“I’m literally living the dream,” admits Laverne Cox.
After years of struggling to launch her career, Cox is coming off a whirlwind year — which saw her star in Fox’s “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” film her scenes for her role in Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black,” and land a series regular role on CBS’ new drama “Doubt,” opposite Katherine Heigl, which debuted last week.
Cox plays Cameron Wirth, an Ivy League-educated attorney at the law firm where Heigl’s character, Sadie Ellis, works. Cameron, like Cox, is trans, and her casting makes history for broadcast. Here, she talks to Variety about what that means to her, as well as what she wants to explore onscreen with the character. (Hint: There’s a big love story ahead!)
Why did you want to take on this role?
I’ve always wanted to play a lawyer, but when I was approached with this script I saw that Joan Rater and Tony Phalen had written this script, I was a huge fan of their work on “Grey’s Anatomy.” They did such an amazing job of writing these characters that were iconic. The years that they were on “Grey’s,” the show was at the height of McDreamy, McSteamy, the Snow Patrol song, “Choose me” — all those moments that they created were so incredible. So getting to work with showrunners of that caliber was the big draw. But I’ve really wanted to play a lawyer and do something different. The opportunity to be on network television, too, was really exciting to me. Netflix is awesome, Netflix has changed the world. But it’s a change to have a broadcast audience and have a different experience.
You’re making history as the first transgender actor to have a series regular role on broadcast television. What does that mean to you?
I think it’s an opportunity for the CBS audience to experience this woman who’s really good at what she does. And has a tremendous capacity to create empathy for her clients and judges and jurors. And she happens to be trans. One of the things I’m really excited about in season one is the love story they wrote for Cameron. It’s a love story I’ve wanted to see on television for a very long time — a trans woman in a romantic relationship with a straight identified man. That is my life and the lives of a lot of trans women who are close to me. That story has never really been told on network television. The closest we came was “Dirty Sexy Money,” but how Carmelita and Patrick Darling met, we never really saw. There’s a lot we didn’t see in terms of the reality of dating while trans. And we will see a lot of that with Cameron.
Is that something you discussed with the showrunners?
Yes, it was actually. Before we started the first season, Joan and Tony invited all the series regulars to the writers’ room to have a discussion. I was so excited. I’ve always wanted to go to a writers room. The whole process always fascinated me. They outlined what they had in mind. I had some suggestions.
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What were your suggestions?
They took almost every one. A lot of it was about the specificity about what it means for me as a trans woman to date a straight identified man and their inability to claim me publicly and what I thought that was about. Obviously I’m not one of those men. So I was speaking for them, trying to get under the psychology in terms of their inability to claim us. We talked about masculinity and patriarchy and all those fun things. I also thought that Cameron shouldn’t be isolated. Oftentimes when we see trans people on television they’re the only one. Cameron comes from a community and she’s part of a community. I wanted to see her with some trans girlfriends. And that’s an idea they thought was lovely. There’s another twist in Cameron’s love life that I don’t want to give away that I suggested they loved and incorporated in the story. That’s pretty dope to have creative people who are pretty good who listen to little old me about this stuff. But I guess I have lived it. I’m an expert on my own experience.
This has been a breakthrough year for trans representation on television.
The brilliant thing about it is that it really started with streaming. It started with “Orange.” And then we had “Transparent.” And “Blunt Talk.” And then beautiful, radiant Amiyah Scott is on “Star.” She’s going to be a force to be reckoned with. We have a wonderful guest actor named Alexandra Grey who’s on “Doubt.” And she’s also on “Code Black” and “When We Rise.” There’s so much talent. Jeffrey Tambor on the Emmys last year said give trans talent a shot. So often we hear when people say, why did you cast a cis gender actor or non transperson to play this person, and directors say there’s no talent. I’ve just seen all of this talent. Alexandra Grey is just a natural, overflowing with talent. I was like, I have to step up my game! There’s so much trans talent out there right now. It’s very, very exciting. I want producers and showrunners and casting directors to see that there is a huge pool of trans talent and we just want to be in the room. For many, many years I just wanted to get in the room and show people what I have. The first room, I got into, I booked the job. We just want the chance.
What can you reveal about the upcoming season of “Orange is the New Black”?
Nothing! (Laughs.) The NDAs we have to sign are intense because everybody wants to know what’s happening. I got a google alert today with spoilers for next season and I don’t even read them because usually they’re wrong. Thank god! The only thing I can say is after what happened at the end of season four, I wanted to know what was going to happen! Daya pulled a gun on somebody. Poussey is dead. And there’s a riot. When the script came for next season, I was like, what is going on? It’s really wonderful to be on a show where you’re like what the F! Where you’re just as anxious as everybody else. We get to know a year before everybody else does what happens. It’s really, really good. That show has meant so much to so many people. To be a part of a show that has gotten people through really tough times in their lives is a wonderful blessing.