Billy Porter and Eva Reign tackle the high school romantic comedy

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Eva Reign first appeared on the set of “Anything Is Possible” almost exactly a year ago. She was, to put it mildly, nervous.

It was a big moment for Reign, who had dreamed of acting in movies for most of his life but failed to break through. She didn’t even have an agent or manager when she answered the open casting call. Suddenly there she was, starring in a Billy Porter-directed film about a transgender high school student’s first big romance and all she could think about was how she was going to have to prove herself. But Porter put her at ease.

“You are safe now. You do the thing,” Porter told him. “Have fun doing the thing. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t deserve it.

“Anything Is Possible,” which debuts on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, is a milestone for transgender representation in film — a studio-produced celebration of an empowered black trans girl.

Porter likes to say the script found it. The romantic comedy, written by Ximena García Lecuona, ticked many boxes for the Tony and Emmy-winning actor, who makes his directorial debut with the film. He liked that it wasn’t a coming-out story. He liked that Kelsa (Reign) was already accepted by her peers and pursued by a cute guy (Abubakr Ali). He liked that it could help dispel a pernicious misconception that trans and queer people have “miserable lives.” And he loved that it took place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Porter was born, raised and found his voice as an artist.

“I wanted to come back and just create a love letter to Pittsburgh that honored all the energies, the mentors, the teachers, the chosen families and all the people who raised me and made me the human being that I am. today,” Porter said. “It happened in Pittsburgh.”

Alexa Fogel, who also kicked off “Pose,” was the one who put Reign ahead of Porter. Reign was working as a freelance journalist when a friend told him about an open casting call for the film.

“She stuck with me because there’s a grounded, mature energy to her that goes beyond Kelsa’s years,” Porter said. “I really felt like for the first time seeing this archetype in the mainstream market, we needed a leader to guide us through this tale that was grounded and mature – probably more mature than what you would think a traditional 17 year old would be. .”

Porter was an anchor for Reign throughout the process, encouraging her to embrace the full range of her voice that she had been embarrassed about in theater.

“There are a lot of cis women with voices that are much, much deeper than mine. But when you’re a trans woman, they try to put you in weird boxes that don’t make sense, that are totally made up,” said Reign. “Billy said that before we even started shooting. And I just burst into tears. I had never been told that. It made me think it was the start of something totally new.

For his part, Porter didn’t want Reign to go through what he did. When he was studying acting at Carnegie Mellon, he remembered being told that his own voice was too high for the American stage and that he would never succeed as an actor. His experience in the industry would prove otherwise.

“I’ve been through a lot in my life. A bunch of detractors. A lot of people were telling me who I am isn’t good enough, that being gay is my responsibility,” Porter said. “This piece found me because of the decisions and choices I made in my life before, choosing myself and my authenticity decades ago.”

In Kelsa, Reign saw some similarities to her own journey, including having a supportive and sometimes overprotective mother (played in Renée Elise Goldsberry’s film). But, she says, her high school experience in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, was “a little tougher.”

“I was this budding trans person back then, and a lot of people couldn’t quite relate to me,” she said.

Reign turned to writing, comic book drawing, and acting for self-expression and eventually found her way to New York, where she made a name for herself in more than one medium. She recently won a Peabody for her work on the Vice News documentary series “Transnational.” And she’s hopeful about what “Anything’s Possible” could do for the kind of stories that are being told about transgender people.

“Billy Porter is really working on having happier, queer and trans stories,” she said. “We’ve seen happy trans people on shows like ‘Pose’ and ‘Euphoria’, but I thought that was rare. I didn’t think that was something that was going to happen in my entire life, career and my journey as an artist. I find it hard to be honest about it because I don’t want to talk morbidly. But I didn’t think it was doable.”

“A lot of my friends in New York who are also trans artists and actors and writers, they all watch this movie, like, ‘Oh my God, we’re doing this. We’re telling happy stories,’” she said. added, “We all kind of have that collective moment where we’re like, ‘Oh, we have the right to show our joy. I hope we can do more of that.

Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr

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