British soap Emmerdale debuted its first ever transgender character over the summer.
Trans actor Ash Palmisciano plays Matty Barton, the youngest child of John Barton and Moira Dingle.
The character, previously known as Hannah Barton, appeared on the soap from 2009 to 2012 and was played by Grace Cassidy.
The return of the character spawned a groundbreaking conversation on transitioning and acceptance. In the show, Matty’s family (especially his mother) have a hard time accepting his identity, while his friend Victoria embraces him right away.
Matty’s mother finally understands his point of view and he moves back with her to Emmerdale.
“It’s absolutely amazing and a fantastic opportunity—for me personally, but also for the soap to build a groundbreaking character,” Palmisciano told Radio Times.
“It’s something new, it’s never been done before on the soap, and it’s rarely been done anywhere else. It’s very exciting and I can’t wait to see what people think of the character,” he added.
“We are absolutely thrilled to have Ash on board to play this role. A skilful actor of great talent, he exudes charisma and there’s an unflinching honesty to his performance that adds real depth to this complex character,” producer Kate Brooks said.
“Ash has already proven himself to be a brilliant addition to the cast and we look forward to charting his journey as he reconnects with old friends and forges new relationships along the way.”
Before Emmerdale, Palmisciano enjoyed smaller roles on the BBC miniseries Boy Meets Girl and the short film Mum, which tackles transgender themes.
The 28 year old worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and was the first trans actor to appear on the RSC stage.
He also had a series of odd jobs before starring on Emmerdale, including being a tree in a King Lear production and playing a Christmas elf.
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Emmerdale’s first trans actor
Speaking on the breakfast show Lorraine, Palmisciano revealed he didn’t plan on auditioning for the role of Matty.
The actor was initially on Emmerdale’s set to advise on their new transgender character. He got in contact with the show through the association All About Trans.
“I went along and the next thing is they [were] asking me if I want to audition. I was like, ‘Yeah, fantastic!’ And here I am,” he said.
Palmisciano went on to talk about his first day on the show’s set, adding that, while nervous, he was made to feel at home.
“The crew was so welcoming and everyone introduced themselves and made me feel at home. It was lovely. Way better than I could have hoped for. I was absolutely over the moon when I got the part – I couldn’t believe it,” said the actor.
Not just an actor
On top of being an accomplished actor, Palmisciano also writes poetry. Over the summer, he wrote and narrated a short film for Channel 4 called The Lady That Dances, which was broadcast as part of their Random Acts summer series.
The actor also has his own YouTube channel, where he discusses transitioning and uploads funny videos.
He revealed his transitioning experience was very different from his character’s. While Matty went through his transition alone, Palmisciano said he was always surrounded by family:
“My life is unlike Matty’s. I had family around me from the start so it is definitely different. Matty’s story might not be the same as mine but it has helped having that insight into how he might feel.”