Though she only appears in the new season of Transparent for a combined total of five or six minutes, Alexandra Grey sure knows how to leave an impression.
The 25-year-old newcomer plays Elizah, a green-haired teenager who's having a "really fucking hard" day. She's tired. She took a bus from one end of Los Angeles to the other. She waited five hours at a clinic only to be denied care without a signature from her foster parents, who only care about the check she brings them every month. In tears and contemplating suicide, she calls her local LGBTQ helpline and Maura Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor) picks up.
"It's kind of my debut to the world," Grey told me in a phone interview Sunday afternoon. "I cry every time I look at the episode because I just feel like it's real stuff that we're talking about. Believe it or not, that character used to be me. That character hits close to home."
The 25-year-old actress on the other end of my phone sounded nothing like the troubled teen on the other end of Maura's. Confident yet soft-spoken, Alexandra broke into buoyant laughter with every new acting gig she discussed. It was hard to believe that such an optimistic person could have ever found herself in a similar set of circumstances as the character she portrayed onscreen.
"When I first saw the role, I struggled a little with the dialogue," Grey said. "It was overwhelming… It was just me, by myself, working through [the character in preparation for the audition]. I had to go back to that place where I was sitting in my closet, calling one of my siblings, saying, 'You've got to come get me out of this foster home.' I had to relive those dark experiences of being in foster care and being black and being trans. I wasn't calling myself trans at the time, but I knew I was different even though I didn't know what it was."
"Elizah is very brave for just living her truth, but for a lot of us that isn't an option when you're just a teenager," Grey added. "To help someone who might be in that place right now by portraying this character is very challenging, but I'm glad I got to take on that challenge."
In the immediate wake of shooting Transparent earlier this year, an almost comically large number of new challenges followed. She'll play Stonewall revolutionary Marsha P. Johnson in an upcoming episode of Drunk History narrated by Crissle West of The Read. (Trace Lysette, a.k.a. Shea on Transparent, plays Sylvia Rivera.) She'll act opposite Phylicia Rashad and Michael K. Williams on When We Rise, Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black's ABC miniseries about LGBTQ civil rights history. And she's got plenty of other appearances scattered throughout the 2016-17 TV season, including guest-starring roles on Code Black, Chicago Med, and Doubt.
On top of all that, Alexandra is also a singer. (She said she was singing some Selena on a $10 amp she picked up at a thrift store when I called.) In case you want to catch her live, she's opening for Swedish singer-songwriter Zara Larsson this October in Pittsburgh, fyi.
"Do I have anything else coming out?" she laughed.
There is one role that Grey missed out on: that of a transgender waitress in Anything, the upcoming Mark Ruffalo-produced film that provoked the justified ire of many for casting cisgender actor Matt Bomer in the part of a trans sex worker.
"We're talented, and we're out here," Grey said. "I'm all fine with people playing whatever. I don't want to [only] play trans roles for the rest of my career. We're not trying to say, 'Don't cast cisgender men.' We're saying, 'Give transgender actors the opportunity.' There are trans actors who are talented. I've been blessed this year to be put in front of people who see my talent for what it is. But there's so much talent out there, and it's just about giving us the chance. We have diversity problems across the board in the entertainment industry. We can definitely do better."
Bad at filling out bios seeks same.