Jesse Todd is more than just a great actor, he is at the forefront of a movement that embodies the most misunderstood and underrepresented people in Hollywood: the transgender community.
The ability to express yourself freely without judgement or criticism of others is a lifelong journey that Jesse has experienced his whole life.
“When I started questioning my gender it really opened the door for me to reflect on all aspects of myself and who I want to be. To me acting is all about honesty and lending your truth to the character you play. Understanding myself and my truth through transitioning has allowed me to approach every character I’ve played with a deeper level of empathy,” Jesse explains.
On screen his rare ability to translate both vulnerability and resilience through his performances, such as those in the hit films Parry Riposte and We Forgot to Break Up, have continued to pull at heartstrings around the world. His leading role in We Forgot to Break Up has no doubt brought the film to become recognized as an award winning work of art. It was the winner of the 2017 Best Canadian Shortwork Award at the Whistler International Film Festival, the Audience Award at the 2018 Chicago Critics Film Festival, and a Grand Jury Nominee at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival, to name a few.
As a trans actor Jesse taps into the important yet sometimes uncomfortable conversation of change, especially in terms of the way one’s physical transformation alters their previous world entirely. We Forgot to Break Up, as well as numerous other films he’s been apart of, unravel the many emotions people might have towards this type of change, even when they claim to “accept” you. This conversation has made Jesse a source of inspiration, something that led him to be invited as a panelist at 2018 Trans Summit at Outfest in LA. For Jesse, sharing his experience at the summit was a way to give-back and it’s one that he was proud to have been apart of.
“The best part of the trans summit was speaking with the mostly trans audience. After a Q and A with the panelists, there was an open forum discussion. It was a safe space to talk about the experience of being a trans artist in an industry that has historically excluded us and created problematic narratives and depictions of us,” explains Jesse. “I was able to talk about some of the challenges I faced with a group of people who had had similar experiences.”
Many of Jesse’s roles to date have shed light on the transgender community and the daily trials they face in their world. To no surprise Jesse’s leading role as Evan Stroker in We Forgot to Break Up left an unforgettable mark that carried the film to its fullest potential. The film portrays the reaction of characters of a rock band and their unresolved conflicting emotions towards Jesse’s character, who goes through a gender affirming transition and returns to meet the band after a long absence. The interactions between Evan and the band members leave the audience feeling uncomfortable, raw, and emotional.
“Evan Strocker shows up to a gig of a band he used to manage but hasn’t seen in years. These are people that he grew up with and eventually walked out on. He has written a memoir and is hoping to leave it for the guitarist, his ex-lover,” explains Jesse. “Before he’s able to sneak out the way he came in, he’s found by the current manager. Tension is very high as Evan faces each band member; they’re not exactly happy to see him.”
Evan Strocker was the manager for the band “Heidegger” for years and was somewhat responsible for their fame. The tumultuous relationship between himself and the band members give rise to feelings of dread, shame, rage and despair. Jesse carefully goes in and out of his pain using his own experience to drive home Evan’s emotional experience in a way that is real and powerful.
“To bring this character to life I really focused on those relationships of the past. I drew upon my own experiences with letting go of relationships in order to find my truth. It can be very painful and jarring to finally put your own needs first and separate yourself from people who are holding you back, especially when you love them.”
Beyond the physical aspects of transitioning, the film focuses on how other people respond and reconnect with someone who returns in their new, more authentic state. The story depicts the layers of unprocessed and uncomfortable emotions that everyone involved faces and provides the audience with a raw and palpable perspective on the journey many within the transgender community face. It’s no wonder it was the Winner of Best Canadian Shortwork.
“I like to tell stories about people who feel real and allow themselves to be vulnerable.There is nothing in this world more strange and interesting to me than people. I’ve always been interested in trying to figure them out,” explains Jesse.
“I hope that my work can help viewers look inward and feel something deeply. I hope that I can fill viewers with creative energy that motivates them to work on their own art, whatever that may be,”
Jesse’s natural talent coupled with his depth and courage to portray his character’s unapologetic and most authentic self on screen holds the capacity to change the hearts and minds of viewers.
