Alexis Arquette obituary

Idiosyncratic character actor who defended the rights of transgender people

The actor Alexis Arquette, who has died aged 47, could have coasted by on her famous surname: she was part of an acting family that included her sisters Rosanna (Desperately Seeking Susan) and Patricia (who won an Oscar in 2014 for Boyhood), and her brother David (the Scream series). Instead, this playful and likeable performer, who was born male but identified in the latter part of her adult life as transgender and gender suspicious, carved out a career of idiosyncratic and often uncommercial character work before concentrating on promoting awareness of trans issues. This included appearing as the subject of the documentary Alexis Arquette: Shes My Brother (2007), in which she both invited and openly questioned interest in her gender and sexuality.

She made a strong impression playing the transvestite Georgette in the 1989 film of Hubert Selby Jrs novel Last Exit to Brooklyn: the New York Times called her performance first-rate. In Jumpin at the Boneyard (1991), she was second-billed as Dan, the estranged, crack-addicted brother of Manny (Tim Roth). The siblings are reunited in unlikely circumstances after Dan tries to rob Mannys apartment.

But Arquettes impish charms were put to their best use in lighter material. Even when the roles were confined to one or two scenes a wannabe criminal in Pulp Fiction (1994), Boy George impersonators in two Adam Sandler vehicles, The Wedding Singer (1998) and Blended (2014) she delivered some memorably oddball moments.

Given the chance to explore a character in more detail, she could be funny and disarmingly tender. A notable example was Grief (1993), a bittersweet comedy-drama set behind the scenes on a daytime television show called Love Court; the film, which mixed camp humour with a storyline about Aids and bereavement, was made by Richard Glatzer, who went on to co-direct Still Alice. Arquettes sense of humour was also evident in horror films including Bride of Chucky (1998), in which she played a goth murdered by a possessed doll, and KillerDrag Queens on Dope (2003), where she was billed under her cabaret name, Eva Destruction.

She was born Robert Arquette in Los Angeles, the second youngest child of Brenda (nee Nowak), a therapist, and the actor Lewis Arquette. Our parents were into this religion thing called Subud; they basically believed in allowing children to run free, Alexis said in 2000. The whole thing was about self-expression. They didnt believe in discipline. When we were little, it was great. We literally did anything and everything we wanted to. We smoked tobacco and pot and then moved on to other drugs. I got into acid. There was nothing we could do to shock our parents. She came out as gay to her father at 13 before understanding that this wasnt the whole story. Patricia recalls Alexis realising: Thats not whats different about me, its not that Im a gay man. Its that Im in the wrong body: I am a woman.

Through Rosannas connections, Alexis got a part at the age of 12 in a music video by the Tubes. She went on to work in various jobs, including designing toys for Mattel, and made her fleeting film debut in Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986), an updated remake of Jean Renoirs Boudu Saved From Drowning. Other film roles followed, including Of Mice and Men (1992), with John Malkovich, and the New Zealand horror romp Jack Be Nimble (1993).

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figcaption class=”caption” caption–img caption caption–img” itemprop=”description”> Alexis Arquette, centre, in Last Exit to Brooklyn. Photograph: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

She was understandably angry when her role in Threesome (1994) as an openly gay student was turned into the butt of the movies jokes. What that film says is: If you want to be gay and you want to be respected, stay in the closet. Dont let your love be known, dont let your desires be known to anyone But if youre going to be openly gay, youre going to have to be a mincing, obnoxious queen. Thats how I was directed, and I fought [Andrew Fleming, the director] all the way. She knew she was perceived by some in the industry as a troublemaker. So often Im labelled the outsider or the bad boy because I speak my mind Ill walk in and say, Who wrote this shit? I do speak my mind.

Arquette also appeared in Frisk (1995), a controversial adaptation of Dennis Coopers novel, the screwball comedy I Think I Do (1997) and the teen hit Shes All That (1999). In 2006, her participation in the Celebrity Big Brother-style reality TV show The Surreal Life was widely credited with helping to increase the visibility of trans people. A statement by Arquettes family after her death, for which no cause was given, helped to explain why her acting work had became rarer in recent years: Despite the fact that there are few parts for trans actors, she refused to play roles that were demeaning or stereotypical. She was a vanguard in the fight for understanding and acceptance for alltrans people.

She is survived by her siblings, Rosanna, Richmond, Patricia and David.

Alexis Arquette, actor,born 28 July 1969; died 11September 2016

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/sep/12/alexis-arquette-obituary

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