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In honor of Gwen

In honor of Gwen


Oscar winner Mercedes Ruehl stars in a new Lifetime movie as the mother of Gwen Araujo, with J.D. Pardo as the murdered transgender teen.

Based on the life and 2002 murder of transgender California teen Gwen Araujo, Lifetime Network's A Girl Like Me: The Gwen Araujo Story stars J.D. Pardo (American Dreams) as Gwen, while Mercedes Ruehl portrays Gwen's mother, Sylvia, who transformed herself after her daughter's death into an activist for trans awareness and justice for victims of hate crimes. Ruehl--owner of an Oscar, a Tony, and a Golden Globe--gives a powerful performance in this biopic, which is directed by Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa).

Had you heard about Gwen's case before you were cast as Sylvia? And how did you prepare for the role? No, I hadn't. My agent got me the script and then sent me footage of Sylvia on the Today show and Dateline. Then I started to do a little research into the transgender phenomenon. I read Jennifer Finney Boylan's She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders. This book rocked my soul.

What were the most intense scenes to shoot with J.D. Pardo? It was like a slow coming to terms with [Gwen's gender identity] for Sylvia. Gwen was trying step-by-step to bring her mother to the point where she could safely cross over into her true identity. Sylvia kept hoping this was it, this would satisfy him now: He can wear a little makeup and do a Boy George thing, and it won't go any further. Gwen went, "OK, she's come this far; now I have to get her through the next hurdle." J.D.'s extraordinary work made those scenes much easier.

What is the real Sylvia like? She's strong, very attractive; she has a beautiful voice. She's got a watchful quality in her eyes, like a bird. She always wore the perfume Tommy Girl because that's what Gwen wore. She gave me a bottle. She feels in close contact with her daughter on a spiritual plane and believed it was no mistake that we were summoned to make the film.

You have two young sons. What if one confided in you that he might be gay or transsexual? You would like to think I'd be exemplary; I'd say, "Let us go to therapy together, let us work this through, find out what you really are and what you really want and not be timid or frightened." But you know what? There is enough of a conventional bourgeois many generations back in me that I would have to grow in courage.

Unlike other films dealing with the murder of transgender individuals, this could reach a wider audience through Lifetime. Thoughts on that? I think it's wonderful. I think Lifetime sees the power of getting this out in front of a middle-class audience, making it clear that there is a complex condition called transgender--something you're born with.

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