Misha Osherovich won’t be your snarky gay best friend. They’ll call you out for getting possessed by a murderous butcher played by Vince Vaughn.
Osherovich, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, appears in the new comedy-thriller Freaky, available on VOD. Nebbish teen Millie (Kathryn Newton) unintentionally switches bodies with notorious local serial killer the Blissfield Butcher (Vaughn). It’s on Millie’s best friends Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Osherovich) to swap her back into her real body before she kills the entire high school and becomes the inspiration for a Lifetime movie.
Freaky is a simple comedy with a surprising heart. That’s thanks in part to Osherovich, who turns a snarky sidekick into a nuanced queer teen who’s more concerned about their friendships than sick burns or Grindr hookups.
It’s an interesting time for Osherovich to be promoting the film, nearly a year after production wrapped. This summer, Osherovich came out as nonbinary, and Freaky now serves as an unexpected time capsule for their evolving identity.
Currently quarantining in Los Angeles, Osherovich hopped on a Zoom with me just a few days after fellow actor Elliot Page came out as transgender. We discussed the future of queer representation in Hollywood, what it’s like coming out to conservative Soviet Russian-emigrant parents and why they want to see a queer holiday rom-com that’s not Happiest Season. (Interview edited for length and clarity.)
How did you approach crafting your character, Josh? He’s outwardly gay, but that’s not his entire storyline.
It goes back to the audition. I did a Zoom test with Christopher Landon, our director, before I even had the role. At the end of working some of the scenes, he asked me if I had any comments. [I said,] “Yeah, if you give me the role, I’m gonna make this kid a fully fleshed-out human being. I’m not a queer person that’s in the business of playing off tropes for the sake of being in tropes — I want it to be a human.” Apparently, I said the right thing.
That’s an awesome response. How’d he take it?
He was definitely surprised. Ultimately, that led to a really notable process on set where Chris, our other queer co-writer Michael Kennedy and I took the time to make sure that what Josh was saying and doing was actually representative of a queer human being. Some scenes got reworked because we wanted to make sure that Josh was not just likable for the sake of being likable.
What’s one scene that was reworked after that conversation?
The scene where Josh ends up alone with a supposedly straight jock. Right off the bat, Chris and Michael said to me, “You know, we’re not sure about this scene. We want to kind of figure it out.” Without revealing too much, that scene used to paint Josh in a very different light. It used to kind of serve the comedy and the ridiculousness of the film. But at that point in the film, we realize Josh isn’t the kind of character that’s going to in any way abandon his best friend even for a moment.
You’d not yet come out as nonbinary when shooting Freaky?
Correct. I had just come to the term “gender-nonconforming” for myself. I told my agents. I told my managers. It was all very affirming for me but not a big public announcement. [I was] still using he/him pronouns at the time. “They” was also an acceptable new thing I was trying.
During quarantine, you have a shit-ton of time to think. It just came at me all at once, that I don’t feel comfortable and at home in the term “man” or he/him pronouns. I don’t like thinking of myself that way. It doesn’t feel [like] me. That’s how nonbinary and the transition to they/them pronouns came about.
You recently told Variety about coming out as gay to your parents years ago. Have you come out to your parents as nonbinary?
Yes, I have, to the extent that I can. It’s so different in Russia, especially in Soviet Russia, where my parents grew up. I’m incredibly privileged and lucky that now I can — even if they don’t understand the terminology — have this conversation with my parents. They understand they’re going to see a lot of pictures of me in various forms of gender representation in the media. That’s okay, and this is how I identify now. They might never really get the hang of they/them pronouns, and they might never really understand the soul behind the term nonbinary. But that’s okay with me because we’re at a place where I can at least talk to them about it. When I was younger, I was very much outed to my parents in a very kind of messy and not-so-fun way. They did not take it well. Again, that’s because of who they are and where they come from.
I’m curious if you noticed a difference in how they responded to you coming out as nonbinary since you’d come out to them as gay before.
There’s some progress. My dad is certainly the harder sell on this. He and I don’t really communicate that much. We’re really okay with that. My mom is my point person in my family. At the end of the day, all they ever wanted is for me to be safe and to have a “successful” life. They grew up in a place where being gay, queer or anything immediately meant not safe and not successful. So to see me making headway in a career that’s incredibly difficult and creating art that is getting some kind of traction in the festival circuit, they take that into account. They realize, Oh, our queer child is quite successful in their own right. That means that it must be rather safe and okay to be queer. They’re putting those pieces together.
What’s it like to have to so heavily reflect on filming Freaky, a moment in which you weren’t out?
The answer is I don’t, both in a public-facing and in a career way at all, have issues with the character that I’ve just played in this film. I don’t think I’ll have issues playing cis- or he/him-presenting characters in the future.
