When director Tom Hooper started filming “The Danish Girl,” the story of trans pioneer Lili Elbe that’s out this month on DVD, Blu-ray and On Demand, he knew he wanted to use trans actors in cis-gendered roles throughout the movie.
“I feel there’s not an equality of opportunity for trans actors,” the Academy Award-winning director said. “I wanted to reach out to the trans community.”
Through a series of open casting calls, trans actors Jake Graf and Rebecca Root were cast in small cis-gendered roles in the movie and a number of trans actors were cast as extras in the party scenes. Graf plays Henri, a friend of art dealer Hans Axgil (Matthias Schoenaerts), and Root plays one of the nurses tending to Lili after her operations.
“It was great to have Rebekah and Jake play cis-gendered roles which I think makes the whole thing quite interesting,” Hooper says. “They ended up becoming people we could go to for advice and Eddie and Alicia talked to them a lot. And luckily Jake is fluent in French.”
Both actors had a great time shooting their scenes. Graf’s scene was more light-hearted, a party introducing Gerda’s art to Parisian audiences.
“Matthias was hilarious, constantly cracking jokes on set, yet able to switch back into character at a second’s notice,” Graf says. “We improvised a whole scene together in French, which sadly got cut.”
More importantly, it was Schoenaerts who named the character Henri, which Graf says, “is infinitely better in the credits than ‘man on stairs.’”
Both Graf and Root were part of the delegation representing the movie “The Danish Girl” and the television show “Transparent”at the White House for the Champions of Change event last November. The event marked Transgender Day of Remembrance and honored the work of nine LGBT artists from across the country.
“It was just wonderful to see that public acknowledgement from the president’s office,” Root says. “It was brilliant.”
Graf and Root have been busy since “The Danish Girl” wrapped. Graf, an award-winning director, is promoting his fourth film, a short called “Dawn.” He describes it as a “very sweet tale about unconditional acceptance and unexpected connection, all shot at dawn in London.” The film will premiere at BFI Flare (the London LGBT film festival) this month and a U.S. premiere has been confirmed for June. He’s also writing a web series called “Spectrum East” about the lives and loves of a group of mostly queer East Londoners (he plays one of the male leads) and he’s starting work on his first feature film.
Graf’s YouTube channel is Jakerson55; his Twitter handle is @JakeGraf1.
Root is now filming season two of the ground-breaking BBC Two television series “Boy Meets Girl.”
The show is the result of the Trans Comedy Award, a 2013 BBC talent search for scripts with positive portrayals off trans characters. The award-winning script by Elliott Kerrigan has become the first BBC comedy to prominently feature transgender issues and to star a transgender actor. Root plays Judy, a 40-year old trans woman who becomes involved with a younger man. The series has won rave reviews for dealing with complex social and personal issues with humor and compassion.
More information on Root, including her poetry and her work as a voice coach for transgender people, can be found at rebeccaroot.co.uk.
Both actors are proud to have been part of the trail-blazing movie. Graf has already seen the movie changing hearts and minds.
“I have heard countless first-hand accounts of estranged parents tentatively going to see the film, and sheepishly reaching out to their trans children, with a new found understanding, and a desire to build bridges,” he says. “I feel hugely privileged to have been even a small part of it.”
“I think people will see this as a landmark film,” Root says. “It’s an important part of the mosaic in the trans conversation really coming into the public consciousness. It might sound corny, but I think it really reminds us of the power of movies to open our eyes.”