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Quei Tann Isn’t Playing It Safe

Quei Tann Isn’t Playing It Safe as a Trans Actor in Hollywood

Quei Tann Isn’t Playing It Safe as a Trans Actor in Hollywood

America's Next Top Model. Dear White People. How To Get Away With Murder. What's next? 


Keep your eye on Quei Tann, an up-and-coming actor whose charm has likely already caught your eye.

Tann stays booked and busy, appearing most recently as the loveably outlandish Genifer on Netflix's Dear White People, Officer Darla Grills on Tyler Perry's Bruh, Peyton Osborn on ABC's hit series How To Get Away With Murder, and in Blumhouse's 2018 film Cam. Following our interview, it was announced that Tann has joined Kevin Bacon and Theo Germaine in the cast of Blumhouse's highly-anticipated horror film set at a gay conversion camp.

That news was still under wraps when we chatted, but Tann spills all the tea on breaking into the industry, LGBTQ+ representation, and her "horrific" experience on season 23 of America's Next Top Model in our exclusive Q&A with the bonafide star.

PRIDE: This fourth and final season of Dear White People is wildly different than the previous seasons. Tell me about it!

Tann: I think it's a great way to say goodbye to this amazing series is to do a musical because I think the show is a satire and it's never taken itself too seriously. That's what's been really so awesome about it. A musical just makes so much sense to me, it's just fun and silly, and I think doing a '90s musical is clearly a millennial thing because obviously, Gen Z is obsessed with the 2000s. This is just a love letter to millennials. It was great, it was so much fun.

I had THE number, "This Is How We Do It" by Montell Jordan. It was playing me singing, "This Is How We Do It". Not me actually singing though. Someone did it for me. [laughs] It was so good and so much fun. I also did a bunch of ensemble stuff with SWV, "I Want To Sex You Up", En Vogue, and "Free Your Mind".

You also appeared as a recurring character on How to Get Away with Murder's last season and it seems like you're popping up all over the place now. She's booked and busy! While your character is read as LGBTQ+ on Dear White People, your identity wasn't discussed at all on HTGAWM. As a transgender woman in the industry, how do you feel about the controversy surrounding straight, cisgender actors playing LGBTQ+ characters?

Into jail. Death to the mother.


Here's the thing, so it's just like reverse racism, or reverse misogyny, the reverse can't be true, right? When cis-hetero people play gay characters like in Call Me by Your Name, or in Brokeback Mountain, or Sean Penn playing Harvey Milk, you're talking about 1. A cishet man playing a civil rights icon who was assassinated, right? So you're talking about our history, but 2. When it comes to Call Me by Your Name, to have these cishet people playing in these roles, I feel like they should be tried and hanged for murder, and the reason is because you don't really get to see the reverse.

You tell me who's green lighting a movie where Billy Porter is playing Angela Bassett's love interest. You tell me when that's happening, and I'll say, okay, well then free for all. But the thing is that these queer movies, they're such a part of who we are and how we find ourselves and we feel seen in them.

Billy, he said something great, he was like, when they're auditioning a gay character, that's the only time he has an opportunity to work, to do his art, to eat, you know what I mean? That's his only opportunity. They get to play these roles and represent a community that they're not a part of. I'll let gay and lesbian folks speak on that

I think it's pretty known that if you are not a trans man or a trans woman, you ain't really playing these roles. But I think we got some ways to go with other people in our community.

Oftentimes when you're LGBTQ+, you get pigeonholed into this type of character that your identity represents, but straight people can play a gay character and then dip back out of it without consequence. We're often only given those opportunities that the public sees us as.

I think people limit what is a gay role, what's a lesbian role, what's a trans role. I think people limit what that is because sometimes. When I played in How to Get Away with Murder, I wasn't necessarily playing trans, I was just playing a law student, and the idea was to be antagonistic, right? It wasn't necessarily about this person's gender identity, I was just a bitch. I was there to make their lives a living hell and I know how to do that.

I agree. It's great when identities are represented on screen, yes, but other times it's nice just to watch LGBTQ+ people exist in those spaces uninterrogated. Do you think you have faced any challenges in this industry, or have any of your fears been squashed now that you're in it? 

Any actor or anyone in the entertainment industry, I was just like, are they ever going to let me in? How the hell am I going to get in here? I have been roaming around, oh my gosh, when did I do Cam? Or when did I do America's Next Top Model, in 2016? Four years, I was roaming. Four years seems like a short time, but it was so long, and it was so broad.

Just to get on America's Next Top Model and to be kicked off, right? And then I did this small little role on truTV where I played a bartender, and then I did this Blumhouse film named Cam, which was on Netflix, and I had two scenes, and so we filmed that in 2017. So I mean, it took four years, five years just to get two little scenes. I would actually speak to my best friend, Alexandra Gray, who was working and had all these guest stars, and I was like, oh my God. I remember because we had auditioned for this CW show, which don't even get me started, we had ran into each other, we were both auditioning for the same role, and we didn't get that, and then I had screen tested for this Marvel show, I signed the contract, it was down between me and two other women, and it didn't go my way, and I was just like, oh my god, are they ever going to...

Then I remember being pinned for Dear White People, and I was not happy, I was not excited, I was depressed, I was so distraught, I was like, I need this role so badly.

