Trace Lysette Reflects On 'Quiet Strength' Of Her 'Monica' Performance
Trace Lysette has officially entered the leading lady era of her career after delivering what can only be described as an emotionally raw and beautifully specific performance as the titular character in Monica.
Written and directed by Andrea Pallaoro, Monica is centered around a trans woman attempting to reconnect with her mother, Eugenia, played brilliantly by Patricia Clarkson. Eugenia isn’t in the best physical and mental health, which prompts Monica to come home and help take care of her. Upon arrival, however, Eugenia doesn’t appear to recognize the woman in front of her as her estranged child.
“I think her quiet strength stood out to me a lot,” Lysette tells PRIDE in an interview. “I knew that she represented so many of us trans women. I knew that her story was something that we’ve seen bits and pieces of, but that we had never seen centered in that way.”
While Pallaoro’s script and direction for Monica are clearly deliberate and specific, they also get completely out of the way of the story being told, prompting Lysette’s acting to fill in certain blanks about who this woman is, how she feels, and where the story is progressing. “It was a lot of internal work, working from your gut and your heart,” Lysette explains. “There was no script for a lot of scenes, so you couldn’t really lean on the dialogue. It wasn’t there. And I think it’s a really beautiful thing when you have to go inside and figure out a way to get that across to the audience.”
More often than not, trans representation in film and television falls into two categories. On one hand, representation can feel over-the-top and tokenized, to the point where it seems like one’s trans identity is all that the character has to offer to the story. On the other hand, it can be brought up in such a matter-of-factly manner that trans storylines and characters only exist in blink-and-you-will-miss-it moments. And yet, Monica establishes a new blueprint for how trans stories could be told on the big screen.
When asked to comment on trans representation in mainstream media, Lysette agrees that Hollywood is still struggling to find the right balance. The actress points out, “What I have seen in the TV and film landscape is what you just described: it’s either preachy and shoved down your throat, or it’s just a trope, a glimpse, a one-off, a one-episode, and you don’t even get to know the trans character.”
“But Monica is neither of those things,” she rightfully argues. “There are no preachy moments. It isn’t exploitive. It doesn’t feel sensational. If anything, it is a compliment to the audience. This film has the confidence that [audience members] can think for themselves and can produce their own thoughts about what is going on in this world and with this woman.”
Besides striking a perfect chord of trans representation on the big screen, Monica also unlocks the full potential of Lysette’s talents as an actress – and not just an actress, but a leading actress.
Lysette notes, “I feel like this movie solidified me in the kind of leading lady category. I’ve definitely been on my fair share of different TV shows, but this is the first time I feel like they gave me a full plate of food to eat. I felt like this was the first time that I got a chance to really show the world what I could do with my craft. And that feels good because every actor dreams of that shot, that chance.”
When this film premiered at the 79th Venice International Film Festival, Lysette received an 11-and-a-half-minute standing ovation from the audience, which was a new record for the festival until Colin Farrell’s 13-minute ovation for The Banshees of Inisherin. Still, to receive that kind of praise – and be slightly one-upped by one of Hollywood’s most critically-acclaimed actors of all time – is certainly a testament to just how powerful Lysette’s performance in Monica truly is.
“Andrea [Pallaoro] told me they only stopped because the ushers came in and told us to get out. They needed the theater for the next film,” Lysette reveals as she looks back at receiving that wonderful response in Venice.
“It felt like a long time, and it meant a lot to me at that moment, but I also had questions about what that meant for me,” she adds. “I went to the bathroom stall after we left the theater and I just cried by myself for at least five minutes. What you hope it means is that it means safety for the larger trans community, and also for myself as an actor who has a lot of hard-fought wins. I don’t think any of my career was handed to me. So, when this standing ovation happened, it left a lot of question marks in the air for me, and I was trying to make sense of all of them at the same time. I think that’s why I was so emotional.”
Without a single shred of doubt, Lysette’s career as a leading lady is ready and set to reach new heights following the wide release of Monica, which opens Friday, May 12 in theaters.
Watch PRIDE’s full interview with Trace Lysette below.