When We Rise is the hotly anticipated ABC mini-series chronicling the story of the gay rights movement from the Stonewall Riot to present day. And recently actress Ivory Aquino, who plays trans activist, Cecelia Chung, came out as trans herself.
The actress actually almost gave up on her dream of acting because she didn’t think anyone would hire a transgender girl from the Philippines. “I didn’t feel at that time that there were any roles I could do.”
But after moving to the U.S. and undergoing gender reassignment surgery, Aquino’s acting hope was reignited.
“My outsides finally felt like my insides,” she says. “The first thought that came to mind was, ‘I can act again!’ ”
She was cast as Juliet in The Drilling Company’s Romeo and Juliet for Bryant Park in 2015. “I would look out into the audience every night — I tear up from the love I felt from them,” says Aquino. “They didn’t know I was transgender and it didn’t matter because they were invested in the story and the character and for me, as an actress, that’s what matters.”
Interestingly, when she sent in an audition tape for the role of Chung in When We Rise, the writer, Dustin Lance Black said he didn’t even realize she was trans. In fact, he “was a little pissed at casting because he was very committed to having a transgender actress play the role and had asked them to send him tapes of transgender actresses.”
However, the next day Aquinoa wrote them a thank you note and added at the end: “I just want to make sure that you know that I’m trans.” She shortly thereafter received a call back and eventually her coveted role in the series.
“You spend your whole life dreaming of these things,” Ivory says. “And it’s really humbling when your dreams come true.”
When We Rise is scheduled to premiere on February 27th on ABC. We can’t wait!