Throughout the years, Isis King has thought about giving up on her dreams of becoming a successful working actress in Hollywood. But each time, her fans’ encouragement has kept her pushing along. That perseverance has paid off this month when she will be a series regular on a new Amazon romantic comedy “With Love.”
For King, a Prince George’s County native who made history as the first transgender contestant cast in “America’s Next Top Model,” this latest accomplishment might be the most significant.
“It’s more of the spotlight. It is something that I have been working toward for a long time,” King said. “All the feedback I’ve gotten has been really good. It’s exciting to be centered as an actress as opposed to a reality star or model. I’m just thankful.”
King, 36, plays Sol Perez, an oncologist, who may, or may not, find love on the ensemble cast series, which debuts Dec. 17.
“It’s not forced. It is timeless,” King explained of the five-episode show, in which each episode is set during a different holiday such as Valentine’s Day and July 4.
“You see a trans person being loved by their family and potentially finding love,” King shared. “It’s a first time a trans love story that is centered in a holiday movie and show. Regardless of background and ethnicity, everyone will love this show and find people they can identify with.”
King’s rise as an actress has been a 14-year process — making guest appearances in everything from soap operas such as “The Bold and the Beautiful” to Emmy-winning limited series like Netflix’s “When They See Us.”
In 2016, she moved to Los Angeles, which she attributes to an uptick in opportunities.
During this time King also decided to wait for the right project before acting again, which was difficult because she used to jump at almost every opportunity — regardless of pay.
“I just don’t think everyone else understands just how difficult it was for me to maneuver life after ‘Top Model’ with minimal opportunities and money to go along with those opportunities,” King said. “It took a long time to get opportunities that were financially beneficial. I was discovered when I was homeless. I come from a low-income family.”
Now King is choosier about what jobs she takes.
“Looking back, I used to want the accolades. But after that, I wanted to get paid,” she recalled. “We [her and her manager Britani Golden with Pink Hammer Entertainment] got to the point of saying no or countering offers. Sometimes it is a gamble, but that’s when you know your worth or put your foot down.”
Baltimore-based casting director Thea Washington is impressed with all the barriers King has overcome.
”Isis is one of the trailblazers we can add to the list of superstars who have started in reality,” Washington said. “I’m just so proud of her as she continues to defy all the odds in this industry.”
Washington, who has been a casting director for shows on networks such as Disney, OWN and HBO, also is struck by the significance of the Amazon show.
”Previously people of color and LGBTQ were marginalized to minimal roles; like the funny assistant, the BFF [best friend forever], the spicy employee and the flamboyant neighbor,” Washington said. ”Now we can see who they are, how they live, who they love, and how they love.”
Along the way, King fine-tuned her acting chops. But it didn’t stop nerves from coming into play with her most recent role, her first time as a series regular.
“I was really intimidated on this,” she admitted. “There are a number of people [castmembers] I watched on other shows. And then I had to constantly remind myself that I belong here.”
King’s growth as an actress continues to drive her.
“Unlike modeling, you constantly have to work on it,” she said. “There is always room for improvement. That’s what makes me excited.”
King is happy for the success of other transgender women of color — even when it means that they have won roles that she also pursued.
King said she was only able to audition for the role of Elektra Evangelista on the groundbreaking drama “Pose,” a job she ultimately lost to friend, a fellow Marylander Dominque Jackson. The two starred in a reality show about transgender models called “Strut” in 2016.
“I’m thankful for the show being critically acclaimed and helping to open the doors for other shows,” said King, who added the two knew each other from Baltimore’s Ballroom scene in the early 2000s.
King points to several interactions with fans who have told her how she has helped them transition or address their own sexuality as points of strength for her.
“Those are the moments that helped me see the impact,” King said.
Now, King is focused on long-term success as an actress.
She said she is inspired by the likes of Ava DuVernay, who directed her in “When They See Us,” a Netflix crime drama miniseries.
King also hasn’t even ruled out a return to reality television — hinting that she’s open to hosting or judging a reality show in the near future.
“I’m just getting started,” King said. “I want to be like [actress] Keke Palmer. I want a million jobs. I want a house with a pool. I’m going to keep on hustling.”
This article is part of our Newsmaker series that profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor Kamau High at email@example.com.