GLAAD chats with Trace Lysette, star of 'Transparent' and 'Blunt Talk'

Trace Lysette is an actress and advocate best known for her recurring role as 'Shea', the yoga teacher and friend to Maura Pfefferman on Amazon's critically acclaimed series Transparent. She can also be seen in a recurring role as 'Gisele' opposite Patrick Stewart in the Starz original comedy Blunt Talk. Trace began her career auditioning for cisgender (non-trans) roles and landed her first break in a guest spot as 'Lila' in the 14th season of Law & Order: SVU. After landing her role on Transparent, Trace decided to disclose that she is an out, proud, trans actress, as she continues to audition for both trans and non-trans roles. GLAAD sat down with Trace to talk about being an actress and a trans woman in Hollywood.

Trace's next appearance on Blunt Talk is this Saturday, September 19 in the episode "The Queen of Hearts." Blunt Talk airs on Starz at 9 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. CT. Season one of Transparent is available anytime to Amazon Instant Video subscribers.

GLAAD: Have you always known that you wanted to become an actor?

TRACE LYSETTE: No. I discovered acting after trying many other things. I was a hairstylist, a makeup artist, a failed track athlete, a drag performer, among other things... I knew I always had a presence of sorts and that I could entertain a crowd. One time in high school, myself and a group of girls got together and choreographed a half time dance for a boys basketball game at school. I remember hitting a toe touch and landing in the splits on beat with the music then seamlessly continuing with the choreography, the crowd erupted. I was presenting as male at the time and I think the combination of that with my unapologetic feminine energy and strength kind of got people on their feet. It was definitely a moment that told me "okay, there's something to explore here." In my late teens I began performing in drag at the gay bars in Dayton and Columbus, Ohio, including 1470 West, Celebrities, Reflections, and Wall Street. The accolades I received continued to reassure me of that stage presence, the ability to emote and really connect with an audience. I didn't pursue acting in high school because I think maybe I never felt fully comfortable playing male roles. Much later in life living in NYC after my gender transition, I got to the point wear I was literally tired of people telling me, "You should be on TV." So in 2008 I decided to invest in an acting class. It took about 5 years to book my first job on TV, but I'm thankful to have found a career that suits me. Who knows where life will take me but for now I am happy with where I'm at and acting has a lot to do with that. 

GLAAD: How did you prepare for your acting career?

TL: Acting is about truth and truth is about life experience. Because I am the sum of my experiences good, bad and everything in between, I have an abundance of emotions to pull from when I'm bringing the text to life in a scene. Beyond that I must credit my teachers who helped me learn how to harness those moments. Mary Boyer and Brad Calcaterra helped me connect to all I have been through and bring all of it to life though my performance.

GLAAD: What is your favorite thing about being an actor?

TL: I love that I get to create art that is impactful and can help people. I also love that it constantly reinvents itself. Everyday I go to work it's something new, a new environment, a new relationship, new feelings, etc.

GLAAD: In the show Transparent, you play Shea, who is a yoga instructor and friend of Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) and Davina (Alexandra Billings). What is it like being on a set with a large trans presence both in front of and behind the camera?

TL: It is refreshing. There's a sense of play and freedom on set because I feel that I'm near members of my own tribe. I feel I can go certain places in a scene that may not be familiar to some cis people on set because I know I have other trans folk there to vouch for me and translate certain trans specific vernacular I may throw into a scene. Whether it gets kept or not in the final cut is not up to me, but I feel like I owe it to my community to be authentic - and having other trans people on set allows me that freedom to push the envelope a bit. Zackary Drucker, Rhys Ernst, Van Barnes, and particularly Alexandra Billings and I, have an amazing time on set. They're my on set trans family.

GLAAD: Your character in Blunt Talk, Giselle, is quite a firecracker who describes herself as a "goddess and a f'ing model!" She is also really funny. Do you prefer to play roles that are more comedic or dramatic? 

TL: I love them both equally. That is the joy of being an actor. You get to be many things. Within a character I love to explore different layers because most people are not one dimensional, most people are a lot of things and I love to have different colors come through even if that particular character tends to be more comedic than dramatic or vice versa. I can't give away any spoilers but hopefully you will see more of that come through with 'Gisele' and 'Shea' in season two of both shows.© 2015 Starz Entertainment, LLC

GLAAD: You started your acting career in 2008, and up until recently you auditioned for roles without disclosing your trans status. How has your experience as an actress changed since you disclosed that you are a trans woman? 

TL: It's as if the universe was waiting for me to walk in my truth. Compartmentalizing my life into groups of people, some who knew, some who didn't, was taxing and it was destroying me. Keeping my trans identity a secret in the acting world and at my night job was a part of my survival. But I felt empty inside. Since coming out I've been able to play roles that allow me to access parts of myself that I had kept censored for years.

GLAAD: Is there anything you'd like casting directors to know about trans actors who are out there looking for work?

TL: I would like for them to take the time and seek us out. A little research can be helpful in finding trans talent. It seems sometimes when people cast for a trans actor to play a trans role, it becomes this cattle call of sorts. And on one hand that is great because it provides an opportunity to people who maybe aren't even actors, and perhaps they can discover something new about themselves. But on the other hand there is a group of us who have been studying our craft and working for years, before trans was a trend, so I hope they take that into consideration when casting a trans role.

GLAAD: What would be your dream role?

TL: I would also love to explore a role where a cis, hetero, leading man is in a serious, loving, long term relationship with a trans woman. I think we have touched on the possibility in Blunt Talk and I think America is ready for that. I also would love the chance to put my athletic background to use in an action film. Think very Lara Croft in Tomb Raider or Katniss Everdeen in Hunger Games!

GLAAD: After your appearance on I am Cait, you tweeted about the conversations that were had with the other trans women on the show about the future of the trans movement. What are some of the changes that you and the other women would like to see for the trans community?

TL: First and foremost we need to see an end to the violence against trans and gender non-conforming people. Particularly trans women of color. We have lost so many trans women to hate-related violence this year. It saddens and enrages me at the same time to think about the odds of us being murdered for simply existing. Most of my close friends are trans women of color and they are my sisters. Often in the queer community we find a sense of family in people who may not be related to us by blood, and I don't know where I would be without my girls. I don't know if I'd be standing. It's important we talk about the intersection of racism and transphobia that my trans sisters of color experience every day of their lives. We must have this conversation to make the world safer for them, and for us all. I also think the issue of employment discrimination and on-the-job harassment towards trans folk should be addressed. When trans folk are denied access to a safe work environment it forces them to seek out other means of income such as sex work, porn, etc...

We are all human, and positive visibility in media is crucial in helping the rest of the world see us as just that. I hope the next generation of trans people have an easier road. I believe they will.


[Blunt Talk photo © 2015 Starz Entertainment, LLC]