Alexandra Billings

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Alexandra Billings
Alexandra Billings.jpg
Billings in 2016
Born (1962-03-28) March 28, 1962 (age 59)
NationalityAmerican
OccupationActress, Model
Years active2002–present
Known forSecond openly transgender woman to have played a transgender character on television[1]
Partner(s)
Chrisanne Blankenship
(m. 1995)

Alexandra Scott Billings (born March 28, 1962) is an American actress, teacher, singer, and activist. Billings is the second openly transgender woman to have played a transgender character on television, which she did in the 2005 made-for-TV movie Romy and Michele: In the Beginning.[1] She is also known for portraying the recurring character Davina in the Amazon series Transparent and has played transgender characters in ER, Eli Stone, How to Get Away with Murder, Grey's Anatomy and The Conners.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Billings was born in Illinois into a multiracial family; she is of European American, African American and Native American ancestry.[4] Billings' father, Robert Billings, was a music teacher at Los Angeles Harbor College and the musical director for the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, which influenced her interest in theater.[5] She assisted, working backstage with Carol Burnett and Yul Brynner. She also appeared in Jesus Christ Superstar and The Roar of the Greasepaint—the Smell of the Crowd. In her early life, Billings struggled with homelessness, prostitution, and cocaine and opioid addiction.[6]

Career[edit]

Stage work[edit]

In the early 1980s, Billings worked under the stage name Shante at the famed Baton Show Lounge in Chicago, Illinois.[7] Winning a series of beauty contests, she was named Miss Wisconsin, Miss New York, Miss Chicago, Miss Illinois, and Miss Florida. She also served as a judge of the Miss Continental pageant in 2000 and 2001.

Most of Billings' professional work has been in Chicago theaters, most notably The Bailiwick Theater, Light Opera Works, Court Theatre, and Steppenwolf Theatre. She has collaborated on plays with such notable authors as Larry Kramer, Tina Landau, and Jamie Pachino. She has received one Joseph Jefferson Award and five After Dark Awards for her work in Chicago Theatre. Her one-person autobiographical show has toured to Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and off Broadway. She is a former artistic associate of About Face Theatre.

Billings is also a professional singer who performs in theaters and nightclubs throughout the United States. She recorded her second CD The Story Goes On in 2003. She was a recipient of the New York MAC Hanson Award for Cabaret Artist of the Year in 2004.

More recently, Billings has appeared in an autobiographical show, "S/He and Me".[8] In fall 2018, she also appeared in The Nap at Manhattan Theatre Club, and is one of the first openly trans people to be cast in a trans role on Broadway.[9]

In September 2019, it was announced that Billings would play the role of Madame Morrible in the Broadway musical Wicked. She is the first openly transgender person to star in the show.[10]

Television and film appearances[edit]

In the early 2000s, WTTW, the PBS station in Chicago, produced a documentary about Billings' life and career, "Schoolboy to Showgirl: The Alexandra Billings Story."[11]

She has appeared in the 2005 made-for-TV movie Romy and Michelle: A New Beginning. She has also played transgender characters in episodes of Karen Sisco, ER, Eli Stone and Grey's Anatomy.[2]

In 2010, Billings appeared in the film FAUX, in which she commented on gay marriage spurring the economy.[12]

In 2015, Billings appeared on season two, episode six of How to Get Away with Murder as Professor Jill Hartford.[13][14][15]

In 2017, transgender actors and actresses, including Billings (with the help of GLAAD and ScreenCrush), were part of a film to Hollywood written by Jen Richards, asking for more and improved roles for transgender people.[16][17]

In 2018, Billings played Judge Martha Wallace in the second season of Goliath.

Billings may be best known for her role as Davina in the Amazon series Transparent. The character was introduced in an early episode of season one and has appeared in subsequent seasons.

In 2020, Billings appeared in a recurring role as Robin,[18] a transgender supervisor at Wellman Plastics and mentor to Darlene Conner on ABC's The Conners.

