My Tales of the City

9.25.2012

By Olympia Dukakis

A reflection on playing one of the first transgender characters on television, Anna Madrigal.

I got the call that they wanted me to do it. I was almost in shock because I knew there were many actresses in America who wanted to play that part. I acknowledged that I knew nothing about it, so I started to read. There were a couple of biographies and autobiographies around -- not much at that time. I felt somewhat prepared, and then as the [filming] got closer, I thought, I don’t really know anything. I have got to talk to someone who has gone through this. I have to really find out what this is all about. [The producers] arranged a meeting between me and this [transgender] woman who was now a sex/gender therapist.

So I bought a couple of croissants and invited her over for breakfast. And in through the door walked a woman who was 6-foot-2 with enormous hands and the softest voice. We sat down and were chitchatting, and then I finally said to her, “Look, I have read something about what you’ve been through, and I have to ask you, what was it that you wanted or needed so deeply, so profoundly, that made it possible for you to first of all have the courage to do it and secondly to endure it?” And this is what she said to me: “All my life I yearned for the friendship of women.”

I cannot tell you… I instantly started to cry. I know what it is to want the friendship of women. I know how difficult sometimes that is to make happen, especially when you are competing heterosexually with women for men. There are all sorts of things that it brought out for me, and I understood something about Anna Madrigal and her relationship to other women that are around her.

For example, we were shooting a scene -- the first time I invite Maryann (played by Laura Linney) into my bedroom to talk. I say “Come on, let’s go over here. We can talk.” They wanted us to go over to the bureau and talk at the bureau. And I walked into the room and the bed had been dismantled and put to the side, and I said, “If we were gonna talk, we would sit on the bed and talk. We wouldn’t go over to the mirror and talk.” The guy stopped for a moment and then he made them assemble the bed. We did the scene on the bed, and I understood that scene was my wanting her friendship, that this is the thing Anna had not had and was looking for, always.

As told to Jason Lamphier

Watch a clip of Dukakis with Laura Linney. "If you're going to be a digenerate, you might as well be a lady about it," Mrs. Madrigal says.

 

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