Trace Lysette hopes «Monica» will open doors for the marginalized

After more than a decade as a working actor, Trace Lysette has had her share of projects she’s been attached to that just never saw the light of day. These failed efforts were painful enough that she cleverly trained herself not to worry about the gig until the cameras actually started rolling. In 2016, the «Transparent» veteran was cast in the title role of Andrea Pallaoro’s riveting drama «Monica,» and Lysette says she was justifiably a little skeptical that this rare leading role for a trans woman would actually happen. That is until the first day of production.

«Maybe I felt a little relief because I saw how passionate the crew was,» says Lysette. “I saw how good the cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi was. I saw that he was filming. Well, I knew they were, but to actually be there and experience it all, you can get a sense of the quality of what the product is going to be.»

Beautifully shot on a budget of just $1.7 million, “Monica” centers on a trans woman who returns to her hometown to spend time with her ailing mother (Patricia Clarkson). Monica hasn’t set foot in her childhood home in many years, and it’s unclear whether her mother, who suffers from a number of debilitating conditions, even realizes who she is (or used to be). Lysette, a Kentucky native, found the story groundbreaking.

«I just thought there was so much to explore and sink my teeth into as an actor,» says Lysette. «(I would) never have a chance to lead or show the world what I can do in terms of my acting skills. I was excited. That being said, I had ideas about the script. Andrea was really, really great about wanting to work with me to work together and she wanted my thoughts, not just my energy as an actor.»

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The film had its world premiere at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival in competition, with Lysette earning rave reviews from critics around the world. One scene in the film that showcases her impressive talent finds Monica heading back to the West Coast after deciding the situation with her family is too uncomfortable. In an extended one-shot, Lysette intimately conveys Monica’s fear, grief, and frustration as she begins to break down emotionally during the drive. The entire sequence was challenging on several levels.

“When they were setting up, they shot and I saw the orange cone down the road and then the technical side of that scene where I would have to turn the car onto the open road – (they) didn’t really have any of the roads. blocked – and then turn on that road,” says Lysette. «I thought, ‘Okay, I should do all that and then be in the head of what Monica is going through.’ And so I tried not to think because as an actor I knew it was going to be a big blow and I really surprised myself that day because it was the first shot we used in the film.’

A woman leans against her car at a gas station "Monica."

Trace Lysette stars in «Monica».

(IFC Films)

Acquired by IFC Films and released in theaters in May, “Monica” may not have been a huge hit, but it has slowly caught fire with viewers who discovered it on digital download services. Lysette says the response she received was «quite intense.» Especially at a time when many states have passed anti-trans laws just to score political points with conservative voters.

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«The letters I get from trans people all over the country and sometimes overseas through social media affirm me in ways that help me get up in the morning,» says Lysette. “They shared with me how this film made them feel seen and hopeful and like, ‘Oh, maybe our stories will be told. Maybe they’ll make room for us. Perhaps more opportunities are on the horizon. Maybe one day they won’t legislate our bodies the way they are right now.”

For many actors, recognition from their peers or critics is usually the cherry on top of a successful theater performance. For Lysette, the stakes are much higher. In her eyes, any potential nomination means survival.

«It means I probably wouldn’t have to worry as much about surviving the gig,» says Lysette. “I think nominations like that cement you in this industry because it’s such a volatile and complicated industry for minorities and it would mean so much more to my community as a whole because then we can all dream a little bit. larger.»

As her journey continues, Lysette says she intends to use whatever reach she has to help her trans siblings and other marginalized groups tell more stories that humanize people and reflect the world.

«When I let myself dream big, it’s a dream,» says Lysette. «But I also have to be realistic and know that we’re up against big money and we’re up against resources that we just don’t have.» And I just hope the art speaks for itself.”

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