Bex Taylor-Klaus Hopes Their Nonbinary 'Deputy' Character Will Save Lives
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Considering Fox's Deputy opens with Stephen Dorff's titular character Bill Hollister interfering with an ICE raid, it should come as no surprise that the freshman cop drama has tackled complicated issues. During its Feb. 12 episode, the seventh of the season, the spotlight turned to Dorff's sidekick Brianna Bishop, played by Bex Taylor-Klaus (whom The Hollywood Reporter chief TV critic Daniel Fienberg called the best and freshest aspect of the show in his review).
In the episode Bishop, described by Fienberg as "an upwardly mobile and impeccably stylish deputy who becomes Bill's driver, security detail and his liaison to rules-loving politicians Bill is now forced to interact with," has a frank discussion with Bill's doctor wife Paula Reyes (Yara Martinez) about their identity struggles — likely introducing a large portion of the broadcast audience to the nonbinary experience.
Taylor-Klaus, whose first major role was as a streetwise homeless teen in season three of AMC-turned-Netflix drama The Killing, has had memorable arcs as comic book sidekick Sin on The CW's Arrow and loner filmmaker Audrey on MTV's Scream. While on Scream, Taylor-Klaus came out as a lesbian, and two years later revealed that they're nonbinary and use they/them pronouns.
"As I've grown up, I've taken on these characters that either match my trajectory, my growth, or challenge it. I've been beyond lucky. This whole adventure of the last eight years has been a whirlwind and when I look at roles, I want to be playing someone real. Someone with dimension. Someone with an opportunity for growth and/or a growth arc in the story," they told THR of the hunt for roles that reflect their own journey on screen.
That's why they jumped at the chance to bring part of their personal story to millions of viewers. "I feel like as an actor, you get this unique challenge presented to you where you can either take this character somewhere new and work with the writers or you can just follow the writers lead. Either way, you're going to have an epic time and your character is going to go someplace you couldn't foresee in the beginning. But as I get older, it's been more and more exciting to be able to put in a little bit of my input and a little bit of my knowledge of the human process and the performance process."
Below, Taylor-Klaus tells THR about helping shape such an important character, their own evolution as an actor and the importance of patience in understanding others.
Who was Bishop when you first went in to read for the character?
I'm always going to get a kick out of the character breakdown. The description I got for Bishop for the audition was, "A compact lesbian supermodel." I'm like, "OK, let's do this." I'm also five-foot-three. So in the audition, I had the opportunity to say "Oh, and I'm a compact five-foot-three." Didn't get me the job. Not the point.
But it's interesting because I could see what they were going for. The difference between original script Bishop and pilot Bishop and then episode two Bishop is subtle, but there. For example, in the pilot, as we were still working through things, the suits are tailored differently. The whole undergarment situation is, like, a padded bra. And then by the time we get to episode two, it's like, no no no, Bishop is going to be an androgynous badass with some serious military experience. So we don't have to worry about like, are we feminizing this character, we have to go with the Brienne of Tarth route and make sure that this character is dimensional and interesting. I thought that was beautiful. And I don't in any way want to discredit the official description from the pilot. It's just really cool to see how, when putting in a new actor, it shifts this character on this really interesting new path.
Bishop is a sounding board to Stephen Dorff's character, who is hypermasculine, riding horses, shooting guns. That odd couple dynamic seems to have been built into the show regardless.
The character has always been there. The spirit of the character I don't think has changed an iota throughout the whole process. And that's what I love so much — from the get-go whoever envisioned Bishop knew from the start that they had someone interesting to play up against Hollister. The main things that changed were identity pieces, visual pieces, the aesthetic pieces, but the spirit has remained the same throughout all of Bishop's iterations, and I love that.
The discussion that Bishop has with Paula is not a cheesy, overblown explanation of what nonbinary means. Since Paula's a doctor, she knows the biological science behind gender, which is not necessarily a dynamic that's played out on screen before.
Yes. In this show we have an interesting balancing act of on the one hand, we do want to have that after-school special feel of explaining exactly what this means because we know to some people in our audience this is a brand-new concept. This is an introduction. So we want to do that justice. And at the same time we have to balance that with these are real human beings. These are real people and the discussion has to feel real and not like an explanation.
One of the things I love about Bishop having this conversation with Dr. Reyes is Paula is a doctor. Paula's a surgeon. Paula understands the intricacy of biology. But Paula has never had to explore the intricacy of identity and in that conversation we get to slide that in there in what to me feels like a very honest line: "I know biology, I know that there's more than two sexes and I don't understand the intricacies of identity." We worked really hard and it was a beautiful, beautiful effort from all the writers listening and learning. I know our showrunner Kim Harrison did some incredible research off on her own, as well as speaking to me and our correspondent from GLAAD, Nick Adams. He's absolutely wonderful.