Teaching[edit]

She has taught Viewpoints at the Steppenwolf Summer School since 2002 as well as taught at Louis University, The University of Chicago, Illinois University, the Illinois Theatre Convention, Act One Studios, and various classes and workshops around the Chicago area. Currently, she teaches at the Steppenwolf School West in Los Angeles California. Billings is currently a theater professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Before working at USC, she was an assistant professor at California State University, Long Beach.[19] She received her MFA from CSULB, and delivered the commencement speech for CSULB College of the Arts in 2015.[20]

Activism[edit]

Alexandra Billings is an AIDS and LGBTQ activist who argues for the equality of the LGBTQ community and urges others to use their voices to create change within the LGBTQ community.[19]

In 2016, Billings was awarded the Human Rights Campaign Visibility Award, which recognizes outstanding members of the LGBTQ community who live openly and freely in the public eye. After receiving the award, Billings thanked the audience, but also said, “I look around and I see you all and I cannot tell you how grateful I am that you’re here, and I have to say something to you I think you look great, you look swell and it’s wonderful that you’re here eating the chicken it’s delightful but I must tell you that we have to do something more than sit and speak and talk to our neighbors and eat great food and put on fancy clothes.”

In 2017, Transparent, the hit TV show Billings stars in, won the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comedy Series. When accepting the award on behalf of the cast, Billings urged the audience to talk to people who disagree with their beliefs in order to spark conversation and create change instead of staying complacent. Specifically, she called out the older LGBTQ generation and asks them to guide the younger LGBTQ generation because they will be the ones continuing the fight for equality in the future.[21]

When delivering the commencement speech to the graduating class of the California State University, Long Beach in 2015, Billings once again emphasized the importance of voice when she told the students that it is their job is to speak loud, big, and wide in order to spread their voices.[20]

Personal life[edit]

Billings lives in Hollywood, California with her wife Chrisanne, whom she initially met at age fourteen in drama class.[20] They were married in a commitment ceremony in Chicago on December 4, 1995.[7] Billings was chosen as the Grand Marshal for the Pride Parade in Chicago, Illinois on June 28, 2009.

Billings has been living with HIV since 1985, and has been an advocate for HIV health initiatives, as well as trans issues and trans rights. When talking about her fight to battle AIDS, she says that she believes the reason she has survived all these years is because of her wife who stood by her, loved her, and supported her through it all.[6] She has spoken about her condition in a number of interviews, including a 2016 article with her hometown paper.[22] She also spoke to POZ magazine for a 2003 interview about life with HIV.[23]

Filmography[edit]

Film[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2007 Socket Dr. Emily Andersen
2009 Stealth Veronica Terranova Short film
2010 Faux Herself
2017 Valley of Bones Kimberly
2018 Freelancers Anonymous Janey
2019 Paddleton Judy
2020 Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen Herself Documentary film

Television[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2003 Karen Sisco Lois DiNardo Episode: "Nobody's Perfect"
2005 ER Ms. Mitchell Episode: "Skin"
Romy and Michele: In the Beginning Donna Television movie
2006 Grey's Anatomy Donna Gibson Episode: "Where the Boys Are"
2008 Eli Stone Joanna Episode: "Two Ministers"
Pretty/Handsome Christina Carpenter Unsold TV pilot
2014–2019 Transparent Davina Rejennae 24 episodes
2015 How to Get Away with Murder Jill Hartford Episode: "Two Birds, One Millstone"
Capitol Hill Herself 4 episodes
2016 Dish Nation Herself Episode 4.152
2018 Goliath Martha Wallace 5 episodes
2020 Diary of a Future President Joy 2 episodes
2020-2021 The Conners Robin 6 episodes
2021 The Rookie Sergeant Stella Porter Episode: "Triple Duty"
Never Have I Ever College Counsellor Jennifer Warner 3 episodes
TBA The Peripheral Detective Ainsley Lowbeer Filming

