Sasha Knight was ten years old when cast in the role of Joe, a transgender child in the indie film Cowboys, starring Steve Zahn and Jillian Bell.
The film, which came out VOD on Friday, February 12, is about a newly separated man (Zahn) who goes on the run with his son (Knight) in the Montana mountains after the boy’s mother (Bell) refuses to accept the child was born in the wrong body. Relationships and beliefs get tested when a police detective (Ann O’Dowd) begins to pursue them.
In its review of the film, The New York Times writes, “the conflicts at the heart of Cowboys are timely, coming in a moment when trans children and their rights are at the forefront of American political debate.” Common Sense Media said the film was a “lovely, big-hearted drama (that) uses familiar cowboy-story elements to explore understanding, acceptance, and gender identity.” Meanwhile, last year during the film’s festival run, Knight was awarded the Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Performance in a U.S. feature from L.A. Outfest.
When she first began casting for Joe, director Anna Kerrigan put out a casting notice for the role. She also reached out to transgender Facebook groups and non-actors to find the right person to play Joe, born a girl but identifies as a boy. Knight had an agent who received the submission that way for her client.
“I did a self-tape,” recalls Knight, now 11, of the initial audition. “We shot it in my bedroom up against a blank wall. There were about two or three scenes, one of which was the scene where Joe comes out to his dad in the car.”
Eventually, Knight received a callback and went in to meet with casting director Eyde Belasco (Transparent, 500 Days of Summer). Knight recalls they went over those scenes a few different times together. A third callback included Belasco with Kerrigan, and again they “ran the scenes a bunch of different ways and did some improv.”
It wasn’t until two and half months after that Knight was officially cast in the role. “I was supposed to go to sleepaway camp, but I couldn’t because I booked the role, which was way more fun!” said Knight.
Interestingly, Knight was coming out as transgender around the same time the film was in production. “I am transgender,” stated Knight. “I was assigned female at birth and transitioned to male when I was 10. I transitioned with pronouns before shooting the movie, and medically after the movie.”
Knight told Casting Networks they felt pretty close to the character of Joe not just because both were similar in age, but more so that Joe was trans. “That’s mostly where I related because I was just starting to come out,” said Knight.
When asked if playing the role felt therapeutic in some capacity, Knight said that wasn’t exactly the case. “It’s more that when I would act, I could be a boy. I could just be. It’s not real because it’s a movie, so I could be Joe without having to worry about anything else. I could be and act.”
Since completing the movie, the pandemic has limited Knight’s ability to fully go out for on-camera work, but they have been doing a lot of voiceover roles. “I’m on two voiceover series,” Knight said proudly.
When Hollywood does get back into production full-swing, as it’s slowly heading in that direction, Knight says they don’t have a preference when it comes to roles.
“I don’t care if it’s a normal boy role or a transgender role,” Knight said. “I just want to act because I love acting. But if push comes to shove, I do want to play transgender roles. There is not that much (onscreen) representation, and I want to represent that community because I am a part of that community. I want to spread that positive message.”