For Theo Kemp, his love of horror came early.
“The first film I ever remember seeing is Jaws,” he told me. “I was like six and I was watching Jaws and I was so into it!”
The road between that six year old and the energetic young actor I met when I was conducting interviews for iHorror’s Horror Pride Month series has been a long and sometimes difficult one.
You see, Theo hasn’t always been able to be himself. In fact, for the trans actor, just referring to himself for the first time as “he” was a big hurdle.
He had been bitten by the acting bug long before that admission, though, and he says he used to track down talent agents online and email them pretending to be his parents only to have to field phone calls and cajole them to go along with his ruse.
They might have taken the phone calls, but his parents insisted he wait until later to start really acting. He landed a few parts after graduating high school, and he admits he might have one of the most unique acting reels of anyone acting today and certainly among the actors he knows.
“I was working before I transitioned so now my acting reel has both pre- and post-transition video,” he laughs. “I’m always worried when I send it out that it will confuse directors as to which direction my transition is going.”
At the age of 22, while studying Meisner Acting Technique in Atlanta, Georgia, he finally spoke his truth to the world at large.
“I actually came out on National Coming Out Day in a live Facebook video,” Theo said. “I knew the only way I would get through it is if I couldn’t back out.”
Get through it, he did, though, and there was no turning back despite his intensely religious upbringing which supplied him with a lifetime’s worth of internalized guilt. Still, with a host of supportive friends, he was well on his way to really becoming who he was meant to be.
There was one special man, though, who became his rock. Not many trans people can say that their romantic partner pre-transition stood by them without ending that romantic relationship.
“I’ve been with my boyfriend, Zach, for 8 or 9 years, now,” Kemp explained. “He’s been with me through every step of this process. As a matter of fact, I came home one day before I came out and I was crying because of something someone had said. He was trying to get me to talk about it but I just couldn’t and he finally just said, ‘If you’re not going to tell me, can I guess?'”
Zach told Theo that sometimes, he was certain that Theo was a man, not a woman, and had been waiting for the actor to just say the words. Their relationship, though there were ups and downs, never faltered after that.
And through it all, Kemp has continued to hone his craft. His constant study has really paid off, and indie audiences will soon see the actor in his first role as a leading man.
The role is a man named Joe, and the film is called Fang, a new spin on the werewolf archetype.
“I was really nervous when I auditioned because I’m thin and not the typical leading man type,” Kemp said laughing. “It turned out that Joe has a drug problem so it wasn’t a problem at all for him to be thin and frail looking! He’s not a real stand up guy. He’s kind of bouncing from place to place with his girlfriend when she decides to visit family, which is where the real adventure begins.”
And by adventure, he means bloodshed, violence, and all the things he’s grown to love in the horror genre.
He also credits his director, Adam Steigert, for taking a chance on him.
“I love Adam so much. We had talked about working together before I left for Atlanta,” Kemp said. “I got back and saw that he was making Fang, but I looked a lot different than I did the last time I’d seen him. I called him up and he was so excited to hear from me. It didn’t phase him at all. Before I knew it, I was auditioning and had been cast.”
So, what is it in horror that attracts the young actor time and again?
“There’s this sort of cliche character in horror where the male protagonist has to go through some sort of protagonist to become stronger and develop into the hero,” the actor said. “I find characters who make a big transformation are easy for me to relate to because I’ve been through so many myself.”
He intends to continue working in the genre, as well, for as long as he can, and he even has a bucket list.
“It’s nothing like winning an Oscar,” Kemp explained. “I want to be the guy leaning through the door who whispers ‘Run!’ right before hands pull me into the dark. I want to crawl through an air duct. I want to do that film noir thing looking out from under a hat with a lit cigarette in my mouth.”
Personally, I hope Theo Kemp gets every one of those chances.