Cloud Atlas, a sprawling exploration of humankind in six different eras, posits that we’re all interconnected and our actions have consequences that reverberate across generations. It also suggests that souls exist through time, independent of bodies. (Tom Hanks, for example, plays a doctor in 1849, a hotel manager in 1936, a nuclear scientist in 1973, a novelist in 2012, an actor in 2144 and a villager far in the future.) So it makes sense that one of the film’s three co-directors has decided that now is the time to discuss a major transformation in her own life.
Lana Wachowski, who made the Matrix trilogy with her younger brother Andy (and shared the direction of Cloud Atlas with Andy and their friend Tom Tykwer), is transgender, and until 2002 was called Larry. There were rumours, but since the Wachowskis always have no-press clauses in their contracts and avoid interviews and publicity tours, nothing was confirmed. Until last month, that is, when a promotional video for the film, showing Lana in pink dreads, went viral, and this week, when an interview she and her brother gave to Aleksandar Hemon appeared in The New Yorker.
Almost instantly, the Internet was alight with details: how, for example, in third grade in a new Catholic school, Larry didn’t know whether to stand in line with the boys or the girls, and preferred standing between them, “exactly where I belonged: betwixt.”
The New Yorker article revealed that while shooting the last two Matrix installments in Australia, Larry separated from his wife and struggled with anxiety, insomnia and depression. After he opened up about being transgender to his family, which they accepted unconditionally, she began living as Lana, completed her divorce, and eventually married another woman in 2009. “I chose to change my exteriority to bring it closer into alignment with my interiority,” she told Hemon, adding, “I know that many people are dying to know if I have a surgically constructed vagina or not, but I prefer to keep this information between my wife and me.”
At the press conference for Cloud Atlas on Sunday, it took 29 minutes before a reporter finally asked what prompted Lana to go public. The director, wearing an iridescent lilac dress and knitted black cardigan, folded into herself and giggled nervously.
Hanks, who was seated beside Lana, leaned in and said, “You knew this was coming.”
She started to explain: “I did feel some responsibility to the GLBT people, and some people had been asking me to be more public. But me and Andy, we love our privacy, our anonymity. Being a celebrity doesn’t do much to improve yourself. We think it can actually worsen your life. So it was a big decision and it took a long time.”
“We like the way our anonymity allows us to inhabit the world,” she added later. “You can go into a comic book shop or a movie store and you can just listen to people. We’re writers, we like people to act normal around us.”
“I knew that one day I would be more public,” Lana said. “And we had to negotiate when that would be. And this movie, which is about transcending our fear of ‘other’ in so many ways, and transcending the boundaries of ‘other’ – it seemed quite natural to do it now.”