Bobbi Salvör Menuez Is a Bad Liar

With a TV resume that includes Transparent, I Love Dick, and Euphoria and a film resume that includes Adam and My Animal, Bobbi Salvör Menuez’s career has always been based in queerness. And yet, their latest film, Noah Schamus’ Summer Solstice, still feels like an exciting departure. It’s their first film playing a male character and a treat to watch them explore the spectrum of roles their transness allows.

Upon its New York release — don’t worry, it’s expanding soon — I talked to Bobbi about being a bad liar, the universe curating their career, and the life-long influence of video store clerks.

Drew: I’d love to start from the beginning. Where did you grow up?

Bobbi: Oh wow cool. (laughs) I was born in New York City. In Brooklyn. Born and raised there. My mom was working retail and my dad was doing freelance furniture making. They were really broke, but then he got offered a job in England, so I spent three years in London. Then they broke up and were like I guess let’s not live here anymore. (laughs) My mom had kept the same old rent controlled apartment so we came back to New York. I took it over when she moved upstate, which we love. And yeah my parents were really young and open-minded. I had a lot of freedom as a kid in terms of my self-expression and just in general. Not a super rule oriented household. By the time I was like 12 or 13, my parents each had babies separately from each other so I was a very free, wild teenager running amok in New York. And it’s a great place to do that I would say.

Drew: And how did you get interested in acting?

Bobbi: I really like movies. I always felt really connected to movies. But I wasn’t sure I would be a good actor because I wasn’t very good at lying. It was very stressful to me. And I’m still not the best at lying unless I’m totally convinced of the lie.

I thought maybe I’d be on the other side of filmmaking. I helped cast some short films for friends who were at the NYU film program while I was in high school. And around that time I started to support myself through modeling. It allowed me to move out of the house when I was 18 and through that I was meeting different people. Technically my first acting thing was a short film for a fashion photographer I did as a teenager even though it just felt like a fun long weekend.

I was running an art collective with some other kids I grew up with and some press for that randomly appeared in a French magazine. A French casting director saw a portrait of me and read about my little art collective. And it’s funny because I’d run into a pole a week before the photo was taken so my lip looked a little busted. (laughs)

Drew: (laughs) And they were like yes exactly what we’re looking for.

Bobbi: It was a vibe. It was my friend Cass Bird who took the photo who I love. Iconic gay person who makes photos that are gay. Even if they’re not explicitly gay in a commercial context. (laughs) But yeah that casting director Antoinette ended up reaching out when I’d just turned 18 for an Olivier Assayas film. I met her in New York and that was my first role. Then Olivier Assayas said really nice things about me to people in LA who started reaching out and within a year I was going to shoot these two indies that I’ve still never watched.

Bobbi Salvör Menuez: Bobbi poses in underwear and a long blonde wig placed on their head as they turn around and clutch their foot.

Photo by Ben Taylor

Drew: Okay so I was obsessed with Something in the Air.

Bobbi: Really??

Drew: Yeah it came out during my freshman year of college and I saw it in theatres and I was obsessed with that movie. Like it was my personality for a couple months.

Bobbi: Oh wow.

Drew: I’d grown up watching French New Wave stuff…

Bobbi: Oh yeah, same.

Drew: So capturing this moment after the student protests? I was obsessed. But wow what a random casting experience.

Bobbi: I’m shocked because it’s not Assayas’ most popular film by a long shot. A lot of people haven’t seen it, especially in the States, so that’s such a cute random thing.

Drew: Yeah for a while when you’d pop up in stuff I’d be like oh look it’s the person from Something in the Air!

Bobbi: (laughs)

Drew: Okay so the French New Wave. You said you got into film at a young age. What other stuff were you watching and excited about?

Bobbi: I’m so bad at recalling lists and names. But I was born in 1993, so I still grew up with video rental places.

Drew: Same.

Bobbi: It was such a special thing and I remember going to the last video rental place downtown. There was Kim’s which is very famous. But after Kim’s closed, a smaller shop, Cinema Nolita, was the last to hold on. Eléonore Hendricks, who is a casting person and actor, worked there and was dating Josh Safdie. The whole Safdie Brothers crew and all these different downtown film nerdy people were always there and working there and it had such cool curation. The programming I see now at somewhere like Metrograph was how that video rental place used to be. It was cool because I could go in there and be like, oh I really liked Leos Carax’s Lovers on the Bridge, what should I watch next? I guess people have that energy now with Letterboxd. I feel kind of old talking about chatting it up with the person at the video rental store, but that was something that was really special to me.

