The CBS soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful made worldwide news this past March when it was revealed that the character of Maya Avant, played by Karla Mosley, was not cisgender as previously believed, but transgender. Over the past few months, with the help of GLAAD, the storyline has played out on our television screens to rave reviews.
Now this month, the show will be airing episodes in which Maya will be the lead model in a Forrester Creations fashion show. Called “California Freedom,” the fashion show will feature an all-transgender model lineup, including America’s Next Top Model fan favorite Isis King and RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Carmen Carrera.
I spoke with Karla Mosley about the upcoming episodes and what it’s like to play a transgender character in this exclusive Hotspots interview.
What did you think of the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality? [Editor’s Note: I interviewed Karla Mosley a few hours after the decision on Friday, June 26]
I woke up to a text alert from the Human Rights Campaign, and all I could think was, “Oh my God!” It’s absolutely amazing. I know people have been working so hard to make this happen, so it’s wonderful to see that marriage equality is finally here.
How was it decided that Maya would be transgender?
Brad [Bell] has a knack for following the pulse of pop culture and knowing which way things are moving. He was very moved by Jeffrey Tambor’s speech at the Golden Globes, and also by Laverne Cox from Orange is the New Black, and it just came to him one day while he was driving to work that we would tell a transgender story of our own with Maya. So it wasn’t planned for her from the beginning, but it’s given me and viewers a lot of insight into who she is and why she’s made a lot of the choices she’s made in the past. I think it’s made her a much more cohesive character.
Are there any secrets in Maya’s life that we don’t know about yet?
Oh, I’m sure there are. I mean, it’s a soap opera, right? [laughs] That’s what we’re in the business of doing. I like that this story has still kept Maya as the one we love to hate, but it’s also made her less one-dimensional.
Once the viewers learned that Maya was transgender, I noticed a lot of viewers who didn’t like her before started rooting for her.
Yeah, it’s been so great to see. I’m very involved on social media (@karlamosley on Twitter) and I’ve seen people going from extremely resistant to this storyline, whether they didn’t understand what transgender was or they had their own feelings of prejudice, to rooting for Maya and for Rick (played by Jacob Young) and Maya.
I hope this continues as we roll it out around the world. I was at the Monte Carlo Festival recently and being there gave me an idea of how far our reach is — we’re on television in 180 countries. The impact that this storyline will have is beyond anything I can conceptualize.
Do you feel it’s important that this story is being told by a character of color?
Absolutely. We’ve had at least twelve instances of transgender people being brutally murdered in America this year alone, and those are just the ones that we know of, and the majority of those cases involved women of color. The fact that Maya was chosen to tell this story is extremely important. The storyline involving her parents is very rich and deep and touches on a lot of issues that we see in the African-American community when it comes to dealing with LGBT issues.
Had you known a lot about transgender issues before this storyline?
I had a couple of friends who had transitioned before I knew them, and I had another friend who transitioned during our friendship. I also worked for Covenant House, which is a shelter for homeless youths, for many years, and now I work with My Friend’s Place, another organization which helps homeless youth in Los Angeles.
As you may know, 40% of homeless youths identify as LGBTQ, and that’s where I really started to understand a lot of the issues that transgender people face. Covenant House is a residential shelter, and many people there had issues in previous living situations where they weren’t being called their chosen names, or they weren’t being assigned a living space according to their self-identified gender.
I learned a lot then, but I learned even more when I started this storyline. I made sure I read Janet Mock’s book Redefining Realness, which was very eye-opening. I got to meet her and be on her show. She and Laverne Cox are very clear and concise when they talk about transgender issues, and I find myself learning more and more from them and from others every day.
Tell us about the fashion show episodes. How did that idea come about, especially the idea to feature all transgender models on the runway?
Initially one of the biggest concerns I had was that I would be playing a transgender character but I’m not a transgender actress. So we started working with GLAAD very early on in the storyline.
One of the first things that we talked about was that it made sense that Maya was a model, because we’ve seen so many transgender women in the past and present who were models. Brad insisted at the very beginning that we would have many transgender actors and actresses on-screen, so it was natural that, for the fashion show, he would pick transgender models like Isis King and Carmen Carrera. Being on the same stage with them was so awesome.
My big fear was that they would be walking the runway with me and I am so not a model in my real life! [laughs] I had a long train on my dress, and I said, “How do I make the train go around when I reach the end of the stage?” And Isis told me, “Just make a wide circle!” Then I did a practice walk for Carmen and she said I had a very classic look and that it was great, so they helped to boost my confidence. Plus I learned Carmen and her mom are fans of the show so it was a really great moment for them.
What’s the one thing you’d like to see Maya tackle head-on as the storyline progresses?
I’d love to see Maya in a power position. She has so much fight in her. Sometimes it comes out in a defensive way but sometimes it comes out in a really powerful way, like when she gave the ultimatum to Ridge that she won’t come back to Forrester unless Rick does. I think it would be really great to see her work to get the CEO position at Forrester back for Rick, or if she gets her own business.
She’s very devoted to Rick, you can tell, because he accepted her for who she is.
That’s so revolutionary. I don’t think we’ve seen a storyline play out in that way, for a man to learn a fact like that and to not only accept it, but stay the woman’s side. I think we’ve had an opportunity to address transgender issues more deeply than many other shows have had the chance to do.
The Bold and the Beautiful has come a long way, considering for many years the show had absolutely no LGBT representation, and it’s set in the fashion industry!
Right? Totally. [laughs] It’s been a long time coming.
The “California Freedom” fashion show will air on The Bold and the Beautiful on July 16 and 17. B&B airs at 1:30 p.m. on WTSP and WKMG in Central Florida and WPEC and WFOR in South Florida. For more information, visit cbs.com/shows/the_bold_and_the_beautiful.