Image Source: Getty and courtesy Asia Kate Dillon and Shirin Tinati
Billions and John Wick 3: Parabellum star Asia Kate Dillon, 34, and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina's Lachlan Watson, 18, share a major distinction in common — they are two of the first nonbinary actors to appear on American TV. (On Billions, Dillon plays Taylor, a nonbinary character, while on Sabrina, Watson plays Theo, a character whose pronouns and name changed in the course of the show's first seasons.) In honor of Pride Month, we connected the pair for a candid phone conversation about what it felt like to finally come across characters that spoke to who they are, how they handle being misgendered, and where they hope actors like them can carve out space in Hollywood.
Asia Kate Dillon: Hi!
Lachlan Watson: Hi! Nice to meet you.
AKD: So Lachlan, are you on set right now, as we speak?
LW: I am not, no! It's a day off, so I just made myself eggs and I'm drinking tea because I had to cough up a bunch of water yesterday [at work]. I'm chilling.
AKD: It's nice to hear that you make eggs for yourself. Cooking, for me, is something that helps me ground myself, or recenter or something. I love to cook.
LW: Totally. It's such a subtle reconnection, I feel like. Just doing something for yourself. Putting in the work to be like, "Oh, I need nourishment right now. Let me literally make it for myself."
AKD: So you have today off, but you are currently filming?
LW: Yeah, we're currently filming the second season, third part, so it's wild. This is my first season being a season regular. My character's been a whole lot more involved, which has been really cool. I think Netflix sort of realized that my character means a lot to a lot of people and they're like, "Oh, I guess we should put them in more." So it's been crazy. It's been 16-hour days most of the week for a couple of weeks now.
AKD: I know how that goes! And congratulations. As you said, I think your character really does mean a lot to a lot of people, and having queer characters who are integral to the storylines that they're a part of is so, so important.
LW: Yeah, it really is. Congratulations on John Wick!
AKD: Thank you so much. It was so fun making that movie. You make a thing that you love and you hope that other people love it, and then when they do, it's just incredibly gratifying.
LW: And when you can count the amount of people who identify with you in such a specific kind of way, when you could count those people in your industry on one hand, it's incredible to be connected with one of those people. Because there's so few of us.
AKD: Yeah! I imagine that you are recognized when you are out in public. And that people probably come up to you and either tell you that you've meant a lot to them personally because they also identify as nonbinary, or are a parent who has a kid [who does]. Have you had experiences like that?
LW: I've gotten recognized a lot more than I thought I would, but it's very rarely by another queer person who's coming up because they admire my work or the representation of my character. It's usually, like, the Riverdale crowd! Growing up in North Carolina — that's where my home base is right now when I'm not working — I've been going back there to sort of reconnect. And it's been a really surreal experience to go back to all of these Southern places I grew up in and to have all of these straight kids come up to me and be like, "Hey, you're that girl from Sabrina." And I'm like, "Well . . . you're close." But it's sort of a surreal experience to be nonbinary but play a character that's still sort of ambiguous, where it gives people room to not know such a huge part of your being. Being nonbinary is like, my thing, my calling card. So then it's sort of a fascinating experience to [think], "Oh, wait. I'm just a person playing a character, and I'm just getting recognized for doing that?"
Lachlan Watson in character as Theo on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Image Source: Netflix
AKD: There's this interesting thing that happens, where probably any story that's written about you or that appears in the media is going to talk about you being nonbinary — which is amazing. So it's sort of surprising when there are people who you're like, "Oh my gosh, you clearly haven't read a story about me, I guess. Or if you have . . . " Which I think happens. People do read stories and will still misgender you, or misgender me. And they're not doing it on purpose. It's just something in their brain has to reflexively reorganize or something. But that you can be face to face with someone and you're like, "Wow, the thing that everyone knows about me, writes about me, talks about when they reference me? You just love the character on the show, and how incredible and fascinating!"
LW: Does that happen to you a lot, because you're playing a nonbinary character on Billions? My Sabrina character was nonbinary enough where people who were looking for someone to be nonbinary, they were like, "Oh, wow, nonbinary!" But then someone who doesn't really have a queer idea of gender on their radar [might] just be like, "Oh, well, that's a very masculine-looking woman." [Laughter]
AKD: Well, now Taylor has appeared in three seasons of the show, season two, season three, and season four, and one of the main things that's known about Taylor and/or me is our nonbinary identity. And people who are self-proclaimed huge fans of Billions, huge fans of Taylor, they will say to me like, "Oh my gosh, I love Taylor on the show. I love her because she's such a strong woman."
LW: [Groans] Oh, no!
AKD: And I can see in their eyes they're speaking from their heart. They are not intending to misgender me or Taylor. But I go . . . "Are you watching the same show?" I mean, I usually just say, "Thank you so much." Or, if I have the time, then I will say, "Well, Taylor is them, actually." More often than not, they'll be like, "Oh, right. I'm sorry. I just . . . I thought . . . " I think there's this combined thing that happens, where they're meeting a character from television in real life who's actually a person, and that can be flustering. And then to add on top of that, there's this other thing that maybe they're not very practiced at. I can see it being a lot.
LW: Yeah. Those interactions are always a lot anyway, and then the decision whether or not to out yourself and your character, or just accept the compliment, is always sort of a tricky decision.
