If you’ve already binged Transparent’s excellent third season, you probably found yourself wondering, “Who is this incredible young actress portraying Maura Pfefferman as a child?”
Well, wonder no more. Vulture spoke with 12-year-old Sophia Grace Gianna and her mother Blaise about her gut-wrenching turn in the flashback episode, her advice to parents who may have a trans child, and why having friends who aren’t totally fazed by Hollywood may just be the biggest gift of all.
How have your lives changed since Sophia’s episode premiered?
Blaise: We had a big celebration last week. It was very special. But now we are literally back in school. We are sitting in one of her favorite teacher’s classrooms as we speak. [Laughs.]
Has it been strange being back to school? What are your favorite classes?
Sophia Grace Gianna: No, school is going good. My favorite subject has always been drama.
When did you start acting? What inspired you?
S: I started acting locally in a production of Pinocchio and it was really fun, so that’s how I got my acting bug. It’s always been something I was drawn to. I remember, when I was younger, I had all my stuffed animals in my room and I’d act out scenes from My Little Pony episodes. [Laughs.]
In “If I Were a Bell,” you get to act alongside series regular Gaby Hoffmann and guest stars Michael Stuhlbarg and Michaela Watkins. What did you learn about acting from this stellar group?
S: They were so amazing and made me see acting in a whole different light. Transparent is such a creative and safe set. You get to go out and do your own spin on things. It’s really healing for me to be able to act out with such emotion. But it was painful at times. It was hard to see Maura have such a difficult life growing up. Hopefully, people who aren’t trans are moved by what she went through.
It certainly forces the viewer to ask him or herself: What if this were my child?
S: I think that’s what [Transparent writer] Our Lady J was going for with this episode. To capture people’s hearts. Parents, grandparents, whoever. To show what it really feels like to be a trans kid.
It must feel incredibly empowering for you to know that your story is being seen by young people all over the world, many of whom live in cultures where being trans is neither accepted nor understood.
S: It does. I really want to be an advocate for trans people who aren’t accepted or can’t feel safe in their communities. I’m so grateful to be part of something that celebrates people from all walks of life, all around the world. It’s all very humbling. Transparent is more than just a show; it can change peoples’ minds. It makes people think differently about the world. It captures peoples’ empathy in a way that just talking about it often cannot.
What should parents do when their child tells them, “I feel like I’m in the wrong body?” And what should schools do to provide safe environments for trans kids?
S: My advice to parents is: Listen to your kid and let them take the lead. They know what they are talking about. They’re not confused. And schools need to get rid of the stigma of trans kids. They need to understand that trans kids aren’t any different from others kids. They just want to use the bathroom like any other kid. Some schools have been very successful with this, some have been very unsuccessful.
Modern Family recently made news for casting a young trans male actor in an episode. Many outlets reported that this was the first time a young out trans actor had appeared in a major series. Not that we are keeping score, but you’d already made your own history on that front. What does it mean to you to see another young person get an opportunity like this?
S: I didn’t get a chance to see the Modern Family episode yet. But I do want to say I think it’s important for all trans actors to get their spotlight. It’s not about one person making their dreams come true; it’s about all of us.
Blaise, have you seen a surge in interest in Sophia for other projects? How do you decide what to pursue?
B: We’ve deferred everything to [Transparent] producers Rhys Ernst and Zackary Drucker to vet for us.
S: I’m very appreciative that they are there to help us.
Sophia, do you see yourself becoming a professional, full-time actor in the future?
S: It’s so hard — I don’t know where I’m going to be! There’s so much going on right now. And that’s fine. I’m only 12! Acting would be awesome, but I also really like to do volleyball. So it’s good spot to be in.
And I know you’re also a huge music fan. What are your favorites? Taylor Swift?
S: I love everything — classical, alternative. And I can definitely get down to “Shake It Off.” [Laughs.]
And finally, what do your friends think about your work on the show? Are they treating you like a big Hollywood star now?
S: [Laughs.] No. My friends were like, “Good job!” And then everything went back to normal because I’m still the same.
You still have to do homework and chores.
S: Yeah, all those normal kid things.
This interview has been edited and condensed.