If you haven't heard of Josie Totah yet, you're about to. The actress, writer, and producer has already landed on Forbes' 30 Under 30 list, sold a TV series, penned a powerful essay in Time on coming out as transgender, and held starring roles in some of your favorite television shows. Her newest role is her most iconic yet: Lexi, Bayside High’s very own It Girl in the remake of the classic Saved by the Bell.
In the new series, Lexi is a cheerleader, an actress, a master of matching her makeup to her outfits—and, dare we say, a beauty icon in the making. “It’s like getting ready for a red carpet every single morning," Josie tells Byrdie exclusively. "I'm literally in the chair two and a half hours before filming with a full-on hair moment. It's definitely a dream.” In the wake of the show's premiere on Peacock on November 25, we caught up with the actress about remaking such a much-loved series, the diverse cast, her experiences in Hollywood, and, of course, her beauty routine.
Congratulations on the show! How does it feel to be a part of such an iconic franchise?
"Growing up, I was aware of the pop culture impact that this show had—when it aired in its Saturday morning slot, the comfort that it brought to people. I think getting to bring it back in this way, telling conversations that are so apt for this time...it's super exciting. And also having a diverse cast that brings so much more representation to the screen, in a way we've never seen before, is even more exciting. It's a great combination of a lot of things that I'm excited about, and I'm happy to be a part of it."
What's it like playing Lexi?
"She is everything—she's every person's dream. This girl's in heels 24/7, she looks like she’s going to the Met Gala when she's literally going to homeroom, which has been my dream. I definitely did not live that experience in my own catholic high school. I may have thought that I was the queen of my school, but I had great nuns reminding me that I was not worth anything. So that was important for my self-esteem; it never skyrocketed that high. She's just a fun character but then throughout the season, you get to see how dynamic she is and how wonderfully written the character is. It makes it so fun to play the role but it's also really entertaining to watch it as well."
You said in this Time essay, "But when my friends and family call me Josie, it feels like I’m being seen." Can you describe one of the first times you felt seen as a trans female?
"I feel so valued and loved by my family and my friends, and those are the people that I identify with. First and foremost—before you know I'm an actor or anything else—I'm a sister, I'm a daughter and I'm a friend. I really, really appreciate those relationships and those are the people that make me feel valued and seen."
What has your experience been like as a trans female in Hollywood? What do you think the industry can do better?
"I'm definitely super excited that with our show, we're seeing these new people represented on screen—and on other shows, people are starting to do that too. I think the more we hire diverse creators and they are storytellers and writers, the more we will have the most authentic representation—not only on screen, but behind as well, which I think is where we need to be in order to reach a balance that is so far needed."
What can allies do for the trans community?
"I think allies can do their research, and go into anything they don't know with an open heart and an open mind. They should know that it's okay to not know everything and it's okay to make mistakes, but it's better you show up there stumbling, instead of just not showing up at all. And I think if you really do lead with love and you're willing to learn through empathy, then there's really nothing you can do wrong."
How does it feel to be a trans female playing the lead in such an iconic show?
"I'm just so excited that people can finally see themselves on screen, and I think that's just so important. Just letting them know that they're not alone and that they can see someone who identifies with them living a happy, successful life."
What’s your beauty routine like?
"My beauty routine—it's either like nothing at all or everything. I definitely have days where I will not wear makeup for like 11 days in a row, but then if I'm going to do it I'm going to do it and I have a full step-by-step moment. Also, due to the COVID breakdown, I had so many months of just doing nothing—I worked with my makeup artist on the show to learn so many new tricks and now I'm like, fully into it!@ I have all the products that we use on our show and I go step-by-step, all the way."
Do you have any favorite affordable beauty products?
"I think something that a lot of people discount or maybe might not think of is like what goes under the foundation and for me, I'm obsessed with this product by Danessa Myricks—it's like a sparkly sort of shimmer. And it brightens your eye and putting that right under your concealer...it's everything and it looks so good."
How are you taking care of your mental health given the pandemic and everything going on in the world?
"My roommates and I have been spending a lot of time together on our front lawn reading and journaling and drinking our coffee. We definitely hold each other with love and compassion—we hold it down over here for sure."