NEW YORK (Reuters) - When director Sean Baker was looking for transgender women to appear in his indie movie “Tangerine,” he did not turn to a traditional talent agency. Instead, he found them through a Hollywood LGBT center.
As the producers of daytime CBS soap “The Bold and the Beautiful” were developing a transgender storyline this year, they approached the advocacy group GLAAD for leads on casting.
Fueled partly by acclaim for TV series such as “Transparent” and public fascination with the transition of former Olympic champion Bruce Jenner to a new life as Caitlyn Jenner, Hollywood is seeing a boom in movies, TV shows and reality series about transgender topics.
To meet the demand, casting directors and producers are often going through unorthodox channels to find transgender talent - experienced or not.
“As a transgender man myself, I see a lot of show runners coming to me and asking about any transgender actors I know of,” said Nick Adams, director of programs for transgender media at the Los Angeles headquarters of GLAAD, which promotes lesbian, gay and transgender issues in the media.
“That’s how it’s been - a loose network of transgender people who have these databases of friends and acquaintances. Otherwise the casting system is just not set up to search for them,” Adams said.
Laverne Cox, the transgender star of “Orange is the New Black,” had acting training and professional credits before she was cast in the award-winning Netflix series set in a women’s prison. But many of the new transgender faces in Hollywood are far less experienced.
Scott Turner Schofield, 34, spent years as a speaker on diversity issues and in regional theater before making his TV acting debut in May on “The Bold and the Beautiful” as the first transgender man in a major role on a U.S. daytime drama.
Both Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez are transgender women who worked in the sex business and had never been on camera until “Tangerine” director Baker hired them for his 2015 movie about a prostitute looking for the pimp who broke her heart.
“We found Mya at the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) center in Hollywood and she opened up that world to us. For me to find the two of them like that was serendipity and luck,” Baker said.
“I think the major talent agencies are finally stepping up (now) because this has just reached the zeitgeist in the last year and a half, and recently it’s been a little bit easier to find people,” he added.
Ann Thomas, currently an extra in Hollywood, was so frustrated by the lack of a one-stop shop for transgender talent that she decided to set up one herself.
Thomas plans to team up with casting directors, actors, extras and production staff when she opens her TransgenderTalent venture in Los Angeles before the end of the year.
“As far as I know, it will be the first such agency at this time,” said Thomas, who was a member of the 200-person transgender choir that appeared on Fox television’s “Glee” in February. The choir was assembled through grassroots communities and social media.
“When I first got the job on ‘Glee,’ I looked very hard for an agency that would represent transgender people but there wasn’t a single one,” said Thomas, who also appears as an extra in the upcoming second season of Amazon.com’s “Transparent.”
Although her venture has yet to launch formally, Thomas says she already has helped fill two transgender roles for the producer of a small feature film.
“I worked with another lady putting together a transgender weight loss show who had been searching for weeks to find people. I was able to come up with eight people in a week that were fully qualified,” she said.
GLAAD’s Adams said the need for transgender talent is becoming so pressing that he hopes to set up a workshop for Hollywood casting directors in the fall.
“What I hear anecdotally is that casting directors don’t understand much about the transgender community. There are many transgender actors out there, but casting directors just don’t know where to find them,” he said.
Editing by Patrick Enright and Matthew Lewis