'The Politician''s Breakout Star Theo Germaine Wants More For Trans Actors
By Sara Radin
"I just want more. I'm greedy," the actor Theo Germaine tells MTV News. "I want more for people that are in my community." Germaine is speaking candidly about the lack of mainstream roles for trans actors in Hollywood, an industry that often seems content to tell cookie-cutter narratives about trans people. Most recently, Germaine, who is trans, played a sharp supporting role in Netflix's The Politician as James Sullivan, one of student body president hopeful Payton's loyal campaign managers — and his best friend.
Though all of the characters explore their identities throughout the season — Ben Platt, who plays the titular teen politician, has said that "everyone's a little bit queer" in the hyper-stylized world of Ryan Murphy's The Politician — James's gender is never discussed on the show. It's a refreshing change of pace for Germaine, one that's even inspired the Chicago-based newcomer to write and direct. Why? Because, while opportunities for trans actors have been growing with major shows like Euphoria, Pose, and others offering nuanced storytelling for LGBTQ+ characters, Germaine is tired of Hollywood tokenizing trans people and only offering them roles that typecast them.
The actor hopes the industry continues to move in a direction in which, instead of focusing on someone’s gender as a criterion for casting, people begin considering what actors fit specific characters based solely on their talent. “I want to see trans actors in major projects, like Marvel movies and rom-coms, and just have all the opportunities that other actors have been given for forever,” they say.
Germaine (right) with Ben Platt (center) and Laura Dreyfuss (left) on The Politician
Growing up in a small, conservative town in Southern Illinois, the stage has always played a major part in Germaine’s life, offering them a space where they could leverage performance and costumes as vehicles for exploring their identity at an early age. “Before I was out, being a girl felt like a costume, but it was a fun costume,” they tell MTV News. With Season 2 of The Politician currently underway and a new Showtime series coming soon, Germaine is one to watch. Not just because they’re a wildly talented actor, but because they’re willing to fight for what they want for themselves, as well as the entire LGBTQ+ community. That includes equal, inclusive representation in Hollywood and, with it, better career opportunities for marginalized creators.
MTV News sat down with Germaine to learn more about where their interest in theater came from (a clue — it involves the iconic musical Cats), their deep love for Harry Potter, and how they hope to use their platform to change Hollywood for the better.
MTV News: I'd love to hear more about your childhood and how your interest and theater came about.
Theo Germaine: I’ve always wanted to do this. It was always just a matter of figuring out how to get there. I was born in Southern Illinois to two parents who were still in college. From a really young age, I was interested in performing. I used to do my own shows and musicals and put them on in the living room as a very small child. But I think what actually made me decide that I wanted to be a performer was the musical Cats.
My grandparents took me to see the show in Chicago when I was 7 or 8 years old. I was so excited and I was so obsessed that I dressed up like a cat, hoping that the cats would mistake me for a cast member and bring me on stage. But it didn't happen. Still, it sparked me to think: Wow, I want to be an actor.
I grew up in a really small town that didn't really have a lot of theater, so I didn't really start doing anything until I was in high school. I performed in plays and really old musicals, because the town that I grew up in was pretty conservative and the school would only let us do so much.
MTV News: I heard you're a really big Harry Potter fan. What about it resonates with you?
Germaine: I got the first Harry Potter book and gobbled it up really quickly. I was always really interested in fantasy and magic. It was the first example that I had of a book that was about a kid that didn't fit in, who had the opportunity to go to this amazing school because he was special. It made me think: It's OK if you don't fit in, there is still a place for you. And the books had some of the first characters that I really saw myself in. They helped me imagine possibilities.
MTV News: Did acting play a part in establishing your identity as a trans person?
Germaine: Definitely. I was a person who always knew that I was trans from a young age. It was just kind of a matter of learning how to express that. Acting and performing and putting on costumes was how I started to explore gender. Before I was out, being a girl felt like a costume, but it was a fun costume. And when I was doing theater and performing that was a fun way to show that side of myself, but it wasn't really me. I loved playing different roles.
Germaine and Dreyfuss on the set of The Politician in this behind-the-scenes look
When I was in high school, the theater became the first place where I was able to perform being a boy publicly. There was a musical where one of the guys got kicked out of the show because he wasn't showing up to rehearsals, and so they were recasting a part. I was like, I'm going to get this part. I ended up getting cast and that was super cool. That was the extent of how I was able to be out for a little while because the school that I went to was so small. I grew up in such an isolated place to even know that other people like me existed. So, I was kind of playing out real life on stage. Theater was a way for me to really express myself and then became a gateway for me to be like, oh, I can actually play roles that are closer to how I identify in my life.
MTV News: Can you talk to me more about The Politician. I know that the show never explicitly addressed your gender identity. What it was like to play that role? What did it mean for you personally?
Germaine: I was so excited to be a part of it. I’ve been working and living in Chicago for a few years and doing theater and indie projects. But this is the first time I was able to do something that was big and life-changing. The role was really exciting because it felt very much like I was getting to play out this fantasy. This thing that I wanted to come true for so long. This is the first time I got to play a part where gender wasn’t such a huge factor. I think I should be able to do things that talk about my gender identity and I should be able to do things that don't talk about it.
Casting [departments have] the tendency to be like, “Oh, we just want to cast trans people in projects where all we do is talk about gender identity.” And I'm like, no, I want to be able to do everything. And this role was something that gave me the chance to do something on a larger scale that wasn't all about gender identity, which is really liberating. And it felt like an opportunity that I wasn't going to have as quickly as I did.
MTV News: Where do you hope to go from here? And how do you hope to use your experience for change in Hollywood?
Germaine: I actually have already shot a totally different TV show during the break. So, right now we've just started working on Season 2 of The Politician, which is very exciting. But in between Season 1 and Season 2, I did different projects in Chicago. There's a Showtime show coming out next month called Work in Progress, which is a dark comedy.
I am hoping that these things will have afforded me other opportunities that aren’t limiting or tokenizing in Hollywood. And if people try to do that with me, I will fight it. I will figure out how to get myself into other projects that are good for me. Because I'm definitely a fighter. If someone's like, ”Hey, I don't think you can do that," then I'm like, "I think I can. Watch me.” I'm very stubborn.
MTV News: What's your astrological sign?
Germaine: I'm an Aries, and people who are Aries are super stubborn.
MTV News: So, how do you hope to see Hollywood change in the ways that it approaches and shows queerness?
Germaine: I think that Hollywood is still kind of focused on a checkbox. They think we have enough trans people working on different projects and things like that. Or they think we don't need anymore. But I'm not really interested in that. I want queer and trans actors in a variety of stuff. They need to keep bringing these people into auditions and putting them in movies and shows. And they need to call people in for different things instead of just waiting for the next trans project to come out.
Sometimes I will receive breakdowns and I will get called in for a trans character. But when I read the other characters, I realize I actually would fit a different character, but you're just calling me in for this one because you're trying to check the trans box. So, I hope that we start moving in a direction where people start considering what actors fit what characters instead of just having us be the token trans person on projects. I want to see trans actors in major projects, like Marvel movies and rom-coms, and just have all the opportunities that other actors have been given for forever.
There are a lot more projects where there are trans characters that are really excellent. I just want more. I'm greedy. I want more for people that are in my community. There are so many people who are not getting opportunities and that really sucks, which is why I'm also interested in writing and directing and making my own content. Because sometimes Hollywood doesn't give us exactly what we want. I'm going to figure out how to take things into my own hands.