I find Lachlan Watson lounging around on one of the black leather couches by the Elite Daily office entryway, nonchalantly sipping on an iced coffee. They're dressed in an oversized blazer, black jeans, and chunky booties, and their platinum hair is styled into a cropped cut. They look up and give me a warm, reassuring smile. Lachlan Watson's gender identity, along with their style, isn't confined by the binary — at just 18 years old, the actor is effortlessly too darn cool.
Watson portrays Theo Putnam, one of Sabrina Spellman's OG mortal friends, on Netflix's Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Theo is the voice of reason in his friend group, an amazing basketball player, and oh, he just happens to have a hidden talent for contacting his dead ancestors. But Theo is perhaps most notable for how his character authentically depicts the coming-out narrative of a young trans man.
When Watson first auditioned for Theo, the character was written as having already transitioned — Watson didn't even know that Netflix had decided to rewrite the show until they arrived on set and were led to a trailer marked with Theo's deadname, Susie. Watson tells me that many viewers mistakenly praised the network for casting a trans male in a role for a trans man, but Watson immediately makes one thing clear: They are not a trans man. Lachlan Watson is a proud, non-binary actor who tells Elite Daily that they struggled with the idea that they would only be typecast to play people like themselves.
"I’ve been fighting my whole career to play a role that isn’t me, because for the longest time those were the only roles I got, so I was never given the opportunity to be an actor," Watson says. "The first thing I ever did was this really bad movie that I ended up getting cut out of, but I was playing me, with leukemia. Next, I was cast as me, in a court of law. My only job was to memorize, repeat, and look believable. Being cast as Theo was finally just enough to break me out of that cycle. This actually counts as acting, because I wasn’t cast as non-binary. I was cast as this really nice, trans guy. I’m not playing me, now — I’m playing me two years ago!"
Watson fell in love with acting growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina, and began participating in community theater. At just 13 years old, they discovered a vibrant, thriving queer community on stage, and first began to explore the many facets of their identity. "I had these incredible lesbian role models, these cis, gay men who were just living their lives," Lachlan says. "I knew I wasn’t the default, so I just assumed I was a lesbian. But I knew that wasn’t right." If they weren't a lesbian women, they thought, perhaps they were a trans man. "I was never allowed the space to be in a gray area, because I lived in a world of labels," they explain.
When Watson came out as a trans man a year and a half later, something unexpected happened: They began to get cast in trans roles — a Hallmark movie that never came to pass, as well as minor parts on Drop Dead Diva and Nashville. Suddenly, the industry was able to typecast them in a different way, to check off what Watson calls a different "diversity box." Watson thought they'd feel content — but this gender identity still didn't quite fit for Watson, and the pressure to define who they are began to feel constrictive. Watson began researching testosterone therapy as a potential solution to their dysphoria. The actor recalls looking through a five-page list of the side effects of the therapy, and feeling a sharp pain in their gut. They hesitated.
Watson decided to go with their instincts by not taking testosterone. "Something felt wrong — I was imagining having a more masculine body and it was making me even more dysphoric." Watson says. "I didn’t want to grow a beard or lower my voice. I wanted to look totally androgynous."
Watson once again went through the experience of "coming out" by rejected the binary all together. "As humans, our whole M.O. is being scared of what we don’t understand or can’t define," they say. "We like neat packages that we can unpack, and when someone doesn’t have that, we don’t know how to deal with it."
A year after initially considering testosterone, Watson opted instead to undergo top surgery. This time around, they didn't hesitate for a second. "I used my power to trust my instincts to be myself," they explain. "Your shell does not define you — it’s not who you are."
Afterwards, Watson says they finally felt a sense of peace within their body. "I have always had this one shirt that’s just my favorite shirt in the world — it’s this vintage, slinky, soft mesh material, a black and white striped crop top T-shirt." Their face lights up as they speak. "When I had a chest, the lines weren’t straight and it would bug me. That was the first shirt I put on after having top surgery, when I didn’t have to wear the compression vest, got all the bandages off and the drains out. It was just me in the mirror. I started crying uncontrollably. I called my mom sobbing. 'The lines are straight!' It felt amazing."
The actor emphasizes how grateful they are for their mother, who stuck by them throughout their entire journey. "We have this idea of a queer journey," Watson says. "You get one 'coming-out,' and that’s it. But I never had that. Me and my mom went through that experience together. News flash: Nobody is comfortable about anything! And that’s fine, because what matters is saying, 'That’s OK and I love you.'"
