When the second season of “With Love” premieres June 2 on Amazon Prime, Isis King will continue to make history as one of the few transgender actresses to have a leading role in a major studio-backed romantic comedy.

King, 37, is used to breaking barriers on television.

In 2008, King became the first transgender woman cast on the powerhouse reality show “America’s Next Top Model.” She finished in 10th place. Three years later, she returned to the series for cycle 17, which was an all-star themed season.

From there, King began her rise as an actress, with her move to Los Angeles in 2016 serving as a game-changer.

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After being on the main cast of “Strut,” a reality show about transgender models, she appeared on shows such as “Shameless,” “Good Trouble,” and “The L Word: Generation Q.”

A breakthrough came when she was featured in Netflix’s Emmy-winning limited series “When They See Us.” The 2019 Ava DuVernay-directed project allowed King to become choosier in the future roles that she would accept.

“‘When They See Us’ really set me up,” she said. “Before it was ‘give me every little thing.’ Now, it has to make sense. It’s about the quality of the project and the way it looks. I just want everything I do to be quality.”

In 2021, she landed the biggest role of her career when she was named to the main cast of the ensemble series “With Love.” The show was renewed in 2022 for a six-episode second season.

In “With Love,” King stars as Sol Perez, an oncologist who is searching for love.

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“It means a lot for me to be on this show that showcases so much diversity. It focuses on a Latin family. There is also Asian representation. To have a beautiful show of diversity is important because it is so natural in the world I see. It is important. It’s been a dream for me to secure a series regular role.”

Like many successful Black actresses from Maryland, she attributes her upward trajectory, toughness and perseverance to her DMV roots.

“It’s because of our upbringings. I know that if I get an audition, I have to kill it. I have to go above and beyond,” the Prince George’s County native said. “You have to just show up and show out every single time.”

King remembered going back and forth from Maryland to Philadelphia and New York City as a teenager looking for opportunities.

“It is convenient,” she said. “The proximity to New York was really awesome. Plus, the DMV is so live. That helps too.”

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“Those variables help you to adapt when you go into this field. You adapt quickly. There are so many different flavors and competitions. It sets you up for those challenges when you go to Hollywood and New York. There, it’s nonstop.”

King knew that she had to leave Maryland in order to make it in the modeling and entertainment industry.

“I wasn’t really celebrated for being different in Maryland,” King said. “My family and I lost a lot of high school friends because I am trans. I went to New York and found a safe haven. I had the ballroom scene and work friends in New York City. Going to New York, I had a diverse group of friends. When I was home, I felt different. I didn’t want to go back.”

Jada Pickett Smith, Moses Ingram, Isis King and Mo'Nique all hail from Baltimore.
Jada Pinkett Smith, Moses Ingram, Isis King and Mo'Nique all hail from Maryland. (Getty Images)

The Baltimore Banner recently asked King a series of questions that covered everything from her “America’s Next Top Model” roots to the importance of representation on her show.

What can we expect from your character this season?

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Sol is more grounded in who they are, their fashion has elevated because of their career, and they are just way more confident in general. You’re going to see them this season really learn to stand up for themself as well.

Why is the series so important in 2023?

This show has so much natural diversity in it, and you see my character be so loved by family, friends, their partner, and have an amazing career as a doctor. That’s not something we usually see on TV with a trans character and that alone in this climate is very important.

What’s one of the toughest things you have had to overcome with this show?

For me, trying to work on my articulation with my mid-Atlantic accent was hard. It has been hard. I’m a little country and a little hood. It’s all mixed together. I get it. But we want to make sure everyone gets it. Coming into season two, it’s the one thing I have thought about more. Part of my flavor is my accent. I had to find the in-between.

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If the series returns for a third season, what do you hope happens to your character?

I would honestly love to see Sol and Miles move in together, I think that would be the next step and their relationship. Maybe a little bit more of Sol at the hospital as well, just more of them being the boss that they become!

It’s been two decades since ANTM debuted. How did the show change your life?

I mean, considering it’s been 15 years for myself personally still here doing interviews and having a career that’s only growing, I think that speaks for itself. I never would’ve thought all this would happen, I still think I’m just getting started and it’s all thanks to the show.

Knowing what you know now, would you have done ANTM in 2023?

(Laughter)

In 2023 I would hope to be a judge, or runway coach. If I ever do another competition, it will be for fashion design, or “Dancing with the Stars.”

What do you think about the criticism some former contestants have had with ANTM?

I mean I get it, but I am a product of the show. You are thrown out into the world and have to figure it out. Hard reality that many didn’t grasp. Also most of us were very young while doing the show, so that has to be taken into consideration. It was also a different time!

Why do you think you continue to excel in the entertainment industry?

I think that it has to do with perseverance. And remembering where I came from. And know that you have to spread our wings. You have to take those experiences and go and thrive. It’s about pushing through and keep going. Ninety-five percent of the industry is rejection. From the outside it seems like an easy breezy job. It’s not.

What is the key to Black actresses from the DMV ultimately becoming successful?

If you really want to go big, you have to venture out. When you come from the DMV, it really sets you up. If I am leaving home and my safe haven, I have to make it.

What was it like being trans and living in the DMV?

A lot of the time, you get a lot of opinions and viewpoints where everyone thinks the same. Even if you stay in your hometown, sometimes it is good to leave and diversify and explore. For me, and my family, me being trans, they didn’t understand it. I got away to meet different people. That helped me along the way. You kind of learn and go with the flow and get in where you fit in. The DMV does have queer spaces, but I don’t think it’s as progressive for openly trans people as it could be. I keep that in my mind whenever I go back. I haven’t been back since the pandemic.

What does gay Pride Month mean to you?

It means freedom! Freedom and self-expression.

What is the biggest obstacle that faces the Black trans community?

Our safety. Being supported and also being supportive.

What’s next for you as an actress?

The sky is the limit and I have so much more to do! I’m excited to see how that might unfold.

johnj.williams@thebaltimorebanner.com

John-John Williams IV is a diversity, equity and inclusion reporter at The Baltimore Banner. A native of Syracuse, N.Y. and a graduate of Howard University, he has lived in Baltimore for the past 17 years. 

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