25 August 2020

This Is What It’s Like To Play Cis Characters as a Non-Binary Actor

Quintessa Swindell from Netflix's 'Trinkets' opens up about gender identity, the future of queer representation and their dream of appearing in 'Kill Bill: Vol 3'.

Even in the bleakest depths of 2020, tv fans have been able to find a shining light — or at least some jewel-toned eyeshadow — in the shape of Euphoria. And for many rewatching the cult HBO series over lockdown, it’s hard not to be drawn in by Quintessa Swindell’s brief but magnetic performance in the show’s seventh episode. Alongside Hunter Schafer and Bobbi Salvör Menuez, the non-binary actor paints a picture of queer utopia that’s not only a necessary antidote to Euphoria’s dreary suburbia but to the doldrums of the past year.  For anyone hungering after more from the twenty-three-year-old, we’ve got good news: not only are they set to appear in forthcoming sci-fi film Voyagers, alongside Colin Farrell and Lily-Rose Depp, but you can catch them starring in teen drama Trinkets. Debuting its second season today, the Netflix original follows a trio of teens from as they battle sexuality, identity and family pressures — brought together from across different social cliques by their shared struggle with kleptomania. Think: The Breakfast Club but with court-ordered Shoplifters Anonymous meetings.  Below, we catch up with Quintessa to hear about Trinkets season two, working with Hunter Schafer and their experience of playing cis characters. 


Great to meet you. Tell us a bit about yourself! 

I was born and raised in a coastal city called Virginia Beach in Virginia. Ever since I was a kid I would sit in my dad’s office fixing the antennas of this portable tv set watching old films. That’s probably where it all started. 

And how did you first get involved in acting? 

I auditioned for a specialised school with a focus on theatre — The Governor’s School for the Arts — and I got in. I then spent the next four years studying theatre and falling in love with it. 

So what are your favourite films? 

I’m really drawn to films that have grit and which highlight people or issues that would be commonly overlooked in society. I love films like Klute, In the Mood for Love, Climax, Cigarettes and Coffee, Belle de Jour, Atlantics, Roma…to name a few. 

Putting all of these on my “to watch” list! Okay, let’s talk Trinkets. What’s been your favourite thing about working on the show? 


Last season, your character Tabitha went through a difficult character arc with her boyfriend — why was it important for a show like Trinkets to deal with an issue like intimate partner abuse?

While it’s a choice of the writers, I’d say it’s because partner abuse isn’t something that only happens to adults. When telling a story about teenagers [falling] in and out of love, abuse can be an unfortunate reality. It’s not uncommon and showing a young woman navigating it can offer assistance for some viewers.


How did you look after yourself emotionally when shooting these scenes? 

That’s a great question. Brandon Butler — who played Tabitha’s boyfriend, Brady — and I would talk through the scene, figuring out what would be appropriate to include and what would help us both to represent the scenes well. We looked after one another and made sure to constantly check in. 


As a non-binary actor, what has your experience been of playing cis characters like Tabitha? 

It can be difficult, especially when I’m going through my own journey externally from the show. But it can also be somewhat nostalgic, especially with costume design. Like: “I remember wearing a bra, back in the day…” 


You’ve also appeared on Euphoria, on an episode with fellow queer actors Hunter Schafer and Bobbi Salvör Menuez that’s really dear to a lot of LGBTQIA+ viewers out there. What was that experience like? 

Hunter is just phenomenal and such a beautiful soul. Bobbi and I really connected over being GNC and they offered some great advice on navigating the industry, which I carry with me today. They are absolute angels. But all of us together was something truly special, I’ll never forget it. 


As a Gen Zer who has been in teen dramas like Trinkets and Euphoria, how do you see the representation of young people changing?

I think as more communities obtain visibility within all types of media, there’s a natural pull for the film and tv industry to do the same. What makes today different is that the stakes of representation are much higher. I think Hunter Schafer’s role in Euphoria is one of the best representations of this and has done remarkable things to give trans viewers a visual recipe for understanding themselves, of exploring who they are, and embracing whom they may love.

Yeah, it seems like teenagers nowadays are craving authenticity from film and tv, whereas for previous generations media was more about escapism or aspiration. Why do you think this generational shift has taken place? 

It’s starkly different from what I grew up watching. There is more queer representation than ever, specifically trans representation, and there’s more multi-dimensional storytelling done when it comes to highlighting Black leads. It’s pivotal that we can see ourselves on screen. 

I think these changes represent this generation’s desire to live authentically more than ever, to cherish one another, and to realise what harm can be done if we’re not inspired to make change. 


You mention seeing more queer and trans stories on screen. In your opinion, what’s the future for queer representation? 

Abundance, the coin, all of us coming together and creating some real change.


I’d love to see that! So what would be your dream project? 

Have you seen Kill Bill Vol. 1? Remember Vernita Green’s daughter? Well, If she still feels raw about it, I’m here to play her. If not…a film about a coming of age Angela Davis.


Sounds like a dream role to be honest. So, before we say goodbye, what do you have planned for the rest of 2020?

Writing and shooting my own quarantine [movie] concept. I’m so excited about it. 


Trinkets’ second season returns to Netflix today (25 August). 

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