Laverne Cox chats with EBONY about her delicious new partnership with Smirnoff, thoughts on the current state of Trans representation and her deep R.E.S.P.E.C.T for the great Aretha Franklin.

How did your partnership with Smirnoff come about?

They reached out and said they were doing this fun, new campaign literally called, “Welcome to the Fun%.” They thought I’d be right for it and I’ve been drinking Smirnoff for years! It felt like a good fit.

One of the things I love about Smirnoff, beyond it being a really delicious vodka, is that for many years, they’ve been very LGBTQ+ inclusive and big supporters of the LGBTQ+ community.

What does this campaign mean to you as someone representing the LGBTQ+ community?

When I was a kid growing up in Alabama, I did not see Black, transgender people on my television screen. I certainly didn’t see Black trans women in commercials with endorsements and partnerships with major brands. For me, I think about all the people in this country and beyond who will see this and feel like they’re a part of the culture. I would watch TV as a kid and never felt like I was fully a part of anything I saw.

I wanna switch gears just a bit and talk about working as a trans actress today. What can Hollywood do to ensure trans characters are being played by trans actors?

I think part of the thing that has kept casting directors and producers from casting trans people to play trans parts, and ideally to play other parts that aren’t just trans, is that they don’t think we exist. I remember a famous director once said when he was asked why he didn’t hire a trans actor to play a trans character, he said, “Do they even exist?”

It’s also knowing we can show up and do the job and be professional. Then, understanding that 84% of Americans don’t personally know someone who is transgender. Everything that Americans learn about transgender people, they learn from the media.  When we are casting people who are not trans to play trans characters, it’s sending the message that trans women aren’t really women, trans men aren’t real men, that non-binary people don’t exist.

Having been so blessed as to be a trans actress playing a trans character on Orange is the New Black, I can’t tell you how many trans people I’ve gotten letters and emails from saying, ‘I now believe it’s possible to be a working trans actor because I saw you on television. I came out to my family because I saw you on television. I didn’t commit suicide because I saw you on television.’ That’s the difference it makes when you have diverse representation.

Can you name some fellow trans actors that should be on our radar?

Oh, God there’s a bunch! I’m obsessed with Asia Kate Dillon. Asia is non-binary and plays a non-binary character, Taylor, on Billions. I’m also obsessed with Elliott Fletcher, who plays Trevor on Shameless. Oh, and everybody and Pose! Mj Rodriguez, Indya Moore, Dominique Jackson, Hailie Sahar, Angelica Ross, all of them are incredible!

I’m sure like most of us, you were devastated to learn of Aretha Franklin’s passing. What did her musical legacy mean to you?

I discovered Aretha Franklin through my mother, of course. My mother is 68, and she played Aretha’s Who’s Zoomin Who incessantly when I was a kid. From the beginning to the end of Who’s Zoomin Who, I know the whole album, word-for-word!

She just had a voice that rocked the world! A voice that brought people together across racial barriers, across international barriers. She was a consummate musician, and it’s really hard to listen to an Aretha song and not feel something. Also , you know a lot of singers lose their voices after five or ten years, but Aretha’s voice always held up!  Aretha sang for six decades, and til the end, it was immaculate!