Glenn Close offers a defense of Scarlett Johansson's controversial casting in Rub & Tug. After becoming a lightning rod for Hollywood whitewashing conversations with their Ghost in the Shell adaptation, Johansson was set to reunite with director Rupert Sanders on the new drama, which is a biopic about transgender man Dante "Tex" Gill, who rose up the criminal ladder during his rather interesting life. Johansson, of course, is a cisgender actress, and her casting as Gill generated substantial backlash. Critics felt Rub & Tug was a golden opportunity to place a transgender actor front and center on a major film.
Johansson eventually dropped out of the picture, saying in a statement she recognized her casting could be interpreted as "insensitive." Supporters and members of the LGBT community expressed appreciation for the move, but there are those who felt Johansson deserved to portray Gill. Close, who once earned an Oscar nomination for playing a (cisgender) woman who pretends to be a man in Albert Nobbs, thinks parts should be open for the best person available.
While on the HFPA in Conversation podcast (hat tip IndieWire), Close discussed the Johansson controversy and offered her thoughts on the situation:
“My thinking right now is that people who are producing and directing properties like that need to go out of their way to get trans actors jobs… but they also should have the opportunity to cast the best person. Acting is a craft… I think personally that anyone should be able to play anyone.”
It was a nice gesture on Johansson's part to leave Rub & Tug, though a case can be made she did the project more harm than good. There's no guarantee the film will actually be made now that it no longer has an A-list star attached. Obviously, the studio was banking on Johansson to be a draw, and they may get cold feet if it becomes a vehicle for someone with less clout. Johansson was also in line to produce, so hopefully she can stay onboard in that capacity and ensure Rub & Tug isn't permanently canceled. Gill's story has the potential to make a fascinating film if executed properly, and it would be a shame if Rub & Tug is never made.
There's no denying casting a transgender as Gill would have been an important step forward for Hollywood, but Close does make a convincing point. The goal of any director should be to find the best performer for any part, and Sanders obviously felt Johansson was the right fit for Rub & Tug. Actors pretend to be things they're not all the time, and Johansson may have been able to deliver a strong turn as Gill. Ideally, Sanders will be able to find a replacement for Johansson who isn't just transgender, but will be perfect in the role.