When Matt Bomer was announced as the star of Timothy McNeil’s film “Anything” in August of 2016, the choice to cast a cisgender man as a transgender sex worker riled many in the LGBTQ community. Some took to social media to air their disdain, most notably transgender actresses Jamie Clayton, of “Sense8” fame, and Jen Richards, who tweeted that she had actually auditioned for the role, and unspooled a passionate thread as to why it’s important to cast trans actors in trans roles. Trans musician Mya Byrne penned an open letter on HuffPo that pointedly asked, “Why Is Matt Bomer Playing A Trans Woman?”
The outcry was enough to grab the attention of producer Mark Ruffalo, who responded with his own Twitter message, which read in part, “To the Trans community. I hear you. It’s wrenching to you see you in this pain. I am glad we are having this conversation.” Still, Ruffalo later answered requests that the role be recast, explaining that the film had already been shot and Bomer “poured his heart and soul into this part. Please have a little compassion. We are all learning.”
Now, IndieWire has the first look at the trailer, and input from the film’s transgender producer.
Based on McNeil’s 2007 play of the same name, the film casts John Carroll Lynch as Early, a heartbroken widower who attempts to get his life back together after the sudden death of his wife. That includes a move to Hollywood, where he meets charming next door neighbor Freda (Bomer), tentatively embarking on a relationship with the trans sex worker that few other people in his life understand. Nearly a year later, the film debuted at the Los Angeles Film Festival to significantly less hubbub and a handful of positive reviews; Lynch was even singled out with a special award for his acting in the feature.
But as the film readies for its theatrical release, nearly two years after its inauspicious first announcement, it remains to be seen how exactly it will be received by wider audiences, including members of the community it attempts to portray. The film’s first trailer plays up an overriding message of love and acceptance, the same one echoed by associate producer Kylene K. Steele, herself a transgender woman who helped guide the production.
The film is Steele’s first film credit, and she became involved with the project through fellow producer Louise Runge, who asked Steele to read McNeil’s script to offer her thoughts. Steele told IndieWire that much of her input involved modernizing the script from its decade-old source material, and she met with McNeil to discuss changes she thought were necessary. “We need to make sure that this person’s situation is truly understood, so let’s make sure that there’s more to Freda than just what we see on the surface,” she remembered telling McNeil.
Based on those notes, Steele said McNeil re-wrote parts of the script focused on Freda. Later, Steele met Bomer (who has been openly gay since 2012) to talk about both the character and Steele’s own life experience as a transgender woman. During shooting, Steele said she was on set every day that Bomer was shooting as Freda, all the better to provide more input to both the actor and McNeil.
“Matt did an amazing job, and he’s a phenomenal actor. It was amazing what he did, I was blown away by his performance,” she said. “Myself, I think the part should go to the actor. I think that trans [women] should play women. You shouldn’t be judged by who the person’s gender is, if they can pretend and be the person that’s fit for the role, then that’s the way it should be. You don’t necessarily have to be trans to play a trans character.”
Steele also hastened to add that audiences should take the opportunity to see the film before commenting on certain elements, including Bomer’s casting as Freda.
“I was really upset that some of the people said what they said,” she said, adding that she suspected that most people who took the film to task did not realize that a trans woman was a producer on the film. “I think when the trans community said some of the things they said, they didn’t realize they were attacking an ally. That’s all I ask, is that people come with an open heart and an open mind.”
She added that she’s been cautiously excited by the uptick of visible trans actors in recent years (even since filming the project in 2016), but “we still need more. There’s so many more out there. We need more, but it takes time. Every civil rights movement wasn’t just, change happened immediately.”
For Steele, a number of scenes within the film hit home, including an uncomfortable dinner in which Freda is introduced to Early’s family (which can partially be seen in the trailer), along with a violent incident in which Freda is assaulted (also hinted at in the trailer).
“That situation where Freda is attacked, it happens every day in trans people’s lives,” Steele said. “It happens constantly, and it needed to be seen. It needed to be a point that people think that you can just hurt people because they are different and they are a minority. We wanted to show an aspect of that in the film, showing some of the suffering that still goes on today. It’s sad to see that this violence exists today against trans people.”
Mainly, though, Steele hopes that the film can appeal to people’s emotions and that audiences can relate to the love story at its heart.
“I hope they feel compassion and understanding,” Steele said. “It’s about being human. It’s not about being trans, it’s not about being straight, it’s not about being gay. I think if people come to the film, they’ll see it is just love, it is compassion, I hope they see it’s a human thing, seeing beauty in everything, [and] what love can do.”
Check out IndieWire’s exclusive first trailer for “Anything” below.
“Anything” opens in New York in May 11 and Los Angeles and other markets on May 18.