In the film Parry Riposte Jesse takes on the starring role of Liam directed by Goldbloom Micomonaco, a QueerTrans Jewish writer, director, and producer of projects under Goldbloom Films and Made By Muses. They have created powerful films like Wet (2018), an Official Selection of TiffxInstgram, Twigg Drive Freestyle (2018), and Hunger (2017), an Official Selection of the Toronto New Wave Film Festival. Their work has permeated into community spaces such as LIFT and the Trans Collective RSU.
In Parry Riposte Jesse’s character grapples with the fact that he must guide a group of traumatized teenagers who have been victimized by a traumatic transphobic event at their school. Jesse delves into his leading role in a dynamic and believable way, and leaves a memorable impression on audiences.
Parry Riposte revolves around a fencing team of gender nonconformists who have to learn to stand together after their practice studio is vandalized by transphobics within their community.
Jesse explains, “Each member of the club deals with the traumatic events in their own way. And my character, Liam, the senior athlete, is trying to pick up the pieces.”
The story is about finding ones community and chosen families, and the lengths trans and non-binary people go to in order to make space for each other. Conjuring up the endurance it takes to face adversity against the odds and inspiring those in pain to do the same, Jesse beautifully embodies his role as Liam on screen.
“Jesse has an acting skill that is nuanced and advanced… The role of Liam was originally very angry and loud, but Jesse’s interpretation of the role grounded the performance and brought Liam to life in a way that was unlike anyone else we considered for the role,” explains Parry Riposte director Goldbloom Micomonaco. “Jesse’s reputation as an actor in Toronto preceded him, and I had known his work beforehand from other film productions… Working together was an amazing opportunity.”
In the wake of his own journey Jesse’s ability to deeply connect with the characters he takes on make his performances more than realistic, they are magnetic. His honest connection with his roles establishes the same honest connection with the audience.
As is the case with most great actors, Jesse’s background has helped lay the foundation for him to tap into the raw and authentic emotions of his characters.
Born and raised in Ontario, Canada with a single mother and two siblings, Jesse’s family endured many hardships with a lack of money and a lot of bad luck. However, these trials did not harden Jesse’s spirit but instead, made him a more self aware and empathetic human being. Through the arts, he found a positive environment where he could utilize his talents and escape his troubles at home.
“It was my dream to be an actor when I was a kid, and I was always performing, I was such a ham. It helped me to feel free and have an escape from my reality,” Jesse recalls. “It was what I wanted to do with my life. But as I got older, it didn’t seem like a possibility for me anymore. I wasn’t comfortable in my body and I didn’t want to be under any spotlight.”
It wasn’t until his transition in his 20’s that Jesse felt more comfortable and confident moving throughout the world. His journey into self awareness and the courage to allow his truest and most authentic self to shine through, allowed him to connect with his life in a deeper way; and in finding himself, he was led him back to his first love, acting.
Jesse says, “I hadn’t thought about acting in years but an opportunity presented itself and I fell in love with performing all over again. I see acting as an opportunity to reflect on all of my experiences and apply what I’ve learned throughout my life. It’s the best job in the world.”
Jesse’s ability to not only represent and take on the weight of a suppressed community is, in a way, heroic. He has reached the root of his authentic self in a way that takes courage and deserves recognition. The transition process of reflecting on all aspects of himself and coming to terms with who he is has made Jesse a better actor, one that is able to carry heavy roles with vulnerability in a way that is familiar and even comfortable.
“What I have to offer is myself, my experiences and my outlook on life. I have spent a long time trying to find strength and value in myself. I’ve figured out that everything I’ve been through has given me the tools to be a great actor,” explains Jesse. “My strongest qualities are my ability to listen, empathize, and respond thoughtfully. I see every acting job as an opportunity to both learn about myself and celebrate my life experiences through the character I’m playing.”