MAISIE RICHARDSON SELLERS.
From kicking arse in Legends of Tomorrow to now appearing in the West End’s 3Women, this British-born actress isn’t letting her sexuality ever hold her back.
Asked for her definition of Pride as a queer woman of colour, Maisie Richardson-Sellers says: “For me, it’s coming to the point where you accept yourself fully and you feel your sexuality is something that compliments you – something you can hold up as something you’re willing to talk about, willing to explore and wanting to explore.” The 26-year-old British-born actress, best known as Amaya Jiwe aka Vixen on the DC series Legends of Tomorrow, has mainly worked overseas. Maisie continues: “The LGBTQ community has meant so much to me when I was growing up and I hope to keep giving back to the community. It’s such a special, supportive, unique space that I’ve found all over the world.
“Wherever I’ve travelled, I’ve found a community of queer people and there’s just this magic to it that I’m so proud to be able to be a part of. It’s a common understanding. Of course, there are many differences, there’s no unanimous thing for everyone who is LGBTQ and yet there’s this understanding and respect which is just beautiful. That to me is what Pride is about – listening as well as talking, respecting each other’s journeys and learning from them.”
Maisie’s latest project sees her back on British soil as she stars in 3Women at London’s Trafalgar Studios. In the play, which is comedian and writer Katy Brand’s first work for the stage, she’s Laurie, daughter to Debbie Chazen’s Suzanne and granddaughter to Anita Dobson’s Eleanor. Aged 18 and gender fluid, Laurie is at university. “She’s discovering her freedom and her sexuality and her passions,” the actress elaborates, “she’s vivacious and optimistic that the world will become a better place.” Laurie also sounds impressively quirky, given that she believes the keys to a better future is technology and robots and gender neutrality. “She thinks women won’t have to have babies in the future, that they’ll be grown in external wombs – all these things that would liberate women. She’s a passionate, modern feminist, gender queer, gender fluid and very open and confident about that. For me it’s a luxury to play such a rich character and it’s very funny because she’s trying to explain all this to her grandmother, who has no idea what she’s on about.”
Laurie is pansexual, having a dalliance with a trans man as well as with women, and Maisie loves how neither playwright Katy nor the multidimensional character she’s created make a big deal of it. “There’s never a sense of a coming-out as such, it’s addressed in a quite casual way which I think is beautiful. I don’t think you should have to announce anything, it should just be accepted. We should be able to tell people when and how we want and we should be free to love who we want when we want.”
It’s the first time Maisie has played a queer character and, taking a break from rehearsals in a London studio ahead of the play’s limited engagement in the West End, she’s fired-up about the prospect of essaying a young woman for whom sexuality isn’t all that defines her. “I think we’re all a complex puzzle and that’s one part of her puzzle,” she feels. “It’s a role I’m very happy to be portraying and also it’s given me the chance to explore my own gender spectrum a little more. She’s quite androgynous, whereas most of the roles I’ve done have been quite feminine and very heterosexual. It’s really interesting to delve into the psyche of the character and her gender fluidity.”
Maisie’s also understandably thrilled to be playing a queer person of colour. “Representation is extremely important to me and now not only is it people of colour, it’s textured people of colour – people who are queer and on all parts of the spectrum, who are individuals and multi-dimensional rather than simply the person of colour who is the best friend. It’s so exciting for me and a great sign of the direction we’re moving in. Also it’s not the central theme of the play, it just happens to feature a queer woman of colour. It’s accepted and then moved on from.”
Performing is in the blood for the daughter of acting parents who “grew up in dressing rooms and rehearsal spaces”. She studied archaeology and anthropology at Oxford University but also did some theatre. Upon graduation she was spotted in a play and whisked off to do Vampire Diaries spin-off The Originals in the States, had a role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, followed that with Biblical drama Of Kings And Prophets and then landed Legends Of Tomorrow. Keen to get back into theatre, she was offered 3Women during a break between seasons of the superhero show. “So the timing is perfect. I read the script and thought it was hilarious and extremely moving. It was a total no-brainer,” she laughs.
Although Katy’s play is more about what it means to be a woman in today’s society than specifically addressing the #TimesUp movement, Maisie recognises the movement has a relevance for the LGBTQ community. “There has been worldwide abuse of people in the community and I hope we can view this as a movement for everyone, a movement towards safety and equality. That should be across the board, not just for one group of people. There are some deep issues within the industry for women but it’s important to remember they’re not the only group who have been oppressed, but I fully support any movement that is for safety and equality.”
She’s also pleased to note the landscape is changing in terms of queer representation in the arts. “Growing up, all I ever really had was The L Word. Now there are so many shows and it’s not necessarily that sexuality is the central focus.” And she’s impressed by Black Lightning’s portrayal of Thunder (Nafessa Williams) as a lesbian superhero of colour. “That’s incredible and it shows how far we’re going. The fact the audience loves it shows there’s a demand for it and I really think through exposure on screen it can help people be more tolerant in real life. We still need more lead characters who are of colour and who are on the LGBTQ spectrum, but we’re going in the right direction.”
Likewise, Maisie is impressed by how Legends Of Tomorrow has begun to flesh out its own queer superhero White Canary (Caity Lotz) by showing her in a relationship. “They went into the emotions of it. Same with Black Lightning; you’re seeing the emotional lives of queer characters and that’s really exciting.”