‘Sense8’ actress Jamie Clayton on the finale, the Matt Bomer flap & casting trans roles

As the hactivist Nomi on Netflix’s Sense8, Jaime Clayton became one of the most recognizable faces from the cult series, which just wrapped up its run with a 2 1/2 hour finale. A San Diego native, Clayton recieved acclaim for her work on shows like Hung and Dirty Work before landing Sense8 .

The actress chatted with Queerty about the show’s conclusion, working actor who “happens to be transgender,” and Pride.

It’s great to be talking to you, I’m a huge fan of your work. I’ve watched the finale two times now. LOL

Thank you.

How did you feel about the finale? Did you know in advance how it would pan out?

Well yeah, we got the script before we went to go do it. We did a big table read in Berlin. All of the actors were there. So yeah, we read through the whole thing, and there was this big reveal where the last ten pages were in this sealed envelope. And it wasn’t until we’d read the whole script that everyone was given an envelope, and then we opened them at the same time, and then we read through [REDACTED…seriously, go watch the show].

When you were filming the rest of the show, did the Wachowskis or Mike Strazynski give you any indication—I’d read that they had your story arc completely mapped from the beginning.

No.

Really?

We knew nothing. Absolutely nothing.

That has to be exciting as an actor–just sort of going with it.

Yeah. I would imagine that even though they have the whole thing mapped out, once you’re doing it and you’re working with the actors and filming in the places you’re filming, I would imagine that the story evolved. So I don’t know what they had in mind originally, or if that changed while we were all working together. But the finale we did—I think it’s an amazing thing that we got the opportunity to do it, and I really love the way that it turned out. So I hope that everyone out there does too.

It sounds like you really approved of the way the Nomi/Amanita relationship played out, which I always felt was the emotional anchor of the series. What was it like filming those scenes?

It was pure bliss. Working with Freema (Freema Agyeman, who plays Amanita) was one of the greatest experiences of my career. I’m so lucky that we became such great friends and that we had such great chemistry on screen together, which is why I think the relationship works so well, and why people, you know, stand us so hard—because we really do honestly love each other. And I’m glad you feel that way about the relationship, because I sort of, even though I didn’t really know it while we were filming Season 1, I thought “wow, they have the healthiest relationship of anyone on this show, and they’re queer, interracial and trans.” I thought that was really cool that it was written this way, so other queer people can be like “yes, hello, we’re not all victims! We’re not all bad and unlovable.” Which is what we’re taught.

You worked with directors Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), James McTeigue (V for Vendetta), and of course the Wachowskis. And Lana came back to do the finale. I know you’ve said in previous interviews that part of the reason you wanted to do the show was that it meant you got to work with two directors who also happen to be transgender women. So, for you as an actor, what kind of nuance and sensitivity did that add to the direction as opposed to some of the other projects you’ve done, or the ways you’ve seen transgender characters represented?

Yeah. Lily wasn’t out when we were doing Season 1…

Oh wow, ok.

And then she didn’t come back to do Season 2 because she was focused on herself and her transition. Which I completely understand. I mean, obviously, you’ve gotta take a minute. Transitioning is hard to do on the road. But yeah—it helped, just in the sense that I was the only out queer member of the entire cast. So even though it was ethnically diverse, there’s like—no one says “hey, I’m gay” or “hey, I’m trans.” So I did feel alone in that respect. So having another trans person there was nice because there is that thing of, I have my white privilege. I have my pretty privilege. I have my passing privilege, but at the end of the day, I’m still trans. And there are spaces that I walk into that I don’t feel safe in. And with all the traveling we were doing, and with all these new environments, there were defiantly moments when it would have been nice to have a sister there, as far as another actor. But it definitely helped to have someone behind the camera.

Related: ‘Sense8’ lowers the curtain, leaving behind a powerful buried queer metaphor

There’s a lot of conversation recently about trans representation in the media, and if it’s ever in good taste to cast a cisgender actor in a transgender role. This is a subject which is very dear to you. And I know in the past—a couple of years ago there was an issue with Matt Bomer on Twitter. [Clayton criticized the casing of Bomer in a transgender role. Bomer responded by blocking her on Twitter. He later unblocked her.] And obviously, views on the issue have evolved, even within the queer community. So let me ask you directly then, is it possible for a cisgender actor to play a transgender character with respect?

Listen, I’ve said this before, and my answer has always never shifted. From the minute I started talking about this, my answer never changed. I believe that as actors, everyone should be given the opportunity to play any kind of character. As an actor myself, I wanted to be given the opportunity to play all different kinds of actors. The issue isn’t that. The issue is: actors who identify as trans, such as myself, were not even allowed in the room, in the casting room.

