In one of the best scenes in Showtime's Billions, Asia Kate Dillon's character, a highly adept new intern at a hedge fund that's under observation from the New York Attorney General, walks into the CEO's office to reveal the discovery of surveillance tactics used by a rival firm, announcing, "Hello, I'm Taylor. My pronouns are they, theirs, and them." It's a moment met with a shrug, but one with serious heft. Dillon, an Ithaca, N.Y., native who will also return to play the skinhead Brandy on the new season of Orange Is the New Black in June, identifies as gender-nonbinary, just like their Billions character, marking the first time a gender-nonbinary person has been cast in a major TV series.
"I felt ambiguous about my gender identity since I was very young, before I had words to put to the feeling," says Dillon. Actors often have to fill their character's shoes, but in this case it was the opposite. The showrunners auditioned talent from all over the spectrum, but when Dillon read for the part they knew they'd found their Taylor. "Ultimately, they wanted to cast the best actor for the part," Dillon says, "and it happened to be me, and I happened to be non-binary." Meanwhile, the role led to a process of self-discovery for Dillon: "I never had the exact words to describe it before--the realization that sex is assigned at birth and that it could be separate from my gender identity, which I always felt was fluid and on the spectrum."
Now the 32-year-old actor, who studied at New York's American Musical and Dramatic Academy, is taking their platform to greater heights. They're an outspoken activist for Black Lives Matter (Dillon says their mother has always been a "social justice underdog champion;" she had a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. in their house and frequently listened to his "I Have a Dream" speech while Dillon was growing up). Meanwhile, Showtime recently submitted Dillon's name for Emmy consideration, prompting Dillon to send a letter to the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to question the binary categories in place. "This visibility is relatively new, and language is key," Dillon says. "It's really important that we get it right."