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Trans Actor/Comedian Ian Harvie Seeks Challenges in Diverse Roles

by Jim Halterman
Contributor
Tuesday Jul 12, 2016
Ian Harvie
Ian Harvie   

If you haven't noticed this summer, trans actor/comedian Ian Harvie has been popping up in more than a few places on our televisions with a recurring role on ABC's soapy drama "Mistresses" and this week he stops by the Freeform sitcom, "Young & Hungry."

While the roles (and shows) couldn't be further apart, the way each show addresses the transgender issue is a step in the right direction for television to not only entertain but to educate and perhaps help the uninformed audience learn a thing or two along the way. And if we get more of Harvie along the way, everyone wins.

Be it comedy or drama or doing stand-up, Harvie has been showing us his impressive acting chops of late especially in the compelling "Mistresses" storyline where he recently came out to April (Rochelle Aytes), a cisgender woman who then revealed she would never date a transgender person and also callously refers to Michael's "female part inside." Michael, hurt and angry, showed her the door. While it remains to be seen what happen next, the story can be labeled tough, though what happened between the characters is not out of the ordinary.

"To me, this is pretty accurate portrayal of human reaction and response to new information," Harvie told EDGE recently of the way April reacted in the July 4th episode. "The person coming out with new info clearly has a coming out process but we as the person coming out sometimes forgets we are not the only person in process/transition. When one person comes out, everyone is in transition."


Getting it right
Ian Harvie and Rochelle Aytes on Mistresses  

While we can only hope April's journey in this story will be to understand that her reaction may not have been the best one, we can also hope that the show will continue to explore those feelings and why she responded as she did. "April has a history of poor judgments (she says so herself) and maybe doesn't quite trust herself so she looks to [her boyfriend] who just happens to be there and she gets some misinformation and a bad angle at things, directing April to Michael's female part inside."

Being a guest actor on the ABC summer series, Harvie explained that the show's writers had already taken responsibility in telling the story right by talking with GLAAD early on. "Before I ever got on set for 'Mistresses,' GLAAD had been in the writers' room with them discussing storylines and language, which made me feel really comfortable that they cared enough to have a chat with GLAAD about the role and arc of the character." And while Harvie didn't want to spoil where things go, let's just say we haven't seen the last of Michael in the current season.


From Drama to Sitcoms
Emily Osment and Ian Harvie on Young & Hungry  

While things took a dramatic turn at 'Mistresses,' it's all laughs at Freeform's 'Young & Hungry,' where Harvie guests stars this week. In the episode, young chef Gaby (Emily Osment) is seeking out her Aunt Chris, whom she hasn't seen in a long time, and discovers that her favorite aunt has gone through a major change.

"Gaby has an estranged aunt who has become her uncle and she goes on a search looking for him but doesn't know that's what she's looking for," Harvie said between rehearsals during shooting earlier this year. "[Gaby] thinks that her aunt basically abandoned the family and didn't care about her or her mom, who had passed away. There are other themes in this episode about revealing truth and the truth will set you free and so I think this episode is about telling the truth and coming clean."

While Harvie has appeared on Amazon's dramedy "Transparent," his role on "Young & Hungry" marks his first foray into a traditional sitcom. "It's really high energy and the pace of the talking, the pace of the funny, just all that is so different than having worked on 'Transparent' where they're like 'just say it how you feel it.' It's a totally different experience!"

A welcome component to the story is that the show wisely doesn't steer its entire focus to the fact that the character is transgender. "I think Gaby is more upset that she's missed her uncle, this person in her life who was the only connection to her mother, who has passed," Harvie said. "The trans thing isn't the issue and she's already on board with this."


The Trans Hiring Issue
Ian Harvie  

Given both roles on "Mistresses" and "Young & Hungry" were trans characters, the actor/comedian offered up his take on cisgender actors playing trans roles, which can be a point of contention within the trans community. "I don't have any issue with anybody playing any character as long as the employment issue of hiring trans people is taken care of and squared away," he explained.

"I think the important thing is not all trans people have to be in trans roles because if that were the case then I wouldn't be able to play cisgender roles either... that's a very one-sided way to look at it so my thought is let's hire trans people, let's solve that problem of employment in this industry and all industries, then you can start feeling like it's okay to have non-trans people play gender non-conforming and trans roles."

Now that he's tackled drama and comedy in front of the camera, Harvie is open to anything that comes his way with one caveat -- he wants to be frightened by the task at hand. "Make me scared and I'll want to do it," he said. "If it's challenging, if it's something I haven't done before, which is a lot since this is new for me, I'll want to do it. Last night I was petrified learning my lines and what terrifies me is being unprepared and there's a gift in that... anything that presents that challenge, I'm in!"

"Young & Hungry" airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on Freeform. "Mistresses" airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on ABC. For more on Harvie, visit his Facebook page.


Jim Halterman lives in Los Angeles and also covers the TV/Film/Theater scene for www.FutonCritic.com, AfterElton, Vulture, CBS Watch magazine and, of course, www.jimhalterman.com. He is also a regular Tweeter and has a group site on Facebook.

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