The INSIDER Summary:
• Netflix’s show “The OA” has a transgender character named Buck.
• The creators said it was important to cast a transgender teen actor.
• Casting calls were put out on internet chat rooms and forums to find the perfect actor: Ian Alexander.
“The OA” is Netflix’s newest and weirdest (in the best way) sci-fi series. The show follows a woman who calls herself the OA and a ragtag group of five people she recruits to help on a mission. The group consists of four teen boys — Steve, Jesse, Alfonso, and Buck — along with one of their high school teachers named Betty Broderick-Allen (BBA).
Though each of the boys has their own distinct story of struggling with finding a place in a broken world, Buck’s story as a transgender teen whose father rejects his identity and needs to resort to illegally purchasing testosterone is heartbreaking in its own way.
Ian Alexander — a transgender teen himself — is the young actor who played Buck. In a recent interview with Vulture’s Charles Bramesco, “The OA” co-creator and star Brit Marling (who plays OA herself) spoke about the search to find the perfect Buck and how Ian landed the gig.
“We’d always written the character as a 14-year-old transgender F-to-M Asian-American, and when we gave our casting director Avy Kaufman that description, she said, ‘We might not be able to find this person, so what are you flexible on?'” Marling told Vulture. “We told her we weren’t flexible, so she finally took to the internet and posted some casting notices on various trans chat rooms and groups, and audition tapes came flooding in.”
This insistence from Marling and her co-creator Zal Batmanglij to have a transgender actor portray a fictional transgender character is an important choice. Movies and television shows too often hire non-LGBTQ actors when these roles (which themselves are rare) come along.
But going the extra distance and using less conventional casting methods paid off. Fans are taking notice of the deliberate inclusion, and Ian himself is brilliant in the show.
Buck is a nuanced character and vital part of OA’s chosen five. When others’ faith in OA falters, Buck is the one who quietly defends her. When it comes to Alfonso/French hesitating to stick around and risk his scholarship, Buck tells Steve to stop using the house as a drug den — sacrificing his own supply to testosterone as a result. And when French finds the suspicious books in OA’s house, Buck is the only one who decides to keep one (the book about angels) as a token of their time together. He is shy but strong and compassionate and fearless all at once — a personality in direct opposition to the other main boy, Steve.
“[Ian’s] tape was brilliant,” Marling told Vulture. “He told us, ‘I’m having a really hard time in school, because I wanted to act but it’s not like the plays that are done in high school have roles that describe a person like me. You can’t imagine what it was like to go online and see a posting for a Netflix show that describes me.’ We got really lucky.”
Ian shot the audition tape on his phone and sent it off, much to the surprise of his parents.
“[Ian] had shot his with his iPhone in his bathroom and uploaded it all without his parents knowing,” Marling said. “Out of nowhere, his parents get a phone call that Netflix wants to cast their son! They’re like, ‘What?'”
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