Talking With: Transgender actor Rizi Timane from NBC’s ‘New Amsterdam’
Interview with actor Rizi Timane, after his insightful performance as an undocumented transman dealing with possible breast cancer and deportation.
This edition of Talking With focuses on actor Rizi Timane, who portrays Temi, a transman and illegal refugee facing a tough decision during an episode of the medical drama New Amsterdam.
In the episode “In a Strange Land,” Temi (Timane) and his fellow refugees seek help from Dr. Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold), after the church they’ve been hiding in burns down. With his lungs impacted, Temi struggles to expose himself and his unwanted breasts, a reminder of his former female self. What is soon discovered is a tumor that must be removed or risk possible death. Not wanting to be caught by ICE, Temi would rather opt-out of treatment than risk the inevitable death sentence of being returned to Nigeria.
Timane was delighted when he read the script, which mirrored so much of his own trans and immigrant experience. He admired the show for being willing to tell this authentic and emotional story, and he was deeply affected by the care they showed in the writing. His connection to the source material shows in his heartfelt performance. Audiences may also recognize him from roles in TV series Werk, Decker, and Insecure.
With a long list of advocacy “credits,” Timane also keeps busy as a licensed psychotherapist, and a Certified Trans-sensitivity and Diversity Trainer. For the past nine years, he has gifted a gender confirming surgery to someone in need through his annual Transgender Gender Surgery Private Grant.
Timane has also just re-released his heartfelt personal memoir, Love Wins Out – My Story as an African Transman, which previously earned Amazon’s Bestselling Memoir status and was named a Rainbow Publishing Award Finalist upon its initial release.
To learn more, we are Talking With Rizi Timane.
Why did you want to be part of the show New Amsterdam?
Rizi Timane: I was excited to be a part of the show as soon as I saw the audition script. The writing was phenomenal, and the story really touched me as it was about a trans man with a medical problem who was also undocumented and facing multiple obstacles. As a transman and immigrant myself, I completely related and wanted to be a part of the show. I was also very impressed that they even decided to touch on the trans and immigrant story lines, so I admired the creative courage and was so honored when they cast me in the role.
As an actor, what helped you the most in bringing this character to life?
RT: Personal experience. In many ways, my character Temi and I have a lot in common. We both suffered from many hardships early on in our native countries. From extreme chest dysphoria to being overwhelmed by worry about being deported as immigrants. I drew on memories of being bullied in high school in Nigeria as well as the many beatings I endured there for being different. I put myself mentally and emotionally back to where I was pre-transition with 36DD breasts that felt alien to me and the pain I suffered daily from wearing extremely tight sports bras and binding my chest with cut up pieces of fabric in order to hide them and lessen the gender dysphoria.
For the role, I wore prosthetic breasts that were later "surgically" removed as the story progressed, and wearing them certainly brought back the feelings I had pre-transition. I identified one-million percent with the storyline and believe it will resonate with audiences everywhere. If viewers were to read my story in my memoir, "Love Wins Out: My Journey as an African Transman," they would immediately see the similarities between me and my character (Temi) on the show. It is available on Amazon should anyone want to grab a copy.
What was your favorite moment from working on the show?
RT: My favorite moments happened off-screen in the in-between times when we were just chatting in the holding area waiting for the next scene to be set up. The cast and crew, as well as the writer of the episode, Shanthi Sekaran, and the episode’s director, Michael Slovis, would have very down-to-earth conversations with me about my transition and check in to make sure I was doing okay with the scenes, especially being unclothed from the top while wearing the prosthetic breasts. Everyone was so nice and trans-affirming, which made those moments of experiencing human empathy and kindness so amazing for me. I have made some great friends on the show.
Were you a fan of the show prior to booking the role?
RT: Yes! Absolutely! I love the diversity of the cast, which includes people from London, India, Asia, and all over the globe as series regulars and strong recurring characters. I love that it is a realistic portrayal of a current day hospital where doctors and nurses are from all over the world, and you can tell that when they speak to you in their authentic accents! I also love the variety in the story lines and how natural and very believable the acting is. The show has wonderful writers and directors, and a multiple -award-worthy cast as well. I have always loved it, which made being cast in the show a miraculous dream come true for me. When I got the call that I had booked the role, I was dancing, crying, and screaming so loudly that those next to me thought I had won a huge lottery jackpot! And I said, "Yes, I have won the jackpot of the acting role of my dreams!"
