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‘The Conners': Alexandra Billings Says Robin and Becky’s Heart-to-Heart ‘Was More Difficult Than I Thought’

“It got very emotional for me. And I really don’t, to be honest with you, know what happened,” Billings tells TheWrap

(Warning: This post contains mild spoilers for Wednesday’s episode of “The Conners.”)

Wednesday’s episode of “The Conners,” titled “Protest, Drug Test and No One Leaves the Nest,” featured a pivotal scene between Becky (Lecy Goranson) and her boss Robin (Alexandra Billings), during which Robin confides in her employee that she’s a transgender woman.

The moment doesn’t so much serve as a coming-out; rather, it’s Robin revealing a private part of herself to a person she’s now choosing to trust.

“She reveals it in one specific episode, and then really doesn’t talk about this anymore,” Billings said in an interview with TheWrap. “She says it one time. It’s not a subject that everybody crowds around a lot, because it’s not her whole being. It’s simply a part of who she is. So that, I really loved and I thought was really revolutionary.”

Robin’s revelation helps explain her actions during the rest of the episode, which tackles the idea of generational shifts within protest movements. Robin confides in Becky as a way of telling her why she’s not interested in leading the charge in an employee-driven movement at the factory where they work. “I’ve done it,” Robin explains to Becky.

“It got very emotional for me,” Billings said of filming the scene. “And I really don’t, to be honest with you, know what happened. … I’m a middle-aged person. I’ve been trans my whole life. And I’ve stood in those lines. I’ve marched in those parades. I’ve done all that. Robin is saying, ‘I have absolutely no desire to do it [anymore]. If you want to do it, that’s great. And I don’t think that’s where I am, but it’s part of where I am.'”

Read TheWrap’s full interview with Billings below.

TheWrap: Can you first explain how you ended up on the show? What was it about the role that really appealed to you?

Well, I loved the fact that Robin, first of all, was trans. And she reveals it in one specific episode, and then really doesn’t talk about this anymore. You know, she says it one time. It’s not a subject that everybody crowds around a lot, because it’s not her whole being. It’s simply a part of who she is. So that, I really loved and I thought was really revolutionary. And the second part for me was the way everyone around her received the news. You know, usually when a trans person reveals on television, everybody has a moment of like, Oh my god, right? Like, their wigs fall off. People freak out, step back,Oh, no.” But that didn’t happen in this episode. Nobody has any side conversations about it, which I think is kind of remarkable. Like, there’s no two or three people huddled in the living room or the kitchen going, “You know, this trans thing is just really weird.” Nobody does that. They just sort of accept the fact that Robin is trans and a little bit of a jerk, which is great.

There’s that moment in the scene that kind of nods to that, where Becky says, “plot twist” and then just kind of moves on with the conversation.

When I read that, I was like, “Oh, this is genius.” And then she’s like, “Well, that’s interesting. Anyway…” [Laughs].

The Conners

ABC/Eric McCandless

So when you were thinking about that scene and that moment, how did you approach playing it from Robin’s perspective?

I love this question, only because it was more difficult than I thought it was gonna be — story of my life, by the way. “Oh, this is gonna go great.” And then all hell breaks loose. But I went in thinking, I’m gonna do the thing, and everything will be fine. But it got very emotional for me. And I really don’t, to be honest with you, know what happened. Because there’s a line, I’m paraphrasing, where she says something like, “I’ve already fought those battles” when Becky asks her to come march and fight. And Robin says, “I don’t want to. I don’t want to because I’ve done it.” You know, I’m a middle-aged person. I’ve been trans my whole life. And I’ve stood in those lines. I’ve marched in those parades. I’ve done all that. Robin is saying, “I have absolutely no desire to do it [anymore]. If you want to do it, that’s great. And I don’t think that’s where I am, but it’s part of where I am. I feel now that the younger generation needs to pick up the baton.”

You know, I don’t know if you know this, my friend. Right now, as you’re sitting there talking to me, today [Dec. 1] is World AIDS Day. Did you know that?

I did just see that, actually.

So, you know, back in the day — because I’m probably old enough to be your grandmother — World AIDS Day has been happening since 1988. I was diagnosed in 1986 or ’87, way early on. So I’m 58 years old. I’ve had this disease for over three decades. I buried all my friends when I was in my 20s. My generation, who’ve survived this, we have lived through the marches and the signs and the petitions and the deaths and the burial. This thing that’s happening right now? This plague that’s exhausting you? This is my second one. And people keep saying — all kinds of wonderful people who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about — keep coming up to me and saying, “You know how I think we ought to navigate this?” I’m like, shut the f— up. Let me tell you something. I’ve done this, my friends. I love you with all my hearts. I’m sure you have the best of intentions. But I’ve done this. And let me tell you who we all need to be going to to get advice: queers. That’s who we actually need to be talking to in order to spiritually, emotionally and physically get through this. We need to talk to the elders and the queer generation in the queer community because we know how to do this. We know how to navigate a plague. We’ve done it.

The reason I’m saying all this is because all of that stuff we’re really starting to come up and that little tiny little scene of Robin saying, “I don’t want to do that. I’ve done it” — it’s time for the younger generation to pick up the phone. It’s time for the younger queer generation to educate the straight humans. It’s time for people who are non-binary, the people who are rewriting the rules beautifully and magnificently, they now need to get in their cars, they need to put on their masks, they need to get the hell outside. And they need to be heard by the people they disagree with the most. Otherwise nothing’s going to change.

Like you mentioned, Becky’s response is also kind of central to that scene. Did you have any conversations with Lecy going in about how you would play it together?

No, we didn’t, actually. Isn’t that fun? Lecy is so open and available that no matter what we did, we didn’t feel the need to really sit down and discuss anything. First of all, we know the characters don’t particularly like each other. Which is really hard because she and I love each other so much, we don’t know what to do. Like, it’s ridiculous. But I think that’s what’s working. Because we love each other so much, and have grown to really respect each other as artists, that infiltrates the scene. So we just did the thing. And she was right there.

When you think about where the dynamic between Becky and Robin goes from here, do you feel like it has changed at all? Or is it kind of right back to where they were in spite of this one moment of connection?

No, I think it changes a little bit. Robin is a tough bird. You know, she’s crafty. But I really do think she has a soft spot in her heart for Darlene. I think Becky just bugs her for some reason. I don’t know why, but it’s sort of true. And I love [Lecy] so much as a human that it will absolutely have to seep in, especially after she and I have had this beautiful moment together. But, you know, she’s never on time. She’s always late. And she’s got a mouth on her, for the love of Pete. So I can’t pretend that’s not true. I just want to turn to her a couple times and go, “Get your shit together and I’ll stop being Bea Arthur, how about that?”

The Conners

ABC/Eric McCandless

“The Conners” airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on ABC.