From Netflix’s “The Politician” to Showtime’s “Work In Progress,” Theo Germaine has had quite the year, following their first-ever television project immediately up with a second. In “Work In Progress,” Germaine plays Chris, a trans man who dates Abby (Abby McEnany). Abby lives with depression and is using a bag of almonds to count down the days before she may kill herself, and in the season finale she throws away the last one. But despite the couple having an argument over Abby learning Chris’ deadname (and later screaming it in the street), Chris returns the almond he took on their first date, giving her a chance to start living for herself.
Germaine: I feel kind of like I’m Dorothy who woke up in her house after it had crashed in Oz, where I’m like, “I don’t know how this happened, but I’m just kind of here now.”
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I was working in Chicago, and I was having some success doing theater professionally, and that was really cool, but I’d always wanted to do TV and film, and I had just been auditioning out of college and wasn’t really getting any bites yet, was having some issues getting called in for stuff in Chicago because there’s not a lot of trans actors who have been having as much success as our sisters and trans counterparts in Chicago. But I did some independent queer stuff through a company called Open TV in Chicago, and then in late June of 2018, I got a breakdown from my agent for “Work In Progress,” which was at that time just a web series that they were working on.
I read the script and I really loved that it was about gender and sexuality, but it’s not like, “Gender! Sexuality!” It’s just life. The script felt super real and felt like something that made me feel at home. It felt like the best way that gender and sexuality had been talked about on screen that hadn’t happened yet. So I auditioned and I got the part, and then we shot the web series, and it was only three days of filming for me, and then I went back to being a normal actor grinding and trying to pay bills. That was in July of 2018, and then 15 days later, approximately, I got cast in “The Politician,” and they were not connected at all.
I immediately relocated to Los Angeles and filmed “The Politician,” and right around the end of filming “The Politician,” I got an email from the production team I made “Work In Progress” with, and it was just like, “Hey friend, we don’t want to make this web series, we want to do other stuff with it.”
It got into Sundance, and I remember seeing the pilot and being like, “Wow.” I’m like a small-town kid trying to make it in the city, and when I saw the pilot, I was like, “Oh no, this is way too good, it’s going to become a TV series.” We didn’t know if I was going to be involved in it or not, especially because “The Politician” had been greenlit for two seasons, and I knew I would be working on that to some extent. But it all worked out. I shot “Work In Progress” and I wrapped it and immediately went into a press tour for “The Politician” and then into filming Season 2, and now “Work In Progress” got picked up for Season 2. To have two projects, right off the bat, that have multiple seasons, it’s just wild.
As someone who is who I am — someone who is trying to succeed in this industry and stay in this industry — it’s very, very, very much like a boys’ club, and it can be very hard to assert yourself, and it can be very hard to accept that you’re an equal collaborator in the room, and I think that that was something, because I was so green, I struggled with on Season 1 of “The Politician.” But I was able to build off of that and be like, “Work on your self-esteem, be a collaborator, you’re a part of this art.” I think that’s something that a lot of actors who have been marginalized experience — just because there is such a smaller number of people like you in the industry. So it was a bit of journey to figure out what it felt like for me to feel like an equal. “Work In Progress” taught me how to be a collaborator and made me feel really confident.
[In “Work In Progress”] Chris is based off of a real person, and so there was a lot of work that I couldn’t do because of the specific way that this person was written in the show. But I felt like I was able to talk a lot about the emotional life of him and using my own decisions to act him. I always think about the psychology of somebody, and the character is obviously somebody who is close to my demographic.
Chris is someone who’s very confident, and I remember sometimes working with Tim [Mason, executive producer and director], and Tim would be like, “Swagger, Theo, swagger.” I’m such a dork and sometimes I am not the most confident person, but I was like, “This guy’s confident, so I just have to act, and now I feel better.” So Chris taught me to be more confident.
In the finale episode, he is going through a major struggle. He could have very easily not asked for space, and I think it was very important for him to assert himself and ask for what he needed. At the end of Episode 7, when Abby reveals what she did [with learning his deadname], kind of in a very convoluted way, she talks about all of these people who she talked to about it, and he doesn’t have all of the information and he’s blindsided and gets triggered. There’s a lot of trauma that he has with his deadname, obviously. Trans people’s experiences vary, but it’s something that is no dice for him. And he spends a little bit of time struggling to pull himself back together, and he is very upset, but he understands that Abby is struggling with her anxiety and struggling with mental illness, and he is trying to figure out how to strike that balance with boundaries and also “I do not think you’re an evil person, this was just not cool.” I think he doesn’t know he’s going to give her affection in that moment. But I think it’s also hard for him to see her struggling.
At the end of Episode 7, there were a lot of things he could have said, but he chose not to — he chose to just exit. He doesn’t talk about his homelife very much, and I think there’s a lot of tacit communication he was probably raised with that he is desperately fighting to not do, and so I think it’s very hard but also very mature of him to communicate the way he did.
I think it’s a very fun challenge to have to fill in the gaps, because I think that makes it harder. If you don’t see as much of the emotional life of the character onscreen, there’s a lot of, “Why would he do this thing?” And I just think that he’s really triggered and he’s really emotional and he doesn’t want to cry in public. But he’s having a lot of things come up very quickly about his past and feeling violated and feeling blindsided.
There are certain decisions that I feel like I probably would have made that Chris doesn’t make. I’m so invested in mental health and my boundaries are not as good, so I would be like, “Hey, let’s work this out.” But I believe that he did what he needed to do. The note, when Tim and I were working on the scene [on the street in the finale], the note that he gave me was, “Chris is feeling every single emotion, but he has kind of blocked himself from expressing any of that. He knows — and this is what I think — that if he were to express any of that, he would not be able to do what he needs to do for his own mental health.
She’s not hearing what he needs, and he wants to cry about it and he probably wants to yell and say all of these things, but he keeps a lid on it and wants to be respectful. And then when he says all of the things he needs to say and he tries to exit, she yells that thing out, and I think at that point, in my head it was just, “Are you f—ing kidding me? I can’t believe you would sink that low and do that to me.”
I think he’s a good person. The psychology of this is something I’ve continued to think about a lot. I think a lot of people, when they saw that scene, they were just like, “Oh God, how?”
Working on these shows, which boosted my confidence a lot and made me feel more assertive, made me feel like I’m not going to settle for being typecast. And I don’t feel like I’ve been typecast in the projects that I’ve worked on, but I do feel like there is the potential for me to be typecast, and I’m like, “Screw that.” I’m here to talk about gender when I want to, and when I don’t want to, I don’t have to. I think my challenge is just going to be continuing to fight for more opportunities that are varied and different.
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