Director Gaby Dellal wanted Elle Fanning to play the lead role in her film About Ray, which tells the story of a teen transitioning from female to male. As you can see in the poster below — which Refinery29 is debuting exclusively — Fanning wears oversized clothing and sports a short haircut. It's quite a change from one of the last times we saw her, playing Princess Aurora in Disney's Maleficent. “I could not have chosen a more blonde, more feminine actress who had a big a mountain to climb,” Dellal tells Refinery29. "And that's what I'm interested in."
Dellal admits that she is relatively new to the subject of transitioning. “Three and a half years ago that was news to me,” she says. In her mind, “we all think we’re working in a generation where transgender issues are very normal — " i.e., covered by mainstream media — "but I don’t think they were as little as three years ago. They weren’t as transparent. I’m not saying they didn’t exist, but I didn’t know about them.” Dellal originally planned to make a film about three generations of women, two of whom were gay, but became interested in a transgender protagonist after she encountered a man who told her that his child had announced plans to transition. (The movie was originally titled Three Generations.) Now, About Ray follows Fanning's character's quest to transition, and how that impacts his family. Dellal stands by her decision to cast a cisgender actress in a trans role. For one, she says, the part is for someone who hasn’t yet transitioned. The director uses female pronouns when discussing Ray. “The part is a girl and she is a girl who is presenting in a very ineffectual way as a boy,” Dellal explains. “She’s not pretending to have a deeper voice. She’s just a girl who is being herself and is chasing the opportunity to start hormone treatment. So to actually use a trans boy was not an option because this isn’t what my story is about,” she says. Then there was the need to cast name actors to get the movie bankrolled. “I would never discriminate against a trans kid or actor coming up to audition, but in this day and age in cinema, where it’s almost impossible to raise the financing, unfortunately we have to have some people that mean a certain amount of money,” she says. Fanning is just one of the big names starring in the film. Naomi Watts plays Ray’s mother, while Susan Sarandon plays Ray's lesbian grandmother. About Ray is due out September 18.