Scotsman Piece : Elliot Kerrigan on transgender drama Boy Meets Girl

The Scotsman

 

30th AugustJay Richardson

Transgender drama Boy Meets Girl is a sitcom about a couple in love first, and a challenge to society second, writer Elliot Kerrigan tells Jay Richardson

Boy Meets Girl

Rebecca Root, as Judy and Harry Hepple as Leo. Picture: BBC/Diverse

“Leo, I was born with a penis” blurts the woman. And with that striking introduction, Boy Meets Girl is set to dramatically alter the depiction of trans people on television forever. Leo and Judy meet, share drinks and arrange to see each other again. Leo’s mother bemoans her 26-year-old son dating a woman approaching 40. But he’s absolutely smitten.

The twist, disclosed at the start of BBC2’s progressive, but warmly funny and unquestionably mainstream sitcom, is that Judy is transgender and played by transgender actor Rebecca Root. Currently appearing in the acclaimed Trans Scripts monologues at the Pleasance in Edinburgh, Root maintains that Boy Meets Girl is “groundbreaking” because it’s the first comedy “to normalise the trans identity”.

Trans characters in comedy tend to be played by cisgender (non-transgender), often male actors, and deployed as punchlines rather than romantic leads, invariably with a stock, Crying Game-style pullback and genital reveal. Even David Tennant’s sympathetic portrayal of the barmaid Davina in Rab C Nesbitt finished with her humiliating Mary Doll’s lecherous boss by luring him into a dark cupboard fumble.

“That’s not the case here” Root assures me during a break from filming at the Space Project studio in Manchester. “[Judy] happens to be trans. You could just as easily say that she happens to be Caucasian, she happens to be six foot, she happens to be 40, she happens to have brown hair.”

With trans celebrities such as Caitlyn Jenner and boxing promoter Kellie Maloney increasingly visible, awareness of (and prurient interest in) trans people is at an all-time high, with fuller, more nuanced representation inevitable, even in comedy. Advancing beyond her transition, Sarah Franken has one of the most talked about shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, while Cucumber actor and stand-up Bethany Black recently joined the cast of Doctor Who. Two of the most celebrated comedy-dramas in the US are Transparent, featuring cisgender, Arrested Development star Jeffrey Tambor coming out as a transgender woman to her family; and prison saga Orange Is The New Black, which has transformed trans actor Laverne Cox into one of the most recognisable faces in America.

True progress, Root reflects, will arrive when the transgender angle is incidental. Boy Meets Girl exclusively auditioned trans actors for Judy. But the show recalls the popular Gavin and Stacey in the well-meaning, meddling role the central characters’ families play in their relationship. Denise Welch, Nigel Betts and Janine Duvitski are to the fore as the eccentric parents, while Lizzie Roper and Jonny Dixon are by turns supportive and embarrassing as their dysfunctional siblings.

Harry Hepple, who plays Leo, maintains that “if it wasn’t about a transgender relationship, I would have played it exactly the same. If you’re in love with the person, you’re in love with them”. And he likens this series to Modern Family.

“It’s dangerous to compare what you’re doing to a really successful TV show,” he says. “But in the same way Modern Family explores gay marriage and gay parenting, on a different network or in a different producer’s hands, it could as easily be about that, with everyone else a supporting character. But what they do really well is that it just happens to be in it. It’s one big ensemble piece… it’s everyone’s story.”

Indeed, first-time writer Elliot Kerrigan reckons that trans characters are around 30 years or so behind gay characters in their narrative arc. And they need a bit of affirmative action. He originally conceived a romantic love story “with a happy ending” after experiencing a series of missed connections with a man around his native Newcastle, where Boy Meets Girl is set.

He wrote about a young man and older woman “but it didn’t click on the page. I tried it with two men with an age gap, same thing again”. Then he saw the BBC’s Trans Comedy Award, an initiative set up with the Trans Comedy Group to award £5,000 and development to the best comedy scripts depicting “transgender characters and the transgender experience in an affirming manner”.

“That was like the key that unlocked the whole thing and it suddenly made sense” he recalls. “I had that first page – ‘Leo, I was born with a penis’ – I thought ‘actually, someone could read this and be hooked’”.

Of his own family, the gay writer recalls “when we watched [gay guy, straight girl domestic sitcom] Will & Grace, everyone laughed and we were laughing with them, not at them. That’s the kind of thing I love to watch, especially in comedies. There are moments when I can see Rebecca in Judy but I can see myself in her too, all the time.”

