Typically, when you think of characterizations of transgender characters in film, you most often come up with a list of tragedies. Films like Boys Don’t Cry and Dallas Buyers Club have done an excellent job at showcasing the trials and tribulations a trans person might go through over the course of their life. Indeed, both of those movies, being inspired by true stories, tend to go to darker places, leaving the viewer with an idea of life as a transgender individual as a series of one hellish obstacle after another in the journey towards self-actualization; if those stories are to be believed, that journey usually meets a horrifyingly tragic ending.
While it’s true that the struggle of transgender individuals is often rocked by tragedy and prejudice—one need only to look at the occurrence of trans murder or trans suicide to get that picture—as with everything in life, it doesn’t always have an unhappy ending. Boy Meets Girl, the latest film from writer director Eric Schaeffer (If Lucy Fell and After Fall, Winter), shows a different side of life as a trans individual living in Kentucky.
The film, out now on DVD, earned acclaim last year while on the festival circuit, and currently holds a respectable 85% on Rotten Tomatoes. While much can be said about the writing and directing of Schaeffer, the positive response to the movie is, in no small part, due to the performance by first time actress, Michelle Hendley. Herself a transgender female, Hendley brings an emotional nuance and realism to the film that’s all at once captivating and charming and showcases a more positive perspective on the life of a trans person in a coming of age story about a girl looking for love.
I recently had the chance to speak with Hendley about her experiences on the film and her new role as a sort of spokesperson for the transgender community, as well as her future ambitions as an actress. Boy Meets Girl is currently out on VOD and DVD, and is well worth the watch for fans of indie films and romantic comedies.
James Roberts: I was honestly absolutely shocked to discover that not only was this first role in a movie but that you don’t have any experience with acting at all. How was that for you? Was that intimidating?
Michelle Hendley: It’s definitely intimidating, but I’ll tell you this: The most intimidating part wasn’t so much first time acting, but representing the trans community in a positive and authentic way. I was way more concerned about not coming off as an asshole than I was about my acting ability. [laughs]
To that end, how much input did you have with the script to help [director] Eric [Schaeffer] achieve that realism?
It was very important to him that we kept this story authentic and that this was something could resonate with trans people. So he double checked practically every scene with me, just to make sure that there weren’t any lines that read as inaccurate or that might come off as insensitive. In that way, I had input. But overall, he wrote it. It’s his idea [and] his story, for sure.
How much was the character of Ricky an extension of your natural self? Did you bring your own experiences into that or did you have to create her?
She’s definitely not 100% me, but being my first acting experience I did rely heavily on my own experiences as a trans woman to build Ricky’s character. Her struggles with hormones and with dating, that’s all something I can totally relate with and it was easy for me to bring out of her. But she’s a much more hardened person than I am; she had a little more darkness in her past. So it was that part of her that I had to really figure out and think about and convey as a first time actress.
How were your co-stars? Were they supportive? Offer you a lot of help?
Oh yeah. They were amazing. Even today we’re still friends and we’ll catch up on social media. They were invaluable. Behind the scenes they were giving me tips on how to approach a scene, how to read a line, how to keep each take fresh. Especially Alexandra [Turshen], who played Francesca. I stayed with her two weeks before we shot the movie and she was an amazing help.
I was wondering what your relationship was with them in the real world because everything felt so natural and real watching you. It really seemed like especially Ricky and Robby [played by Michael Welch] had actually known each other for a while. Did that click immediately?
Yeah, we all got along super well. Being my first time, I wasn’t aware that this wasn’t like a normal thing, for actors to have such good chemistry on and off screen. But they were all so easy to work with. Michael, who played Robby, is just the easiest, easy going, sweet, genuine person you’ll ever meet.
I know you were discovered by Eric thanks to your vlog but was it easier for you to transition to film, do you think, because of your experience YouTubing?
I think so. You know I feel silly saying it because those blogs really are just me kind of talking at my camera, or my laptop, or just whining about my day. I would say it did prepare me to be more comfortable in front of a camera.
Did you have dreams as a little girl to want to be an actress or was this something that was even on your radar as a possibility?
Don’t all kids kind of hope that they’ll be a big, famous actress or pop star? [laughs] I’ve always been a creative person, I’ve always kind of spent my time in the arts growing up. But I never did imagine myself actually being an actress or putting myself in the spotlight like that.
With that in mind, how does it feel to be getting the kinds of acclaim you’ve been getting? I know you were getting a lot of positive press and reviews while the film was on the festival circuit last year.
It was incredible and humbling and unreal. It’s kind of exciting to discover this sort of part of myself that I had not ever explored before. I really look forward to seeing what I can do as an actress, because apparently I have some ability. [laughs]
So this is something that you’re planning on continuing? It wasn’t just a one-off thing?
No definitely. I’m actually working with an agency right now and I’ll be moving out to New York here in a couple of months to try it out. To do the damn thing.
Are you looking at stage or film or TV? What are your goals as a new actress?
Preferably film and television. A few people have asked me about theater and I’m still too much of a big baby to do that. [laughs] At least with film and TV you can get a couple of takes and they can edit out your awkward moments. But in front of a live audience, you can’t really mess up.
What are you looking for when you’re fielding potential roles and looking at scripts?
Right now, I’m definitely being approached with trans roles, specifically, and I’m perfectly fine and happy to take those roles. I just really hope I don’t get typecast as “the trans girl.” I would like to think that I have the ability to play just the girl character who’s backstory isn’t necessarily trans. I’m really just taking whatever I can get. I don’t know what I can do and I don’t know what is really out there. So I’m taking whatever comes my way.
So thanks to this role, you’ve kind of been thrust into the spotlight as a transgendered role model. How do you feel about this? Is that a weird position to be in, after being just a small town Missouri girl?
You know, with my YouTube page, I did have some followers and some people who saw me as a representative for the community, but this movie has blown up a hundred times. It’s really amazing and, like I said earlier, humbling. I am so happy to represent my community. For as long as they feel that I’m a positive representation for them, I’m happy to facilitate that. But it is a big responsibility. You don’t want to misrepresent people. The trans community has such a broad spectrum of individuals. You know, I’m worried about excluding people or coming off like an asshole. I want to make sure that everything that I say comes from a good place. But to keep it short and simple, I’m happy to be a representative.
What do you think a movie like Boy Meets Girl adds to the conversation regarding transgendered individuals?
It brings a different perspective to audiences. We’ve seen a few representations as trans characters in film, but they’re normally tragic stories and usually not with happy endings for the trans characters. Which is not to say that that’s inaccurate [to] real life trans experiences, but I want people to know that we are not just these “freaks” who have to struggle in the streets and that we can come from loving communities and live relatively normal lives. I think if we see more of that the trans community can be normalized into everyday society and we won’t be sort of this spectacle or this headline on tabloids.