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Asia Kate Dillon on Billions, Nonbinary Gender Identity, and Making TV History

In its second season, Billions has made history by introducing television’s first nonbinary character. Played by Asia Kate Dillon, who previously appeared on Orange Is the New Black, Taylor is an intern at Axe Capital with keen intelligence and an indifference to the values that normally drive hedge funders, who quickly attracts the admiration of Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis).

Like their Billions character, Dillon is nonbinary and uses the pronoun “they.” Moreover, Dillon says that auditioning for the part of Taylor helped clarify their own understanding of their gender identity. Vulture spoke on the phone with Dillon about developing their character, gender pronouns, and how the Billions set is different from working on Orange Is the New Black.

I really like how your character looks at people. Was that gaze where you started with the physical bearing of the character?
That’s a really interesting question. I love it. Well, I certainly think that it’s very important to Taylor to be getting as much information as they possible can at all times. I think that happens naturally for Taylor anyway; Taylor is a sponge for information. And I think that translates physically into Taylor making direct eye contact when they are speaking because they are trying to not only pick up on, let’s say, the energy of the room, but the energy of the person that they’re interacting with as well. Taylor thinks looking someone in the eye is the best way to do that.

In an interview with EW, you said, “This feels like me” when you read the character. What did you mean by that?
What I meant specifically is that when I saw the breakdown for the character, it said “female, nonbinary.” And I thought, “Interesting, I think I know about those words, but let me do research into every aspect of this character and their world and who they are.” And so, female meaning sex and nonbinary meaning a gender identity that is an umbrella term for people who identify as neither man nor a woman. I just went, oh my gosh, there is language to express something about myself that I’ve always known, but could never put words to. I mean, it really helped. It’s interesting: As much visibility as Taylor is giving to the nonbinary community now that Billions is on the air, Taylor gave that visibility and hope to me first.

I believe that, as Nina Simone said, an artist’s duty is to reflect society. I want all of the work that I create to support and uplift historically marginalized and historically disenfranchised people. My team knows that, and they know that those are the kinds of roles and the kinds of art projects I want to be involved in.

So the character helped you clarify your own identity?
Absolutely. I was gender nonconforming in high school, in terms of the way I dressed, in terms of the way I cut my hair. And then a couple of years ago, I started removing “she” and “her” from my online bio material or my bio in a program, and I just replaced it with my name. I used my name instead of a pronoun, which felt really good. Once I read the breakdown for Taylor, before even being cast in the role, I immediately made the changes to any online material I had. I started saying, “These are my pronouns.”

Do you see Taylor’s ability to see patterns as connected to their gender identity?
Taylor has clearly gone on a journey of self-discovery in terms of their gender identity that they’ve had to look at themselves from sort of every angle and grapple with themselves from every angle. In that sense, that is something that’s very familiar to Taylor. Taylor looks at the world from every angle, can see every angle, and is always trying to investigate what is the truth and what is at the heart of the matter.

You see this in critical race theory and gender theory a lot, where there is a “lifting of the veil” on how gender and race operate. When you’re a person of color or queer, you reckon with certain parts of your identity in ways that you don’t when you’re a straight, cisgender, heterosexual, white male. I think that gives you a certain clarity about how the world works.
Yeah, totally. I think you’ve hit on something really, really key. Ultimately, it’s really important for anyone, whether they are cisgender, transgender, where they are on the LGBTQ spectrum, to have conversations about gender and identity. Some of the most interesting conversations I had on set were with self-identified cis, straight people to whom I said, “Okay, if we understand, in this moment, that sex is between our legs, gender identity is between our ears, and those things are separate, then why do you, as a cis person, identify as cis? And if up until this moment you’ve been identifying that way because of your anatomy, isn’t that interesting? Let’s talk about that.” I think everyone and anyone would benefit from conversations about gender and identity in general.

How have those conversations gone?
Overwhelmingly well, which gives me a lot of hope. I think that people have a much more innate understanding of gender as being fluid, of identity as living somewhere on a spectrum. I think people have a much more innate sense of that than they thought they might. Even when they’re engaged in a conversation that’s coming from a place of understanding.

Do you give any notes to the Billions writers about Taylor?
I can think of two that come to mind. One is general and one is specific. The first is occasionally a script would come my way and Taylor’s pronoun would be wrong, they would have been misgendered. I would just send off a quick email to Brian and David saying, “Oop! I noticed this …” And they would change it right away and the script would come back and it would have be changed. The specific instance, there was a script that came my way in which the title for a person working at a job was gendered, but there’s no need to gender that type of word. And so I, as Asia, just went to the writer and said, “You know, Taylor would say the non-gendered version of this word.”

I know that sometimes people have difficulty with gender pronouns. Have you experienced that beyond the script?
I think that simply because we are, as a culture, out of practice saying “they” and “them” in reference to someone as a singular pronoun, it can be confusing for the brain. But we actually do it all the time, saying, “They’re coming,” or “They’re going,” or “Where are they?” We do it all the time already, so I think it’s actually just about reprogramming all of our brains a little bit. I say this from a place of love: We are all ignorant of what we’re ignorant of until we’re not anymore, and there is an important distinction to make between ignorance and willful ignorance. Once people are made aware of things that they were previously ignorant of, I think people are a lot more willing to really try. We need to understand that it’s a process. And so, if I told someone over and over again what my pronoun is and they continued to specifically misgender me on purpose — which actually fortunately hasn’t happened yet — it would be an instance like that where it would become offensive. But other than that, I think that as a culture we’re really primed for this conversation.

You were also on Orange Is the New Black as Brandy. What’s the vibe between that set and Billions?
Orange is fun. Even when we’re doing super-intense, emotional, or physical stuff, we’re having fun, we’re checking in with each other, we know about each other’s lives, and know each other’s families and relationships. We’re really friends. I mean, I am certainly on set with certain groups of people more than I am on set with others, and therefore the people I’m on the set with more often have become my closer friends. I think that seems to be how it is for everyone on set. And I would say that not only are we able to have fun, but because we’re having so much fun, we’re able to then take the work very, very seriously. That feels really good. With Billions, it’s very similar. We have table reads for every episode of Billions. The core cast is smaller than the core cast on Orange Is the New Black, so in that sense it has more of a theater vibe.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Asia Kate Dillon Is Making TV History on Showtime’s Billions