November 22, 2021
Just a few months after their hit play “Acha Bacha” (“Good Child”) — about a Pakistani Canadian man who must balance his Muslim upbringing with his queer identity — had wrapped production in 2018, playwright Bilal Baig found themselves broke. Writing plays in Toronto wasn’t exactly lucrative, and they started to feel disenchanted with the theater world. They considered going back to school, but instead gave acting a go, in the play “Theory.” Though they didn’t share a single scene, Baig and co-star Fabrizio Filippo (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Queer As Folk, Save Me) became fast friends. One day, Filippo asked Baig if they would ever be interested in television.
“I was terrified of that platform and medium,” Baig shared, their kohl-rimmed eyes growing wide at the memory. But as they got to know each other, “It was ‘we can be co-show-runners, co-executive producers, co-writers.’ It always felt equal. It came with all of this responsibility and power, and that felt safer.”
There’s nothing typical or safe about the journey Baig, a 27-year-old Mississauga-born, Toronto-based playwright-turned-television writer and actor, has taken. They are soft-spoken, and have an endearing habit of thinking out loud, their smile rarely faltering. You’d have no clue that, with their new CBC/HBO Max series Sort Of, they’ve hit a new high and become the first South Asian, queer Muslim actor to star in an internationally-available television series. Sort Of, which first premiered on Canada's public broadcaster on October 5 before releasing more widely on HBO Max on November 18, centers Sabi, a gender-fluid Pakistani Canadian who is nanny by day, bartender by night, and person-in-transition all day long. Their family, work life, love life, you name it, is in flux, and they’re trying to piece it together one day at a time.
“I’m drawn to what’s impossible. I love something that feels just a little out of my reach,” Baig told me, having tackled their identity in many of their previous projects. Sort Of, however, feels like a turning point — not just for Baig as a creator, but the television landscape, which has never had a lead like Sabi. Much like Sabi, in bringing Sort Of to their largest platform yet, Baig has found themselves yet again in transition — moving from playwright to television writer and actor, and from up-and-comer to star.