If you don't know the name Trace Lysette, it's time you got familiar. The actress is slowly becoming one of the hot "it" girls in the industry, having turned a guest appearance on an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in 2013, which made her one of the first trans people to appear in a non trans speaking role on primetime television, into notable roles on Transparent, Pose, and the upcoming Hustlers film. Before that, you can catch her tonight in the second episode of Oscar-winner Tarell Alvin McCraney's television debut, David Makes Man, a clip of which we're exclusively releasing below.
The hour-long "lyrical drama" follows a 14-year-old prodigy named David from the projects (Akili McDowell), who is haunted by the death of his closest friend. Bussed out of his community to a mostly white school, David is forced to don two personas: one to navigate the streets that raised him and another to succeed in the education system that may offer him a way out. Set in South Florida, it also stars Alana Arenas, Isaiah Johnson, Travis Coles, and icon Phylicia Rashad.
Lysette plays Femi, who comes into David's life for a brief moment in an empty parking lot as he waits for the bus. Ahead of tonight's episode, Out spoke with her briefly about the role:
Who is Femi to David?
Femi is a guiding light, a new friend. I'm sure there's a lot to process in David's mind during that scene in the parking lot. He'd had quite the day and was pretty exhausted when he comes across her drinking that water he desperately needed. I think the word that applies best is "nurturing." In this episode, she is a guide on his journey and she looks out for him.
What drew you to the role?
I was drawn to Femi because she hit extremely close to home for me. I'm reminded of the things I went through in my 20s in order to provide for myself. She's been hardened by life, but hasn't lost her compassion.
I think I was also struck by her tough love and her protective nature. You can see this in the way she looks out for her people. You can tell Femi has a story to tell and has seen many things through a unique lens that most people will never have the chance to look through. And the writing was just so beautiful. Tarell is so brilliant.
You continue to represent for the community being an out trans actress. What are your thoughts on this moment we're in?
It's everything. It teaches our next generation their worth by seeing themselves. Being trans is just another thread in the fabric of humanity. We are not new. We have been here since the beginning of time. It's just that now we are finally starting to see ourselves portrayed in more favorable ways than in the past. When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s all we had were these traumatizing depictions, rarely, if ever, played by a trans actor. Or in the off chance you actually saw a trans person on TV, it was usually [on] Jerry Springer or [with] Maury Povich lining a bunch of trans women up on a stage in bikinis and having the audience guess about their assigned birth and misgender them. It's important to see us as whole human beings, and characters like Femi help America get to know us.