Root was on hand to advise Kerrigan and co-writers Simon Carlyle and Andrew Mettam about her experiences – “almost everything she’s given me, I’ve used” – and she requested a minor script tweak, removal of a line where Judy was embarrassed about visiting a psychiatrist.

“The path people like me have to go through, you have to be assessed to make sure you’re not mentally delusional,” she says. “If you want to normalise the transgender experience, you don’t want to portray that as something negative”.

For authenticity’s sake, photos of her in her previous identity, Graham Root, an actor since 1990 with bit parts in Keeping Up Appearances and The Detectives before her 2003 transition and gender reassignment surgery two years later, are positioned subtly around the set of Judy’s mum’s house. And they play a pivotal role when Judy and Leo have sex for the first time, the immature but game young man momentarily caught off-guard by the juxtaposition.

Accidental insensitivity and outright transphobia, “how other people feel about it, how other people view her and him together” becomes more of an issue as the episodes go on, Hepple reveals. But ultimately, “it’s not something [Leo’s] at all fazed by.”

Personally and in television generally, Boy Meets Girl “has been a long time coming” suggests Root, stressing that with trans actors and indeed, trans people generally at various stages of transition, and with some effectively still in the closet about their assigned gender, no-one knows quite how large a part of the population they represent.

Breaking through, ironically only to compete for the under-represented paucity of older female roles, she can nevertheless see “a tide is turning and you’ll see more and more people who are trans playing trans characters and fewer and fewer cisgender people playing these parts. I think I’m ready for that.”

See full piece here on the Scotsman

 

Chronicle Live Piece : Boy Meets Girl: Denise Welch on starring in groundbreaking new BBC2 transgender

26 AUGUST 2015

Denise Welsh

Denise Welch stars in new BBC2 sitcom, Boy Meets Girl – the UK’s first transgender sitcomDenise Welch stars in new BBC2 sitcom, Boy Meets Girl – the UK’s first transgender sitcom

Two years ago, Denise Welch was on the cusp of leaving her seat at the Loose Women table after a decade.

Over the years, her regular and often colourful appearances on the popular ITV daytime talk show had unexpectedly turned into her day job.

Most weeks she could be found chatting with co-panelists including Carol Vorderman, Jane McDonald, Carol McGiffin and the late Cilla Black about all manner of things, including her personal life, her legendary partying and her battles with depression.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the public had begun to forget about her three decade-long career as an award-winning actress in stage productions and TV shows such as Little Voice, Steel Magnolias, Waterloo Road, Soldier, Soldier and Coronation Street.

When she decided to leave Loose Women in October 2013 following differences with a new producer, Denise was determined to remind people what she could do.

Audiences at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre got to see for themselves earlier this year when she enjoyed a successful run in Jim Cartwright’s The Ancient Secret of Youth and the Five Tibetans.

Harry Hepple and Rebecca Root who star in Boy Meets Girl
And television audiences are about to get their turn when she takes a starring role in a groundbreaking new BBC2 sitcom, Boy Meets Girl, which kicks off on BBC2 on September 3 – the night after the series gets a special premiere on Tyneside where it is set.

Written by Wallsend-born – and now Cramlington-dwelling – Elliott Kerrigan, the six-part series is being billed as the UK’s first transgender sitcom and “a heartwarming romantic comedy that draws on the glorious differences that shape all of us”.

It follows the story of Leo, who meets the woman of his dreams in the older Judy on a night out, only to later discover she was born a man.

“The thing that I love about it is that this series is a romantic comedy which just happens to feature a transgender character played by a transgender actress,” says 57-year-old Denise, speaking from Edinburgh where she has just been to see the aforementioned actress, Rebecca Root, performing in a theatre production at the Fringe.

“It’s not trying to fly the LGBT flag, but it will gently educate because the character is so warm and lovely and the relationship between Judy and Leo (played by Sunderland-born Harry Hepple) is so hilarious and touching in parts.”

Denise first became aware of the script a couple of years ago when she was asked to go down to London for a table reading.

“Elliott’s script was one of two which had been chosen from the entries to a BBC Writers’ Room project which was trying to find a trans comedy,” she explains. “We did a table read in front of all the big wigs at the beeb and Tiger Aspect (the production company) and they chose to take Elliot’s script and make a pilot.”

The pilot went on to go down a storm at the Salford Comedy Festival and a series was quickly commissioned.

Elliott Kerrigan, writer of Boy Meets Girl “It’s just been such a lovely project to be part of,” says Denise.