Even on the day, when Yara and I were sitting there we were like, "OK, I want to make sure this line stays here. I kind of want to tweak this a little bit." I got a chance to put in that line, "I'm still learning every day exactly what that means" in terms of Bishop saying who they are. That's something I really wanted to get across — gender is a journey. And just like any other identity journey in the world, it can be fluid. It can ebb and flow and eventually it can be stationary. But finding that stationary movement will not always be one way or another. I'm just eternally grateful to the writers for letting us put these intricacies in there.
From your perspective as a public person who probably gets people talking to them on social media using incorrect pronouns and having to educate people on a regular basis about that, does that become exhausting? Are you excited for the opportunity to do something like this on a network broadcast television show?
Honestly, emotional labor is always going to be exhausting at a certain point. And that's what it is. But at the same time, I spent so long trying to figure it out, I can always understand the frustration of other people as they're trying to figure it out. It wasn't easy for me. How could I ever assume that it's going to be easy for people who've never had to deal with it before? So I take this as an opportunity to be patient. And yes, some days it's hard. And some days you're going to deal with people who, no matter how patient you are, they just want to drive you crazy. They just want to make you mad. And that gets exhausting. That will always get exhausting. And at the same time, it's part of life. It's par for the course because sometimes people suck — and to that end, not everybody sucks.
You're going have these moments where your patience will 100 percent wear off. There's this activist and model out there named Rain Dove and I love what they do with their platform. They get the most vitriolic messages sometimes from these scared people who just don't understand. And a lot of times people when they don't understand they respond with fear and anger, which, yes, it's not fair to the people who are on the receiving end, and it's human nature. And what Rain Dove does is they respond with love and compassion above all else. They get this terrifying vitriolic message of this woman yelling at them coming into their direct messages and just screaming in caps lock about how Dove has ruined this woman's child and everything and Rain responds with, "Oh, I'm so sorry. This must be a very terrifying time for you. Can I ask you a few questions about what this means for your kid?" And, you know, the anger still there, the hurt is still there. But slowly as you read this conversation that Rain has with this terrified woman, the fear and the anger starts to dissipate and education takes hold. And by the end of the conversation the woman's like, "Wow, I didn't realize what this meant. I'm still scared and it's still confusing for me, but I understand my child a little bit more from what you've been saying to me through this conversation." I think this episode gives us a chance to at the very least attempt to do that on a network scale rather than a person-to-person scale.
So as you look for new roles, whether in a hiatus before a potential second season or just in general, do you want to find characters who are nonbinary? Do you want to find another role that's "a compact lesbian supermodel" and shape it yourself? How do you feel as far as getting that representation on screen now?
Representation saves lives. There is no doubt in my mind that representation saves lives. And if my next couple jobs can be more representation and I can just show one person on this planet that someone looking like them, acting like them, being like them can be this, whatever this ends up being, I would love that. That would fill my heart with so much joy and you know, I'm still not gonna knock those fun little, like, quick jobs. Like a quick fun thing here — for me it feels like dressing in drag, but I would love to dress in drag and be, like, a bombshell for a day. That would be so much fun. And then go back to being a stud the next day. I love the term nonbinary for myself personally because it's such an umbrella term. It is not binary by its base definition, meaning I am not of the binary, I am something else, which allows me room to learn and find a more pinpointed label if I so choose or otherwise stick with my umbrella. And it does also mean for me being nonbinary I get to explore and experiment and experience anything at my fingertips, is what it feels like to me. It feels open and free in a way that I never felt. And so I would love to bring characters to screen that I wouldn't have anticipated myself choosing at a younger age. But as I get older, I'm more open to trying new things.
Having worked with the writers in shaping your character, is there something that writers should know or that people can do to be more respectful of other people's identities?
I thought this pitch was a long shot. I talked to Kim about my life as soon as Kim was named our showrunner. She asked if I would come in for a meeting and what we talked about in that meeting was our experiences with life. And then she asked me, "What would you like to see? What would you like to do with Bishop?'"And I asked if we could do nonbinary and I was pleasantly shocked when Kim's response was, "Absolutely. My pitch has been about identity. Let's run it up the pipeline and see if we get any nibbles."
My mind was blown in that moment — that anyone would hear that pitch and go, "Absolutely, I love that idea" was still foreign to me, and exciting, exhilarating. And then when I got the word that Fox hadn't just nibbled, Fox bit it and took off, I was like, "Oh my goodness, OK, let's go." This is not what I ever would have dreamed of. And I'm so excited to see what we can do with it. And yes, things are changing. It's interesting, because as much as I know that things are changing, it's still so exciting and surprising every time something like this happens. Because growing up, even if it's all subliminal and subtle, when you grow up different you feel it. And you know in the back of your mind that society's typical is not what you are and you're going to have issues. And so when things end up going your way down the line it's not taken for granted.
Tags: Bex Taylor-Klaus