Even in the past few months, auditioning for nonbinary characters from home on self-tapes, I’ve been told countless times my auditions are that much better and real: “Wow, you’re so grounded. What happened?” Even when I’m auditioning for traditionally male characters, I’m coming at it from an understanding that I am nonbinary. I’m so proud of it, and people know that. So it just gives you this ridiculous confidence boost. If anything, I’m actually just quite sad that I didn’t come to this realization a bit earlier so that maybe I could have that much more confidence executing this role. I don’t think it really matters what the role’s pronouns are. I’m so much more me now, and it’s really just kind of a little superpower that I’m glad that I’ve harnessed.
Have you auditioned for more queer, specifically nonbinary roles recently?
Yeah, there’s absolutely an uptick. I don’t think it has to do with me personally being nonbinary to start getting these roles. When I first started getting scripts for nonbinary characters and auditioning for them, I was genuinely concerned. Are these going to be really problematic, really shallow or really under-researched? I’ve been happily surprised that they’re not. Some really amazing writing has come across my little desk, and I’m happy to see Hollywood aggressively trying to keep up with the demand for queer representation.
Why is it important that nonbinary characters are written with nonbinary and queer people’s voices as part of their formation?
I’ve always said this as I’ve come into my own little bit of queerness: Being queer is not being the other. It’s celebrating being in the other. For so long, being queer has been the opposite of that. It’s been feeling shunned or it’s been feeling like you don’t have a place in society.
It’s important that every queer person’s experience is represented onscreen. You can have tokenized characters and you can have characters that come from a traditionally more represented queer experience, like the “white Hell’s Kitchen gay,” but that’s not nearly the extent of the queer experience.
Straight people, for a very specific reason, kind of have it easy. They have everything from their Oscar winners to shitty Christmas movies. They’re bathed in all kinds of experiences onscreen that they see as part of themselves. We don’t see that. There’s such a limited amount of queer content, and the pressure is on us to have such good queer content all the time. I want a shitty queer Christmas movie. Granted, we kind of got that with Hulu.
Did you watch Happiest Season?
I’ll spare your thoughts on the film. But, yes, we deserve to have an array of queer films.
We hear these wonderful stories about queer kids growing up watching things like Moonlight, and their lives have been changed by it. That’s so brilliant and perfect. But when I was a kid, I was incredibly lonely. I had no friends. My family was just the opposite of supportive of me, so I would have loved a cartoon or a silly Disney movie. Something that was easily accessible for me, in which I saw queer people and [could say], Oh, that’s me. My mental health as an adult and even as a child would have been so much better if I had that varying representation.
What was the representation that you latched onto as a kid?
We were at a beach, and my vision was really bad back then. You know the boats that carry the banners across the water? I asked my dad, “What does that say?” My dad kind of turns and he goes, “Best…” — his face drops — “dancing on the beach.” He walks away. I run back, get my glasses and I see [it reads], “Best gay dancing on the beach.” I was 6 then, so it would be another six to seven years before I even knew what gay was, that it was a thing people were and there was queerness in the world. My parents really did keep that from me, probably in an effort to protect me.
I wanted to ask you about Elliot Page. As an up-and-coming actor, do you think his announcement may help bring more attention to transgender and nonbinary roles?
Everybody on my team actually texted me excited about this queer presence that has just splashed all over the news. Yeah, that’s fucking amazing. I struggle with this a little bit because I think that so often we can fall slightly into praising folks for being exactly who they’ve always wanted to be. Only celebrating the positive, as opposed to acknowledging the probably long and arduous journey it took for them to get there to say it publicly.
I hope that my career going forward is absolutely tinged by and influenced in celebration of my queerness. But, just like Elliot, my talent is really what’s at the forefront of everything. It doesn’t matter what my representation is. It doesn’t matter what my presentation is. It matters what I’m bringing to the table. That’s actual representation: when queerness is celebrated but it’s also not the first thing that people think about.
Queer performers are often asked more about their roles as a representation in Hollywood than the nuances of the characters they play. Is that something that you’ve noticed in promoting Freaky?
First of all, I play a queer role in a film written by two queer filmmakers. So, from the Freaky standpoint, no, I don’t mind talking about it.
I can’t shut up about both queerness and mental health. I personally struggled with mental health, especially in relation to my budding queerness, because I did not have the vocabulary. Nobody was talking about it when I was younger, especially not around me. So if my job for the moment is to get up here in all these frickin’ interviews and talk about the importance of mental-health care — how it’s okay to be depressed, be anxious and be struggling with your body image or body dysmorphia — then, fine. I’ll do it because I love it. I love that I’m saying things that were so taboo at one point and that I did not get to hear as a kid.