“It’s funny. Because I have so many gay friends and my family have always been very open – my dad himself with his social life and stuff,” she adds, referring to her dad Vin’s enduring side career as a drag artist.

“I’ve always been aware and known people in the trans community, so I was over the moon that this was going to be brought to the forefront as it is now, which is in association with the transgender community and starring a transgender actress in Rebecca.

“And the timing couldn’t be better because it just so happens that in the last two years transgender has become the new black! But we were there first,” she laughs.

Denise plays Leo’s mum, Pam, who lives within ‘spitting distance’ of St James’ Park.

“We are a Geordie couple who have two sons,” she explains. “One of them Pam has given up on but she has higher hopes for Leo.

“I don’t want to give too much away but Pam is the last to know about Judy being transgender. Her horror over the first few episodes is purely focused on the fact that Judy is 14 years older than Leo, which is ironic because I’m 14 years older than Lincoln (who Denise married in 2013 following her divorce from actor Tim Healy), so it was quite funny having to say all these lines.

Harry Hepple plays Leo and Rebecca Root plays Judy in Boy Meets GirlHarry Hepple plays Leo and Rebecca Root plays Judy in Boy Meets Girl
“Although Judy is not quite 40, Pam sees Judy as pretty much being the same age as her. She has quite cutting lines like ‘I hope you’ve strapped her safely into her stairlift’.

 

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CultBox Piece: Boy Meets Girl Episode 1 review: A funny and heart-warming tale

Original Article from CultBox Click Here for full article and site

POSTED BY & FILED UNDER EPISODES.


‘Boy Meets Girl’ Episode 1 review: A funny and heart-warming tale

Boy Meets Girl It was always going to be tricky creating a sitcom based around a subject as sensitive as gender identity, but in Boy Meets Girl the BBC have got it right.

The first positive thing is in the casting of Rebecca Root. It’s clear that she draws on her own experiences in her portrayal of Judy and this can only help the audience in understanding trans issues. Another thing the show gets right is by not making Judy the butt of any jokes. A lot of the time she’s in on the humour or the jokes are made to highlight certain misconceptions about what it’s like to be trans.

While it’s no Transparent, it’s the closest thing we’ve got on British TV. Boy Meets Girl is a different kind of sitcom, more Hebburn than Faulty Towers, but that lends itself perfectly to the themes.

Obvious comparisons are going to be drawn with the aforementioned Gavin and Stacey – but, rather than being a rip-off, Boy Meets Girl is an educational, sentimental, funny and heart-warming tale of an unlikely love between a boy and a girl.

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Marie Claire Piece : BBC To Air First Transgender Sitcom In The UK

Marie Claire
Vicky Chandler
The BBC is making history with its new transgender sitcom Boy Meets Girl, airing next week. Although there have been fantastic TV shows and films featuring trans actors and characters in the past including Orange is the New Black, Transparent, Twin Peaks and Dallas Buyers Club, this is the first UK comedy or drama with a transgender character played by a transgender performer in a lead role.The sitcom itself tells the story of the developing relationship between the two characters Leo and Judy, played by Rebecca Root, and the script was discovered through the Trans Comedy Award, which searches for talent with positive portrayals of transgender characters.Both Root, and her character Judy, are transgender, making this the first BBC comedy to highlight transgender issues prominently, and the first sitcom to star a transgender actor. As well as this, it’s also a first in the UK for a show to feature romance, and sexual scenes between a trans woman and a cisgender man (someone living the same gender as they were born).
Rebecca Root will also play a small part in the hugely anticipated The Danish Girl, an autobiographical drama based on one of the first known recipients of sexual reassignment surgery, Lili Elbe, played by Eddie Redmayne.It’s not just trans issues and stories that are taking the spotlight. Last night Channel 4 screened it’s documentary Muslim Drag Queens, which looked extensively at the taboo of homosexuality in the British Asian community. We’re glad to see British TV moving in a positive direction and highlighting incredibly important issues.

This is just another example of trans visibility rising in the past year or two on-screen, with I Am Cait airing in July following the life of Caitlyn Jenner after her transition, whilst actress Laverne Cox was the first transgender performer to be nominated for an Emmy award and Amazon’s original series Transparent was nominated for 11 Emmy Awards.

