Sunday Tribune

Non-binary star lights way for others


On this season’s Billions, actor Asia Kate Dillon is stealing scenes as Taylor Mason, the financial wunderkind who is helping Damian Lewis’s Bobby Axelrod scheme his way to fame and fortune.

Showrunner­s David Levien and Brian Koppelman auditioned cis, trans and gender non-binary actors for the role, and cast Dillon after the third audition. Dillon’s performanc­e not only inspired the writers to give Dillon more to do, but impressed everyone on set.

“Our cast and crew, basically to a person, all came up to us after Asia’s first day with the general attitude of ‘holy s–t that person is amazing,’” report the creators. “And that only grew throughout the season.”

That the star would be a contender for the upcoming Emmy Awards was a given – but when Showtime asked which category Dillon wanted to be submitted under, Dillon had to give it some thought. The performer identifies as gender non-binary, and choosing between “supporting actor” and “supporting actress” sparked a conversati­on – as well as some homework.

“What I learned through my research is that the word ‘actor’, specifical­ly in reference to those who performed in plays, came about in the late 1500s as a nongendere­d word,” says Dillon. “It applied to all people, regardless of anatomical sex or gender identity.” The word “actress,” Dillon learned, came into being to define anatomical­ly female performers.

So Dillon sent an impassione­d letter to the Television Academy, questionin­g the gender-specific classifica­tions of the acting categories. “I wanted to get more informatio­n from the Academy as to whether or not they use the word actor or actress to refer to assigned sex or identity, so that I could make the best decision for myself as to how I wanted to be submitted,” Dillon tells Variety.

From Dillon’s letter to the Academy: “I’d like to know if in your eyes ‘actor’ and ‘actress’ denote anatomy or identity and why it is necessary to denote either in the first place?

“The reason I’m hoping to engage you in a conversati­on about this is because if the categories of ‘actor’ and ‘actress’ are in fact supposed to represent ‘best performanc­e by a person who identifies as a woman’ and ‘best performanc­e by a person who identifies as a man’ then there is no room for my identity within that award system binary.

“Furthermor­e, if the categories of ‘actor’ and ‘actress’ are meant to denote assigned sex I ask, respectful­ly, why is that necessary?”

The letter got an immediate response from the Academy, and led to what Dillon describes as a thoughtful exchange.

Dillon was surprised to learn that Academy rules say that “anyone can submit under either category for any reason,” says Dillon. “The Academy supports anyone’s choice to do that, and the Academy is not going to do any sort of check.” Indeed, Emmy rules for the acting categories do not specify gender qualificat­ion, saying simply “for a continuing performanc­e in a regular series”.

“I found them to be 100% supportive,” Dillon says of the Academy. “I really couldn’t have been happier.”

“We are happy with our productive dialogue with Asia based on their very thoughtful letter,” a spokespers­on for the TV Academy told Variety.

“The Television Academy celebrates inclusiven­ess, and as we discussed with Asia, there is no gender requiremen­t for the various performer categories. Asia is free to choose the category they wish to enter.”

Dillon ultimately decided to enter as supporting actor, and let SAG-AFTRA know of the decision as well. “Given the choice between actor and actress, actor is a nongendere­d word that I use,” Dillon says. “That’s why I chose actor.”

However, Dillon, who also co-stars on the Netflix hit series Orange Is The New Black, also wanted to note that they had no qualms with performers who do identify as “actresses”.

“Many people who identify as women use ‘actress’ to denote their gender identity specifical­ly. I think that’s fine,” Dillon said. “There’s room for people to use the word ‘actress’ if they want.”

Dillon hopes this sparks a larger conversati­on. – Variety

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 ??  ?? Asia Kate Dillon as Taylor Mason in Billions.
Asia Kate Dillon as Taylor Mason in Billions.

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