Oh my lord.

That’s where the problem is. It’s that they don’t even audition us. And until we can get in the room, you know what I mean? The director of Dallas Buyers Club [Jean-Mark Valley, who, when asked about auditioning transgender actors for Jared Leto’s role as a trans woman, said ‘”Never. Is there any transgender actor? To my knowledge — I don’t know one. I didn’t even think about it.”]—one of the most alarming things that came out of his mouth that I’ll never forget was that he didn’t know actors who are trans even existed. That was a while ago, and so, of course, it’s shifted. And now there’s like Pose, which is breaking so many barriers. They have trans people in the writer’s room, and behind the cameras, and they’re producing. And on Transparent, they have trans people on the payroll, and they have them directing, and they have them in catering. That’s the whole thing—so going back to Sense8, as great as it was, I was still very alone.

Yeah.

But as far as actors playing roles, I’m an actor. I want to be able to play all kinds of different characters. But until journalists stop referring to me, and to my fellow actors who identify as trans as “trans-actors.” I mean, you don’t say “black actress.” Reese Witherspoon isn’t a “blond actress.” You don’t say “white actress.” I’m not a trans actress, I’m just an actress. And it’s just this label, I think, when producers and directors see, they think “oh, well she can’t play this character.” Why can’t I be a Bond girl? Why can’t I be one of Charlie’s Angels? Why can’t I just be a doctor on a procedural who isn’t trans? Like, why? That’s the issue. I want everyone to be able to play any kind of a role they want. But until trans people are allowed to audition for all the parts, I don’t think anyone should be playing trans parts except people who identify as trans. Because we’re not allowed to play any of the other parts, you know?

Can I just tell you, by the way, that as a journalist and a queer person who knows many actors who happen to be transgender, no one has ever quite articulated it as well as you just did?

Thank you! [squeals] You should give it its own feature. [laughs]

Did you ever talk to Matt Bomer directly?

No. I mean, I didn’t see a need to. It wasn’t about me and him, it was about the industry and the community. I didn’t need to talk to him, I think he needed to talk to the community. I was just saying something that was on a lot of people’s minds. And the funny thing is—not to get myself in more hot water—but that tweet, I actually called out him and Michelle Rodriguez. But everyone, for some reason, just focused on the Matt Bomer thing. And that’s how I feel. And I’m glad you said I put it eloquently. I’m glad I’ve been able to put it in a way that’s like “oh, that’s what it is.”

Right.

It’s not about people playing parts, it’s about us being allowed to play parts.

So what’s next for you, after Sense8? What other projects do you have lined up?

Well, it’s interesting, piggybacking off of what we were just talking about I’m really lucky. I’m grateful. I’m really happy that I’m being recognized in the industry for parts that aren’t just trans. And I’ve been auditioning a lot, and it’s a very interesting process. I didn’t know that it would happen, or I didn’t know that it would happen so quickly. And it is happening, and I’m really grateful. And I’ve got a lot of casting directors who are on my side, and that’s how it’s got to start. It’s got to start with producers, directors, casting directors pushing the producers, “you should consider this actor, because she does have this body of work, and she’s really talented, and she can play the part.” It’s about opening those minds so they can open doors. So I’m really lucky. I can’t talk about anything just yet, but the more doors that I can open for me, the more doors I can open for other actors that identify as trans as well. It’s got to start somewhere.

Is there any chance that we’re going to get some more Sense8 in the future? I felt like the finale was pretty final, but there’s always a way…

Yeah, it’s over.

Darn.

Well, it’s funny, Brian [Brian J. Smith, who plays Will on the show] actually, we were all doing interviews in Brazil last week. We were all in San Paolo, and they had a big premiere there and the same question came up, and Brian just straight up said “No, it’s over.” So I’m just reiterating what he said, and he’s very close with Lana. So when he said it, I took it as gospel.

Well, hopefully, that means we’ll get great work from all of you in the future.

And it is disappointing, but the amazing thing about a platform like Netflix is that it’s online forever. It’s going to achieve cult status. I think this will live for forever, and I think people will keep rewatching it. I heard a statistic once that we were the most rewatched show in Netflix history. And I’m, again, I’m out and I did the show, and I’m out here on the streets. Out, queer, proud, showing the world that it’s ok, we all belong here.

Thanks, and happy Pride.

Vivia la Queerty! Happy Pride!

h/t: Queerty