Growing up in St. Louis, Eva Reign knew she wanted to be an actor. She spent her teenage years performing in local theater productions and had plans to turn her passion into a career—but found herself discouraged by her director. "She had a lot of issues with me being trans and I just started to think, 'I guess I need to pivot and try to do something different now,'" Reign recalls. "She would tell me a thousand times that I was talented, but I wasn't getting cast in the shows. I thought, 'If this is happening when I'm like fourteen, fifteen, what hope do I have moving forward?'"
A few years later, Reign now finds herself making her professional début—as the lead, no less—in Billy Porter's new film Anything's Possible, an uplifting, joyful John Hughes-inspired romantic comedy in which her Kelsa falls for the sensitive artist Khal, played by Abubakr Ali, during their senior year. There are the classic hurdles along the way—hallway gossip, love triangles, unsupportive best friends—but Reign says that she found the script refreshing because, while the movie is the first mainstream high school romance featuring a trans character, Kelsa is a typical teenage girl. She swoons over her crush, she banters with her mother, and, most of all, she is unabashedly herself. "When I saw the breakdown for this role, I was like, 'Oh wow, this is a really sweet story. It's not something about trauma, it's not something about sorrow, and it's not something about someone figuring out who they are,'" she recalls. "It's just a story about someone who knows who they are and then happens to meet this guy."
For Reign, Anything's Possible is the culmination of plenty of perseverance, focus, and dedication, and a little bit of luck. After moving to New York, she worked as a journalist to save up money for acting classes and says she jumped at the opportunity when a friend passed along the casting notice for the film. "I'd never thought that my first acting role would be the lead in something," she says. "I hoped and prayed, but it just wasn't something that I thought was going to happen. It's not something that I had ever seen before." Having made her way through rounds of auditions as part of a worldwide search, she spent last summer filming in Pittsburgh, and now things have come full circle. After working as an assistant editor at them., she appeared on its cover earlier this year, alongside a headline proclaiming that she is "poised to make Hollywood history."
Coming from a theater background, Reign says Porter, a Broadway star best known for his Emmy-winning performance on the series Pose, made her feel exceptionally comfortable on her first set. "I just walked into it with a very open mind and also just walked in wanting to learn," she says. "This was my first role and I was the lead and Billy was my director, so I really just thought of it as a chance to grow as an artist." In fact, she says the hardest part was just getting out of her own head. "I think that was probably the biggest challenge for me, just letting myself have fun with it," she recalls. "I think I was putting a lot of pressure on myself at the start of it. No one was putting that pressure on me but me, but when you have this dream since you're a kid and you're told that you can't do it and then literally for the same reasons that you're denied this dream, that's what the job is all about, that was a catch-22 for me."
Having made a name for herself for her writings on transgender identity, Reign is well positioned to consider the nuances of representation and her role now at the forefront of the next generation of artists shaping the depiction of queer lives on screen. "A lot of the work I've done is around trans-ness," she says, "but there is so much more to me than that. There's so much more to every trans person than that."
With the film's release last month and its warm reception, Reign says she is now focused on acting, and continues to work on a few scripts of her own, having been mentored by the writer and filmmaker Tourmaline through a fellowship with the New York nonprofit Queer|Art. She says playing Kelsa taught her to be more confident about herself, and she hopes viewers of Anything's Possible come away with that same sense of uplift. "I think everyone should walk away just feeling happy, feeling inspired by it," she explains. "That's definitely what I felt when I walked away from it. Kelsa really taught me to be more fearless in my life, to take more chances. I think something that's really beautiful about it is something that different people who have seen it have told me, how they've been shocked watching this film. It's not anything bad, it's just happiness that something like this exists. I think for any artist, when you're putting something out into the world, you're scared of how people are going to see it and every time I hear that, that really just warms my heart, knowing that it has touched numerous hearts and minds."
After decades in which queer people, and especially queer people of color, have been shown suffering innumerable traumas throughout popular culture, Reign is ready to celebrate Black trans joy and to show everyone, whether cis, trans, or otherwise, exactly what is possible. Much as Kelsa helps Khal discover who he is, Reign says that we all have something to learn from each other: "Trans people—it doesn't matter whether we're involved with someone in a romantic way, a platonic way—we always tend to inspire the people in our lives to honor their own truths."
Anything's Possible is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
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