Life Is Hot for Kerry Washington

She's gone gay on film twice, stumped for Obama, and held her own with Bill Maher. Now Kerry Washington tackles her toughest role to date: as a transsexual, heroin-addicted prostitute in Life Is Hot in Cracktown .

BY Ross von Metzke

June 25 2009 11:00 PM ET

In an industry that loves to pigeonhole talent, good luck putting Kerry Washington into a box. Since making her motion picture debut in Save the Last Dance and rising to fame with her critically acclaimed performance in Ray, the actress, now 32, has gone gay on film twice, dabbled in comedy with the Wayans brothers, played the tortured wife of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, and faced off with the Fantastic Four.

Now, always one for a challenge, she tackles her heaviest role to date -- Marybeth, the male-to-female transsexual, heroin-addicted prostitute she plays to perfection in Life Is Hot in Cracktown. From her walk to her talk, Washington nails the part -- and it's a sure sign her best roles have yet to come.

Washington sat down with Advocate.com to talk about the film, her time on the road stumping for Obama and how she found her femininity in paying trans.

Advocate.com:I have to say, after seeing Life Is Hot in Cracktown, I'm really looking forward to this -- you were superb.Kerry Washington: Oh, my God, thank you.

Am I right that you were the first person to sign on to this movie? I've heard that rumor -- it sounds familiar. I can't dispute it, but I'm not exactly sure [ laughs ].

Well, hey, it sounds good, so run with it. Right?

What drew you to playing Marybeth -- I have to say, that's a challenging character, and one I think a lot of actors would likely run away from. It's one of those really funny, weird, I guess hopefully meant-to-be situations. I had an agent who fell in love with the project. She encouraged me to read it and I read it and was terrified. [ Laughs ] I sort of have a history of saying that I'm drawn to work that challenges me. I have, unfortunately, said that publicly a lot. So she sent me on this interview and I went to meet with Buddy [Giovinazzo, the director] feeling a bit nervous and ambivalent and not really sure what he wanted to do but knowing that I was really drawn to the writing. He was very honest with me and said that he wasn't sure that I could do it. He really wanted for Marybeth to be a realistic trans woman and that he didn't want to distract from the argument -- could this woman really be a trans woman? Having me play the role he thought might cost the film some of its authenticity, which clearly is the most important part of the film.

Absolutely. So he actually ended up writing me the most beautiful rejection letter I have ever received in my life. I forwarded it to my agent and thought, My God. If ever I have to hear no, this is the way to hear it. But it's that thing -- when you can't have it, then you really want it. I started doing a little research and started forcing him to do some research about trans women and really looking at these women. We both kind of realized that it's more than realistic that I could play this role, because there are trans women in the community who are clearly women. What's challenging about being a trans woman is that you're born a woman yet there's a section of one's biology that betrays that truth. And so there are times when you meet and see trans women who have been graced with the ability to conquer that denial, where you're just very aware of the truth of their identity as women. So we went for it.

Tags: film

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