By Chris Azzopardi
What could be gay about a vehicular combat video game that’s now a TV show, you ask? Well, here’s what: In “Twisted Metal,” the new Peacock series based on the PlayStation game involving machine guns, ballistic projectiles and a killer clown, we get openly bisexual “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Encanto” actress Stephanie Beatriz, who tells me she’s always bringing her authentic self to her roles.
Beatriz’s part in “Twisted Metal” as Quiet, an instinctually driven car thief, is no exception. That clown, meanwhile, isn’t just any clown — this one, clad in a harness, calls other men “puppy.” He’d be very at home in a gay leather bar. If you’re not already hooked by the prospect of a potentially kinky clown and Beatriz as an “absolute badass” bisexual, there is a plot too: “Twisted Metal” takes place in an apocalyptic wasteland where a milkman with amnesia, John Doe (Anthony Mackie), will die if he doesn’t deliver a mysterious package. With Quiet, the duo embarks on a sinister mission through Las Vegas.
In our recent interview, Beatriz reflected on Quiet’s sexuality, how she felt about this year’s Pride season and why she got over being pigeonholed into bisexual acting roles.
How has your Pride season been?
This one, it’s been a hard one. It’s been weird. There’s a fear that’s kind of raging across the United States of America, and it really is — all of this is just based in fear of the unknown of change, of things that are different, of other people that you don’t know. But the fear is attached to legislation that’s moving quickly through the systems that are in place, and that’s really terrifying as a queer person. It’s really heart-wrenching to read about the violence that our community is suffering through. And at the same time, I’m still hopeful. I have to hold onto the hope.
The flag for Pride does keep shifting and changing. I think that’s great. And yet at its core, it’s just a symbolic rainbow of all these different parts of us together. And that rainbow is such a symbol of hope to me. And I really hope that as we keep moving forward, as humanity kind of keeps moving forward, that we can keep pushing. Those of us that are in the queer community have to keep pushing because we are not seen as equal in so many places. And this is a hard one, but I also went out and bought a dress that was the bisexual flag and wore it proudly everywhere that I could, just so that people would say, “Oh, I love your dress.” And I’d say, “Thanks. It’s the bi flag.” And that would start a conversation. So yeah, I’m proud. But this has been a particularly hard one. But it just means we have to double down. We’ve just got to double down.
I love that you wore that dress. What I do as a queer person is process this through my work as a writer and editor for LGBTQ+ press. But as an actor, how do you do that? Where do you go with the work when things are very hard as a queer person?
I mean, that’s such a good question because of my form of work. I mean, for example, “Twisted Metal,” we shot that last year. We shot it last summer, and it hasn’t been seen yet. No spoilers, but I think I brought my authentic self to that character. You can take that however you want to take it. I think right now, because I’m not currently working on a project this second, I’ve got to do some sort of other creative expression. I don’t know what that is right now in this moment, but I will say that one of the things I’m doing in my own life is that I am trying to instill in my kid that this world is full of lots of kinds of people and that it’s your job as a human to foster and grow empathy for others, particularly those in the queer community, particularly the people that are more vulnerable than you in the world. And I don’t know if my kid’s going to grow up to be queer or not, but this Pride, this particular Pride, I bought a lot of books for my kid.
Maybe it’s time to write a children’s book, then.
Maybe. That’s a great idea, actually. I mean, I have been reading a million children’s books, and some of them are not great.
What can you say about Quiet and what you bring to that role when it comes to authenticity?
I can say that she is an absolute badass. She works mainly from impulse and instinct. She doesn’t always think things through. That’s sometimes a good thing and a bad thing. And she’s really driven by revenge. When the series begins, that is her ultimate goal — to get and have revenge. I think the main stuff that I think you’ll see in terms of who I am authentically is that, as you watch the series, I certainly played this character in a way that feels like she’s open to all possibilities, whether that’s in the world, whether that’s learning about the world, whether that’s fighting for what she needs and whether that’s about her possible romantic entanglements within the world. But I think we’ll have to sort of see how that all develops over the course of not only the season, but maybe if we get a second season.
There’s also some queerness going on with Sweet Tooth, the killer clown, and I don’t know what you can say about this, but I am picking up on some real S&M kink vibes.
Is Sweet Tooth a leather daddy? Let everyone be the judge. I’m not sure. There might be a group of people that [he] might be doing it for. He does wear that gorgeous leather harness, also clown pants, so everyone, don’t yuck someone else’s yum, as my sister always says.
In the beginning of the second episode, he calls another guy a “puppy.” In mainstream culture, I don’t know what puppy means, but in queer culture, I do.
I mean, I think as people we’re always kind of watching things looking for little signs because for so long we weren’t given very much at all. I was always looking for little signs. I was always, always, always looking for little signs. And so as an actor, you better be sure I’m dropping those little signs so people can pick up those little crumbs.
What did you appreciate about the women and the way they’re portrayed in this series?
I like that they were fully fleshed out characters. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with this sort of girl-next-door character, but there’s other characters too. There’s other people too. There’s other failures of human beings. And I think in a lot of ways, these women in the series are failing at a lot of stuff. They’re not good at a lot of stuff. They don’t know how to do a lot of stuff, but they’re fucking going to try. They’re going to try. And they learn as they go.
For Quiet in particular, the series starts out as a very precise desire for her own needs to be met, and the scope of what she needs and who she needs to help really shifts over the course of the season. And I like that. I like it so much. I like when characters are surprised by their own journeys because it allows you as an actor to try to figure out what’s going on because that’s so human. It’s so human to be within your own sort of like, “oh my god, I’m so confused about how I handle this. What’s my next step? How do I live?” And then also put on the mask of “everything’s fine, I can handle it.” I just love those two things happening at once.
How has your experience playing a bisexual character early on in your career, as Rosa on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” opened your eyes to what representation can do and how has that influenced later career decisions?
In terms of creative decisions, I certainly am open to playing people who are queer. I want to play queer characters. I had a conversation with a friend a long time ago and I said, “Is coming out as bi and playing a bi character going to pigeonhole me into only playing bi characters?” And they said, “Well, so what? So what would be the harm in that?” And I said, “Well, I don’t want to just play one kind of character.” And essentially what they said to me was, “If that’s the case, then how amazing in the end when you look back at your career, because that will mean that everything that you did, you played a queer person.”
No matter what, I’m bringing elements of my queerness to [my roles]; it’s impossible not to. It’s just impossible for me to, even if I am playing a straight character, even if I am playing a straight person or a lesbian or whoever I’m playing, right? I’m bringing elements of myself to it. That’s what you do as an actor. I am, right now, in a weird waiting game while I wait for “Twisted Metal” to come out. So I haven’t really been able to actively look at and take on other stuff right now.
But you were in “In the Heights” in 2021, though, where you played a queer character. So after Rosa, it seemed clear to me that maybe you understood what was happening, what you could do, and then took roles that might have had a similar impact.
I would hope so. I mean, I wish I was smart enough to think about it that way and also some of the stuff, sometimes it’s not my decision, right? I’m not in the place yet in my career where it is always my decision. I want to influence those decisions to be made, but I’m not in a power position quite yet. But when I am on a set and when I can try to float the idea, I do because I need to and want to.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Chris Azzopardi is the Editorial Director of Pride Source Media Group and Q Syndicate, the national LGBTQ+ wire service. He has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, GQ and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.