Rebecca Root: the transgender star of tonight's Boy Meets Girl

Star of new BBC series is part of the sea-change bringing trans stories to our screens

Rebecca Root in Boy Meets Girl
Rebecca Root (centre) with Denise Welch and Harry Hepple in Boy Meets Girl
(Image credit: BBC)

British actress and comedian Rebecca Root is set to star in the BBC's new sitcom Boy Meets Girl, the first mainstream UK sitcom to cast a transgender actor in a lead role.

In the series, which starts tonight, Root plays Judy, a transgender woman in her 40s, who meets a younger man, Leo (played by Harry Hepple), in a bar. She told the BBC: "I really believe that it will demystify my community; it will increase the visibility of the trans population."

Root added: "In a way it's a shame it's 2015, for goodness sake, and we're only having this conversation now. But better late than never."

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The show was created by writer Elliott Kerrigan for the Trans Comedy Award, a competition organised by BBC Writersroom and education group All About Trans to find a script offering a positive portrayal of transgender characters.

Aside from its trans actor and character, Boy Meets Girl is a fairly conventional story of a couple from different backgrounds who fall in love and face a series of obstacles, including the interventions of their eccentric families.

In recent years, hit films such as the Dallas Buyers Club and Hit and Miss have addressed transgender themes. Then Orange is the New Black made headlines for featuring a transgender star, Laverne Cox, who became the first trans woman to be nominated for an Emmy. Cox was featured on Time magazine's front cover, heralding talk of a "transgender tipping point".

Rebecca Root told The Guardian that she hopes Boy Meets Girl will have a similar effect in the UK. "We've had cisgender [someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth] actors in trans roles for too long,' she says. "It's about time we had trans actors in trans roles."

Root, 46, has just finished filming for the upcoming Eddie Redmayne film, The Danish Girl, about Lili Elbe, an artist and one of the first people to undergo gender-reassignment surgery.

Root says Eddie Redmayne has done a "brilliant job", but she is critical of producers and directors for not casting more transgender actors.

She grew up in Surrey with two sisters and says she always felt female. Acting in school plays first gave her a way to "legitimately" take on female roles. As a young man she dated women and attended drama school, but Root says she always felt angry and confused.

It wasn't until 2000, aged 33, that Root began her transition in earnest, first living full time as a woman, legally changing her name and telling everyone of her intent. Root now works as a voice coach, specialising in transgender voice adaptation. She has also spent time as a stand-up comedian.

So are things changing for transgender actors? Both Coronation Street and Hollyoaks have featured transgender characters, though neither involved trans actors. Then earlier this year, Digital Spy reported that Eastenders will soon feature a trans storyline, and is looking to cast a trans actor.

Root has previously spoken of a "a sea change" happening, with increased visibility of trans people in all walks of life, and their stories being seen in more plays, TV shows and films.

Certainly the entertainment industry is always on the lookout for a fresh approach to comedy and drama, she says. Speaking to the Radio Times this week, Root points out that it has been more than two decades since the first gay kisses on prime time television, including Michael Cashman as Colin Russell in EastEnders and the Anna Friel as Beth Jordache in Brookside.

"Sexual orientation had its moment, ethnic minorities had their moment," she says. "And when you see someone of black or ethnic minority background in a soap or a drama nobody says 'oh look at that Indian person, why is there an Indian person in that show?' They’re just a person."

Root said she believes this is starting to happen for trans people too.

"Yes, ok, Boy Meets Girl has strong trans themes – of course it does because of the nature of where it came from," she says, "but it's a love story as well at its heart."

Boy Meets Girl begins on BBC2 on Thursday 3 September.

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