Jacob Tobia didn't know what to expect. On October 21, Tobia was thrust into the She-Ra fandom after it was announced that they would be joining the season 4 cast as the non-binary shapeshifter Double Trouble. "I was like, Oh my gosh, these are my people!" Tobia tells Out. "It's really special to be part of a franchise that has a fandom that is so kind and enthusiastic and supportive and fun and down for a good time."
Created by Noelle Stevenson (Lumberjanes, Nimona), She-Ra and The Princesses of Power is a feminist and queer reboot of the 1980s cartoon about a super-powered princess defending her planet. The Netflix show has quickly developed a fervent fan base who love interacting with the shows creators and stars online. "I've been living my best life on Twitter for the past week," Tobia says with a laugh, "And I rarely enjoy Twitter!"
Since the announcement, the actor, writer and nonbinary activist has been tweeting out fake spoilers to the fandom and playing other mischievous tricks. "Doing a little Double Trouble, IRL," they say. "[The fans on Twitter] were like, 'wait, is Jacob just cosplaying as Double Trouble online? Are they one of us?' And I think that's exactly what's happening."
Outspoke with Jacob Tobia about relating to Double Trouble, what to expect in the upcoming season, and what it means to them to play a canonically nonbinary character.
I've loved seeing how enthusiastic you've been about playing this role. What's got you so excited?
I grew up on a lot of animation and was a total nerd as a kid and still am today. So being able to voice a character like this it really is a dream come true. It's one of those things where my inner seven-year-old has been screaming ecstatically nonstop for the past two weeks.
As actors, a lot of times it's easy to forget the significance of what you're doing. The overall experience of being nonbinary in the industry is not necessarily a positive or or awesome one, especially when it comes to casting and auditioning. So I want to celebrate the thing that I booked that I'm most excited about and that is super authentic to me, where I don't even have to change my gender in order to perform it.
As a nonbinary person, how does it feel playing a shapeshifting character who can change their body to look however they want to whenever they want to?
When people are like, "Oh, what's your gender identity?," nonbinary is what I name because it's like shorthand, you know what I mean? But when I was growing up, particularly how my relationship to my body works, my dream identity would be shapeshifter. I would love to be able to physically change my body. Just live in the world as different genders, whatever I wanted to, physically as well as emotionally.
It's really cool to play a character with the skill set that trans and nonbinary folks have: navigating the world and shaping how we're putting on ourselves often to survive or to get by. It's really a survival skill for folks in the trans and nonbinary community, to shapeshift and blend in to sort of be as you need to be, when you need to be it for your safety.
Double Trouble has taken that survival skill and turned it on its head into a superpower -- into something magical that really shakes the foundation of an entire world. I wish I could shapeshift in real life physically, although I think I'm pretty good at shapeshifting, sartorially and emotionally already. So, you know, it's not too far off base.
What does that mean for you to you to be able to play this character who's going to represent so many people for the first time?
I think it's not that people are getting represented for the first time, per se, but that the industry kind of imposes this translucence on gender nonconforming people and characters in animation. There've been queer characters in animation for decades; Queer and trans people have been in animation and the fantasy worlds and sc-fi worlds and been key creators in those worlds for a very long time.
If people ask me the first nonbinary character that I remember seeing and loving, I'm like, 'well, it was Gandalf.' Gandalf started out in one sort of presentation and then had a big fight with the Balrog in Moria and fell into the pit and they came back as Gandalf the White and got a makeover. They were more femme and more chic with more crystals. And then came back with more power to save Middle Earth - that's my gender basically.
What I think is really exciting about Double Trouble is that it's not coded anymore. It's explicit, it's not, 'Oh, you could think of them as genderless but we don't say anything about it.' They use gender neutral pronouns and establish canonically the character is nonbinary and allow people to feel seen in a different way.
The thing I love most about Double Trouble is that they are an incredibly powerful character both in terms of what they do in season four but also in terms of who they are by nature. Double Trouble is scared of nobody, Double Trouble will tell off anyone and everyone and pretty much does. The thing I love about that is that it mirrors the reality for so many nonbinary and trans people that I know in my life.
Nonbinary and trans people are some of the most powerful and most fearless people that I know. We have the power to tell truth to power in a way that is so beautiful. Double Trouble's strength and determination and fearlessness really mirrors what I see when I look at the hearts and the spirits of the queer trans people that I know in my life.
Aside from She-Ra, what are you looking forward to coming up soon?
I put out my first book back in March, it's called Sissy: A Coming of Gender Story, and we're going to have some more stuff with that soon. Nothing I can officially announce, but that is certainly not a concluded project.
Other than that, Im' just auditioning my pants off for a lot of other stuff because I think that it's one thing to have nonbinary characters in animation and it's another thing to have visibly gender nonconforming and visibly nonbinary characters in front of the camera too. I think those are equally important things. So, you know, I'm just hustling my little pants off!
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Season 4 premieres tomorrow, November 5 on Netflix.
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