Trace Lysette hopes ‘Monica’ opens doors for the marginalized

After more than a decade as an actress, Trace Lysette has had several projects that she was attached to that simply never saw the light of day. Those failed efforts were so painful that she smartly trained herself not to worry about a concert until the cameras were rolling. In 2016, the “Transparent” series veteran was cast in the lead role of Andrea Pallaoro’s captivating drama “Monica,” and Lysette says she was justifiably a little skeptical that this rare leading role for a trans woman would actually happen. That was until the first day of production arrived.

“Maybe I felt a little relief because I saw how passionate the team was,” Lysette says. “I saw how good the director of photography, Katelin Arizmendi, was. I saw they were shooting on film. Well, I knew they were, but by being there and experiencing it all, you can get an idea of ​​the quality of what the product will 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 has not set foot in her childhood home for many years, and it is unclear whether her mother, who suffers from a series of debilitating illnesses, is aware of who she is (or who she used to be). Lysette, originally from Kentucky, found the story groundbreaking.

“I thought there was a lot to explore and sink my teeth into as an actress,” Lysette says. “[I’d] I never really had the opportunity to lead or show the world what I could do in terms of my acting skills. I was excited. That being said, I had some ideas about the script. “Andrea was really great about wanting to collaborate with me and wanting my thoughts, not just my energy as an actress.”

The film had its world premiere in competition at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival, and Lysette earned rave reviews from critics around the world. In a scene from the film that showcases her impressive talent, Monica returns to the West Coast after deciding that the situation with her family is too awkward. In an extended single take, Lysette intimately conveys Monica’s fear, anguish, and frustration when she begins to have an emotional breakdown while she is driving. The entire sequence was challenging on several levels.

“When they were setting up that shot, I saw the orange cone on the road, and then the technical detail of that scene where I would have to turn the car onto a clear road… [they] I didn’t actually have any of the roads blocked, and then make a U-turn on that road,” Lysette says. “I thought, ‘Okay, I’m supposed to do all this and then think about what Monica is going through.’ “So I tried not to think about it too much, because as an actor, I knew it would be an important shot, and I really surprised myself that day, because that was the first shot we used in the movie.”

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 been a slow hit with audiences who have discovered it on digital download services. Lysette says the response she’s received has been “pretty intense.” Especially right now when numerous states have enacted anti-trans laws just to score political points with conservative voters.

“The letters I receive from trans people across the country and even abroad, sometimes through social media, affirm me in ways that help me get up in the morning,” Lysette says. “They’ve told me how this movie makes them feel seen and hopeful and they say, ‘Oh, maybe our stories will be told.’ Maybe they’ll make room for us. Perhaps there are more opportunities on the horizon. Maybe one day they won’t legislate our bodies like they do now.’”

For many actors, award recognition from their peers or critics is often the cherry on top of a successful theater career. For Lysette, the stakes are much higher. In her opinion, any possible nomination means survival.

“It means I probably wouldn’t have to worry as much about living from gig to gig,” Lysette says. “I think nominations like that solidify you in this industry, because this industry is very fickle and complicated for minorities, and it would mean a lot more to my community as a whole, because then we can all dream a little bit. larger.”

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

“When I allow myself to dream big, that’s the dream,” Lysette says. “But I also have to be realistic and know that we are faced with large amounts of money and resources that we simply do not have. And I just hope that the art speaks for itself.”

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