GH’S Terry

A jour­ney to her true self led Cas­san­dra James to Port Charles.

Soap Opera Digest - - CONTENTS - BY MARA LEVINSKY

In some ways, Cas­san­dra James’s jour­ney to show biz is per­fectly typ­i­cal: Born in Cal­i­for­nia and raised in Van­cou­ver, Canada, James caught the per­form­ing bug early, earned a de­gree in the­ater act­ing (at Ry­er­son Univer­sity in Toronto) and moved to Los An­ge­les a few years later to pur­sue work in TV and film.

But in other ways, her story is uniquely her own. James, who was born a bi­o­log­i­cal male, “lived an­drog­y­nously for many years af­ter school. And I started hav­ing the real con­ver­sa­tion, the harder con­ver­sa­tion, about a tran­si­tion, ask­ing my­self, did I iden­tify as trans­gen­der?” Af­ter a two-year process of soul-search­ing, James, who to­day de­scribes her­self as a “proudly out trans­gen­der woman,” came out as a woman to her fam­ily, and in 2016, she be­gan her med­i­cal gen­der tran­si­tion.

Dur­ing this chal­leng­ing and ex­hil­a­rat­ing time, she put her act­ing as­pi­ra­tions on the back burner. “I took a break from my cre­ative life,” James ex­plains. “I’m thank­ful that I did. It was al­ways my in­ten­tion to do film and TV, and it just be­came in­evitable that a move back to Cal­i­for­nia was in the cards for me. But if I had moved to L.A. prior to my tran­si­tion or dur­ing those first years of my tran­si­tion, I re­ally think I wouldn’t have been ready. I think I re­ally had to get my ducks in a row be­fore com­ing back to Cal­i­for­nia.”

Break­ing into the busi­ness is rarely an easy propo­si­tion; a scarcity of trans­gen­der char­ac­ters and the re­luc­tance of some cast­ing di­rec­tors to con­sider trans­gen­der per­form­ers in­creases the chal­lenge for trans­gen­der ac­tors. “There’s ab­so­lutely a lot of ad­ver­sity that the trans com­mu­nity faces,” James says. “It’s some­thing that I dealt with com­ing into it and some­thing that I deal with day-to-day. I have fired peo­ple from my team who didn’t un­der­stand and didn’t value my trans iden­tity. I learned the hard way. But I choose to fo­cus on the pos­i­tives and cel­e­brate the wins. And I think Terry is a win.”

Terry is Dr. Terry Ran­dolph, James’s Port Charles al­ter ego, an on­col­o­gist and the child-

hood BFF of Liz Web­ber, who made her on-air de­but in June. Terry is also GH’S first trans­gen­der char­ac­ter — and the show was com­mit­ted to hav­ing a trans­gen­der ac­tress play her. As a re­sult, James saw a lot of fa­mil­iar faces at her au­di­tion. “All the girls in the trans com­mu­nity that are work­ing, we’re in ev­ery sin­gle [au­di­tion] room to­gether. We’ve had to be­come good friends and we help each other out.” Ini­tially, she read with Cast­ing Di­rec­tor Mark Teschner; at her third au­di­tion, she re­calls, “[Ex­ec­u­tive Pro­ducer]

Frank Valen­tini was in the room, and I guess the peo­ple at GH liked me and they were ready [to make a de­ci­sion], be­cause I got the call from my agent when I was in my car head­ing home. It was pretty spe­cial.”

Book­ing GH was a mile­stone for the ac­tress. “This is my first [re­cur­ring role], so it’s a re­ally big and ex­cit­ing step in my ca­reer. And I can’t help but think about the trans com­mu­nity and the im­pact that these kinds of roles have on the nar­ra­tive that’s be­ing told about our com­mu­nity. I was just re­ally ex­cited that a trans woman was go­ing to be por­trayed on such a long-run­ning show.”

She ad­mits to nurs­ing some ap­pre­hen­sion about how au­then­ti­cally the show would rep­re­sent Terry. “I think that’s in­evitable,” she of­fers. “I’m hy­per-de­fen­sive of my com­mu­nity and read through all of the scripts very, very crit­i­cally. I was so pleas­antly sur­prised that the writ­ers are ap­proach­ing Terry with a lot of thought­ful­ness and a lot of care.”

