Asia Kate DillonFeature Story, Section 4A, Latest Issue Thursday, February 2nd, 2017
Meet one of the first non-binary gender identifying actors to be cast on mainstream TV
Billions, a Showtime original program is based loosely on the prosecution of Steve Cohen – played here as Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Showtime’s Damian Lewis from Homeland) – by zealous financial crimes prosecutor Preet Bhahara – Paul Giamatti as Chuck Rhoades, his worthy nemesis. Cohen, despite his fate, was famously philanthropic. His public persona was one of great generosity and he paid a portion of college for all the 9/11 victims’ children who worked for SAC Capital. (He was one of the firm’s survivors of that calamitous Tuesday morning.) However, whereas in public he cast a bright light, in private his past showed a deeply exploitative side and Cohen managed to enrich himself quite handsomely, albeit illegally, through insider trading and bribery at the helm of his financial Titanic.
So what can be less expected or less warranted, in this financial drama than the fictional character of Taylor Mason, a gender non-binary math whiz who helps the company avoid squandering millions all the while ingratiating themselves into Bobby’s orbit? (Gender non-binary people commonly request to use the third person plurals ‘them,’ ‘they’ and ‘their(s).’ In fact, Mason makes that clear very early on with a line from the show: “My pronouns are ‘they,’ ‘their’ and ‘them.’”) There’s little antecedent for such a bold stroke on a major TV program largely due to the fact that there has never been a major non-binary gender identifying character on TV. Ever. “When I was growing up, if there had been someone like Taylor on TV, it would have really meant something to me. So it feels good to be playing a character who might mean something to someone else,” said Asia Kate Dillon, who plays the part of Mason.
And what could have been a crude effort at political correctness turns into something lyrical as played by Dillon, also non-binary gender identifying, in what promises to turn Season Two of the largely well-regarded show into an exciting, thought-provoking and wholly groundbreaking program. Dillon spoke with San Diego LGBT Weekly and offered up their thinking on a wide array of subjects; and just in time, too. Billions premieres Feb. 19.
San Diego LGBT Weekly: Requiring to play a role that, by its very nature, is gender non-binary, do you feel that any actor could have conceivably played the part? Was there something specific in the audition that required you to draw upon your own experiences that, perhaps, another equally but non-binary actor could have tapped into?
Asia Kate Dillon: I believe that Brian (Koppelman) and David (Levien), the co-creators, writers and executive producers, wanted to cast the best actor for the role. The casting of a non-binary actor to play a non-binary character on a major television show was coincidence. Though it is certainly significant.
Gender definitions have been going through a sort of revolutionary convulsion over the last five-or-so years. So, for those of our readers that may not be up to speed, can you explain the essence of “non-binary gender?”
‘Non-binary’ is a term used by some people who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as falling outside the categories of ‘man’ and ‘woman.’ They may define their gender as falling somewhere in between ‘man’ and ‘woman,’ or they may define it as wholly different from these terms. People are born babies and a doctor decides the sex based on a quick look at the baby’s external anatomy. A transgender person’s gender is much more complicated than a simple glance at external anatomy can capture and a person’s biology does not trump their gender identity.
Does it strike you at all that a show about powerful white men would want to explore the character you play? How does your character fit into the larger narrative of the show?
I do find it striking. I find it hopeful, actually. Taylor is a left-brained person with strong math and logic skills. They are analytical and objective as well as highly intelligent and efficient. These qualities make Taylor ideal for the hedge fund world because it is a world that requires analytical objectivity when it comes to cause and effect. But Taylor also has a strong moral center which may or may not ultimately serve them at Axe Capital. Seeing the powerful white men at Axe Capital navigate Taylor and their actions was something that excited me about playing the part because you never see a character like Taylor in the hedge fund world. How would it play out?
So, by textbook definition, you don’t identify as a man or woman. Great, I say. Definitions are constrictive. But if you have an identification, what or who is it?
Although I was assigned female at birth, I use the singular pronoun ‘they’ because I feel that my gender is fluid. The boxes ‘man’ and ‘woman’ feel too small to encompass my whole self so I use ‘they’ as a way of expressing my whole self.
Does the attention you’re getting affect you in any ways?
Building a public platform has always been important to me, not just as a performer, writer and director but for myself as an activist and caretaker because it’s essential to me that all my work supports and uplifts marginalized and historically disenfranchised people. Yes, certainly, I am in a unique position; what I hope to convey is that we are all in a unique position to be not only our own idols but each other’s as well. And by idol, I simply mean someone who helps lead us toward finding our common humanity. We are the ones we have been waiting for and if I am among those leading the charge, then I am honored and grateful.
What is it you don’t identify with each gender? What is it you do?
Gender is an essence and in that sense I identify with all the characteristics of all genders and the quality of my essence changes day to day, even moment to moment. In some moments I’m feeling strong to which the patriarchy would say that means I’m feeling masculine. In some moments I’m feeling emotional to which the patriarchy would say that means I’m feeling feminine. Feelings, like gender and sexual orientation exist on a spectrum. I exist on a spectrum.
How would your closest friends describe you?
My closest friends would describe me, in their words (I asked) as: Daring, fearlessly-driven, kind, fierce, a badass, honest, self-reflective, empathetic, dependable, brave, inspiring, loving, modest and “Unbreakable. Alive, dammit. A miracle.”
Season Two of Billions premieres Feb. 19 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.
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