Now that Watson identified as non-binary, though, casting directors appeared to grow confused about where exactly Watson would fit, and they had more trouble landing roles than ever. "Since queer people can’t play anything other than queer roles — haha! — I was caught," Watson explains. "Nobody would cast me as anything other than myself, but there [are] no roles like me."
Enter: Theo Putnam, a trans man who viewers first meet pre-transition. Theo's story arc is rooted in courage. Above all, his greatest strength is his vulnerability. Watson describes Theo's initial coming-out scene in Part 2, Episode 3, as well written, but unrealistic: Theo comes out to his father, who in turn accepts him unconditionally, without asking any questions. After reading the final draft, Watson drove down to the set to beg the writers to change it.
"I knew that there were many queer kids that could be looking at this scene to change their lives — with that amount of pressure, I felt very passionate about showing more [than what was initially written in the script]," Watson explains. "I’ve never played a role that discovers queer power before. It was crazy intimidating. I was absolutely terrified, so worried that I would be overstepping my bounds. But I was so hyperaware of the millions of queer kids that could have their eyes glued to the screen, who have never seen their story told before — ever. That was too important to rush, or get over with. So, I used my voice."
Along with MJ Kaufman, a CAOS writer who identifies as trans, Watson helped reshaped the script to create what ultimately became the show's — IMHO — most human moment in Chapter 14: "Lupercalia," which aired on April 5. Theo tells his father that he's a boy, and ultimately, his father agrees to take him to get his hair cut. Instead of a neatly-written scene in which Theo's father embraces his son wholeheartedly, the final version depicts a lack of understanding, but acceptance — Theo's father says he will miss his little girl, but takes his son to get his head buzzed anyway. "I get an onslaught of DMs from queer people saying 'This was beautiful' or 'Thank you for this scene, I’ve never seen this done on screen,'" Watson tells me, smiling. "I cried."
Romper critiqued this pivotal moment, claiming that the scene didn't feel "messy or complex" enough, but Watson explains that Theo's story wasn't even supposed to be part of the show's narrative to begin with. "All of Part 1, I was a guest star — I think I was supposed to die like two episodes in," Watson says. "They kept writing me into things. But I think they recognized the potential Theo had and the change they could affect. I would love to explore more of that messy journey and thought process, but the defining moments were there. The fact that I was given anything at all, that Theo even exists… for now, that’s enough."
So, what's next for Watson? The actor is exploring their new status as a young Hollywood style icon. For years, Watson tells me they've worn black and white suits, dress shirts, and suspenders. Their decision to wear a dress to the CAOS premiere in Oct. 2018 was controversial.
"Everyone in my life was like, 'I thought you were non-binary. Why aren’t you wearing a suit? I thought you weren’t a woman?'" Watson realized that dressing more femme made those around them, even close friends and family, feel uncomfortable. "I thought I had to reaffirm the binary by rejecting my binary-clothing. But that is hypocritical. I decided to wear a dress and look amazing. Nobody could wrap their heads around it! I’m going to wear what makes me feel so comfortable, happy, free, and powerful."
Watson is also working with DoSomething.org’s “Take Back the Prom” campaign, inspired by high school students sharing prom discrimination they’ve experienced, from schools denying interracial and LGBTQIA+ couples attendance, to students being turned away because of their dates’ ethnicity or gender identity. "I’m a part of a protest to take back the prom for queer kids, but in reality, it was never ours," Watson says, referring to the dance's heteronormative history. "We need to work to create a space for everyone, and prove that queer people don’t have to take anything back. Feeling free needs to be a basic human right."
Watson still has one major thing to check-off their to-do list: win an Oscar. There's only one problem — they don't fit into a single category. "That’s been on my bucket list since I was a child, that’s every actor’s dream," Watson says. "But I’m never going to win an Oscar because it would be a political statement. If I was nominated in the men’s or women’s category, there would be outrage, and they’ll never create a gender-neutral category. But still, I hope to be at the Oscars one day."
As our hour together comes to a close, Watson sips the last of their iced coffee and walks toward the elevator bank. Suddenly, they stop in their tracks before turning around, like they'd remembered something they'd forgotten. "We are not defined by what makes or breaks us," they tell me, as if practicing their Oscars acceptance speech. "What matters is who we want to be and what we want to do, not what we are or what we represent to other people." And with that, Lachlan Watson struts out of my office and onto the red carpet of the New York City pavement.