After opening up about the film's problematic trans representation in the documentary Disclosure, Jen Richards tells PEOPLE about confronting that history on this week's episode of Clarice

By Glenn Garner
May 13, 2021 02:00 PM
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Clarice, Jen Richards
Credit: Brooke Palmer/CBS

As a trans actor working in Hollywood, Jen Richards continues to advocate for representation of the community in entertainment.

The Emmy Award nominee, 45, will kick off a three-episode arc on CBS' Clarice this week as Julia Lawson, an informant helping the titular Clarice Starling (Rebecca Breeds) get behind the truth of a far-reaching conspiracy. In doing so, Julia has to confront her own truth.

With the storyline, the series will attempt to reconcile with the problematic history of the Buffalo Bill character from The Silence of the Lambs.

"When it came to actually filming Clarice, it felt more hopeful," Richards tells PEOPLE.

"It certainly acknowledges the pain that's been caused," she continues. "In fact, it's funny, because the relationship that Julia has with Buffalo Bill so closely mirrors ... the way that the trans community has been impacted by the movie. So, it's really cool to get to do that."

Clarice, Jen Richards
Credit: Brooke Palmer/CBS

Richards previously discussed the 1991 Academy Award-winning film's harmful effect on the trans community in the 2020 Netflix documentary Disclosure. She says it was "cathartic" opening up then about her own experience transitioning, recalling the moment a coworker casually compared her to Buffalo Bill (a.k.a. James Gumb), the movie's controversial killer.

In the 1988 book by Thomas Harris, the character shows signs of gender dysphoria but is not trans. Director Jonathan Demme, who died in 2017, has referred to the movie's problematic representation as his "directorial failing."

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Richards' character confronts Clarice on Thursday's episode, addressing the FBI agent's complicity in linking "the relationship between being trans and being a psychotic killer, not to put too fine a point on it," after she caught Buffalo Bill in the preceding film's final moments.

"It's a way of acknowledging that in order to move forward," Richards says. "And [to] show a character who is fully formed and three-dimensional, and has love in her life, and has friends, and has a profession, and has a whole story arc."

Clarice, Jen Richards
Credit: Brooke Palmer/CBS

The writer/actress was originally brought on to consult on the episode before being ultimately cast in the part. She credits trans writer Eleanor Jean with conceiving the role and her powerful monologue. "That's a lot of pressure," Richards notes.

"You know, in the space of a monologue, [to] acknowledge the pain ... but grounded in an actual character and her lived experience, and to have her level that against Clarice in a way that acknowledged Clarice's complicity without blaming her," she continues. "It's actually a very sophisticated monologue, and there's a real tight rope in how to do that."

She also enjoyed working with director Deborah Kampmeier, who had Richards do one take with improvised lines about how the movie affected her personally before performing her monologue.

"So I came into it without the personal emotion, and that got infused into the lines," Richards says. "And I think most of what you see on screen is actually from that second take. So that was really smart of Deb — she's a great director."

Clarice, Jen Richards
Credit: Brooke Palmer/CBS

Richards is looking forward to fans watching her character's growth throughout the three-episode arc (the following episodes air June 3 and 10). "And one of the ways that we did that is just by showing that she's kind of hiding herself in the beginning," she says.

"You know, she doesn't want anyone to look too closely — just keep my head down, do my job, try not to get noticed," she adds. "And then I have this separate life at home, that's full of love and friendship, and its own kind of struggles and care."

See Richards on this week's episode of Clarice, airing Thursday at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.