Actress Alexandra Turshen Defies Labels (But She's One of Us)

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Alexandra Turshen knows how audiences see her. Blond, green-eyed, with an easygoing smile and warm voice, the New York–based actress tells The Advocate that up until now she's been cast as a type. "Usually I'm the wide-eyed ingenue that all the bad stuff is happening to," she admits frankly.

These days Turshen is ready to show the world more of her complexity as a performer, having been cast as the murderous "super-alpha-girl-sociopath" in the upcoming thriller Body and fresh off her charming performance as a trans woman's love interest in 2014's award-winning LGBT rom-com Boy Meets Girl. And as fate would have it, Turshen's life is imitating art: For the first time publicly, she's opening up about her own identity, ready to defy audiences who typecast her as straight.

As Boy Meets Girl finishes its theatrical run and begins streaming online this month, Turshen sat down with The Advocate to discuss the assumptions made about her character Francesca — a wide-eyed Kentucky debutante smitten with Michelle Hendley's trans character Ricky — and how they mirror common assumptions about her own fluid sexuality.

"I remember [director Eric Schaeffer] saying to me ... that a lot of actresses were not comfortable with the material, particularly the lesbian love scene with a trans woman," Turshen recalls of her audition. "Well, I feel sorry for those girls. Michelle was a great kisser. You can quote me on that!"

The undeniable chemistry between Turshen and Hendley may have been part of what earned Turshen two Best Supporting Actress wins at San Diego's FilmOut Festival — and has found Turshen now facing down audience assumptions about her own sexuality head-on.

During a recent question-and-answer session for Boy Meets Girl, an audience member identified Turshen as "straight" in a question during talk-backs. Turshen, who rejects labels but when pressed says her orientation is "fluid," was taken aback.

"I was tempted to make a joke and turn around looking behind me for the 'straight' girl they might be referring to," she tells The Advocate. "But then I thought ... No, I don't want to embarrass this person. So instead I gently suggested to them that they were assuming an awful lot about me."

Turshen's "coming-out" moment was met with little fanfare — a response that seems right to Turshen, who remains comfortable with simply being who she is without being placed into society's boxes.

"I hope it's not news when an actor or actress is open about who they love," she states simply. "I've never really had to 'come out' in the industry because I've always been a bit of an open book. And I realized early on that labeling myself as 'bisexual' or a 'lesbian' or whatever really wasn't about me understanding myself, it was an attempt at making other people 'get me' — which, as it turns out, really isn't all that important. But I consider myself lucky to live in a time when people are starting to see that sexuality and gender identity can be as open and fluid as we allow it to be."

Rejecting labels, Turshen clarifies, doesn't mean that she is confused about who she is, even if she's still growing as a person. "I really identified with Francesca," Turshen shares. "She has a big heart, an optimistic outlook on life, and she cares very deeply about living authentically. She loves who she loves and she's not afraid of the judgment or complications that might come along with it. Basically she's really just trying to figure out who she is. So yeah, I’m right there with her. But am I as big and bubbly? No. And I don't wear pink."

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Alexandra Turshen (right) with Boy Meets Girl costar Michelle Hendley

With her next two movies hitting theaters this year, Turshen says she's had no shortage of opportunities to continue learning more about herself.

Wrapping up her role as thriller Thai-Sanity's "average, dorky, wide-eyed girl" who gets caught up in a psychopath’s deadly scavenger hunt through Thailand, Turshen says she came away changed. "It was the first time in my career that I honestly felt the boundaries between myself and the character blur to a degree that I couldn't separate at the end of the day," she says. "It was exhilarating and terrifying. It challenged me mind, body, and spirit. When I came home, I wasn't the same person. And now all I want is another project that takes me to those mysterious places when you truly inhabit someone else's life."

And those opportunities keep coming. Along with playing the calculating Cali in Body, Turshen is currently developing a character for a recurring role in Amazon's upcoming streaming series Red Oaks.

"I'm so excited. I have no idea what's in store for ole Misty ... other than sunless tanner and hair spray," she says of her 1980s Jersey girl character, who works as a lifeguard at a country club. "Misty is another example of not judging a book by its cover. At first blush, she might seem like she has it all: confidence, a big smile, even bigger hair, and a super-hot boyfriend. But Misty is actually very lost and insecure. In the big party scene, Wheeler, played by Oliver Cooper, finds her crying in a tree. ... Happy girls don’t cry in trees."

Catch Turshen in this Boy Meets Girl clip that The Advocate premiered in February and find the movie streaming on Vimeo now.

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