Theatre[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1999 Xena Live! Xena About Face Theatre
2001 Gypsy Rose Bailiwick Repertory
2018 The Nap Waxy Bush Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
2020 Wicked[10] Madame Morrible The Gershwin Theatre

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Alexandra Billings". Dramatic Arts. University of Southern California.
  2. ^ a b "Alexandra Billings, transgender actor: "Transparent came up when I had nothing to lose"". The Guardian. 10 October 2014.
  3. ^ Anderson-Minshall, Jacob (13 December 2007). "A twisted sister". San Francisco Bay Times. Archived from the original on 12 December 2010. Retrieved 14 December 2010.
  4. ^ Zonkel, Phillip (18 May 2018). "'Transparent' actress Alexandra Billings talks Long Beach Pride Parade, AIDS, Trump". Q Voice News. Retrieved 2 October 2020.
  5. ^ "Alexandra Billings – consummate actor and cabaret singer". AlexandraBillings.com. Retrieved 14 December 2010.
  6. ^ a b Alexandra Billings receives the HRC Visibility Award (video). Human Rights Campaign. 2016-10-03. Retrieved 2017-12-04 – via YouTube.
  7. ^ a b "Alexandra Billings named Grand Marshal for Chicago Pride Parade". chicago.gopride.com (Press release). 30 May 2009. Archived from the original on 18 October 2011. Retrieved 14 December 2010.
  8. ^ "S/He and Me playbill" (PDF). csulb.edu. California State University, Long Beach. 25 July 2018.
  9. ^ "The Nap". playbill.com. Samuel J. Friedman Theatre 2018–2019 productions.
  10. ^ a b "Making a brand-new Madame Morrible in Broadway's long-running Wicked". playbill.com. 4 January 2020.
  11. ^ Schoolboy to Showgirl: The Alexandra Billings story (video). Watch WTTW Documentaries Online. WTTW 11 Video. Retrieved 2017-06-21.
  12. ^ Townsend, John (17 June 2011). "Transgender television ground-breaker plays the Loring". Lavender Magazine. Retrieved 21 August 2011.
  13. ^ "Alex S. Billings". Twitter. Archived from the original on 2016-03-06. Retrieved 2015-10-30.
  14. ^ "Pete Nowalk". Twitter. Twitter.com. 2015-10-29. Retrieved 2017-06-21. Thank you @AlexSBillings aka Jill for coming and playing with us #HTGAWM
  15. ^ "Two birds, one millstone" (review). How to Get Away with Murder season 2, episode 6. TV Fanatic. 30 October 2015. Retrieved 2017-06-21.
  16. ^ "New video breaks down why Hollywood needs transgender actors". Huffington Post. 2017. Retrieved 2017-06-21.
  17. ^ Reynolds, Daniel. "Trans actors ask Hollywood for roles with dignity and depth in open letter". The Advocate. Retrieved 2017-06-21.
  18. ^ "'The Conners': Alexandra Billings to Recur on ABC Comedy Series". 17 November 2020.
  19. ^ a b "Alexandra Billings of Transparent talks transitioning, teaching and life experiences". University of Southern California. Retrieved 2017-12-04.
  20. ^ a b c Alexandra Billings CSULB College of the Arts Commencement Speech 2015. CSULB web team (video). California State University, Long Beach. 2015-06-04. Retrieved 2017-12-04 – via YouTube.
  21. ^ Alexandra Billings calls for unity at 28th Annual GLAAD Media Awards (viedo). GLAAD. 2017-04-07. Retrieved 2017-12-04 – via YouTube.
  22. ^ "Transparent transgender actress bullied growing up in Schaumburg". Daily Herald. 2016-02-16. Retrieved 2017-06-21.
  23. ^ "Star Billings". POZ. 2003-05-01. Retrieved 2017-06-21.

External links[edit]