Brigette Lundy-Paine Is Making Their Own Kind of Trans Art

Brigette Lundy-Paine has always been, first and foremost, an artist. While best known for their very shippable role on Atypical, Brigette’s creative works go beyond TV star. They’re the co-founder of Waif Magazine, a monthly art and fashion publication, and a member of Subtle Pride, an undefinable pop band that also incorporates elements of improv and performance art.

It’s why their role in Jane Schoenbrun‘s new film I Saw the TV Glow is so exciting. Who better to play a cool teen who introduces a closeted trans kid to life-changing art than a trans person committed to the life-changing possibilities of many art forms? Who better to star in a formally inventive work of emotional expression than an actor committed to formal invention?

I talked to Brigette about their unique experience making I Saw the TV Glow, their approach to art-making, and the freedom of embracing trans identity.

Drew: Did you have your own Pink Opaque [the fictional show within TV Glow] as a kid? What was a show or movie that you really connected with?

Brigette: I keep lying about my answer and saying different stuff.

Drew: (laughs)

Brigette: I didn’t really have one.

Drew: Interesting! What was your relationship to media as a teenager?

Brigette: I didn’t take it in. Barely a drop.

Drew: Really! That’s so interesting.

Brigette: Yeah. I used to do a bunch of theatre and my world was really small media wise. My parents had a theatre company so we went to see a lot of plays. And we did watch a lot of Gene Wilder movies.

Drew: Wait, okay, theatre counts. Were there plays that you really connected with?

Brigette: Oh yeah! So, so many. Like I always think back— Well, I have a few really early trans memories, the first being a dream I had when I was three that I was a cowboy sitting in front of a western saloon and somebody shot my penis off.

Drew: (laughs)

Brigette: That was definitely a past life thing. But when I was eight or nine I played Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance and the girl that played Mabel was so tall and I was so tiny. (laughs)

Drew: I love that. It’s so common for kids to play “gender swapped” roles and then Hollywood is like we can’t do that! And it’s like, well children and teens all around the world are doing it all the time.

Brigette: And all throughout the history of theatre!

Drew: Yup!

I know you’ve talked about how playing a queer character on Atypical helped you come out as nonbinary. If you’re comfortable, I’d love to get into some of the thoughts you were having around that time. Did you tell the Atypical team first? Did you have worries about your place in the industry beyond that show?

Brigette: I mostly just needed to be authentically myself and I didn’t really think about what would happen. I didn’t tell the Atypical crew. I don’t think I really made it clear to anyone. I told my mom the same day I posted on Instagram. I just felt this urgency.

I don’t really worry about my place in the industry, because I’ve never had a clear concept of what it is the industry— who it is we’re supposed to worship. You know?

Drew: (laughs) Yeah.

Brigette: I don’t know how you’re supposed to get a job at all whether or not you’re accounting for marginalization or gender identity. But I’ve also always had this confidence in myself and my community, because I’m surrounded by so many creative people. I work on Waif Magazine and I was working with Subtle Pride for so many years. We were in a constant state of creation and so much of our work was about playing with gender.

My best friend Mina Walker, who is in Daisy the Great, and I would play Silver and Smoke — the blonde europop girlies who were hyper-feminine — and Zach Donovan and Misha Brooks would play Two Lines — the hypermasculine American DJs who kissed at the end of their DJ set and cut each other’s hair. I’ve had so much satisfaction outside the film industry. And I think I’ve also just understood that the characters I play and the work that I do can’t be about the business of it, because that’s a really unreliable source of inspiration. It has to be about the spiritual fodder that each character provides. I think that’s one of the reasons I was able to do this part in TV Glow because I felt like I was ready for it and Jane was ready. We were both ready in the same way so we were able to spill our soul and guts with equal force.

Drew: This is such an exciting project, because it does feel like everyone is really bringing their full selves. Even though it is on a fairly large scale, especially for this kind of movie, it feels so pure in a way that’s really rare.

How did you come to the project?

Brigette: I met Jane through Sam Intili who is one of the producers. We’d been friends for a long time. And Jane and I just got along really well. Pretty immediately. We met over Zoom and then they showed me World’s Fair and sent me the script. Of course, I was completely captivated and like, I have to do this. Then we met a few months later in person at Greenwood cemetery and the three of us hung out. And after that it was just a process of convincing A24 that I could do the movie, because there are so many politics around casting, obviously. But it all worked out!

And I agree. Everyone was challenged to work in ways they hadn’t done before. Justice talks about this movie shedding all of his illusions about what it means to prepare and be in control of your work. So many people had to let go — including myself — to make this movie. You can really tell that talking to people about it, because people can feel it. Even in Hollywood conversations, there’s a primal scream in the film that deindustrializes the interactions. It takes it out of the world of business.

Brigette Lundy Paine sits between two vending machines across from Ian Foreman

Brigette Lundy-Paine and Ian Foreman in I Saw the TV Glow

Drew: What is your usual process and how did this differ?

