and nominated) playwrights. It was there, at the Flea Theater in Manhattan, where Dillon really began to blossom.

After playing Lucifer in The Mysteries and performing in The Tempest with The Shakespeare Theatre Company, Dillon landed strong roles on TV shows Master of None and Younger.

The founder and producing director of MIRROR/FIRE Productions, Dillon is part of the artistic resistance. They are creator, curator, and director of US, a storytelling and talkback series at New York's Dixon Place, which "puts a magnifying glass to racism in the United States using original and found text, audio, and video footage to drive the #BlackLivesMatter conversation forward."

Do you feel any kind of pressure on your shoulders?

You know, if I'm among those leading the charge then I'm certainly honored and very grateful, and I will strive to embrace that role with humility and grace.

The world of film and TV is full of gendered types--the ingenue, the masculine lover, the girl-next-door. I'm curious about your experiences with casting directors and agents.

I've been fortunate that the roles I've auditioned for, I auditioned because I felt I was the right actor to play that part. I have disregarded gender when deciding which part to audition for. Let's say for a play, when it was up to me, my agent certainly knows--and has sent me out on any number of auditions for any number of gender identities because they know that's something that's important to me. I find when I walk into a room I'm often the first person like me that anyone has encountered and that often leads to conversation, which often leads to understanding and acceptance. And, if on top of that, I'm the right actor to play the part, then I get the part.

With Billions, did they call for a nonbinary gender-identifying actor?

Yes. It was actually the first breakdown I had seen in that nature.

Have you gotten any great advice?

Predominantly, the advice right off the board--whether it was from my mother or a teacher or a professional of some kind--was stay true to myself. No matter what you do, be true to who you are. I really heeded that advice and was grateful for it. During your final semester at AMDA, you have to come up with a six-month plan. In that meeting, a teacher said, "Always know how you're going to pay your rent." Because a home--a safe place you know you can always go back to, a roof over your head, [where] you can go cook a hot meal--that would be the most important thing in a city where everything is happening around you. Having a calm center in the universe is the most important thing in the world.

Tell me about your journey of self-discovery growing up in Ithaca, New York. …

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