OSCAR SUNDAY: Filming The Danish Girl
Trans actors Rebecca Root and Jake Graf play cisgender characters in the Academy Award–nominated film The Danish Girl. Watching the film carefully, one would have not noticed their identities until they revealed them later to the press. In an interview, both actors discuss their experience on set and their newfound fame.
The Danish Girl is up for four Academy Awards today. Did you initially expect the film’s trans-related focus would garner such worldwide acclaim?
Rebecca: I think if we didn’t have the major actors and players involved – Eddie Redmayne and director Tom Hooper – it would have been a smaller film. 2015 was a big year for the trans community, and with that kind of star power involved, it really put the picture in his huge realm.
Jake: To be honest, given the current climate, I would have been more surprised had it not had the interest and acclaim that it has received. The film was 15 years in the making, so for it to have come to fruition when it did, at quite literally the best time possible for trans content, was beyond lucky. It really just felt to me like it was meant to happen when it did, and I think it wholly deserves each and every nomination and award.
In most films pertaining to transgender subject matter, trans actors are often typecast to play designated trans roles. How did it feel playing a cisgender character in the film that wasn’t centered on primarily being transgender?
Rebecca: I’m an actor, so to play any part is a great joy. Playing a cisgender role was a wonder because no one is making assumptions about you while on set. It’s also a telling of the times that such labels are becoming irrelevant in one’s ability to play particular roles.
Jake: Strangely, I have only once played a trans role — all of my roles to date have been cis characters, and that trans part was in my own short film, Brace. I think that as a rule of thumb, it tends to be easier for trans male actors to go “stealth,” which means to keep one’s trans status private, and so when auditioning for roles, it never occurred to disclose that I was trans, as it was neither relevant nor necessary for the roles that I was playing. Playing another cisgender character, Henri in The Danish Girl, felt as natural as playing any other male part.
How has your professional career taken off since the film’s release?
Rebecca: I’ve been in this business for 25 years, and it feels like a fairy godmother has come and given me a miracle. I feel guilty having so much fun … I’ve made many live television appearances, starred in radio dramas, and TV shows. After so many years in the business, the timeliness of this film’s success shows that if you hang on long enough, your dreams can come true.
Jake: I have been writing, acting in and directing my own shorts for years, but it was truly eye-opening to see the scale of the production on The Danish Girl. Just from being on set with Tom Hooper, I learnt a huge amount, which I hope that I was able to implement in my new short, Dawn (which premieres at BFI Flare, the London LGBT film festival, in March). Since the explosion in interest for all things trans early last year, things had already started to take off, but following the film’s release I have attended the first trans-specific event at the White House, walked several red carpets, and found that people are taking my work more seriously. It’s clearly a good time to be a trans filmmaker!
Being openly transgender, how were you able to help inform a predominately cisgender production crew about handling the sensitivity of the subject matter on set?
Rebecca: I felt that people on set were very accepting. They seemed to understand how important this story was and made sure that their handling of it would also show on the big screen. It really was a very inclusive and welcoming experience – I was surprised to see how knowledgeable they were about the trans community.
Jake: Eddie Redmayne had already done so much research on the subject prior to shooting, speaking to as many trans women as possible about their experiences, that he was already more than prepared. In fact, the whole team from producers down had taken the time to fully understand the sensitivity, as well as the risks, of tackling such a potentially explosive subject matter. Rebecca Root and I were on hand to answer questions, as were stalwarts such as Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst, producers on Amazon’s Transparent. The Danish Girl team had really gone out of their way to ensure that the film was as honest, authentic and moving as possible, and I feel they would have been hard-pressed to create anything more real than the stunning film that they have.
How will you be celebrating Oscar Sunday?
Rebecca: I will be celebrating my mum’s birthday throughout the day. I will most likely watch the Oscars at a party with friends here in England. I’m really hoping we can win some tonight! I’m rooting for Alicia Vikander to win for best supporting actress … she really should have been nominated for leading actress … but the politics of the business makes the call.
Jake: Whilst I would usually be watching, I have been invited to a festival in Sardinia to pick up an award for my last short film, Chance, so I’ll be somewhere in Italy, hopefully enjoying the local fare! Obviously, had I been invited to the Oscars, I may have had to disappoint them in Cagliari, but I think that this year my invitation got lost in the mail. There’s always next year.
The Danish Girl is now available on Digital HD. It will come to Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand on March 1st.