Click here to read full story on Marie Claire

Guardian Piece : Rebecca Root interview: ‘I’m not fighting myself any more’

The GuardianNicola Gill Saturday 22 August 2015

 

Rebecca Root

‘When I get chatted up, I feel like I’ve achieved something. Feeling just a tiny bit sexy – which I never did as a male – is incredible.’ Hair and makeup: Nina Sagri using Bumble and bumble and Mac. Photograph: Felicity McCabe for the Guardian

 

Rebecca Root is about to become the first transgender star of a British television show. She talks about changing perceptions, feeling sexy – and why she wishes she had the nerve of Caitlyn Jenner

I’m late to meet Rebecca Root at the British Museum. I text my apologies and instantly receive a reply. She’s waiting for me by the totem pole in the main hall, she says, adding, “The museum is full of school parties. I suspect I may need a G&T afterwards.” I crawl through the adolescent crush, scanning ahead to find her. From her agency shot I know she’s tall (6ft), brunette, striking. In the only full-length photograph I’ve seen of her she’s wearing full makeup, a miniskirt and knee boots, but it turns out that picture was taken in character, “when I was playing a trans Venezuelan sex worker”, she laughs. Today, she is casual, in jeans and a leather jacket, and greets me warmly amid the chaos.

We are meeting to discuss her role in Boy Meets Girl, a new BBC show airing next month. “It’s the first mainstream UK sitcom to cast a transgender actor in a lead transgender role,” Root says, as we sit down with our coffees. “But also the first in the UK to feature romance – and sex scenes – between a trans actress in a trans role and a cisgender man [someone living the same gender as they were born].”

Root plays Judy, a transgender woman in her 40s, who meets a younger man, Leo (played by Harry Hepple), in a bar. “He is actually very mature in his reaction when she breaks the news that she is transgender,” she says, “and the show is about how they navigate that, how he navigates the reactions from others.” In the US, multi-award-winning show Orange Is The New Black has broken similar ground, featuring trans actor Laverne Cox as inmate Sophia Burset; last year, Cox made history as the first transgender woman to receive an Emmy nomination for the role. Root hopes Boy Meets Girl will have a similar effect here. “We’ve had cisgender actors in trans roles for too long,” she says. “It’s about time we had trans actors in trans roles.”

Boy Meets Girl: watch the trailer for the UK’s first transgender sitcom
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Root, 46, has just finished filming a small part in the upcoming Eddie Redmayne film, The Danish Girl, about Lili Elbe, one of the first recipients of gender realignment surgery. “I try not to get angry about, for example, a cisgender actor like Eddie being cast as Lily Elbe, when there are so many great trans actors. He’s done a brilliant job. It’s not a criticism of him, it’s a criticism of directors and producers.”

Root grew up in Surrey, the second child, with a sister either side. Her mother is a fine artist and her father a composer, “although they both had to take on other jobs to supplement their income,” she says. They were all close. “Mum is a big-hearted Dubliner, while Dad is more English, reserved,” she says. But even as a child, she was aware she didn’t fit into her role within the family: “I knew from the very earliest age, from the moment I had any kind of understanding of gender, that I wasn’t a boy. I played with dolls, I read my two sisters’ Jackie magazines. I didn’t, ever, feel I was male in any way.”

But this was the 70s, in suburban Surrey. “Gender fluidity wasn’t a concept my parents were familiar or comfortable with. It was pointed out to me that my behaviour wasn’t what was expected – so I consciously started playing with Action Man figures and climbing trees.” How did that go? “Not well,” she smiles wryly.

Acting in school plays gave her a way to “legitimately” be female. “One year I was cast as a male cook who disguised himself as a nanny to escape an evil king despot – not strictly a female role, but it required me to put on a frock,” she says. “Suddenly, I had permission to dress up as a female in front of 150 people.” She was always first in the queue for the panto dame parts after that. “It’s impossible to explain to a cisgender person what it feels like to just know you are in the wrong body.”
As a teenager, she occasionally felt so low she contemplated killing herself. “I think it was Eddie Izzard who said that just at the moment you’re feeling most insecure, you’re struck by a plague of discomfiture. It was like screaming, out of control, the wrong way down a one-way street. All around me my girlfriends were blossoming…” Did she ever talk about how she was feeling? “God, no. At one point I thought I could just get through whatever it was by dressing up in private, but gender isn’t defined by what’s next to your skin.”

Root dated women and struggled on through drama school and the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London. “I was always so angry,” she says. “I’m much more forthright now, but also softer and relaxed. You could ascribe the latter to the hormones I take, but I don’t think it’s that; it’s simply because I’m now who I’m meant to be. I’m not fighting myself any more.”