I had such a New Wave moment when I was like 15. And I also really liked anime. So I remember watching a Godard movie and then Paprika and thinking oh I want to cut my hair like that and then I’m going to sew myself shirts that look like the ones they wear in the French movies. I made myself striped shirts where each stripe was sewn to each other.

Drew: Incredible.

Bobbi: And also Netflix used to send DVDs in the mail?

Drew: Oh I remember.

Bobbi: I was so into that. That was really fun.

Drew: I was still getting Netflix mail DVDs years after most people. Because there wasn’t that much on streaming! And there still isn’t a lot. The Criterion Channel and MUBI and Kanopy help but still.

Bobbi: I know but then you have to have like a million accounts.

Drew: Totally.

Bobbi: I never watched it, probably because I don’t have a DVD player, but I think I still have the Netflix DVD for Cleopatra. It’s somewhere in my piles.

Drew: It’s a relic! A piece of history.

Bobbi: I didn’t grow up with cable TV and at my dad’s house didn’t have TV at all. There was a projector and the computer which I feel is what a lot of people have now. That was the vibe. So movies were what we watched. Or you know I’d get like The Simpsons DVDs. I was really into The Simpsons as a kid. (laughs)

Drew: I was also born in 1993 so my media experience was similar.

Bobbi: Oh literally.

Drew: Except I have a Blu-Ray player and still own like 800 DVDs and Blu-Rays.

Bobbi: Oh my God. I kind of want to get a DVD player because I have DVDs with stuff I probably can’t find online. Like compilations of weird old commercials and all the Michel Gondry music videos. That kind of stuff was so fun to me. I was really into watching commercials as a kid.

Drew: Well, the good thing about no one really having DVDs is DVD and Blu-Ray players are pretty cheap.

Bobbi: That checks out.

Bobbi stands in a doorway in a tank top with acorn bells around their neck

Photo by Ben Taylor

Drew: Okay so you do Something in the Air. You do these two indies in LA. What next? Your filmography is quite good and quite cool and quite queer. How did you go about picking those parts? I feel like young actors usually just take what they can get. But your career feels very curated.

Bobbi: I think it’s a collaboration between me and the universe. There’s an energy in this industry that you should take every audition and take every role. But I have this funny combination where I love to work really hard on things but only if it’s interesting to me. I will happily work a 17 hour day shooting outside in snow at night time while screaming and losing my voice — like I literally love that — for the right project.

Sometimes I would think, yeah I should just audition for Power Rangers. They said if I didn’t want to be the pink ranger, I could be the yellow ranger. I should just do it! Or whatever. But I just don’t think I do a good job if I’m not interested in it. So maybe when I force myself to do the auditions that I don’t find that interesting — which I sometimes do and sometimes don’t — I might just not do as good of a job, because it doesn’t feel as meaningful. The universe or the powers that be made certain more mainstream things not happen for me even if it seemed like they were going to. Financially those things are still very appealing to me, but I do feel gratitude for the slow pace with which I have found the projects that I work on.

And, honestly I feel like some of the most interesting projects found me through the other work, so I’ve just been really grateful in that way. And also there are things I’ve never watched that I shot. I’ve done things that feel embarrassing. But I’m glad the overall arc of my career is something I’m proud of and includes a lot of projects that I do feel good about. Especially queer-wise. I remember being on-set with this actress who has worked a lot and she was excited because she was going to get to work with a female director soon. I thought about my own filmography and wow I’ve been so spoiled. I’ve shot two features with trans directors and I can’t even count how many women directors I’ve worked with. I just feel so, so grateful. And it’s cool to work on those sets and then to work on different kinds of sets and realize there really is so much value to different kinds of people with different perspectives being given the resources to tell their own stories. It’s so much better that way. The quality of cinema suffers when people with different experiences don’t get to contribute.

Drew: For sure. And it makes sense you said you’re a bad liar. Maybe when you’re auditioning for things you don’t care about, you’re not good at pretending to care about them. (laughs)

Bobbi: (laughs) Yeah.

Drew: Do you have a specific creative process as an actor or does it depend on the role?

Bobbi: It has definitely changed over the years. Before my first film, I had only taken one acting 101 class at Hunter where I was going to college at the time. That’s not a school known for its theatre program, but I thought it was great. I learned that acting isn’t lying, it’s truthfully expressing something imaginary. It was helpful to get past those mental blockages.

