- Nonbinary actor Jesse James Keitel is one of the series regulars on ABC’s new show Big Sky.
- Keitel is the first nonbinary series regular in a primetime network TV series
- They previously told The Advocate that television is “accessible to so many people, people who normally wouldn’t get to experience a person like this.”
Jesse James Keitel made TV history when ABC’s new thriller, Big Sky, debuted on Tuesday night. The actor, who plays kidnapping victim Jerrie Kennedy, is the first nonbinary series regular in the history of primetime network television.
Keitel’s character, Jerrie, is an aspiring musician and sex worker who is also nonbinary. Jerrie is central to the show’s mystery; they are the first to be attacked and held captive in the pilot episode, setting Big Sky‘s plot into fast motion.
“First of all, she’s incredible. But she’s representing for nonbinary people, and for ABC to do this and to have Jesse, who is incredibly talented, I feel like that’s worthy of a cheers,” Kylie Bunbury, who plays the show’s lead character Cassie Dewell, said in a Q+A that took place following the show’s virtual premiere.
Big Sky changed a lot about Jerrie’s character after casting Keitel. The actor, who uses they/them and she/her pronouns, said in one interview with The Advocate that the character was originally a “cis gay man who dressed in drag to turn tricks at the truck stop.”
“They have really shifted the role because of me,” Keitel said, adding that they advised the Big Sky team on making changes to the character. They hope the revamped Jerrie can “change some hearts and minds” of potentially conservative viewers.
Nonbinary representation has also grown in recent years on cable television, with stars like Nico Tortorella on Younger and Indya Moore on Pose.
While Keitel is a relative newcomer to the acting scene, Big Sky isn’t their first job. They previously appeared alongside Tortorella in both an episode of Younger and the Showtime original film Fluidity. They also played a supporting role in the Netflix original film Alex Strangelove (produced by Ben Stiller) and played the lead in a short film called Miller & Me, which won both a Student BAFTA and a Student Academy Award.
In a different interview with the Advocate in October, Keitel explained the importance of representation on television, especially today.
“[TV is] the most powerful medium we have right now,” they said. “It’s accessible to so many people, people who normally wouldn’t get to experience a person like this.”
Big Sky is planned as a 10-episode series, and Keitel’s role as Jerrie is only just getting started—and we can’t wait to see what kind of twisty-turny Montana road is ahead.
Evan is an associate editor for Men’s Health, with bylines in The New York Times, MTV News, Brooklyn Magazine, and VICE.
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