Next Big Thing

Hollywood's Next Big Thing: 'When We Rise' Transgender Star Ivory Aquino Fights to "Share My Story"

The Filipina actress, who plays her first transgender role in ABC's LGBTQ miniseries, says writer Dustin Lance Black didn't realize she was transgender during casting: "He was upset because he specifically wanted to see trans actresses," she says.

Ivory Aquino came out publicly as transgender during an emotional January press conference for ABC's upcoming LGBTQ miniseries When We Rise. "With how powerful the show is and its message of being united amidst diversity, I felt like it was important to share my story," says the Filipina actress, who makes her TV debut in Milk scribe Dustin Lance Black and director Gus Van Sant's ABC event series as real-life trans activist Cecilia Chung alongside Guy Pearce and Mary-Louise Parker.

Up until now, the theater actress, who came to the U.S. at age 18 and transitioned in her mid-20s, only had played cisgender or non-gender-specific characters, without most around her knowing she's trans. "Someone who's divorced would never meet you and say, 'Hi, I'm so-and-so and I'm divorced,' " explains the Berklee College of Music grad. "There never was a reason to talk about it." In fact, when Black watched Aquino's audition tape, he assumed she was cisgender (casting directors are forbidden by law from asking actors about their gender identity). "He was upset at [the] casting [team] because he specifically wanted to see trans actresses," says Aquino. The actress, who lives in New York with her dog, Chewie Bear, secured the part when she sent an email letting Black know she's trans.

In When We Rise, which premieres Feb. 27, Aquino saw a rare opportunity to play a trans character who didn't give in to stereotypes. While she won't knock Jeffrey Tambor's performance in Transparent, she's hopeful cisgender casting won't be necessary going forward. "There's so much trans talent out there," she says, "that there really is no reason to not cast trans actors in trans roles."



AGE 38
BORN Manila, Philippines
BIG BREAK When We Rise

This story first appeared in the Feb. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.