Entertainment

Jesse James Keitel Says There Are 'No Rules' to Being Queer

The actor in the new 'Queer as Folk' reboot on the pop culture and community that influenced her.

Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist

Over Zoom, actor Jesse James Keitel laughingly describes her new character Ruthie, on Peacock’s reboot of OG gay drama Queer as Folk (now streaming) as “50 shades of chaos.” The 28 year old has had small parts in shows like Younger and was the lead of ABC’s Big Sky, where she was the first nonbinary actor to to play a nonbinary series regular in primetime. Queer as Folk is a new acting playground for her, where she’s become close with her castmates and found a richness in playing Ruthie-a trans woman who is just starting a family with her partner Shar (CG) as her best friend, Brodie (Devin Way), comes back to town and into their community like a wrecking ball when tragedy strikes.

The original Queer as Folk certainly had more than its fair share of cis, white, male blind spots wherein nonbinary, trans, disabled, Latinx, and Black characters didn’t exist. But in a writers’ room and with directors who were primarily queer, Keitel trusted them with her “whole being” in working on creating a character for the reboot where being transgender wasn’t her whole identity.

“Ruthie is so unapologetic in not just her transness, but her queerness. Those are both small parts of who she is,” Keitel says. “And we’re on a big queer show, so it’s big parts of the world, but she’s a teacher. She’s trying to be a better person. She’s entering motherhood for the first time. There’s so much more to her than just her being trans.”

Ruthie is chaotic and messy, and parties too much with Brodie while also figuring out how to navigate becoming a mother and how to not fuck it up. For Keitel, playing Ruthie has been not only a learning experience personally, but also one professionally, “It’s seldom we get to see a queer character who’s as richly flawed. I think there’s some really unique opportunities to tell some profoundly queer stories with Ruthie and where her heart is.”

Keitel talked to Thrillist about Laverne Cox, drag, and how the never-ending coming-out process helped to spark her own gender identification.

Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images

Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox on Orange Is the New Black was one of the first times I saw a trans person reflected in a way that was very humanizing on TV. At that point, I had actually known a couple trans men, friends of mine from high school, but it didn’t feel like an actual reality that leaning into myself was a possibility. I feel like her character on Orange Is the New Black did give me permission to do that.

I’m sure she knows how impactful she is and the doors she has opened for other people. There’s so many times where I think back and I’m like, “Some days I don’t want to be an advocate. Sometimes I just want to be an actor.” But I think being a public-facing trans person, I do feel a profound sense of responsibility to continue opening doors, just like my predecessors have. And I hope I can have a fraction of a legacy as Laverne, as Michaela JaĂ© Rodriguez, as Candis Cayne, etc. They’ve had a profound impact on me, and if I could do that for someone else, then I guess my job here is done.

Drag

I feel like my journey through gender was actively explored in [doing] drag for a few years. I was a drag artist, and a lot of my peers were inspiring. Just the creativity I found within myself from finding queer community and surrounding myself with queer people.

Throwback to the Haus of FemAnon [in Toronto]: We were this ragtag group of theatre dorks who were really frustrated and felt this need to create and express ourselves in a way that acting and directing, etc., wasn’t allowing us to do at that time. And so, I leaned on them and drag and my own creativity until it didn’t serve me anymore and acting started to again. It gave me the tools to see myself in a way that I wasn’t giving myself the opportunity to prior.

Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images

Being reflected in media as an adult

I’ve always related most to these strong, resilient women, yet I don’t think I ever really saw myself reflected in terms of my own queerness until my adulthood. I think the closest understanding I had to myself was these effeminate gay men, and that never really resonated with me. And I knew that, but didn’t have the language for it.

As I got to see more people like me in the world, and more people like me on TV, like when Asia Kate Dillon played their character on Billions, I was like, “Wow, what a beautiful, nuanced thing.” There are no rules. None of this is real. There’s no rules to any of this.

Coming out again and again

I feel like coming out has been part of my experience since I was a toddler. I’ve been queer from the get-go. Look at any photo of me from middle school. People told me I was queer before I knew what any of that meant. People told me my identity before I even knew those words existed. So, I came out in middle school, then I came out again in high school and then I was outed to my family via a threatening letter that was put in our mailbox. And then I came out again in college, and then I came out again in college, then I came out after college until that led me here.

You look at characters like Brenda [played by Kim Cattrall] on Queer as Folk. It takes her until way later in her life to learn something about herself or to accept something about herself. Because I think as queer people, you always know. Even if you don’t understand it, it doesn’t mean you don’t know it.

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Kerensa Cadenas is the Editorial Director of Entertainment at Thrillist. You can follow her @kerensacadenas.

Entertainment

Why the Shocking Twist in 'Bodies Bodies Bodies' Is So Killer

The A24 horror-comedy has a lot to say about how logged on we are today.