But I went into that first experience just open to being guided by my director and trusting the process. In the film, I have a romantic relationship with one of the more central characters, so I did really focus on building a relationship with that actor outside of set. That was helpful. But I didn’t have acting technique. I was just like, well, I’ll learn the lines and think about the context of the situation, and feel what I’m feeling.

Since then it’s been really project to project. Over the years, I’ve gotten the perspective that I’m actually grateful I’m not overly trained. It can be stifling to get overly cerebral. I have these friends Emily (Allan) and Leah (Hennessey) in New York who work with this technique that’s kind of like anti-method method. They call it impulse work. There’s not a pedagogical tradition around it, but I’d describe it as taking a somatic approach to text as opposed to a cerebral approach. As someone who has also worked in performance art and meditates and has a specific relationship to my body as a trans person, that approach felt really good. I did some prep work with them when I was getting ready to film My Animal. Going into that it felt like it was going to be a big lift. The emotional range of the story is very wide and I’m playing something that’s not human. There was a lot in it that I wanted to treat right.

Generally it’s so project to project because you receive different kinds of support in different contexts. Will there be rehearsal time or not? Will you be able to connect to your fellow actors or not? I just worked on this project I can’t talk about yet and it was a one day thing so you go in and just have to do it.

Drew: How did working on projects with trans actors and directors before you transitioned impact your own sense of identity?

Bobbi: I feel so grateful that I worked on Adam at the time that I did. I know it’s a contentious film due to the original text…

Drew: Well, I love it.

Bobbi: Yeah, I mean, it’s such a departure from the book. Although I never actually read it.

Drew: I actually love the book too. But that can be a conversation for later. (laughs)

Bobbi: (laughs) But yeah I’m just so grateful that I got to work on that film when I did. Literally six months before we started filming, I bought my first binder and went through a breakup with this cis boy I’d been dating. Or at least he’s cis for now. We’ll see. (laughs)

Drew: (laughs)

Bobbi: I was really stepping into my queer life — albeit very privately. I wasn’t out to Rhys (Ernst) as trans when I worked on that project. It was funny because I had long hair and I hadn’t changed my name, but I was thinking a lot about my gender. It was so funny playing this naive cis lesbian while I was in the middle of connecting to my own transness and had two trans partners.

After filming that project, I decided I needed to take a break from all things public to just see what I wanted to do with my life. Did I want to do the thing of coming out publicly? That was about six years ago now and even since then trans visibility has increased. It’s been such a volatile, effervescent time in America for trans visibility and all the gifts and pitfalls that come with that. So the timing of Adam was a major gift, because afterward I didn’t know if I was going to keep acting. I didn’t know if I wanted to deal with it and I didn’t know what kinds of roles were going to be available to me. I was working mostly on indies as I do now and working on indies doesn’t necessarily provide enough to support yourself. Even if you shoot two features in a year, you’ve still got to have these other jobs.

I had supported myself mostly through modeling and modeling a specific kind of body and look. People had an association with how I looked and that was the image I was selling. I had met Rhys working on Transparent and I Love Dick so I had seen the ways there was this exploding scene in LA. But I still wasn’t sure if I was up for it. I remember going on a walk in the LA canyon with Rhys where I said that. And he was kind of like, do what’s right for you but I’ll be really sad if you stop working, because I think you’re a special actor. It was really nice. And then when we got into Sundance, I mean, he just got it. He was like, you don’t have to come if you don’t want to come. But if you want we can get people from GLAAD, we can help you change your instagram handle, we can help you do this, we can have that be a supportive process. And that’s what I did and it was such a gift to come out publicly in that context and to have that support.

Bobbi lies in a tree with pink flowers blooming around them

Photo by Ben Taylor

Drew: Summer Solstice engages quite directly with those anxieties around being a trans actor and what parts are available. What was the casting process like for this movie?

Bobbi: I was in the middle of filming My Animal which was an intense shoot and I also had a family member who was passing away. It was just a really hard time when the sides came into my inbox. I was so exhausted and I knew I wouldn’t be able to do a good tape for it. But since it had a first time director, I just asked my agent, do you think there’s any way this could turn into an offer? Which I feel kind of embarrassed to say. It feels bratty. But she said she would work on it. And a couple days later, she was like it’s an offer. I had read the script and I was really into the project and felt like it could be a good fit. So I’m really glad Noah agreed.

Drew: That’s not bratty! Own the fact that you have the filmography you have. Cis actors ask for offers all the time.

