EastEnders has signed TV newcomer Riley Carter Millington to play the part of Kyle, his casting being the first time a UK television soap opera has ever had a transgender actor playing a transgender character in a continuing role.
The BBC1 soap’s executive producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins announced earlier this year that he was creating a transgender character and expressed a determination to have a transgender actor in the role.
After the news broke, a number of transgender actors put themselves forward for the role and, as well as working alongside groups within the transgender community, EastEnders undertook workshops to find an actor.
Millington’s debut scenes will be screened later this month, but little will be revealed until Riley’s permanent return at the end of 2015.
Speaking on the topic of joining EastEnders, the 21-year-old actor said: “I am extremely excited to be joining EastEnders. I can honestly say that I have now fulfilled my two biggest dreams – to be living my life as a man and to be an actor.
“I cannot wait to really get stuck in with filming and I look forward to seeing what is in store for my character.”
Treadwell-Collins added: “From Mark Fowler’s HIV to Colin and Barry’s first gay kiss, EastEnders has always led the way in changing audience’s perceptions about ‘difference’ – and ultimately making the world a better place.
“It has been my intention for a long time to cast a trans actor playing a trans role – and we have been so careful to ensure that we cast the right actor for the part. I’ve sat in many acting workshops over the years with our casting executive Julia Crampsie and her team – but never have we been so moved by the incredible life stories and wealth of talent that we experienced over our several weeks of workshops with transgender actors.
“The people we met showed us a strength and bravery that took our breath away – and to go through as much as they have while maintaining humour and a positive view on the world is testament to what special people we met.”
The show boss also insisted that Millington’s casting should in no way be seen as a box-ticking exercise. “In Riley, we have found not just a talented actor but also an inspirational young man whose warmth immediately comes through the screen.
“And this isn’t about tokenism. Alex Lamb and his story team have worked with Riley to create an EastEnders character who is fresh and relatable – but also comes with his own stock of secrets and is going to be thrown right into one of our biggest stories for the end of the year.
“I hope that the audience will take Riley and his character to their hearts as quickly as everyone here at EastEnders has done.”
Other British soaps to have featured transgender characters include Coronation Street (Hayley Cropper became the first transgender character in soap during 1998) and Hollyoaks (Jason Costello). Both were played by actors (Julie Hesmondhalgh and Victoria Atkin), who were not transgender.
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