Trace Lysette has been shining in supporting roles in projects like Transparent and Hustlers for years, so with Monica, it’s terrific to finally see her get a starring role.
In Monica, Lysette gets to use every tool at her disposal to bring to life a trans woman who has been estranged from her family for 20 years. When she learns her mother has dementia, she returns home to help take care of her, even if her mother doesn’t recognize her as her child.
It’s a powerful and moving performance in a beautiful film, and it’s especially relevant right now when the Right is trying to tear trans children apart from their families.
Lysette knows how important the role is, not just for herself, but for trans representation.
“I don't even know if I can remember if there was a time when a trans person was at the center [of a major film] as the title character. It's just very rare,” she says. “And so I knew the responsibility was going to be a lot, but I've had a pretty hard-fought won career to this point, and I knew if I got the shot to play her, I was ready.”
Luckily, she also had an amazing partner in the film, Patricia Clarkson, who plays Monica’s mother. Lysette says that Clarkson was “incredible” to work with and that watching her work “was just a masterclass.” They also immediately had a motherly connection from the first time they met at a party in LA. And that connection shows on screen.
The reception to Lysette’s performance has been overwhelming. When the film debuted at the Venice International Film Festival last year, Lysette, who was in the audience, received an 11-and-a-half-minute standing ovation, and reviews of the film have praised her as its muse.
However, despite all the praise, Lysette is still struggling to find regular work.
“On the one hand, it feels great and it feels validating. Of course, 11 and a half minutes of standing ovation at Venice of all places, the oldest film festival in the world, one of the most prestigious, it's definitely a seal of approval to my craft and that feels good,” she says. “Just sometimes I'm left wondering, ‘Well, does this translate to safety yet for me? Does this translate to success? Does this translate to having multiple jobs to choose from? Does this translate to me being able to, I don't know, start a production company with my friend and write more stories for marginalized folks?’”
“And those are the questions I was left with after Venice because I know what this would mean if this happened to a cis actress. I feel like she would've had several offers and scripts on the table as soon as she returned to the States, and that just didn't happen. And I can't help but wonder, is that the transphobia of it all.”
But Lysette is trying to remain optimistic and humble about it all.
“Once it gets out to the world, people will see that, ‘Okay, she is a serious actress. She's a leading lady. She's not just a trans actor. She is the leading lady and she does good work,’” Lysette hopes. “That's what I hope for most is that they take away from this that I do good work and that this film prompts them to maybe have conversations in their own lives with family members that they might need to reconnect with or conversations in their own lives about trans people and what we're capable of.”
Next up, Lysette would love to do a television series, and mentions one in particular she’d be a perfect addition to.
“I'm confident with drama and comedy. I would love to do a mixture of the two,” she says. I think White Lotus does that beautifully. So anything in that vein.”
With Lysette’s talent, and the new eyes on her, her future is brighter than ever.
Monica is out in theaters in New York and LA on May 12.