The transgender actor, writer, producer and activist was first recommended by GLAAD’s director of trans representation, Nick Adams, to consult on the show, but she will be appearing on-screen, as well.
“All I can say is that the character intersects with Clarice’s storyline in a way that her transness isn’t central to her storyline, but her identity as a trans woman prompts her to discuss with Clarice the complicated legacy of Buffalo Bill,” Richards said during a virtual premiere event for “Clarice” on Monday night.
Richards initially thought she was just going to help the writers and producers “craft the character and make sure some younger, prettier tans actress had a good experience on set,” she admitted, but she ended up cast in the role she helped shape.
Part of Richards’ interest in creating discussions about the iconic but monstrous character of Buffalo Bill, played by Ted Levine in the 1990s film “The Silence of the Lambs,” which serves as a prequel to the events of “Clarice,” was specifically because of how negative a representation he has been for the trans community.
“Right prior to my coming out as trans I started to delicately tell a few friends and colleagues I was thinking about transitioning,” Richards said, “kind of treading water to see if I could do it successfully, and one looked at me and said, ‘Do you mean like Buffalo Bill?'”
Richards recalled being “crestfallen” that this woman she considered intelligent had “no other image to counter” what transness was, just this “incredibly monstrous person who literally steals the female form and tries to embody it. It was really complicated to try and overcome that first perception of other people.”
Richards was thrilled to learn that “Clarice’s” writing team wanted to “address the complicated, horrible legacy in a way that didn’t reduce it to that one issue,” as well as feature a “trans character that was part of the story but didn’t reduce it to a stereotype.”
Co-creator and executive producer Alex Kurtzman added that the idea to explore the damage done by Buffalo Bill was not just on his direct victims, but also the trans people in that world, as the media told his story through the narrow lens of the time.
Richards is best known for roles on “Nashville,” “Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City,” “Blindspot,” “Better Things,” “Mrs. Fletcher” and “Her Story,” which she also wrote and co-produced.
“Clarice,” which premieres Feb. 11 on the Eye network, picks up with its titular character of FBI agent Clarice Starling (portrayed by Rebecca Breeds) after she has made a name for herself for stopping Buffalo Bill. While she struggles to get over the trauma and PTSD of recent events — as well as events from her childhood — she is brought in on a number of other high-profile cases.
In addition to Breeds, “Clarice” stars Kal Penn, Nick Sandow, Lucca de Oliveira, Michael Cudlitz, Jayne Atkinson, Devyn A. Tyler and Marnee Carpenter.
The show hails from MGM And CBS Television Studios, and is written and executive produced by Kurtzman, Jenny Lumet and Elizabeth Klaviter, who serves as showrunner. Kurtzman and Heather Kadin will executive produce under their Secret Hideout banner, with Aaron Baiers co-executive producing.