Because I'm working in the industry, I don't have those fears of, will I be in? The fear is now, will I be able to stay in and how long can I stay in for? But I try to tell myself, and Viola Davis said this when we were at the wrap party for Murder, which they so graciously invited me to, she was saying, at the end of the day, it's a job, you know what I mean? And Griffin Matthews who I love, he was basically saying, you don't just want a bunch of credits, you want a life and you want to enjoy your life. I'm trying to always remind myself, enjoy your life, enjoy what's happening now, and what happens later is what happens later but just enjoy what's happening now.

I'm dying to know about your America's Next Top Model experience.

Straight to jail, hanged for murder, all of them, it was horrific.

Here's the thing, so when you do reality TV, I had no idea what I was getting into. The first thing they do is sequester you, they're quarantining you by yourself. They take away your phone and they won't call you by your name, they'll only call you by your initials, and I have the best initials ever because it's QT. But still, it's awful, and you can't speak to anyone, if the camera's not rolling, you can not speak at all.

If you do speak, they'll say, you're on thin ice, and if you keep speaking, we're going to throw you out of here, and it was extremely tortuous. It was really bad. They do that because they want you to really pop and come to life when the cameras are on. But I'm like, oh no, sweetie, this is what I do, I'm an entertainer, I pop naturally, I don't need for you to do psychological warfare on me. Instead, that made me extremely stressed, extremely emotional, and it just was not a good fit. So I will be seeing Tyra Banks, Rita Ora, Ashley Graham, I'll be seeing them in court, I'll be suing for emotional distress, I will also be testifying for the criminal case, Quei Tann versus America's Next Top Model.

The worst thing about it is, they don't pay you. I was there for a week. If I got paid, it's a different thing. It's non-union, so there are no minimums, there's not anything like that. I was there for a week, and it was a $70 per diem, but not per day. It was just $70 for that week. I'm not a slave, let my people go.

Mind you, I had to fill out all this paperwork. I had to get my blood drawn. They had to insure me. There's this show on Lifetime called, UnREAL, which is about reality TV. I need to watch it because they have to bond you, which is something they do in acting, they bond us, but they don't make us get blood tests and stuff.

You had to get a blood test. You can't have any sort of underlying conditions, or if you do, you need to clear it with them, and then they have to do a drug test. They go through your suitcase, they check your luggage when you get there. They did another blood test when we were there, and they did another urine test while we were there, they sit you down with two different psychologists, and you have to take this assessment test, which is like the freaking SATs. And they basically just had this entire dossier on you, and they just start fucking with you. And they see this personality is going to clash with this personality, and let's do this, let's do that, but I was on TV, I got on TV.

I mean, looking back on it, I can laugh, it was fun but it was... I mean, I guess I'm happy I did it because I got a gift out of it, I have an experience.

Do you have any advice for up-and-coming actors trying to figure it out? 

 First of all, listen to Lil Nas X's album on repeat. He has a song called "ONE OF ME," which features Elton John. So beautiful, and it's talking about how he's out, people said he's not going to give in to his inner saboteur. People say he's not going to top his last creation, how is he going to best himself this time, he's just a one-hit wonder. I would say, listen to that and know that you're here, you know what I mean? You're here, someone greenlit you, someone told you to come in, or maybe you made your own way, but either way, you're here and enjoy it. I know that sounds really simple, but that's the most important thing because people like watching people who are having fun. People are attracted to that, that's what people are obsessed with. They're like, oh my god, this looks fun, and it's supposed to be fun. That is the lore of Hollywood, the glitz and the glamour is that because it looks enjoyable. So, just have fun and enjoy this experience

When I was, on my way coming up, trying to get into the door, trying to get those two little scenes, what got me into Cam was because I was having fun in my audition. And I stayed persistent. Those four years felt like a decade, those five years if you want to talk about until I got on Cam. Those five years, it was half a decade, but it felt like forever, it felt like I had died and rebirthed so many times. Just stay with it, I've had actors I've spoken to, on this project I'm working with, who have quit acting, went into casting, came back to acting and are now starring in this huge thing...

What else are you going to do with your life? That's what I would always say. Okay, you're going to do what? What are you going to do? You're going to go do something with your life that you don't want to do?

And also, this is something my acting teacher said that I loved, he was actually talking about actors who play it safe and make really safe choices. He was like, why are you acting? Why did you choose this profession that is so crazy, and so chaotic? People succeed in the most odd, unquantifiable ways. Why would you want to play it safe now? If you wanted to play it safe, you could've just went and became some doctor or something but you decided to be an artist, and so just keep taking chances.

I love that. What's coming up that you want people to see?

I'm doing the third season of Tyler Perry's Bruhs. I played officer Darla Grills. The second part of the second season comes out October 21st on BET plus, and I'm filming the third season.

I'm filming something with Willam Belli from Drag Race. I filmed something with him and the people from Eastsiders fora new show.

And then I did this TikTok series called Hidden Canyons, which is so great. It premiered at Outfest.

Keep up with Quei Tann on Instagram!

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Taylor Henderson

Taylor Henderson is a contributor. This proud Texas Bama studied Media Production/Studies and Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin, where he developed his passions for pop culture, writing, and videography. He's absolutely obsessed with Beyoncé, mangoes, and cheesy YA novels that allow him to vicariously experience the teen years he spent in the closet. He's also writing one! 

Taylor Henderson is a contributor. This proud Texas Bama studied Media Production/Studies and Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin, where he developed his passions for pop culture, writing, and videography. He's absolutely obsessed with Beyoncé, mangoes, and cheesy YA novels that allow him to vicariously experience the teen years he spent in the closet. He's also writing one!