Arts

Ellie Desautels talks LGBTQ+ representation in television

Ellie Desautels is the second non-binary actor to ever be cast in a prime time television show. They recently starred in the NBC show Rise, which debuted in March 2018. The shows centers on a high school drama department that is on the verge of being shut down. While the show feels similar to Glee, it’s completely original in its own way. On the show, Desautels played a transgender male named Michael.

Ellie has been vocal about their struggle to find work since Rise ended. The fact that more LGBTQ+ actors are not often cast in prime time TV roles still surprises me. Especially in a time that demands inclusivity, why wouldn’t directors want to show more diversity in their cast? I had the absolute honor of interviewing Desautels to get their input on this question, and to discuss why there is still so little representation of non-binary people cast for TV and movie roles.

TMW: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What kinds of things do you like to do? What inspires you?

ED: I love to spend time in nature. Exploring nature and going on adventures is one thing I love just as much as acting. I also love to watch movies and shows, not just as a form of entertainment but also for learning purposes. I enjoy paying close attention to the choices actors make. I learn a lot by watching.

TMW: I was a really big fan of Rise and was pretty heartbroken when I heard it was cancelled. I remember seeing on your Instagram story once how fondly you hold those memories of filming the show. Did you have a favorite scene or a favorite episode? What was the best part about working on the show?

ED: Oh man, I miss the show so much. It’s a huge shame we didn’t get to continue telling our stories. One of my favorite scenes to shoot was the fight scene in the pizza place with Sasha’s boyfriend. I got to push a stunt double into sugar glass. It was really awesome to see the window after I had broken it. And the physical aspect of the scene was super tiring but in the moment I was so full of energy. It was quite an experience. But I cherished every moment I got to do a scene. Any scene. The hardest scene to shoot was the scene with Sasha in her trailer home. It was long and the director kept giving us notes and having us do the scene in various different tones. It was hard to go through so many conflicting emotions in one night and I left that day feeling very confused about my work. But when it aired, it all made sense. They picked some amazing shots, and that scene remains one of my favorites of all time. It came out perfect.

The best part of working on Rise was working on Rise. The whole experience was incredible. Everyone was 100% motivated and passionate about what we were creating. I will always remember the long hours and late night shoots because there was nowhere else I wanted to be. Every hour spent rehearsing new songs and learning choreography was exhausting and exhilarating. I will always remember the short-hour days and how I itched to stay on set because I just didn’t want my day to be done. I loved every moment. I loved it.

TMW: Why do you think that the acting industry is so hesitant to hire actors that are LGBTQ+?

ED: Hollywood seems to cater to homophobic and transphobic audiences. It all comes down to money. Any hesitation comes from the false idea that hiring LGBTQ+ actors makes a show less successful. This then influences professionals in the industry to devalue LGBTQ+ actors, and, in turn, we get less opportunities. But we know that hiring minority actors to play minority characters gives a production authenticity. And we’ve seen that hiring LGBTQ+ actors can reap financial benefits. GLAAD puts out reports every year showing the successes of casting LGBTQ+ actors in films and tv shows. We are valuable actors and we’re breaking the system that makes people think otherwise.

TMW: Following on that last question, do you think that the film industry will ever reach a point where there won’t be any hesitation in hiring LGBTQ+ actors?

ED: As long as GLAAD keeps doing amazing work in the media, making sure LGBTQ+ people are represented accurately and appropriately, I’m sure there will be a point when LGBTQ+ actors are valued equally in Hollywood. And as long as LGBTQ+ actors continue to put their names and faces out there, it will encourage youth to follow their dreams and become the change our society needs in order for the community to be valued equally in all aspects of life.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) is a non-governmental media outlet that, as Desautels stated, puts out reports that show the importance of casting LGBTQ+ actors. They also do work to promote the importance of casting transgender and nonbinary actors. Their motto is “to promote understanding, increase acceptance, and advance equality.”

This interview only confirmed the problems I have seen in the television industry, which is still seriously lacking when it comes to inclusivity, and perfectly capable LGBTQ+ actors are still denied roles. There’s so much that must be done for equality in prime time television. The most I can hope is that the popularity of shows with LGBTQ+ actors will become clear to the television industry. Ultimately, I hope that the unnecessary fear of hiring those actors will no longer exist, because hiring LGBTQ+ actors doesn’t mean that the show will be less successful.

Rise aired ten episodes on NBC for one season. It was not renewed for another season. However, it is available on Amazon for $2.99 per episode or $24.99 for the entire season.

Contributing writer.

November 29, 2018

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