Bobbi: Totally. And audition processes are difficult if you don’t have time to prepare and you’re just filming a self tape so you don’t even get to show your capacity to take directions. You’re just going with whatever instinct you first had which could be good or could be a little off. I miss pre-pandemic when auditions were with casting directors and you could be more conversational. But yeah I was very happy that’s how the casting process went.

And working with Noah was great. It’s funny, Noah’s dad was one of the producers on Adam. And I didn’t even know that. I didn’t put those pieces together until we were using his dad’s house as a location and I was like I recognize the guy in these pictures. (laughs)

Drew: That’s so funny.

Bobbi: I was like I know this guy! And Noah was like yeah you do that’s my dad.

Of course, Noah grew up around the industry, but he’s also someone who just has such a commitment to the caretaking side of directing. I think in the narrative of the genius male director that often gets thrown out the window. We have these ideas of the director manipulating his actors because the actors don’t know how to act I guess. But Noah was so attentive and conversational and had such clarity. And also he was willing to listen. Being a first time director, he was really open for certain things to be conversations. And me and Marianne (Réndon) had a great relationship working on-set together. We were living in Hudson and would meet on weekends and talk through the upcoming material.

We were shooting upstate in the summer and it was the queerest set I’ve ever worked on.

Drew: And that’s saying something for you.

Bobbi: Yeah! It was the most trans crew I’ve ever worked with. And there was just so much care. I felt so cared for on that set and that made it easy to just do the work.

Drew: It sounds like once you were filming there was a lot — if not formal rehearsal — at least conversations with Marianne. And that’s felt on-screen. You have so much chemistry with all three of your, I’ll call them, love interests.

Bobbi: (laughs)

Drew: Was there a formal rehearsal process? Or was it just when you were in Hudson you’d go over the script?

Bobbi: I had more time with Marianne than anyone else, because we were upstate earlier. We got to have that time to carve out for ourselves. That’s something I really like to do when possible. It’s rare because in filmmaking there’s often not support for that. But Noah was very supportive of having rehearsal time. Obviously, on most sets you rehearse before you shoot, but here I didn’t feel rushed in that process. Sometimes you’re on a shoot and it feels like rehearsal is really just for camera or other people and not for your own performance beyond how it’s translating for other people’s needs. I felt like there was patience on this set.

We were also supposed to have a week of rehearsal beforehand but then a couple of us got sick so we just did some Zoom meetings. But we were supposed to! A testament to Noah’s thoughtfulness, even though it didn’t get to happen.

Drew: How many shooting days did you have?

Bobbi: About two weeks upstate and then less than a week in New York. So around twenty.

Bobbi Salvör Menuez interview: Bobbi in green tights and a flannel with string on their head sitting on a bed and placing their hand on the low ceiling

Photo by Ben Taylor

Drew: This isn’t the first time you’ve played a transmasculine character, but it’s interesting you’re now playing opposite some, you know, nightmare femmes. I say that lovingly as someone who myself is occasionally a nightmare femme. They’re roles you maybe would have auditioned for ten years ago.

Bobbi: Definitely.

Drew: What was that experience like?

Bobbi: It was cool. Because it was also the first time I played a trans man. I see this character as being quite binary in his transness and I don’t think I’d done that before. It’s interesting for me as someone who doesn’t identify in that way necessarily. It’s just so fun and weird that my life has included this spectrum. And still does! I still feel like I could play a nightmare femme if I wanted to. (laughs) I think about the way Julio Torres cast Problemista. River Ramirez — who I love — is a transmasc person and there’s this opportunity for a certain kind of drag that opens up with this Bank of America woman character they play.

Because, in reality, I played a girl for a big part of my life so I know something about that. I just look forward to the day someone lets me play a cis man but I don’t know if that’s happening any time soon.

Drew: Yeah, I mean generally I want trans actors to play trans parts, but beyond that it’s more fun to play within the spectrum than to restrict people to their exact labels and how exactly they transitioned. I totally agree with you.

Bobbi: Of course, I think it’s an issue to have trans stories be exploited by cis storytellers. But at the same time I don’t really believe in the cis/trans binary. I actually think people who identify as cis are often having really complicated weird fucked up gender experiences. Going through puberty, going through menopause, all this stuff is weird and made up. It might be cozy for someone to be like I’m just going to be cis. But I feel like even within that there’s nuance.

Summer Solstice is now playing in select theatres.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 566 articles for us.


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