As an actor, singer, drag queen and all-around creative force, Kelly Mantle is a solid industry vet with a lengthy résumé: Cold Case, Nip/Tuck, The New Adventures of Old Christine, and more. But it was Mantle's scene-stealing role in the locally produced film Confessions of a Womanizer that made him the talk of Tinsel Town. For his role as transgender prostitute Ginger, Mantle—who is gender fluid (but uses masculine pronouns)—is the first person to be considered for both Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress honors.
Mantle took some time from his busy schedule to discuss the film, diversity in film/TV and his possible Oscar nom. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
OC WEEKLY: What interested you most about playing Ginger?
KELLY MANTLE: It was funny, and I felt like this particular role was very three-dimensional. She wasn't just a one-dimensional character, which sometimes you can get caught into playing with these particular roles. And I loved the fact that she was kind of the voice of reason out of all the characters, and she had a very nice arc to her.
I enjoyed your character; I thought she was very warm and real. I'm sorry there wasn't more of you.
Yeah, I kinda like that, you know, I like playing those characters—their appearance might not be as hefty in the film, but the time that they're in there is very meaningful.
So what was your first response when you learned the producers were going to submit your name for the Oscars?
When the producers and [writer/director Miguel] Ali came to me and said they were submitting my performance for an Oscar consideration, I was shocked. And then when they said, "On top of that, we are going to recommend and ask the Academy to consider you in both the Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress categories"—because I identify as gender fluid in my personal life—I just kind of shrugged my shoulders, thinking, "Sure, go for it," not thinking at all that anything would come of it and certainly not thinking the Academy would approve it, and lo and behold, they did.
Then the producers and director came to me and said, "Now that the Academy has approved it, you should post something about it online." So I just kind of posted something about a week ago or so that said, "So this is happening," kind of thinking it might get a couple of hundred likes or a few comments here or there or whatever. I had no idea it was going to [be] the widespread, groundbreaking, historical moment it's been. . . . I mean, I'm on the front of the Bombay Times in India.
So I had no idea that was going to happen with this, but I'm honored and humbled to be recognized for my work, and even more thrilled that I get to be a part of a groundbreaking campaign that's going to bring a voice to the gender-fluid community and the gender spectrum as a whole—diversity to Hollywood and the Oscars—and open up conversation and education on identity and diversity.
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Hollywood hasn't been getting the best reputation, as far as diversity goes, but nowadays, there's certainly been a push for more well-rounded LGBT characters. With your extensive filmography, would you say you've been seeing a positive shift in the roles you're being offered?
Yeah, definitely, I would say so. As an actor, I love a variety of roles, so I audition for both male and female roles, gay and straight, trans or not trans. In my years in the business, I can see a great progression in the LGBTQ characters I get offered to play. They're a lot more well-rounded; they're a lot more human, more three-dimensional. So there's definitely a great progression going on.
Do you think there's any major difference in roles you get offered for film vs. television?
No, they're pretty equivalent. And what's interesting now is that we get so many movie actors heading over to TV because some of the [shows] are becoming more movie-like, if you will. I think I read something the other day that Julia Roberts . . . is considering a TV show. We've got Glenn Close and Kathy Bates and all these amazing film actors and actresses heading over to TV. So I think TV is finally catching up with the movies, and I see great progression in both mediums.