After coffee, Root suggests a wander around the shops. She wants to look at watches. “I’m obsessed,” she says. “If the big time comes, I’m going to need a room just for my watch collection.” Home at the moment is a rented flat in Highgate, north London. “If my career really takes off, I’ll buy my wonderful parents a nice little house and a buy-to-let investment for myself.” Anything else? “A vintage, bottle green, convertible, MGB sports car and a nice Longines or Rolex watch. Vintage, not blingy.”

She is still very close to her family. She remembers vividly the night when, staying at her parents’ holiday home in Brittany, she told them that she could no longer go on living as a man. “I was 33, with a day’s growth of beard and a flat chest. I was trapped in a tall man’s body and I was in despair. But my parents didn’t judge me. I knew they still loved me.”

It’s a great regret, however, that she avoided her paternal grandmother for the last two years of her life, only finally visiting when she was unconscious on her deathbed. “I wish I could explain to her it was because I was terrified she would shun me as I was transitioning,” Root says. “Now, I wonder if she would have done. But I never gave her the chance to show me.”

Her transition began in earnest in 2000, when she met a psychiatrist at London’s Charing Cross hospital to undergo assessment. This was followed by the two-year real-life test, a period in which she had to live full time as a woman, legally changing her name and telling everyone of her intent. “I was 34,” she says. “Probably the hardest part of the process was simply making the decision to do it. I had spent years seeing all sorts of therapists and psychiatrists, but it was doing my head in, going round in constant circles. I knew I couldn’t live somewhere in between any more… that I needed to be as fully female as I could.”

Her family have been hugely supportive, she says, but “they miss my voice. It had a smooth, chocolatey bass tone, and it was a very distinctive part of me. They said, ‘Everything else, fine, but we’re going to lose your gorgeous voice, we’re going to lose the essence of you.’” Nevertheless, Root visited a speech therapist for six hour-long sessions, before having an operation on her vocal cords to remove the lower notes of her range. Now, she works as a voice coach, specialising in transgender voice adaptation. She’s also spent time on the standup circuit.

Rebecca Root and Harry Hepple in Boy Meets Girl Facebook Twitter Pinterest
Rebecca Root and Harry Hepple in Boy Meets Girl. Photograph: BBC/Diverse
The show has been given a (just) post-watershed time slot. How does Root think the nation will react to the first kiss on mainstream TV between transgender and cisgender actors? “The kiss is the least of it,” she says. “There’s plenty of sauciness after that. I hope the nation is ready for it. It’s about time we had an honest show like this.”

Unlike her character, Root says she doesn’t date, finding the whole experience “too fraught”. “Being chatted up as a woman is an extraordinary feeling, but I always worry that the guy is going to turn ugly if he suspects I’m T,” she says. She enjoys male attention, however. “When I get tooted or wolf-whistled, or – only too rarely – chatted up, I feel like I’ve achieved something. I know lots of cisgender women hate it, and I know it’s a bit shallow, but as someone who has struggled all her life with my identity and presentation, it feels good. Feeling just a tiny bit sexy, which I never did as a male, feels incredible.”

We discuss Caitlyn Jenner’s recent Vanity Fair cover. “She totally owned it! Part of me wishes I had the nerve to do what she’s done – to wear really glamorous clothes,” she says. “It’s funny: when you transition, you have to go through puberty all over again. You hit womanhood, only you’re in your 20s – or mid-30s in my case – and you have to make all the mistakes and wear all the terrible clothes other girls do when they’re 13 and everyone expects it.”

Her older sister helped, she says. “But it was a steep learning curve. I remember going to a party early on, thinking I looked fucking awesome. But when I got on the night bus home people laughed openly at me. It was devastating, crushing. I sat there sobbing, and a nice girl asked me if I was OK.”

At least they were laughing at her and not beating her up, she says. “I mentor young people going through transition, and I told this story to one the other day. She said, ‘I don’t want either of those things to happen to me.’” Root says it was hard to know how to reply, especially as she’s had far worse experiences – she once had stones thrown at her in public, and on another occasion she was Tasered by a man in a park.

Is she worried about the extra attention that being in a prime-time show might bring? “That shit happens to trans people all the time. It’s just normal, everyday life.”

She’s off to Edinburgh via New York next, to perform in a play called TransScripts, about the real-life experiences of four transgender men and women. “I just hope I can use any fame that comes my way to show the public that trans people like me are just like them,” she says. “So that the girls I mentor don’t have to go through what I have.”

Click here for full Guardian Piece