Make space on your DVR—transgender actress and advocate Jen Richards makes her official debut on CMT’s Nashville tonight at 9 p.m. The hit musical drama returns for a fifth season with a two-hour premiere, available on Hulu the day after it airs.
Richards joins the show as recurring character Allyson Del Lago, a physical therapist that helps main character Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) recover from a plane crash that kept series fans hanging at the end of season four.
Richards, whose casting was announced in September 2016, is the first openly transgender actor or actress to appear on CMT.
“I’m impressed by @NashvilleCMT. Giving an out trans woman a good role on a show like this is a risk, and they’ve been wonderful to me,” Richards tweeted after the announcement.
Other Nashville cast members are LGBTQ-welcoming. According to TV Guide, when it was unclear if the show would continue for a fifth season, several cast members (including lead actress Connie Britton) expressed that they would have a difficult time continuing to film in Tennessee given a recent anti-LGBTQ state law. The law allows counselors and therapists to refuse to serve clients whose lifestyles do not align with providers’ beliefs.
While most details about Richards’ character are being kept under wraps, the fact that she is transgender will not define her character.
“My guess is most people will have no idea that she’s trans until we talk about it,” says Nashville co-showrunner Marshall Herskovitz. “We don’t talk about it in the first episode, and I think that’s, in some way, part of what the conversation has to be in our country. I think so many people don’t really understand what it’s about, and I think Jen has been great that way. She’s great in the show.”
Beyond Nashville, Richards’ other projects include Her Story, an Emmy-nominated web drama that follows the dating lives of trans and queer women. Richards co-stars, co-directs, and co-produces the series.