The first part of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina ended with Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) signing her name in the Book of the Beast, signifying major changes for the teenage witch. But she’s not the only character who’s seen change in their lives. In an interview with io9, Lachlan Watson talks about Theo’s journey in Part 2 of Sabrina, and the role they played in shaping his “beautiful” coming-out story.
io9 had the opportunity to visit the set of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina last year before creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s horror series debuted its first 11-episode season (also known as Part 1). But the cast and crew were already busy working on the second stretch of episodes, which debuted last Friday on Netflix.
On the day we visited, the actors were filming the Valentine’s Dance scene at a local high school. One classroom was decked out like an embarrassingly blunt sex education class, while the gymnasium was filled with red-tinged lights, pink balloons, and a gaggle of teenage extras in tea-length dresses and slightly baggy suits.
One character stood out from the crowd. It was Theo, decked out in a black suit and tie, his head newly shaved. He was revealing his new look and hair, and even shared a moment with school bully Billy Marlin, who apologizes for how he’s treated Theo. You see, this was the episode when Theo came out to his father as a trans man (he had already shared his name with Harvey and Rosalind, in the episode where he made the boys basketball team). This was an important episode for Theo — and Watson too.
“It’s been one of my favourite episodes so far,” they said. “I talked to Roberto at length [about Theo’s coming-out] and we built it together — which was really amazing, because I have a lot of thoughts and those thoughts are a little too much for a lot of people. It was so amazing that he opened his ears and just let it come in, and let me talk to him and let it be a conversation. That’s why I took the role: Conversation. To start a conversation and to have a conversation, because that’s what the world is missing right now.”
For Watson, the journey to coming out as Theo — named after the character’s ancestor, Dorothea — started well before the coming-out episode. In fact, it’s been in the works since before they filmed the first episode of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Watson, who identifies as non-binary, told io9 how they had originally been cast as a trans man. Aguirre-Sacasa later changed things up, instead wanting to have Theo’s coming-out be part of the character’s arc. But, he asked first:
I got cast as a character that no longer exists. I got cast as a character named Orlando, and then Orlando just landed on the cutting room floor and switched into this totally different person…Roberto called me and was like, “Actually, do you mind being a woman for a minute?”
Which I appreciated, because for a while — when I personally identified as a trans man — acting was tough, because I would get super dysphoric and weird and uncomfortable if someone would be like, “Hey, do you want to play this female role?” I’d be like, “Female? Me? No!” Which was kind of ridiculous, but it was the response I thought I should have. It was really nice for him to be like, “Hey, I was actually thinking of taking the character in this direction. Is that OK with you?”
From that moment on, Watson said they focused on “building subtlety” into their performance, as Theo explored his gender identity over the course of the first season, into his coming-out narrative in the second: “I was building subtlety. I was building hints and winks, and [suggesting that], ‘Hey, this character may not be all you see, or all you think they are.’” These included moments as big as Theo attacking Billy in the hallway during the first episode of the series, or as small as how he lingered over the copy of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, after he had been caught trying to steal it.
This was supported in other elements on the show; particularly the set design, as production designer Lisa Soper shared how she filled Theo’s bedroom with bugs, butterflies, and other creatures that undergo metamorphosis, to represent Theo’s mindset. Watson also continued to work with Aguirre-Sacasa and Sabrina’s writers through Theo’s coming out, sharing ideas on how to represent Theo’s thoughts and feelings during his transition.
They said they really appreciated how open and collaborative the process was. Especially given how more shows — like Supergirl, which cast Nicole Maines as TV’s first trans superhero, and the ever-amazing Steven Universe — are working to portray issues of gender identity, to varying levels of success or failure.
“A lot of shows that I’ve been on have tackled these really tricky topics, but have tackled them with writers that don’t always understand,” Watson said. “You’ve got a room full of straight white men who are trying to write a trans character, and that doesn’t always work out — especially when they don’t open their eyes, or open their ears to the people that they’ve worked so hard to cast. That’s what’s been really beautiful about this show.”
Now that Theo is out, it’s unclear what’s in store for him in the future. By the end of the season, he’s joined Sabrina, Harvey, and Rosalind on an important mission. And it’s a good thing, as he’s really good with a shotgun. As for Watson, they just loved getting to explore Theo’s journey. For them, as someone who’s spent time exploring their own gender identity, Theo wasn’t just a character:
I spent a whole season like that, just waiting and building and thinking and hinting and just working things out. And so now, for it all to come into light in season two has been really, really beautiful…It’s been all our hard work, realised.
For Susie to start this journey as a new person—and to take that journey again with them, in the headspace I am in now—has been really interesting. Just constantly thinking about identity, and thinking about how we present ourselves. How we live our lives. How so much of it is costume. And to realise that again—with another person, with a character—has been fascinating.
Parts 1 and 2 of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina are currently available on Netflix.