Sophie White Transitions Across the Lens

Actress Sophie White talks about her move from working as a cinematographer to producer to actor, and she discusses the journey of being transgender in the world of film and television.

One of Sophie White’s regular patients have arrived early for their appointment, so she asks them if they don’t mind waiting for just a bit.  Sophie is a chiropractor by trade, and so far, she has found that transitioning has had little effect on her day to day business. “I live in a small, very red state, Louisiana, outside of New Orleans. So, I’m away from the city,” says Sophie. “The city is accepting, but the other parts, not so much. But I don’t think I have lost any patients. I’ve had a couple of people ask questions, but nothing further than that. All of my patients still call me Rory, which I don’t really mind and the same thing with pronouns. Everybody’s story is a little bit different.”

Sophie’s story has found her embracing a duplicity of the word “transition.” Though she currently owns her own chiropractic practice… paramedic, motorcycle racer and boxing promoter are listed among her previous occupations. Sophie’s attention moved to filmmaking when she invested in a local TV station. That project eventually went bankrupt, though rather than selling the equipment, she decided to learn how to use it, landing her a job as a camera operator for another local television station. This led to gigs as Director of Photography and then producer on a number of local film projects, including films with actor, writer, and director John Schneider (Dukes of Hazzard, Smallville, The Haves and the Have Nots). It was during this time that Sophie began to transition from her life as Rory to her life as Sophie. “I had an easy transition so to speak because my family didn’t run away,” she says. Sophie also found support on social media, with old friends strongly backing her when a high school acquaintance had some choice words about her decision. “The support was just so tremendous. I thought, ‘You know, this is what community is like.’ That was a big, big turning point for me. It has been a very unusual and wonderful ride.”

Actress Sophie White

It was her new life as a woman that would bring her out from behind the camera into the limelight. “In 2017, I won the New Orleans Writer of the Year at the New Orleans Film Festival for a screenplay I wrote, called Neuro Confinement,” says Sophie. “At that festival, I pitched a project to a friend of mine called Hummingbird, which deals with transgender issues. He said ‘Why don’t we shoot ten minutes of it? I can probably front half of the money.’ I found the other half of the money, but two weeks before we were supposed to shoot, his half fell through. Since I had half of the money, I still wanted to shoot the project because it was really important to me.” Rather than cast a lead in the short film, Sophie chose to play the role herself. “Since the film was a proof of concept, if they don’t like it, they could re-shoot it,” she says. “They could replace me. I didn’t care. Well, I showed some footage of what we shot to a filmmaker friend of mine, and when he saw the footage, he said ‘Damn, that is really good. Do you mind if I tell a friend of mine?’ He told a friend of his who was an agent, and from that footage, she offered me representation.”

Sophie has found that her experience behind the camera has provided a certain advantage to working in front of it. “Memorizing lines and getting the nervousness out have been issues, because I’m so new to acting, but having worked behind the camera has given me a leg up because I know a lot of things that a lot of other people don’t know,” she says. “I know how to find the light. I know how to make sure that I’m turned around to the camera and all of these other little things as a new actor you have to kind of learn. I didn’t have that learning curve.”

Sophie has found the entertainment industry has been very accepting of who she is, though that’s not to say she hasn’t come across prejudice. “Most people on set don’t care whatsoever,” she says. “Actors like diversity, because if you think about it, they are trying to understand people more. Empathy is extremely high, but I have had a bad experience on set. I got hired for a project that was supposed to shoot in Atlanta. I went to Atlanta the day before shooting for wardrobe, and I was totally female because at home, I couldn’t be. I ran into the writer on the way to wardrobe and we had this weird 20-second conversation. I had never met any of them before, but I got a vibe that things weren’t good. The next day I sat around on set for 13 hours and never got called, and two weeks later I got a flush letter that said they were going in a different direction. I had made friends with one of the actors that I was supposed to work with, and I said that I’d heard that they cut my part, and he told me that they kept the same part, but that they just hired a different guy. That was…wow.”

“It’s all about acceptance,” Sophie says. “That is all I wanted was acceptance. I don’t care if you like me. Don’t talk about me; talk to me. I want to have that conversation. I want you to sit across from me because it’s so much harder to be mean to somebody that you know. I feel like we need to learn how to understand people that are not like us. We’re not monsters. We’re not. We’re just like everybody else. We have the same wants, needs, and desires.”

Sophie White and Oliver Platt in “Chicago Med.” (Photo: NBC/Universal)

Sophie’s struggles with gender identity and acceptance are what lead to the screenplay for Hummingbird, as well as her decision to star in the short film. “I decided to play the lead in it because it was pretty much my story,” she says. “Or at least it mirrors my story. The film deals with transgender issues and suicide.  Sadly, the project ended up taking a tragic turn. Emma, one of the transgender consultants on the film, did not show up for the last day of filming. “She was supposed to work the last day, and we had been previously talking about the suicide stuff because she is another filmmaker,” Sophie says. “Two weeks after we finished shooting, she went home to her parents’ house and committed suicide in front of her family. That kind of ripped the heart out of Hummingbird completely.”

Hummingbird still has yet to be completed. “I still have the footage,” says Sophie. “I have a rough cut assembled and that is pretty much it. It was really, really hard to take. I need to emotionally get over the fact that it could have been me that committed suicide, if I didn’t have the support that I had. I hid it well. Nobody knew it until I got to the point where I just couldn’t hide it anymore.”

Sophie recently portrayed a transgender character on the NBC series Chicago Med, and though that role was written specifically for a transgender actor, she understands that those roles may not necessarily always go to a transgender actor. “There are not a lot of us out there, or at least not a lot of trained transgender actors out there. I love that they’re looking for people like us, but I don’t want them to limit the stories if they can’t find what they need, either,” says Sophie. “Because this story needs to be told. Our stories need to be told.”

While there is a tremendous amount of pressure in taking on roles like the one in Chicago Med, Sophie is happy to take on the responsibility. “I would love to be a voice for the transgender community,” she says. “I think I have got a good temperament for it. Not a lot of things rattle me.” She adds laughing, “Unless it’s one of those days, but know the hormones help that of course.”

 

Cover photo credit: Steve Hammon
Transcribing services: Eaya Moore
Sophie’s website: www.sophiemariewhite.com
Sophie White on IMDB

 

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