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Before Sophie White began professionally telling stories as an actress and filmmaker she had a career as varied as the characters she portrays on screen. At one point racing motorcycles and doing boxing promotion, White has also worked as a first responder and started her own chiropractic practice. But even though White’s film and TV career spans 20 years it’s not likely she’s immediately recognizable to the average viewer. That’s because she not only got her start behind the camera but because she recently started transitioning from male to female, too.
But if it seems that being openly transgender would limit White from landing parts, her fall schedule is proof that she’s keeping busy. This month alone the Lousiana-based actress is set to debut as a guest star on NBC’s “Chicago Med” and appear on TNT’s “Tell me Your Secrets,” while in November fans can see her live in the New Orleans play “Transcripts.” BTL caught up with White to learn more about her acting style and how she got her start.
Twenty years ago, although White was a creative person, making content for film and TV was not something she had considered. It was her brother who first came to her with the idea.
“He was starting a TV station and he wanted me to help with equipment. Me and a cousin of mine bought a whole bunch of equipment and we helped start a TV station and basically the business didn’t do well and we wound up going bankrupt and we had a whole bunch of equipment and it was either fire selling it or learning how to use it,” White said. “So, we started learning how to use it and I did TV for a little while and I wound up transferring over to movies.”
That decision turned out to be a match made in heaven and soon White was working on a variety of projects, including eight movies with actor John Schneider, in various roles behind the camera. In 2017 that hard work paid off and she won the Writer of the Year Award from a New Orleans film festival. That ended up being a catalyst for one of White’s most life-changing projects.
“When I was at the film festival a friend of mine was there and we were talking and I pitched him an idea called ‘Hummingbird,’ and ‘Hummingbird’ is loosely based on my story,” White said.
At the time, although White knew she was a transgender woman, she had been battling with telling her friends and family and had been closeted. Her struggle even got her to the point of suicidal thoughts, but, at that point, she wasn’t even out to the friend to whom she pitched the idea.
“He loved the script and said, ‘Let’s see if we can get this thing made,’ and he said, ‘Let’s make a proof of concept’ — about 10 minutes of the movie just so you can find people to invest it and he said he could find half the money if I could find the other half.”
But two weeks before the project was set to shoot, half of the money fell through. White suggested that they continue as far as possible without the other half in the bank. To save costs, White decided to play the lead and before she knew it she was auditioning for various other parts. She had kick-started her acting career. Unfortunately, “Hummingbird” never saw full production despite White’s well-received acting because a transgender consultant on the film died by suicide.
“Two weeks after we finished shooting, she committed suicide. This ripped the heart out of the project. And now it lingers in a box waiting on completion of post-production. I wish I would have picked up on the clues that she was that bad off,” White said in an interview with Big Easy Magazine. “However, ‘Hummingbird’ has sent me on a journey of a lifetime and for that I am grateful. I have only been really acting since last year.”
Flooded With Opportunities
White is the first to recognize that recently she’s been experiencing quite the influx of roles.
“I’m getting stuff from all over the place, it seems like the universe has kind of opened up to me and I guess embracing who I am has been really good for me. I’ve had a very easy transition compared to a lot of people that I know,” she said.
She said that she feels grateful that she hasn’t lost any family or friends after coming out as transgender officially in January. Having taken hormones sporadically for years, it’s only been a few months that White has felt comfortable enough to be open about regularly taking them and been able to dress as authentically herself. She said that when she first got interested in acting it served as an avenue to explore her true identity.
“I actually started trying to do it about 10 years ago and I wasn’t really able to because I wasn’t ready to. I auditioned one time, and my first audition was an eight-page part. We shot the movie and it was a reason for me to dress as female — that’s what I used it as. But after that movie I just wasn’t ready,” she said. “I was still really, really in the closet at that point and nobody really knew anything. And so, that’s kind of where I started with that and then I kind of just stepped back into the closet.”
It was last year, after dealing with some family issues, that White said she began to reflect on being unable to come out to members of her family who had died. She said that reflection served as a wake-up call to come out and start following her passions.
When asked how she approaches screen time, White said that her journey has made a wide range of emotions easy to access for her. In a way, it’s a double-edged sword, she said.
“That’s been my biggest issue, because one thing about suppressing emotions for 20 or 30 years when you do let them out, they tend to sit on your shoulders,” she said. “They’re very accessible to me because I held them for so long and when they came out, they came out with a vengeance.”
Despite that struggle, however, White said she’s pleasantly surprised at the fact that she’s not only working, but able to reach so many audiences. She said she hopes her work will help broader audiences understand more about transgender people in general.
“I just hope people can understand who we are and just see us as somebody who wants the best for our families and ourselves and being who we are without people going crazy on us. There are still transgender people who are killed every years just because they’re trans, you know? And I think that’s going to be around a while,” she said. “Forty-six percent of us attempt suicide and that’s basically one in two. And that’s attempt, not think about it — I think 100 percent think about suicide. But 46 percent actually attempt suicide, which is a crazy number. And being trans is not that big of a deal, and it’s just something I want to focus on and try to get a handle on to where we can reduce that number to, hopefully, nothing.”