In the feature film Monica, Trace Lysette steps into the lead role in an intimate portrait of a woman who returns home after a long absence to confront the wounds of her past. The drama directed by Andrea Pallaoro, who co-wrote it with Orlando Tirado, made its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and stars Lysette as the titular character who attempts to reconnect with her estranged mother (Patricia Clarkson) and the rest of her family for the first time since leaving as a teenager.
Lysette isn’t a stranger to being on the big and small screen, but this marks a major moment for the actress as she is the lead in a story that hits close to home for her during a time when the trans community is being attacked.
“It’s extremely powerful for me to be a part of this in this particular time,” Lysette told Anthony Allen Ramos in a recent interview. “I was talking to someone else earlier and I was mentioning how there are certain days when I just wake up and I have to really choose joy because if I open my phone and scroll to the wrong thing, I see four or five different bills being introduced that are actively trying to make our lives harder as trans people. That’s not good for me.”
She continues, “It doesn’t mean I’m going to be ignorant to everything that’s going on in the world…I think I’m just hyper aware because I’ve lived this life for so long. I was technically non-binary in the ‘90s and I’ve, and I’ve lived my life as a woman as longer than I’ve lived any other way now. It’s been decades of navigating this kind of ignorance and hate and right now it’s especially intense… it is also a little bit crazy for me that, arguably the biggest moment in my career is coinciding with this… it’s this weird duality that’s happening right now… so I’m just trying to stay in the joy and the love.”
For Clarkson, she didn’t hesitate to join the film and felt that Lysette leading such a poignant story was beautiful. “Sometimes in film we want this great part, but sometimes we just want to be a part of something great that’s not really about your part. It’s about being a part of something that is historic and monumental and that’s what I felt,” admits Clarkson. She felt the weight of the story and once she met Lysette, she knew she had to be part of it.
It also gave Clarkson the opportunity to learn. She felt that it was an emotional experience for her and she garnered even more respect for Lysette and the community during this time of history.
“I hope this film gives a lot of people some kind of salve,” said Clarkson. “ I think Trace is the Statue of Liberty.” Clarkson then tells Lysette: “You really are gonna rise to this monumental moment in your life that’s even bigger than the film,”
Lysette connected deeply with the character of Monica and understood everything about her from the music she enjoyed to her family to the way she moved through the world.
“Once I got the exterior in place, I felt like I could dive into the heart and a lot of the heart was already there,” she said, adding that there were a lot of parallels to her own journey.
“It was just a beautiful challenge every day on set to try and give Andrea what he wanted,” said Lysette. “The specificity of what he wanted in the constraints of that aspect ratio and his specificity in terms of like movement and emotion… I reached new heights in my acting and I always wanna evolve… so I’m just so grateful.”
Monica opens in New York and Los Angeles on May 12 before expanding to theaters nationwide on May 19.