Delia Kropp and LGBTQ+ representation in film

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Delia Kropp walks home through the north end of Chicago on a chilled November day nearby the ivy-wrapped baseball stadium Wrigley Field and reflects on a long, accomplished acting career that encompasses leading MSU’s official theater student group, acting onstage as a theater pupil in England and performing with celebrated, but now defunct, Lansing company BoarsHead Theater. 

Since moving from Lansing to Chicago long ago, she’s more than made her mark in theater. Now, she’s making waves in film and helping spark important conversations about LGBTQ+ representation in an infamously whitewashed industry.

Her film debut in “Landlocked,” which was released this year to the international film festival circuit, sees her in a complex role. The film is centered on Nick, played by Dustin Gooch, a struggling chef who finds it difficult to cope with the loss of his mother. At his wife’s behest, Nick seeks out Briana, played by Kropp, his surviving, estranged parent who has since come out as transgender. To find closure in death and hopefully heal their strained relationship, the pair hit the road on a journey to scatter Nick’s mother’s ashes onto the rolling ocean waters off the Georgia coast.

Kropp was connected with the film’s director, Tim Hall, in 2018 after he reached out to a talent agent, serendipitously a friend of Kropp’s, in search of an actress that could play a trans character in his latest production. He was given Kropp’s information and the ball quickly got rolling for her film debut.

“He reached out to me and gave me a monologue he had written. He said, ‘Memorize that, put it on your phone via video — I’ll take a look at it.’ It was only two or three months before I heard back,” Kropp said.

As a theater actress, the process of preparing for her first film shoot saw Kropp in new territory, but with some welcome familiarities. Before arriving in Atlanta to begin production, Kropp spent months conversing with Hall and other cast members — going over fine details such as the familial history and interplay between their characters.

“On set, the big adjustment was the hurry-up-and-wait aspect,” Kropp said. “The big priorities are the location and the lighting; the acting is somewhere further down the list. But that means when it’s time to shoot, you’ve got to be good. Some of the scenes in ‘Landlocked’ are the first take.”

The headaches caused by the whirring technology on a professional film set notwithstanding, Kropp was right at home with her creative assignment of bringing the character of Briana to life on the silver screen for audiences. The talent she developed through her immense theater experience proved invaluable. Kropp was easy to direct and managed to get through the production phase of “Landlocked” while rarely requiring more than three takes to wrap a scene.

“Your training as an actor for a large role like this is to have a good grip on the whole story. You don’t treat it as a scene at a time,” Kropp said. “If you shoot out-of-sequence; it’s 10 o’ clock at night and you’re wondering, ‘Where are we in the story?’ You’ve already done that work ahead of time. You know where you are.”

But Kropp’s distinct advantage as an actress on the set of “Landlocked” was her deeply intimate connection with her character’s backstory. Kropp admits that her own real life story is not too far off from that of the fictional Briana’s.

Like Briana, Kropp, 64, came out as trans later in her life, though she does not have any children. During her transition, Kropp maintained a quiet professional hiatus and did not appear onstage for an entire decade — eventually returning to live theater in 2015. For Kropp, coming out as trans at an older age meant facing more baggage to leave behind in search of an identity that truly suited her.

“For people who transition later in life, it can be a longer process and sometimes a more difficult one. However poorly your previous gender role suited you in life, it’s still the one you’re familiar with and other people identify you with. You have to transition out of one established identity into another,” Kropp said.

Kropp said she found it difficult to transition in the early-’00s. Finding therapeutic help, medical assistance and other forms of support was more challenging, as the resources were even less commonplace and societally accepted as they are today. Ultimately, the struggles faced by Kropp are shared by her character Briana, who also had to come out as trans in face of a hostile response.

“You want to bring as much of yourself and your own story to the role as much as you possibly can. That’s pretty much what I did,” Kropp said. 

In addition to her work as an actress, Kropp also prides herself on the work she’s done as an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. She regularly acts as an consultant on LGBTQ+ issues and has given extensive talks on topics such as gender identity and trans inclusion in entertainment industry talent agencies — including theater, film and television. Inclusion has become an increasingly important talking point, as productions that feature LGBTQ+ characters portrayed by straight actors have been lightning rods for controversy and can generate enough widespread public criticism to hurt the financial bottom line. Kropp believes the enhanced focus on inclusion in recent years is a positive mark of progress. 

“For me, it’s representation and authenticity. We deserve to be included at the table; we deserve to be in the public’s eye. We’re a part of this world. If you’re playing a transgender role, authenticity is critical. There are nuances that no amount of interviewing or having coffee with a trans person can substitute,” Kropp said. 

To learn more about  Delia Kropp, visit therealdelia.com

To check out  “Landlocked,” visit Facebook.com/landlockedfilm

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