For Australian actor Jayr Tinaco, landing a lead role alongside Selma Blair in new Netflix series Another Life was the culmination of a long journey towards establishing a career as an actor and, they reveal to SBS Pride, discovering themself.
A thrilling homage to the sci-fi genre, Another Life follows the story of an astronaut and space crew who are on a mission to investigate the origins of an alien artifact discovered on Earth - facing a number of inexplicable horrors along the way.
Having spent years working in Sydney's hospitality industry, Tinaco was no stranger to the threat of inexplicable horrors (full disclosure, this writer bar-tended alongside Tinaco for several years). With small roles in Always Be My Maybe and Australian series Rake under their belt, the 30-year-old moved to Canada to pursue their acting dreams back in early 2017. However, after a number of drawn out auditions, close calls and knock-backs, the process of securing their breakout role in the sci-fi series ended up being faster than expected.
"The audition process for Another Life was actually pretty quick," Tinaco tells SBS Pride. "I had the initial audition, which was followed by one callback. They auditioned all over the US and Canada, seeing hundreds of actors for each role."
Despite getting a callback, Tinaco was convinced that they hadn't impressed the show's producers and director - partly because they expressed their connection to the role so passionately.
"I remember just talking a lot about Zayn and having a strong opinion about hir," Tinaco says. "I just felt a tremendous connection with this character, that when they were giving me notes, I felt obliged to disagree if I didn’t feel Zayn would make that particular choice.
"After leaving the callback I called my managers to let them know I had 'royally f**ked it up'. I was not expecting to get a call, but a week later my managers told me that I had booked the role. It was truly a surreal feeling. I just cried and then got a bottle of champagne."
Tinaco's character of Zayn, the space crew's in-house psychologist, is gender non-binary and goes by the pronouns 'ze' or 'hir' - something that lead to a great deal of reflection for the actor.
"It’s so interesting to me because playing Zayn really has lead me to understand and realise my own non-binary identity," Tinaco (who goes by the pronouns he/him or they/them) tells SBS Pride.
"After leaving the callback I called my managers to let them know I had 'royally f**ked it up.'"
They continue: "I have always felt that my soul has never been completely 100 per cent 'male or female' and I never really understood why."
While Zayn's gender identity was crucial to the role, it was deliberately not a point of contention in the series.
"It was so important to the creator, Aaron Martin, that Zayn’s identity was not be a topic of conversation or a story arch," Tinaco explains. "The show takes place 50-70 years in the future, so he just believed that, like any cis-gender person, the LGBTQ+ identities would be free to exist without question or a second thought.
"I loved this about Zayn’s story and it truly is my dream to live in a world just like that. So, if anything, Zayn brought more to me and my personal life than I brought to hir."
"I still identify with the pro-nouns He/His/Him in my personal life, but I have friends that call me 'They' or even 'she' and I’m okay with that," Tinaco says. "It’s all about conversation, it’s learning process for everyone and I’m happy to be here to help educate and bring awareness."
On the subject of representation, Tinaco, who grew up in rural North Queensland and is of Filipinx descent, says: "I think in general it’s just important to see all walks of life on our screens."
"The media is such a huge influence on our lives and to see yourself on screen is so powerful, especially for young people," they tell SBS Pride. "I remember growing up and not having anyone that I could relate to. It alienates you and for a young kid in a small country town, that can end up being pretty dangerous."
They add: "I remember in my late high school years, I would watch Queers as Folk on SBS at like 1am on a school night - I loved seeing other LGBTQ+ characters. I related to them and didn’t feel alone or like a freak or a weirdo. It gave me comfort to continue on through my life, I felt like I was going to be okay."
Tinaco says they've been inundated with messages on social media from fans of the show grateful to see a reflection of themselves in the character of Zayn.
"My heart is filled with so much love for this," they explain. "I'm happy to continue representing and inspiring."
Whether or not there will be a second season of Another Life remains to be seen, but Tinaco is hopeful.
"I know the writers and director have so many great ideas for future seasons and want to really dive into these complex characters. This is only the beginning of their stories."
Another Life is streaming on Netflix now. You can watch the series trailer below: