Every aspiring actor dreams of that special Cinderella moment when all of their creative dreams come true from the one part that changes everything. Tyler DiChiara is finally living out this moment as he takes audiences on a new journey through Gotham as Cullen Row in Gotham Knights. Which is a long way from where he first got a taste of acting in a high school production of Cinderella with a trans princess and DiChiara playing the prince.
“My friend in high school, who was also trans, she and I were the only trans kids in our high school, so we bonded quite well. Her name was Tyler, too, and she made this little off off Broadway play about a Cinderella story, but with a trans woman as Cinderella,” said DiChiara. “I was playing the prince and it was my first ever, cisgendered male role, if you will. It was so much fun because it was just a bunch of kids getting together and doing something that we really all felt confident on. It was such a good way to get my legs wet in the journey of acting.”
DiChiara was soon approached via Instagram by a casting director who knew that he would be the perfect fit for the role of trans teen Kai in the independent film Relish. The film, written and directed by Justin Ward, became DiChiara’s transition point from theatre to film, an opportunity he cherishes dearly.
His hard work in the film was noticed, as was his natural talent as the character Kai. He was soon able to connect with an agent. Roles in The Virgin of Highland Park and Our Language is Chaos soon followed, but a career lull pushed DiChiara into the service industry, for a stint, to make ends meet.
“And then after Relish, it was kind of slow at the time and I just went to just do the regular 9 to 5 jobs, work my butt off, went home, and did some auditions. I got a lot of rejections, but those rejections led me to Gotham Knights,” said DiChiara. “I had those breaks from auditioning, struggling and wondering if this was even worth it. So, I’ve had those highs and those lows, but when Gotham Knights came into my lap, I knew this was mine.”
Thankfully, he never lost his stride. Each audition and rejection made DiChiara hungrier for the opportunity to live out his dreams as an actor. And while his job as a server was making ends meet, his heart was in acting. Serendipitously, he received an audition for the role of Cullen Row. That audition led to various callbacks that then turned into a phone call letting him know that his time as a server was over and his time in Gotham would start soon.
“When I got the call that I got the part, I was on my way to go to my regular job to be a waiter at California Pizza Kitchen. I was not okay going because that job was just draining me,” said DiChiara. “So, when I got that call from my agent, I was breaking down into tears. As an actor, that’s the thing that you want to hear, is your team just celebrating you. This career is not stable, but it all worked out in the end and I’m very grateful to be playing Cullen Row on Gotham Knights. It was a very long journey, but we got here.”
Already a DC (and Marvel) fan, jumping into the role of Cullen Row meant that he already had plenty of research for his new job. Batman is his favorite character, but in this DC show, the “Caped Crusader” is no longer alive. Gotham Knights instead focuses on the aftermath of Batman’s death through the eyes of a new generation of Gothamites. Bruce Wayne’s adopted son, Turner Hayes (Oscar Morgan), the current Robin (Navia Robinson) and the children of several Gotham villains (DiChiara, Fallon Smythe, and Olivia Rose Keegan) are blamed for his murder, forcing the crew of kids to band together to clear their names and uncover the truth behind Bruce Wayne’s death.
And DiChiara’s Cullen Row is a part of this unlikely alliance. Cullen is the brother of Harper Row (Smythe) and the two band together to emancipate themselves from the clutches of their abusive father.
“Cullen Roe is a very underestimated character, even in the comic books. We’re based off the Batman Eternal comics, and he was always victimized and had to have his sister save him. He’s the queer guy in the comic book who just can’t stand up for himself for some reason. But with Cullen in the series, he don’t take no bullshit,” said DiChiara. “This is his life and he’s not going to let anyone dictate it, especially not his abusive father, especially not anyone on the streets of Gotham.”
In the comics, both Row siblings are queer, with Harper being cisgender and bisexual (with a crush on Batwoman) and Cullen being cisgender and gay (with a crush on Tim Drake’s Robin). In Gotham Knights, Harper will still be cisgender and bisexual, while this rendition of Cullen is transmasculine.
The beautiful component to this part is having a trans actor play a trans youth on-screen, adding more trans representation to DC properties. This isn’t the first time The CW has brought trans characters to TV. Supergirl‘s character Dreamer (played by trans actress Nicole Maines) was the first trans superhero on the network. Now, DiChiara follows in Maines’ footsteps by Cullen to TV screens all over.
“This Cullen Row that we’re about to see in Gotham is not only transgender, but we see just a normal, everyday man who just so happens to be transgender.”
The role is one that’s near and dear to DiChiara’s heart. It also brings forth more positive trans representation into a space where queerness and transness exist in comics, but are seldom shown on-screen in superhero properties.
“Seeing someone on-screen who’s like you and you can, just for a moment, go into their world to get away from the world that you’re in, if I can be that moment just for kids or for anyone, I did my job as an actor,” said DiChiara.
For DiChiara, that escape came from Laverne Cox’s Sophia Burset on Orange Is the New Black. Cox showed him that he could be trans and an actor. Neither are exclusive when it comes to living your truth and highlighting it in on-screen.
“If I got you out of that situation, just for a second, to get [you] into another world to feel like you’re not alone. That’s what Laverne Cox was for me. She kind of helped me realize I’m trans,” said DiChiara. “So not only did she make me realize one thing about myself, but she always also helped me realize I wanted to be an actor. I applaud her so much and if I can help someone realize something, how she helped me, I want to be there for that.”
Now, DiChiara will become the very thing that caused him to go after an acting career, an inspiration. His presence in Gotham Knights will redefine the DC television properties in a more positive and inclusive direction. Of course, any revamp or spin-off of a series comes with naysayers, but DiChiara has hope in the show that kept his hope in acting alive.
“I just hope they can put their judgment aside. What’s funny is, I actually went to the Supernatural convention with Misha Collins the other day to introduce the pilot to some of the members, but everyone seemed to really enjoy it,” said DiChiara. “And when I was signing some things, a DC fan came up to me and he’s like, ‘Hey, I got to tell you, I thought it was going to suck, but I really enjoyed it.’ And I was like, ‘Well, yeah, that’s what happens when you give things a try.’ And even if you don’t like it, you gave it a try. I just want people to give us a try. Put all of what you know about the other Batman’s to the side, because in this universe, this is totally different. This is our universe.”
DiChiara knows what happens when you give something or someone a chance. If he hadn’t been given one, we wouldn’t be able to witness history in the making.
Gotham Knights premieres on The CW on March 14.