Asia Kate Dillon as Taylor on Billions. Image Source: Jeff Neumann / Showtime
AKD: I hear you saying that is something that you navigate in every moment that it happens, and I would say I do, too. That rings true for me.
LW: But it's also a very unique piece of being nonbinary. It's like every single time you correct someone or acknowledge someone misgendering you, you're sort of outing yourself in a really specific way that not a lot of other people or other identities experience. It's the same idea as someone at a basketball game sitting behind a man with really long hair, and being like, "Excuse me, miss," and him saying, "Oh, no. I'm a man," and them saying, "Oh. Right. Sorry. My bad." [That] still lives within the binary that a lot of people understand and are comfortable with, but then the moment that you correct someone and say, "Oh, oh, my pronouns are they/them" . . . it's this whole other world. It's this whole new protest in a way. It can't just be them being like, "Oh. Sorry. I mistook what I assumed you for." It's more of a, "Oh, I didn't know that you were choosing this path that I don't necessarily agree with or understand." I think it's a very specific breed of outing or correcting. It's definitely a huge choice because like, "Oh, do I really want to start this conversation right now, or do I just want to be misgendered, and do I want to feel like something's being assumed about me?"
AKD: Yeah. And I think, also, safety first. I'll just speak for myself, but I am assessing very quickly in every moment where something like that is happening, "Is this going to be safe?" and "Do I have the time?" Every time I meet other nonbinary-identifying people, I certainly feel less alone and more valid in my own identity. I feel like I have spoken a lot about the fact that there were no nonbinary characters on television or in the media when I was growing up. The first time I saw someone who felt like me was when I read the character breakdown for Taylor.
LW: Oh, wow.
AKD: And how coincidental, but also synchronistic, that Taylor came into my life. Because that is how I was fully able to come into language that gave me the description that allowed me to live freely in who I am.
LW: Yeah. And just touching on something that you said about not really seeing anyone who you related to, or someone that was nonbinary on screen before your own character, I had a really similar thing. There were no nonbinary charactrs to relate to or to give me that language. And it's just such a beautiful experience to be able to be that for someone else. Even just having me exist as a nonbinary actor, and then seeing you get all of these incredible opportunities, and to see Taylor on Billions and this incredible badass you played in John Wick, it gave me validation and representation. I can't even imagine how, for many nonbinary actors who have never seen that, or don't feel like they have a place, being able to be that representation is so cool. I think it's just a really unique feeling that only a select few of us can experience, but I'm so excited to pave the way for all of these nonbinary actors in my Instagram DMs, and maybe grow those numbers in the scope of my career.
AKD: Well, you said some very kind things, and I really appreciate it. I've certainly gotten feedback from people saying that they have come into an understanding of their gender identity because of Taylor or following me on social media, or they feel less alone because of me. And all of that is incredibly gratifying and a silver lining that I did not anticipate at all. And because we're in the 50th anniversary of Stonewall this year, I want to acknowledge that the visibility that I have, the platform that I have, the reach that I have, would not be possible without the literal blood, sweat, and tears of the trans women of color and trans men of color who started the queer revolution long before I was born. I think that just acknowledging the revolution that we are joining, and understanding, as you said, that it is a very select privilege that we have. We certainly carry light-skinned, white-body privilege.
AKD: And people are going to listen to what comes out of our mouths more than they do somebody who was assigned male at birth and is a trans femme of color. Those people are still part of one of the more marginalized groups within our community. So I am really excited, as you said, to be a part of blazing a trail, joining a trail that was already blazed, and I'm excited for more different kinds of representation on screen. Taylor is one version of what a nonbinary identity looks like and one version of the [LGBTQ+] experience. The character you play is another one, right? The character I play in John Wick is another one. But I'm super excited to see trans women of color with tons of body hair, maybe short haircuts but also makeup, [and] for all different kinds of representation. Are you seeing any of that in terms of other actors you know who are just closer to your age than they are to mine?
LW: That's the funny thing. I rarely even get an opportunity to see that. So many of the people that are nonbinary that are working actors on a major media network, so many of us are assigned female, nonbinary people. I think a huge resource is going to be social media in the fight for equality and representation. I think social media's become a beautiful thing, and I can't wait to see how that affects our careers, and acting as a whole. It's a really beautiful moment that we're having right now, especially on the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. It's this incredible feeling this year of unity, of representation, and to have Pride be more than just one face. To have it be a crowd of people who really feel accepted and to be a part of something. I think that's what Pride really means, and I think that's what so many of those trans women of color were fighting for so many years ago — just being proud no matter who you are, no matter how you identify, no matter how you look, no matter how you act, no matter how you live. It's being able to show that being queer can look like anything, being queer can sound like anything, that [as] queer actors, we can play anything. Queer art doesn't have to be just for queer people. We are just artists and we have something to say and something to give the world. Pride feels really inclusive and special this year, and it gives me hope for Prides to come and the future of representation in all platforms.
AKD: Lachlan, I hope you have an amazing rest of your day. And good luck with the rest of season two. I can't wait to see more of your work.
LW: I can't wait to speak with you not through a phone some day!
AKD: Yeah, right? Yes. I look forward to meeting you in person for sure.