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Sense8 Star Jamie Clayton's Mission to Eliminate Labels

Sense8 Star Jamie Clayton's Mission to Eliminate Labels

Jamie Clayton
Photography: Austin Hargrave

"The only thing that should go before ‘actress’ is ‘award-winning.'"

For Jamie Clayton, sex scenes are just another day at the office. She's filmed two involving multiple cast members for Netflix's Sense8, and has no qualms about getting down to business. Still, the simulated romps aren't without drawbacks, namely all the sweat. "The crew is there, and you've got these patches on, and the boys have socks on," she says, laughing. "And then a patch falls off and you're like, 'Ughh!'"

Related | Gallery: Sense8 Star Jamie Clayton

Errant merkins aside, Clayton is thrilled to return for season two of the mind-bending series, which follows the lives of eight people across the world who are connected telepathically and must battle the dark forces that seek to capture them. Created by Hollywood power siblings Lana and Lilly Wachowski (TheMatrix) and J. Michael Straczynski (WorldWarZ), the show poignantly underscores the universality of human nature through a unique sci-fi twist: These wildly diverse "sensates" are able to experience each other's emotions. Clayton plays Nomi Marks, a San Francisco hacker who helps her fellow sensates by using her astonishing technical expertise.

Clayton is striking in person, with a lithe frame and the perfectly tousled locks of an off-duty model. She's kinetic and charming, her voice a caffeinated alto that moves a mile a minute, punctuated by rapid staccato laughter. She's wearing skinny jeans, a striped blazer, and a T-shirt that reads winona. Judd or Ryder? "It's Ryder," Clayton says. "I've been obsessed with her forever, since Mermaids. I've seen Heathers about 127 times. She's perfect."

The actress transforms to super-fan when talking about Ryder, but if her career continues on its current bold and offbeat trajectory, we may one day see the word jamie emblazoned on a tee. Sense8 has given Clayton, who previously appeared in HBO's Hung, a big career boost. Like Nomi, Clayton is trans, and she fought for more than a year to play the character, besting competition from around the globe.


"They cast internationally for the role because Lana wanted to make sure someone who identified as trans got the part," she says. "There is a lot in the show written from Lana's personal experiences, so it was important that she got the right actor."

Because it was created by a fellow trans woman, Clayton says the role possesses a depth that many offered to her have lacked. "The biggest thing for me was to be able to play a character who's trans, but have the story have nothing to do with the fact that she's trans," she explains. "They've moved past that with their storytelling, which is really great."

It's a shift Clayton hopes the culture at large will make. In mainstream media, trans talent is often defined solely by gender, which frustrates her. "Putting a label in front of someone's job title with their gender or race -- that's the opposite of understanding who that person is," Clayton says. "People want to use 'trans actress' as a disclaimer. It's like saying 'black actress.' You don't say that anymore. The only thing that should go before 'actress' is 'award-winning.' "

This sentiment is also one of the core themes of Sense8, and it's succinctly expressed by Nomi in the show's new second season: "Labels," she says, "are the opposite of understanding."

Says Clayton, "What I've learned most from traveling [while shooting Sense8] is that humans are all the same. Everybody gets married or mourns the loss of a loved one, but it just looks different. A wedding in India is very different than a wedding here, but it's still a wedding. It's because it looks different that people get scared. They try to label it because they don't understand it."

Photography: Austin Hargrave

Hair: Ananda Tuyes

Makeup: Michelle Diaz

Styling by Mark-Paul Barro

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