Earlier this year, actress Scarlett Johansson was cast as the lead in Rub & Tug, a biopic about a transgender man. There was major backlash to the cisgender actress being cast as a transgender man instead of a transgender actor, and that lead to Scarlett Johansson dropping out of the role entirely. There is no shortage of opinions on this topic, and one person who has strong feelings on the matter is actor Andy Serkis. The performance-capture master offered his passionate defense of Scarlett Johansson, saying:
Andy Serkis is not mincing words here; he clearly has strong feelings on the matter and ardently disagrees with the backlash over Scarlett Johansson’s casting in Rub & Tug. The main thrust of his argument to Variety seems to be that the backlash to her casting flies in the face what acting is: that anyone can play anything. He highlights this point by citing performance capture technology.
Through the use of performance-capture, Andy Serkis has spent a career playing all kinds of characters that were unlike him. Whether it was a corrupted Hobbit, a messianic ape, a friendly bear or a dark side dictator in a galaxy far, far away, Andy Serkis has inhabited characters with whom he had little to nothing in common. To him, that is the transformative power of acting.
So it seems that for Andy Serkis, Scarlett Johansson should not have been criticized for playing a transgender man because that is the nature of acting, playing someone you are not and being believable as that person. To him, Scarlett Johansson would have simply been doing her job as an actor by playing someone she is not.
Whether you agree with Andy Serkis’ feelings about the situation or not, it is a moot point now, at least for this film. In the wake of the backlash, Scarlett Johansson dropped out of the film and a replacement has yet to be announced.
Rub & Tug tells the story of Dante “Tex” Gill, a transgender man who ran a string of illicit massage parlors and rose in the criminal underworld in 1970s Pittsburgh. The film is set to be directed by Ghost in the Shell director Rupert Sanders and is written by American Made writer Gary Spinelli.