While Asia Kate Dillon – who uses the singular pronoun “they” for identification – is as private as one can be about their personal life as a famous actor, they recognizes the importance of sharing with the public that they identify as non-binary (as a gender other than exclusively male or female.)
“I feel a particular responsibility to portray members of my community on stage and on screen, not only as fully fleshed-out characters who are integral to the plot, but as characters whose gender identity is just one of many parts that make up the whole person,” said Dillon, who joins the “Billions” cast on Showtime as Taylor, a new intern at Axe Capital, the hedge fund run by billionaire Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damian Lewis).
The show, which premieres Feb. 19, will feature “fresh, exciting energy,” courtesy of Dillon’s character, who also self-identifies as gender non-conforming. The show is believed to be a first for mainstream television. The co-creators and executive producers Brian Koppelman and David Levien told the Huffington Post that the decision to add a gender non-binary character to the show was simply “an organic process” as opposed to an intentional “social justice” statement.
Prior to “Billions,” Dillon appeared on Netflix’s dramedies “Master of None” and “Orange is the New Black,” in which Dillon plays Brandy Epps, an inmate at Litchfield Penitentiary. The performer, writer and director residing in New York City discussed with Between The Lines how they feel about their groundbreaking role and the importance of being authentic on and off the stage and screen.
You’re making history as one of the first non-binary gender identifying actors to be cast on mainstream TV. What does that mean to you?
It means visibility. Like you said, in the time we’re in right now, in particular, it’s increasingly important – both visibility and education. I’m proud to be a part of the growing movement of visility for nonbinary and gender nonconforming folks.
What attracted you to Taylor’s character?
Their intelligence, their ability to cut right to the chase and the fullness of their character on the page.
Watch a trailer for the Season 2 of “Billions” on Showtime.
You told the Huffington Post that it was a “delicious” opportunity learning to navigate power politics in the world of New York high finance. What does that mean?
I knew this role would be a challenge because Asia does not know anything about trading hedge funds. I was able to learn something totally new, which I’m always looking for. I researched initially for my audition and was trying to memorize my lines and one particular speech had a lot of jargon that I didn’t understand. I couldn’t memorize my lines so I looked it up, understood what it meant and the words stuck. In addition to doing our own research, though, if something still doesn’t quite make sense, there is a wonderful fellow, a Wall Street consultant named Turney Duff, available for us to ask.
When did you know that identifying as non-binary was right for you?
When I got the sides for my “Billions” audition in the spring of 2016 and it said the character of Taylor was non-binary I looked up the word. Everything clicked for me. I knew from that moment on that non-binary was my gender identity.
What has been your experience coming out as non-binary?
Every journey has its struggle, but for the most part I have been surrounded by love and support and acceptance and understanding and communication. I have friends who have not had that same experience, whether it’s coming out as a different gender identity or sexual orientation. My story matters and all I’m offering is the visibility of another experience.
In a recent post on Instagram, you pointed to your idols, such as David Bowie and Prince, who died in 2016. When people like them leave us, you said it’s up to us to face the truth and become each other’s idols. How will you embrace that role?
I will strive to embrace my role with humility and grace. 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. The point in that post is yes, certainly I am in a very unique position. What I hoped 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.
Tell me something fun about yourself that the general public doesn’t know about you.
The first thing that comes to mind is that I know how to swing dance. I’m very good at swing dancing. I did it every day for many many years but realized I don’t want to be a professional swing dancer. I love doing it as much as I can.
The roles you play are not always true to who you are, such as your character Brandy Epps, on “OITNB.” Was it a challenge to play the role of a white supremacist?
Challenging is the right word. I always look for a challenge in a job. This role, being the complete opposite of who I am, was a great challenge. I found that, you know, my job as an actor is to research, prepare and inhabit my character. When I’m done, I leave that character at work. Just like every other acting job I’ve had, I show up and play the part and leave. It certainly gave me a lot of insight into where white supremacist and neo-Nazis are coming from – a place of fear, not a place of love. This helped frame the way I talk about it when curating and directing “US”, a social justice theater piece to drive the Black Lives Matter conversation forward.
Have you ever been misunderstood because of the way you present yourself?
As someone who was assigned female at birth I’ve had a pretty easy time, although I’ve certainly had my struggles. I think it’s important to mention that there are no safe spaces for non-binary people, especially those of color, who were assigned male at birth. And as the murder of trans women especially is on the rise, non-binary, gender nonconforming and trans visibility, education and support are increasingly more important. To people who see me on the outside, I look hard. I have short hair and tattoos. They meet me and I am, if I may, intelligent, well-spoken – that isn’t to say or to make the assumption that someone that falls within that stereotype would be violent or dumb. It’s just that I offer a juxtaposition to all of that in the way I present myself. I don’t often feel misunderstood, but I am the first person a lot of people have encountered like me. This leads to open conversation and understanding and acceptance.