TV

Can This Streaming Soap Opera Kick Off a New Wave of Trans Storytelling?

Trans actor Scott Turner Schofield hopes his role on the Amazon drama "Studio City" brings complexity and surprise.

Scott Turner Schofield is learning what it’s like to play himself—or at least a version of himself. Five years ago, the actor made history on The Bold and the Beautiful when he became the first openly transgender actor with a major role on a daytime soap opera. Today, Schofield appears on Studio City, an Amazon Prime drama in which he plays Max, a series regular on a fictional soap opera called Hearts on Fire. And if that’s not meta enough for you, Max is also transgender and, within the fictional universe of Studio City, he, too, has set a precedent on Hearts on Fire comparable to the one Schofield set in real life.

In the show’s first season (which premiered in December and will be screened at a red-carpet event on February 11) we get to see Max both on the Hearts on Fire set, playing the perfectly named Dr. Brantly, and off set, sharing his backstory in a transgender support group. (Sidenote: With all its emoting, Hearts on Fire may be the most entertaining soap within a show since Los Amantes Clandestinos on 30 Rock.)

Studio City itself is riddled with soap stars, chief among them creator and star Sean Kanan, who left The Bold and the Beautiful in 2017 after nearly 20 years of on-again, off-again appearances. Kanan’s character Sam is trying to avoid being written off Hearts on Fire and, in true soapy fashion, dealing with the arrival of a young woman who claims to be his long-lost daughter.

NewNowNext caught up with Schofield to talk about his new role, “the movable middle,” and how soaps may be a key to trans progress.

What’s it like playing a fictional actor in a fictional soap opera who has set a transgender precedent very much like the one you set? Is it so meta your brain explodes?

You know that trans film trope of the trans person gazing deeply into a mirror? It’s like that—only the mirror reflects to infinity.

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Scott Turner Schofield as Max in Studio City.

How did your role on Studio City come about?

Sean and I stayed in touch [after The Bold and The Beautiful]. He’s super passionate about being an LGBTQIA ally, and really gets how representation can have a positive impact, especially for youth. He’s been working on the idea for the show for a long time and decided he wanted to use it as a platform. I love that instinct.

You’re passionate about the idea that soap operas can reach a “movable middle” of people who might not expressly seek out LGBTQ stories but who find their hearts changed once they see them. Did you seen that happen with The Bold and The Beautiful?

Oh, wow, did we see it on The Bold and The Beautiful! Although it’s tough to separate it from all of the other “movable middle” media that came out at the same time. [My appearance on] The Bold and The Beautiful happened near the top of Hollywood’s transgender tipping point.

It seems like Studio City might be part of a new wave. It’s not a risk to tell a trans story anymore, but we are in a moment where you’re either committed to doing it well—with real, nuanced stories that need time and focus—or you’re doing it to be on trend and it’s obvious. They gave Max’s story some deep focus in this season, so I’m hopeful for what might happen with it.

Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty Images)
Schofield as Nick and Thorsten Kaye as Ridge on CBS’ The Bold and the Beautiful.

We are only beginning to get to know Max by the end of the first season. Where do you want to take the character from here?

There’s a backstory to why Max gives his monologue [at the support group], which might come later, but what do I know? So Max gets to be a slow burn and have a long arc, which is what every actor wants! As for the story, I just want what I want for all trans roles: complexity and surprise. That sounds like a soap opera to me…

How true to life is your character Max? What do you have in common?

Max has a very different trajectory. He’s a regular on a soap and has a much deeper connection to his show than I did. I was a recurring guest [on The Bold and the Beautiful], and although 16 episodes is a lot, it’s not quite at the same level that all of the characters in Studio City (or Hearts on Fire) are living. So Max has different worries and stressors. He’s looking at a different scope of visibility. But like me, Max feels a responsibility to be visible and to be a helpful voice as the world transitions to accepting trans people in everyday life.

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Speaking of Hearts on Fire, I love that your soap within a soap is such a loving pastiche of the genre. Is it as much fun as it looks to do the show within the show?

When I got to play Max playing a doctor delivering a diagnosis, I was in heaven. I did my best to walk the line between the seriousness of the scene and the full-on camp of the situation. I think “buried mirth” is a good description. Maybe you noticed.

It’s clear you’re having a blast. One question I’ve always wanted to ask a soap star: How reliable is the Nathan Fillion school of soap acting? Any tricks you’ve used?

Can we just take stock, for a moment, of how many of our most beloved actors worked on soaps? I learned how to memorize lines in minutes on The Bold and the Beautiful. Also how to hide scripts so they’re close at hand but out of sight. Those sets were always stuffed with pages in every cranny!

Did you ever see soap acting in your future?

You know, I never expected to be a soap actor. When I got the role on B&B, I think I had some of the prevailing biases: People think soaps don’t have the same quality as primetime shows, for instance. But we don’t think about the fact that soaps have so many storylines, five days a week! How those actors and crews film upwards of 40 pages per day! You have to respect that.

I remember how important soaps were to me growing up. I watched them religiously with my grandmothers. Remembering how much those stories mattered to us, how invested we got in the characters, I realized that people might feel that way about me and the story I’m a part of. If we’d encountered the trans storyline or the #MeToo storyline on Studio City, my grandmothers and I would have had so much to say to each other that we never could back then.

Primetime stories can be so elevated or particular that you feel the separation from your own life in a way soap fans never do. So I have a real respect for soaps, I’m proud to be a part of that world, and telling this story feels—unexpectedly—like exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Samantha Allen is the author of "Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States" and a GLAAD Award-winning LGBTQ journalist.
@SLAWrites