Josie Totah as Lexi in Peacock's Saved by the Bell
Josie Totah was shopping in Nordstrom with her grandmother when her agent called with exciting news — Emmy-winning writer–executive producer Tracey Wigfield had written a role for her on Peacock’s Saved by the Bell revival.
“It’s definitely not a call that I’m used to receiving, and I was honored and grateful,” says the actress, who can also be seen in the Netflix movie Moxie, directed by Amy Poehler. Totah began her acting career as a child in the series Jessie before moving on to shows like Glee and Champions.
Soon after that call from her agent, Totah met Wigfield for coffee in downtown Los Angeles, and Wigfield (who won her Emmy for writing on 30 Rock) told Totah all about Lexi Haddad-DeFabrizio, the popular cheerleader–mean girl she wrote with her in mind.
Like Totah, Lexi would be a transgender female.
Totah, who shared her gender identity and pronouns — she/her/hers — with the world in a personal essay in Time magazine in 2018, wanted the role, but she had one condition.
“I wasn’t willing to do the show had I not been given a producer role,” Totah says. “The only way for me to tell the most accurate story possible and to do it right was to have more involvement in the show creatively.
“I am a college student,” she adds, noting she’s majoring in film at Chapman University in Orange, California. “So to pull me away from my education, which is really important to me, it had to be something that was worth it. And it wouldn’t have been worth it if I had not had the opportunity to produce.”
That wasn’t an issue for Wigfield. In fact, Totah says Wigfield “empowered me to take on that role and guided me as a mentor.”
Lexi is a well-rounded character whose gender identity is not the focus of her storyline. “I thought it was an incredible chance to tell a trans character’s story without making it everything to do with her being trans,” Totah says.
In season one (season two was greenlit this year), Lexi transcends mean-girl tropes to become an ally when she realizes how classism and racism affect other students at Bayside High.
Totah is proud of that storyline. “She’s doing what a lot of Americans are doing right now,” she says of Lexi, “which is opening their eyes to the rest of the world and learning how to be better people and better allies.”
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 7, 2021