Terry de­tailed her tran­si­tion to Liz and Franco when she first ar­rived in Port Charles, but her trans­gen­der iden­tity has not been a huge fo­cus of James’s sub­se­quent screen time. “What I’ve come to un­der­stand is that there was a de­ci­sion made that Terry might not talk a lot about her tran­si­tion,” the ac­tress shares. “It was ob­vi­ously im­por­tant for the au­di­ence and for Elizabeth to meet her as her au­then­tic self, but mov­ing for­ward, her tran­si­tion seems in­ci­den­tal, which is its own kind of rev­o­lu­tion­ary act, I think. A lot of times in Hol­ly­wood, when it comes to cast­ing, the only time [trans-

“This is a bit of a com­ing out for me in the in­dus­try.”

gen­der ac­tors] are re­ally be­ing con­sid­ered for roles is when the nar­ra­tive is trans and when the char­ac­ter is strug­gling with and fac­ing ad­ver­sity specif­i­cally re­lated to their tran­si­tion. Trans peo­ple deal with ev­ery­thing that cis­gen­der peo­ple” — in­di­vid­u­als whose gen­der iden­tity cor­re­sponds to the bi­o­log­i­cal sex with which they were born — “strug­gle with: hold­ing a job, fall­ing in love, fam­ily drama. Our ex­pe­ri­ences are so di­verse. So it was re­ally ex­cit­ing when I be­gan to see Terry un­fold. The writ­ing is re­ally about her work at the hospi­tal and her re­la­tion­ship with Liz and now with Kim. She did al­lude to the fact that her fam­ily doesn’t ac­cept her and we will find out to­gether if that will ever be ad­dressed or if it’s some­thing she qui­etly car­ries. As of right now, she’s thrilled to be at Gen­eral Hospi­tal — and so am I!”

Be­ing em­braced by view­ers has made the ex­pe­ri­ence all the sweeter for James, who says that the pos­i­tive re­sponse to her first episode “was a re­ally ex­cit­ing mo­ment for me. This is a bit of a com­ing out for me in the in­dus­try. To be wel­comed by the fans, for them to be ex­cited by Terry ... There’s kind of this lovely ease around my own trans iden­tity and also Terry’s. There’s been very lit­tle neg­a­tive feed­back. I think peo­ple are re­ally see­ing her as a woman and they’re pick­ing up on the sto­ry­lines that she’s a part of. They’re re­ally just see­ing her as Terry, the new doc­tor in town.”

James is proud to be part of a shift in the cul­tural tide that has seen in­creased trans­gen­der vis­i­bil­ity on tele­vi­sion. “POSE on FX re­ally jump-started the con­ver­sa­tion in an en­tirely new way,” she praises. “It talked about our tran­si­tions and our iden­ti­ties [as

trans­gen­der peo­ple] in ways that have never been dis­cussed be­fore, that were nu­anced and thought­ful and heart­felt. A few years ago, TRANS­PAR­ENT was a big mo­ment, ob­vi­ously, and be­fore that was OR­ANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, and hav­ing [trans­gen­der ac­tress] Lav­erne Cox on that. I be­lieve that Terry is one of those mo­ments, as well. There are trans doc­tors in the world, and it’s so im­por­tant to show young trans peo­ple that there are so many things that you can be­come. To have Terry be ac­cepted by the au­di­ence is re­ally ex­cit­ing to me. There are won­der­ful, amaz­ing things hap­pen­ing for our com­mu­nity and we just keep fight­ing.”

(Terry Ran­dolph)

Knock, Knock: Terry sur­prised child­hood bestie Liz (Re­becca Herbst) with a visit back in June. Ar­riv­ing In Style: In Septem­ber, James walked the run­way dur­ing New York Fash­ion Week in the Marco Marco show. “The de­signer is a friend of mine and he sent 35 trans­gen­der mod­els down the run­way. It was kind of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary mo­ment in fash­ion that I didn’t want to miss,” she beams.

IN­STA­GRAM/YACOUB

Video Dame: James re­cently starred in the mu­sic video for RU­PAUL’S DRAG RACE fave Aja The Kween’s (l.) “I’m Kawaii/ayo Sis,” di­rected by As­saad Yacoub.

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