Sunday, 4 August 2013

Interview with Calpernia Addams

Monika: Today I have invited a special guest. Calpernia Addams is an American author, actress, musician, spokesperson and activist for transgender rights and issues. Calpernia grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. She served as a hospital corpsman with the Navy and United States Marine Corps. She is a co-founder of Deep Stealth Productions, providing educational and entertainment material around gender-identification matters. Calpernia is known for her performance as a transgender woman in the 2005 film Transamerica, 2006 documentary film Beautiful Daughters, and a 2008 reality television series entitled Transamerican Love Story. Hello Calpernia!
Calpernia: Hello, Monika!
Monika: Having so many talents you seem to be more focused on acting. Which film directors or movies are your inspirations?
Calpernia: Well, Frank Pierson was a legendary writer and director going back many decades who eventually came to direct the film about my life called "Soldier's Girl". He has been the most personally influential director in my life, and if you look back at his body of work, anyone would see why he is very inspiring to me as an artist.
On a deep and personal level, I am inspired by the films of Marilyn Monroe. I know it can be a cliché to say that one likes "Marilyn", but I do feel a deeper personal connection to her story as a woman and an artist after studying her life, films, and myth-making process in depth. Living in Hollywood, I pass by the places she knew and went to almost every day, so she is sort of in the air.
Strangely enough, I have always been very inspired by Cassandra Petersen's "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark" character and the work of cartoonist Charles Addams, as well. I have a dark side tempered by a sense of humor, which you'll find in both people's work. And Elvira's self-deprecating sexiness and slapstick comedy were always goals of mine.

Calpernia Le Heur Blue by Krista Benson.

Monika: Your role of Ingrid in Woman's Picture (2011) departs from the stereotype of a transgender actress playing a transgender woman…
Calpernia: In "Woman's Picture", Ingrid was a trans woman returning home to retrieve a cherished memento of her accepting grandmother from her un-accepting mother. I portrayed Ingrid as a fully transitioned person, completely comfortable in herself as a female. Ingrid's main conflict was with her mother's intolerance.
Although I certainly didn't plan it this way, if you look at a listing of my film and television work on my IMDB page, you'll see the word "trans" in most of my projects. 
I began my career during the early years of the internet's widespread entry into the average family home, and America's awareness of trans people was only just beginning to blossom at the time that I came upon the scene.
I think that shaped the opportunities which came my way, and I was seen as an accessible and likable representation of the trans characters that outsiders were writing.
My business partner, trans director, and writer Andrea James, and I created the short film "Casting Pearls" to depict some of those early experiences in Hollywood as an actress auditioning for trans roles. I think writers have progressed from portraying trans people as deviant killers to tragic victims and now they tend to write us as non-threatening comedic relief.
There are notable exceptions, of course, but I think one can see a similar progression in the opportunities for Black actors in Hollywood. I look forward to the next steps, where we are just normal participants, but only time will tell.

Monika: Some critics say that the contemporary movie industry does not provide too many opportunities for women to show their talents and stories that are more interesting for the female audience. Would you agree?
Calpernia: Women in Hollywood are still rarely allowed to "open" a movie, meaning that filmmakers are not confident that a film centered on a woman's story will recoup their investment by selling enough tickets. Of course, there are many examples of iconic female characters who buck this trend, but for the most part, the money is invested in male-led stories and women are supporting characters or co-stars.
Comedic films are proving to be the main exception, and movies like "Bridesmaids" have inspired a new spate of female-centered films currently in production, so hopefully, more equality is on the horizon.

Calpernia by Jose Guzman.

Monika: What is your view on transgender stories which have been featured in films so far?
Calpernia: As I alluded to before, most trans characters have been prostitutes, punchlines, psychos, or "poor tragic things". Andrea and I refer to these archetypes as "The Four P's".
I admit that we are a tiny minority overall. We are also a very diverse community of people comprised of all races and backgrounds. A "transgender story" can be that of a wealthy Black socialite, a tough White military pilot, a poor Asian prostitute, a single French parent, and yes there are criminals and malcontents alongside the strong and brave heroes in our community.
There are an infinite variety of stories to tell, but I wish we could see more positive portrays to balance out the almost universally negative, tragic, and/or hyper eroticized characterizations of the past.
Monika: At the 2009 GLAAD Media Awards when you were accepting the award for "Transamerican Love Story" you had the emotional speech about how much your life had changed over the last ten years …
Calpernia: When I moved to Hollywood sometime around 2002, I was focused on acting. I have gained some success as a live singer with vintage Hollywood cabaret music from the '40s and '50s, Jazz, Traditional Music, and some original Pop music as well. As I am no longer in my 20's, I face the same difficulty all actresses experience in finding roles that embrace my maturity.
But I will always be happy so long as I can perform artistically, whether on a cabaret stage or in front of a camera. I was recently featured as a singer in a commercial for Facebook's launch of their new software, and this Fall I was fortunate enough to be chosen as the face of OCC Makeup's Fall campaign in Sephora stores nationwide.

Monika: Which movie or role was the real stepping stone for your acting career? Was it “Transamerica” (2005)?
Calpernia: "Transamerica" was an incredible opportunity for me to become friends with star Felicity Huffman. My onscreen time was brief, but Felicity worked with Andrea and I for months researching her character, and during that time we became friends. She gave me some very good advice, which has led indirectly to several other jobs in Hollywood for me.
The most impactful work I ever had in Hollywood never actually made it to the screen: My friend Jane Fonda brought me into work with her on the comedy "Monster In Law", and although my scenes were cut, working on the film got me into the Screen Actors' Guild (SAG), which is the actors' union. Getting a membership is difficult, so I will always remember my experience hanging out with a Hollywood legend (Jane), the other star (Jennifer Lopez), and learning a lot about the process of film-making.
Starring in my own show on MTV's LOGO network ("Transamerican Love Story") did much to get me out into the mainstream as a television personality, as well. I am so grateful for that opportunity.

Calpernia Addams Presents: UNREAL
at Hamburger Mary's (by Matthew McPeck).

Monika: You have been quite a prolific artist: cabaret shows, songs, film productions, and scripts. What is your favorite artist field?
Calpernia: Right now, I'm enjoying the live performance the most. As a child, I performed traditional music with my family on Violin and other instruments, and currently, I do live shows in Cabaret, Traditional Music, and even tour with my friend, cult superstar, and singer/songwriter Patrick Wolf.
Monika: Have you got any new projects in the pipeline?
Calpernia: My campaign for OCC Makeup's Fall collection in Sephora stores nationwide will debut soon. I am scheduled to tour for the launches in New York, LA, and other major cities, where I will also sing at the after-parties.
I will be doing a cruise this Fall, and I am scheduled to record an acoustic Traditional Music album in London this year.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman? Was it a difficult process? Did you have any support from your family or friends? Did it have any impact on your job situation?
Calpernia: I always had a feminine soul, but was forced to suppress myself throughout my youth. I finally began social transition in my early 20's, after I left my years as a military Combat Medic in the Navy Hospital Corps to become a stage performer. I began medical and legal transition in my mid-to-late 20's.
Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Calpernia: The first transsexual women I ever saw were showgirls in a very large, popular gay theatre and nightclub. I saw them combining a positive environment for transition with my love of performance, so I set it as my goal to join their show, which I soon did.

Calpernia by Jose Guzman.

Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Calpernia: I was used to the cruelty and lack of acceptance from the world since I had always been a feminine, sensitive outsider. But being harshly rejected by my family upon revealing my intention to transition was the most difficult experience. They are resigned to my transition now, but they still do not understand it nor do they respect it.


All the photos: courtesy of Calpernia Addams.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

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