What do you hope audiences take away from this episode?
RT: At the very least, I want viewers to leave with a better understanding of the trans experience as it relates to gender dysphoria, as well as the realization that we are all human and deserve compassion and understanding, or at the very least, tolerance of our neighbor. I would like them to also glean a glimpse of the overall immigrant experience from the perspective of undocumented people who are often here seeking refuge from a deadly situation in their place of origin.
You’re also an advocate for the transgender community. What can you tell us about that? How has this work impacted your own life?
RT: I love my community and hope for full equality for us all as soon as possible. In my almost ten years of working in the community, I realized that it is important to not only hope and pray, but to get up and act and be very vocal in an attempt to effect change. I have marched for trans visibility during trans pride events; I have spoken at the United Nations on the need for trans equality; I have donated my time for free as a psychotherapist, providing counseling for community members who can’t afford to pay for therapy while battling anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation caused by gender dysphoria.
Most dear to my heart has been providing a gender-confirming surgery grant for trans people who can’t afford it due to lack of insurance or insurance that doesn’t sufficiently cover gender-confirming surgeries. This has been my biggest advocacy, and it always brings a huge smile to my heart and soul when I see how happy the grant recipients are post-op. I always present the grant to the recipient on November 20th, to coincide with and honor the transgender day of remembrance, an annual day on which the trans community and our allies honor the many trans lives lost to transphobia.
In addition to providing the grant, I am doing all I can to get insurance companies to cover all gender-confirming surgeries. It is an uphill battle, but one that I am happy to embark on. I also support international trans non-profits in hopes of helping change harmful laws in place to oppress the community. This work with my community has impacted my life very positively by giving me a sense of purpose. I am sure this is why I was born into a trans experience. To help others transition medically and effect positive change. In 2019, I was extremely humbled and honored when I was called to City Hall and awarded the City of Los Angeles Trans Visibility Award by Congressman Mitch O’Farrell.
What prompted you to write your memoir and what was your goal with it?
RT: In almost a decade of public speaking on the trans experience and the need for trans equality, and more recently, in my trans diversity trainings to corporations, hospitals, schools, and all types of agencies, I have learned that the best way to get people to understand us as trans people is by sharing our personal stories. When I would provide facts and figures, you could see that people are just not as invested. But when I started sharing my story growing up and realizing at the tender age of 8 years old that I was different and felt that I was a boy, and telling them about the horrible bullying I endured, the beatings, the exorcisms, the suicide attempts from all the pain I was in as I struggled with the female physicality I was born in, and the effect of me being trans on my parents, and how we came out positively through all our adversity…when I share my personal journey, people listen and are very interested and understand the trans experience just a little more and ask questions and sometimes, even change their minds on us.
For every person who understands us just that much more, it makes telling our trans stories worth it. So that’s why I wrote my memoir with a goal to share of my experience and hopefully humanize us to someone who will understand just a little bit more. If enough people understand us, the bullying and trans murders and trans deaths by suicide will reduce greatly. Should anyone be interested, my memoir is called "Love wins out-My journey as an African Trans man" and is avail now on amazon.
What inspires you the most creatively?
RT: Music. The right song will trigger my creative juices to flow, and being out in nature is where I am the most creative. Whether it is writing a book, or writing a short film or web series, or even learning my lines for an audition, I love doing it while sitting outside at a beautiful tree-filled park with the sun shining overhead, the gentle breeze blowing and the birds chirping.
Finally, is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
RT: First, I just want to say thank you for chatting with me today. I appreciate it. I also want to share that I will be reprising my role as a writer and director in late 2022 with a comedic web series called "The Immigrant: My Dating Adventures as an African Transman." It's already written and ready to go. I am very excited about sharing it. It should bring some laughs to all audiences.
Keep up with Rizi Timane at: RiziTimane.com and Instagram: @iamrizitimane
About the Creator
I write about entertainment and the inspiring people who create it. Interviews with actors and filmmakers revealing their latest projects and what influences them creatively.
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