She's played an HIV-positive teenager and a polygamist's wife. And now, on the British drama ''Hit & Miss'' — a six-part miniseries airing on DirecTV (Wednesdays at 10 p.m.) — she's an Irish assassin named Mia...who's also transitioning from male to female while trying to raise a son.
Hit & Miss only airs on DirecTV. Do you have DirecTV?
I don’t have a TV, period. [Laughs] But almost everyone I know in L.A. has DirecTV. People in the entertainment industry want to watch things on East Coast time.
Why do you think you were chosen for this role?
The director, Hettie Macdonald, said I had a quiet strength, and she thought I would be brave enough to tackle it.
Is it fair to say that you’ve become a go-to actress for provocative roles?
Once you start watching [Hit & Miss], you realize that the salacious business is not what it’s about. The heart of the story is her relationship with her child. You see her winning over the family and endangering them at the same time. She’s not very good at parenting, but she’s trying her best.
How did you prepare for this role physically?
With a lot of transgender people, there’s an exaggerated femininity or masculinity, because they’re trying to learn these traits. So I wanted to do that, but they didn’t let me. [Laughs] They wanted the performance to be more subtle. So I lost a lot of weight, hoping that would make me look hard in the jaw. I was on this insane diet and doing all this crazy working out. It made me depressed!
You wear a prosthetic penis during the nude scenes. I heard that you cried every time you had to wear it.
I did. I don’t want to get too graphic, but having [a makeup artist] in that area when you’re not in a sexual relationship with them is not the most fun thing. You feel extremely vulnerable, and being nude is uncomfortable anyway, so I felt like the character would have [cried]: She doesn’t want anyone to see it. She’s very embarrassed. But the way they use it is very respectful. There’s a sex scene or two, but they’re subtle, not gratuitous.
Did you have to learn how to fight like a man?
I worked with two girls who are the kickboxing champions of Europe, and the stunt coordinator from the Harry Potter films. His biggest direction for me whenever we were doing fight scenes was ”Stop sticking your ass out like a girl.”
Is it hard to do press for a show about a transgender killer without offending people?
Yeah. People take words out of context. I was quoted [saying] ”trannies,” and I never said that. GLAAD was very aware of the show, and I was given a dictionary of vocabulary that I was not supposed to use. Of course, I’ve forgotten it all.
You’re on American Horror Story this fall. Isn’t your character a nymphomaniac?
Yes. This season takes place in a mental institution. In the ’60s, they’d throw you into an institution if you were sexual. It’s showing that time, how women were persecuted.
Have you seen your Big Love costars’ new shows?
I watched [Ginnifer Goodwin’s] Once Upon a Time on my computer, and when I was at home in Connecticut I watched Hatfields & McCoys. That’s right up my alley. I’m so happy for Bill [Paxton]. And Jeanne [Tripplehorn] is doing Criminal Minds, so I will tune in to see her pretty face. I am going to get a TV soon. Really.