Actor and director Andy Serkis has defended the choice of casting Scarlett Johansson to play a transgender role.
The actor, who has made a career out of playing unconventional characters such as Gollum in Lord of the Rings and King Kong in the eponymous 2005 film, argued that there should be no limits to the casting of actors.
Ahead of the release of his latest film Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, Serkis told Variety he did not agree with the backlash to the casting of a cisgender—someone who identifies with the gender assigned at birth—actor to play the role of real-life trans man Dante ‘Tex’ Gill in the upcoming film Rub & Tug.
Johansson eventually gave up the role.
“Actors should be able to play anything.”
— Andy Serkis
“I absolutely disagree. I really, vehemently disagree,” Serkis said of the criticism.
“Actors should be able to play anything, and that’s why I love this [performance capture] technology. What should be the point is that whatever colour your skin is, whatever shape you are, whatever height you are, whatever your makeup is as an actor, you should have the ability to play anything,” he said.
Andy Serkis joins fellow Hollywood stars in advocating for straight, cisgender people to play LGBT roles
Serkis is the latest Hollywood star to defend the casting of straight, cisgender people in LGBT+ role. Johansson herself initially rejected the criticism citing actors Jeffrey Tambor and Jared Leto—both of whom also controversially played trans people on screen.
Cate Blanchett said in October she would “fight to the death for the right to suspend disbelief and play roles beyond my experience.” The award-winning actor was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the 2015 film Carol, a lesbian drama.
Earlier this year, the casting of straight actor Jack Whitehall to voice Disney’s first gay character on the big screen in the upcoming film The Jungle Cruise also sparked controversy.
British actor Idris Elba defended Whitehall’s casting. Speaking to TimeOut London about the dispute, he said: “Artistic licence is artistic licence. If an actor has the attributes to do something, they should be able to do it. They’re acting.
“You don’t necessarily have to be gay to play a gay character. Though you do have to be black to play a black character.”
Johansson eventually withdrew from the Rub & Tug film, recognising her reaction to the criticism was “insensitive” in a statement to Out magazine.
She wrote: “Our cultural understanding of transgender people continues to advance, and I’ve learned a lot from the community since making my first statement about my casting and realise it was insensitive.”