“Lavender Haze” Star Laith Ashley Breaks Down Filming With Taylor Swift
The transgender model opens up about working with Swift on set and what his casting could signify for trans communities.
Taylor Swift’s “Lavender Haze” music video is a work of art. And with its casting of transgender model, actor, singer, and activist Laith Ashley as Swift’s love interest, it’s also a much-needed show of allyship at a time when trans people’s rights and protections are being threatened and revoked in several U.S. states.
For Ashley, this kind of simple yet significant representation can go a long way. “It’s two people loving each other and one of the people happens to be trans, and it doesn't matter,” he tells Bustle. “Why does it concern folks to that extent? That our existence becomes something that’s so threatening to yours when it’s not.”
Swift praised her onscreen love interest on Twitter, calling him “an incredible costar who I absolutely adored working with.” Ashley reciprocated on Instagram, describing his filming experience as “truly magical” and calling her an ally. “Your storytelling abilities through your music and visuals continues to leave me in awe, inspired, and hopeful,” he wrote. “Thank you for being an ally. Representation matters. AND LOVE WILL ALWAYS WIN!”
Below, Ashley opens up about working with Swift as a director, how he got cast, and how he hopes it will change how others view transgender people.
On Working With Taylor Swift
When Ashley first heard about Swift’s offer, he was in disbelief. “My manager reached out and told me that Taylor wanted me in her music video and I thought it was a joke,” he recalls. “I didn’t know that someone that big would even know who I am. Eventually, we had fittings and the shoot dates down, and next thing I know, I’m shooting a music video in bed with Taylor Swift.”
In typical Swiftian fashion, all of the details were a secret — including what song the video was even for. Ashley didn’t hear a single note of Midnights before anyone else, as Swift wore a device in her ear on set to sync with the music. That meant, like all Swifties, he had to do some detective work. “When she started day-by-day putting out the song names, I was trying to piece everything together,” he recalls. “I saw ‘Lavender Haze’ and I saw ‘Midnight Rain’ and I was just like, going off of what we shot, it’s either one of those two songs. Because there’s a weatherman and it’s raining and the cloud over her head, but then there’s also all the lavender haze that’s everywhere.”
Despite not getting the sneak peek fans may expect, Ashley calls being directed by Swift an incredible experience. “I had to put 100% of my trust in her,” he says. “She was so kind and so open and welcoming. She made me feel so comfortable. I was just kind of a nervous wreck, trying to play it off cool, but I definitely was not.” When Ashley was nervous about things like lifting her up at the end of the video, Swift gave him reassurance. “Literally, I was so afraid to touch her. I didn’t want her to feel disrespected... Even in that party scene where I carry her, I was like, ‘Hey, is it okay if I carry you in this?’ And she jumped up and was like, ‘Let’s do it.’”
On Becoming A Model & Going Viral Thanks To Laverne Cox
Ashley’s modeling career first got a bump came after his Instagram modeling photos were shared by Laverne Cox in 2015. Since then, he’s posed in campaigns for brands like Guess, Diesel, Calvin Klein, and Barneys, and appeared in magazines like British GQ and Vogue France. He’s also branched out into the acting world, appearing on Pose, becoming the first transgender pit crew member on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and even starring in his first feature film, the upcoming indie comedy My Divorce Party.
Yet modeling wasn’t always the game plan. Ashley studied business, psychology, and sociology in college and worked at an LGBTQ+ health center after graduating. It was only after a photographer discovered him on Instagram that he ventured into the modeling and entertainment worlds. “I had been working on my body, I didn't have a lot of money, and I’m getting these photos taken for free,” he says. “I was like, ‘You know what? Let me take advantage of this opportunity.’ I bought myself a pair of white Calvin Klein underwear, and I asked him like, ‘Would you mind taking some more photos? ... And those were the photos that went viral.”
On Trans Rights & Representation
After his big music video moment, Ashley’s goal is to become even more vocal, especially about transgender issues. In January 2023 alone, over 150 anti-trans bills have been introduced across 25 states. Additionally, at least 37 transgender people were killed by violent means in 2022.
“I think that we need to be more vocal now about pushing back against this language,” Ashley says. “They’re not seeing the real-world consequences that it has for us. People are dying, people are arming themselves and going into queer safe spaces... Anyone that hates LGBT people can just show up and decide that they want to cause harm, and that's just not right, and that's not what America is about.”
If you or someone you know is seeking help for LGBTQ+ mental health or safety concerns, call The Trevor Project's 24/7 Lifeline at 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (1-866-488-7386). You can also reach out for instant message or text message support via TrevorChat and TrevorText, respectively. For additional resources for trans people, call the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860. In an emergency, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988, or call 911.