In The Mix

Bliss and Tells

Complexities abound for Asia Kate Dillon, and they handle them all gracefully and gratefully.

Bruce Fretts
  • Shirin Tinati

Asia Kate Dillon cried while reading the script for Billions, in which intern Taylor Mason informs hedge-fund boss Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damian Lewis): “My pronouns are they, theirs and them.” Like Taylor, Dillon identifies as gender non- binary — neither woman nor man.

“Not only was I moved by Taylor’s forthrightness and bravery,” Dillon recalls, “but I was very moved by Axe saying, ‘Great, I respect you and I’ll use those pronouns — now let’s move on and get down to business.’”

In fact, Taylor is a complicated character: a buttoned-down financial genius whose talent for poker comes into play when Axe Capital enters a high-stakes tournament. “That was super exciting,” Dillon says. “They brought in amazing pro poker players to film those scenes, and at the end they very graciously said, ‘You did great. You had no tells.’”

Dillon can’t keep a poker face when recalling the thrill of landing the role on season two of Billions: “I binge-watched season one, and I did a bunch of research on what all the hedge-fund jargon meant. I found I couldn’t memorize it if I didn’t understand what I was saying.”

Playing TV’s first non-binary character comes with responsibility, and Dillon embraces it: “I feel very humbled to be a part of this history, to be one of the people who is helping to bring visibility to gender non-conforming and non-binary characters in the media.”

Dillon’s non-gendered status recently raised the question of which category to enter for the upcoming Emmy Awards. After writing to the Television Academy and engaging in a dialogue on the topic, Dillon decided to submit an entry as supporting actor.

Dillon’s initial email to the Academy said, in part: “Through my research, I learned the word ‘actor,’ in reference to those who performed in plays, came about in the late 1500s and applied to all people, regardless of anatomical sex or identity.”

Of the Academy’s response, Dillon says: “I found them to be 100 percent supportive. I really couldn’t have been happier.”

In addition to the Billions gig, Dillon also has a regular role on Orange Is the New Black, as white supremacist convict Brandy Epps. This success is the culmination of a lifelong dream: “I cannot remember a time when I didn’t understand that my calling was to be a performer,” Dillon says. “I’ve always known.”

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 5, 2017