A24
A24
A24

This story contains spoilers about the ending of Bodies, Bodies, Bodies.Even if you’ve tried to game the TikTok algorithm to feed you videos from #fashiontok, #foodtok, or whatever else you might be interested in, when you open the app, you tend to be inundated with a whole lot of discourse. In many ways, it’s incredible how attuned young people are in knowing who they are and how comfortable they are having frank conversations. But in other ways, sometimes it can feel like quick-hit platforms have a tendency to deduce real issues or strip things of their meanings-whether that’s teens self-diagnosing themselves with mental illness, or people labelling musicians as “female or male manipulator artists” without ever listening to their music.

A24’s latest horror comedy Bodies Bodies Bodies (out now in theatres) about a group of 20-somethings partying during a hurricane that turns into a hunt for a killer is like a movie downloaded from the current millennial-Gen-Z cusp moment of the internet we’re in. When the trailer for the movie directed by Halina Reijn and written by Sarah DeLappe, based on a story from “Cat Person” author Kristen Roupenian, dropped earlier this year, it made that very clear. In just over a minute and a half, we hear the cast of cool girl breakouts yelling, “You’re always gaslighting me,” “you fucking trigger me,” “you’re so toxic,” and “you’re silencing me.” Even the movie’s tagline is, “This is not a safe space.”

Bodies Bodies Bodies is very much logged onto millennial/Gen Z social media-isms throughout, from lines hilariously pieced together by the Twitter zeitgeist to scenes featuring TikTok dances. The movie operates on a delectable kind of slasher-movie paranoia, making the audience just as unsure as the slumber party gone wrong with who is killing them off left and right. But given how much of a playful satire it is of contemporary youth culture, it ends up being a twist that feels all but inevitable, and couldn’t be more razor-blade sharp.

A24
A24
A24

Once the torrential downpour stops and the sun comes up, it seems as if Maria Bakalova‘s Bee is about to be our Bodies Bodies Bodies final girl, now that she’s realized how much her relationship with Sophia (Amandla Stenberg) is based on lies. As a test to see how easily Sophie can lie-and therefore deny killing all of her friends from midnight until dawn-Bee asks her if she cheated on her with Myha’la Herrold’s Jordan. It’s a fact that Bee already knows to be true, considering she came across a pair of panties in Sophie’s car that matched a bra she noticed in Jordan’s bag. When Sophie denies it, Bee tries to take her phone (which Jordan admitted would have texts about their recent hook-up on it), and the two start fighting outside in the remnants of the storm. Bee eventually pulls a phone out of the mud, and it looks like the WiFi and cell phone service that was gone all night is finally back. Thinking she’ll pull up the evidence she needs-and confirmation to get the hell out of there-she’s surprised when Sophie says, “That’s not my phone,” and even more surprised to see what’s on it.

It turns out that it belongs to David, Pete Davidson’s coked-out rich kid character whose parents’ house they’re partying at and was the first one to die in the movie. They know it’s David’s phone because it opens to a TikTok, soundtracked by the lockdown classic TikTok song “Bored In The House” by Curtis Roach and Tyga, that shows him waving around his dad’s decorative but very real sword (!) to try to open a champagne bottle (!), idiotically waving it towards himself, only to slice right into his own neck. As it turns out, nobody killed David-not an intruder, not Jordan, not Sophie, not Alice’s (Rachel Sennott) older boyfriend Greg (Lee Pace) she knew nothing about (except for the fact that he was a Libra moon), and not their friend Max (Conner O’Malley) who left early the night before. David accidentally killed himself, and hysteria is what killed everybody else. You could say that it’s almost predictable that it turns out to be a clout-chasing TikTok that led to the movie’s murderous spiral of events. Although, that would undercut what Reijn and DeLappe are trying to say with the darkly funny movie with an especially dark, funny twist. Like TikTok or Twitter, the movie is a constant feed of discourse, buzzwords, and blanket statements that snarkily laugh at and with its ensemble. There are many moments in particular that drive this home-like Alice trying to be sympathetic in talking about mental health, only to make the conversation about her, and David ridiculing his girlfriend Emma (Chase Sui Wonders) for getting all of her thoughts from Twitter after she says he “gaslights” her. On top of that, David picks up the sword and tries to go viral to begin with because his masculinity felt threatened by Greg, who did the trick in the first place.

While it would be downright terrifying if a party with people who are supposedly your best friends turned into a slasher flick, in Bodies Bodies Bodies, the horror isn’t a vengeful or heartless killer. Everybody may become a psychopath of sorts when they feel physically threatened or legitimately toxic name-calling and backstabbing ensues, but Bodies Bodies Bodies and its devilish twist is about the humour and horror in the devoid way we can use social media today more than anything else. Like Sophie and Bee’s terrified realization at the end, it makes you want to log off for awhile… right after you post a 100K-worthy tweet about it.

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Sadie Bell is the entertainment associate editor at Thrillist. She’s on Twitter and Instagram.

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