Brigette: I think I just never had this much responsibility for taking a character through an arc. I got to play Maddie when she was 14 years old and completely innocent, and then 17 years old and totally pissed, totally in a state of ownership over her body and mind. It’s so satisfying to play a character like that — I felt similarly with Casey. Teen ownership over the body is something that I’ve really learned through characters. And then final Maddie is creature, cowboy, alien, who is absolutely uninhibited and does not know or care what humans think is appropriate. I learned a lot from being able to release shame through the oldest Maddie.

Drew: Was there a rehearsal process?

Brigette: Jane and I would meet for awhile once a week and they would tell me about Maddie. We had one session about their Maddie in high school and who she was. Then we had another about the lore of TV Glow and what the film is about really and how this is kind of like the sixth season of The Pink Opaque. There are clues throughout, but you might not get that the first time. There are so many watches in this movie. I’ve seen it five times and I’m down to see it again. And then we had one rehearsal with Justice and I a couple days before we shot. We rehearsed at an office space outside of Montclair, New Jersey. We did the bleacher scene and that was kind of it.

Drew: I like the mention of Jane talking about their Maddie. Even beyond autobiography, I don’t know how I would talk to someone about this movie without being like, oh who was your Maddie? Because I know who mine was. And my Maddie eventually came out as trans so your casting in this role really hit for me. Like sometimes the cool girl isn’t even a girl!

Brigette: (laughs) Yeah.

Drew: It seems like you’ve always done work that feels really true to you, but was there anything about this project that shifted what you’re looking for moving forward?

Brigette: Oh yeah. The entire experience of working on this movie — from being able to repeat these poetic texts again and again for a year leading up to it to the total mystical experience of filming to my friendships with Jane and Justice and really everyone who worked on the movie and the reinforcing of trans community — it all helped me to be like, yeah I’m trans.

I think I was afraid to say that before, because I was still holding onto this idea that I needed to be able to play girls. I don’t really know why. Although I might have one more in me. There’s a movie that I really want to do that’s a girl part and then I’m done. I’m excited to give myself the gift of being an out trans person. Because, for me, being nonbinary gave me flexibility, but it also became a hiding place. I didn’t feel like I was ready or allowed to take hormones, because it didn’t feel like it was part of what I had explained myself to myself as. But yeah after making this movie and being able to talk to so many trans people about it and that being part of the press around the movie— it feels really exciting because we get to look at each other and understand we’re real. We’re really making these incredible pieces of work together and we have been for so long. It’s also a nice reminder that we don’t have to get distracted by what the capitalist exploitive tools will do to trans art. Know our history.

Brigette Lundy-Paine interview: Justice Smith sits on a couch next to Brigette Lundy Paine

Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine in I Saw the TV Glow

Drew: Obviously there are realities to the industry, but you’re right there has always been underground queer art and trans art and that stuff is usually better anyway.

Have you started going out for roles that are written for men? Is that something your reps are open to and that the industry at large seems open to?

Brigette: Yeah. I’ve been with my agent Rhonda Price for a long time. Since I was 19. And she knows me really well. She understands where we’re going and she’s down to go there with me and we’ll see what happens. But I have so much to do that thinking about roles I’m getting in the industry and auditioning for shit is in the back of my mind. It’s so back burner for me. Of course, I’d die without acting. I’ve been created to do this by actor parents so it is something I must do the way a vampire must feed. But I can have prolonged periods in between where I’m very satisfied by the other projects that I work on.

Drew: What other projects are you currently working on?

Brigette: Well, I still run Waif Magazine. That’s the main gig. And then Mina and I along with Avsha from this really cool punk band Lowertown — the two of them have a music project — and we’re scoring a film I shot on my phone two summers ago. It’s called October Crow and it stars my friend Alex McVicker, my neighbor Peter who is in his 70s, and my mom plays this character named La Bruja who is in this attic room reading a bible and you realize she’s running a sex ring. We’re scoring that and that’s really fun and just very satisfying. And Alex and I are writing another movie. So yeah there are many, many dreams.

Drew: What other queer and trans work have you seen lately that’s inspired you and reaffirms that feeling that we’re all out here making stuff?

Brigette: I mean, it’s funny, but I love Crackhead Barney. (laughs) Crackhead Barney on Instagram has a sort of like talk show, variety show where they go around painted white wearing a diaper to rightwing rallies and Zionist rallies and gun shows to interview people. I really love their show because they’re ruthless. (laughs) They cornered Alec Baldwin in a coffee shop the other day and were like, “Say Free Palestine! Say Free Palestine! Just say it, Alec! Please!” And Alec literally knocks the phone out of their hand. They’re just a genius pioneer of what it means to have talk show TV.

Sometimes late at night I think about the Jimmys and I get furious, because I want to take them down, but I also know they’re human beings who need to be loved.

Drew: (laughs)

Brigette: But something like Crackhead Barney really makes me feel better.

I Saw the TV Glow is now in 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 538 articles for us.

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