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EastEnders star Riley Carter Millington on his role in hard-hitting new LGBT play ‘Safe’

By James Jefferson

Fresh out of Albert Square former EastEnders star Riley Carter Millington – the first transgender soap actor to play a regular trans man is about to embark on the next stage of his career as he gets ready to play ‘Jack’ in new play ‘Safe’ by Alexis Gregory.

‘Safe’ uses real life stories, to create word for word, theatre experiences demonstrating the struggles and barriers that homeless LGBT+ people have to battle. Riley spoke to Attitude to fill us in about his role, his experience on EastEnders, and why he doesn’t want to be just known as a ‘trans actor’.

Looking back what did you learn from being part of a show like EastEnders?

What I really realised was the impact a soap has on peoples lives and I hope that people understand the importance of bringing characters in like Kyle. Since I joined the show I’ve been told I’ve changed family lives by being open as a trans actor and bringing a trans character into soap life. Parents who disowned their children for being trans have made steps to reconcile and I was recently told that because of Kyle being introduced into EastEnders a primary school changed their uniform policy, so that boys and girls were no longer restricted to the traditional; skirt for girls, trousers for boys. Changes like that that really pave the way for future generations.

You were on the show for a year. Was that the plan from the start?

I was initially signed on for six months which after only three months was extended a further six, so I must have been doing an alright job! To have come from my second year in university straight to EastEnders was something I never imagined and I learnt a lot during the time that I was there. It was a fantastic way to start my acting career and a great experience.

From screen to stage! Tell us about the new play Safe? What’s your role?

Safe is brilliantly moving and so cleverly pieced together by Alexis Gregory and I still forget that these are real life stories. It’s overwhelming to read and listen to each individuals words and what they have been through. It’s unimaginable. I’ve taken on the character of Jack: He has got a quiet strength which has driven him to continue forward in his life and pursue his aspirations, with the help of the Albert Kennedy Trust [AKT] of course. He can be cheeky and confident but occasionally throughout the play we see a rawness in him, his vulnerability, the effects of his abusive parents and relationships and his journey through all of that.

When you first heard about the AKT and the work they do, what shocked you most about the issue of LGBT homelessness?

The percentage. I think it’s just shocking to see those statistics and it showed me, despite being in the LGBT community myself, how unaware of the issue I was too and I recently discovered that it’s 40% in the USA! So its great to know that here in the UK we have organisations like the Albert Kennedy Trust to help those people. I recently attended the AKT gala dinner which included talks from a few of the young people who have been ‘saved’ by the AKT. The AKT have transformed peoples lives and given them hope for the future. Its incredible.

How did you research the role? Who did you talk to or meet to learn about the issues?

Alexis was great and on our first day he provided us all with the AKT booklet which gave us all the vital background information of the trust which told us about how much work the AKT do and the impact they have on people. We have discussed the ‘characters’, their journeys, the effects of their lives and I think we’ve all strongly felt that its important to show these stories properly and with care, to do them justice as they are personal and touch on deep, sensitive subjects. However even though these are real life stories, this is also a play which we are performing so we’ve developed it as actors, alongside with our brilliant director Robert Chevara to transform into a stage production. I just hope that the people watching, take something from it, more than just watching an hour long show, its hard hitting theatre. It’s real life.

Have you been in theatre performance before? How different is the process of acting on stage compared to screen?

Only when I was at university but not professionally. You have more time to develop and nurture your character I feel. You are constantly able to change the angle of the character. In TV you know the direction your character is headed and the way it has to be played in order to get there in a few months time, but with a play, it all ends in one performance and the journey can be far more interesting to explore. I don’t feel as though you need to make quick final decisions on your character early on, which makes the process as an actor exciting as you are discovering things you didn’t know about your character. From breaking down text and turning it round in a way you may not have looked at it before, making yourself answer questions which can change the dynamic of the character. It has been a fun process!

What prejudices have you faced as a trans male actor?

In terms of work, I haven’t faced any as of yet as this was my second audition and second role so I’ve been lucky in that respect, however they have both been for trans roles but I don’t want to be seen or labelled as just a trans actor. Being trans is just a small part of who I am. So I hope that, when I audition for cisgendered roles, the fact I’m trans wont be something used against me. Publicly, I’ve had a few bigoted and ignorant comments but I tend to ignore them as the overall reaction has been fantastic. Seeing and hearing changes that have been made since my debut on EastEnders has been overwhelming.

Do you think you’ll always be typecast as a trans male actor rather than just an actor? How do you feel about that?

Hopefully not. Like I said, being trans is just a small part of who I am. I want to be given those chances, to show what I could potentially do and if I’m marginalised to do just trans roles then I don’t think I will be able to showcase that. There are many production companies, casting directors and producers who are willing to give trans actors the chance but that doesn’t mean it has to just be for a trans role. I’m an actor, I can play cisgendered.

‘Safe’ will first be performed at London Theatre Workshop tonight (17 October) until the 22 October. Tickets are still available via the website, £15.


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