Interview: Mj Rodriguez on the closing of ‘Pose,’ her new show with Maya Rudolph and the future of trans representation in the media
“We’re all in this together. It’s important to understand that first, then we can move towards a brighter future.”
FX’s groundbreaking period drama Pose, a look into the late 1980’s and early 1990’s ballroom scene culture through the eyes of Black and Brown trans and queer people, from the minds of Steven Canals, Ryan Murphy, and Brad Falchuk came to a close in 2021.
The heart of the show was Mj Rodriguez’ Blanca, a maternal and sister-like figure to those in her community, with optimistic ambition to uplift those around her. As Pose ends its final season, I spoke with Rodriguez about her feelings’ towards the series’ end, saying goodbye to Blanca, and the future of trans representation in the media.
Michael-Michelle Pratt: Pose understands that trans and queer peoples lives revolve around community and has an entire culture onto itself. How do you think this treatment of trans and queer people while help Pose’s legacy?
Mj Rodriguez: I think with Pose being at the forefront of everything, I think that’s the first step. We have the opportunity to showcase five different trans of different walks of life, and are also women of color. We got to show different perspectives and are multi-dimensional. We are not subject to one type of life, we live just like any other person on this earth, simply human.
When it comes to just things in general, as far as awareness, trans women held space on sets where you would never think to see trans women, like behind the scenes. I think this allows for our stories to be told and expanded upon.
MMP: Trans women often experience all of the negative aspects of womanhood without any of the benefits. How did it feel to see Blanca go on a full journey of love and career success this season and experience the joys of womanhood too?
MR: That was the best part. I think a lot of the characters in the show have gotten everything that they’ve wanted. The hope aspect is now attainable. We tied all the knots that we needed to make the show end on the note that it needed and also be as realistic as it can be.
For instance Blanca, her storyline from the first to the third season has been about growth. In the first season she flew out of her nest and got her own apartment. In the second season, she solidified her own business, a nail salon, and protested about it. She is now a nurse and in a relationship. It has been constant growth, which showed she was not only present but receiving the fruits of her labor and worked hard. Which extends to her kids, who are the fruits of her labor. She gets to see her kids that she instilled work into thriving and achieving things she didn’t get to achieve. I hope people receive it.
MMP: Throughout Pose’s run Blanca’s style choices have become a running punchline. I feel as though Blanca has really come into her own and it’s reflected in her clothing choices with the help of 90s style in the third season. How would you say style affected your portrayal of Blanca this season?
MR: I think the style choices affected my portrayal of Blanca in ways that weren’t portrayed in the first and second season because she was a budding flower. She hadn’t come to full bloom yet. I think in the third season, with the help of the 90s, Blanca has become a full fledged and self assured woman. She’s excluding that through her style. Sometimes that results in a short dress with a thigh high boot. Sometimes it results in another chc but forward fashion style. I think Blanca deserves that because she has fought so hard to be herself. In the third season she has this confidence that shines so bright that it cannot be stopped. I’m glad we got to play in the 90s because the fashion that time was so edgy.
MMP: In an Instagram post, you said that you were going to miss Blanca and were happy to have been a vessel for her story. What will you miss most?
MR: The most emotional parts of me that are going to miss Blanca are the really deep heartfelt moments that she had with her kids. Watching her and seeing her be a mother, that inspired me so much. Blanca in the world of Pose is a mother, and she got to develop the relationship with her kids, and she did all of this without having a family. Whereas me, as Michaela Jaé, I look at Blanca, and aspire to be like her and raise my kids like her. That compilation on instagram really got to me because it showcased her growth. It broke me. I aspire to grow. I aspire to be like her.
MMP: Did you keep anything from set to remember the show by?
MR: I thought I was going to be able to cop something, but I didn’t. It was gifted to me, which is even better. I got two gifts that I was eyeing and got them in the best way. I got one from Steven Canals. He gave me Blanca’s cookbook. Ms. Janet Mock gave me that amazing Evangelista flag that Blanca had on her wall. I hold those things near and dear to me.
MMP: What were your favorite scenes to shoot from the show this season?
MR: One of my favorite scenes this season, believe it or not, was the intervention scene with the family. Being able to address a lot of the things that many families of color do not express, and then having it actualized on a television screen and see how it goes down. It was raw. It was real. It was something that the world really needed to grasp onto to see this is what family does to move forward.
MMP: What were your favorite behind the scenes moments from the show?
MR: The best parts were me being silly backstage. I was a complete fool backstage. I would play pranks on people. I wanted to make sure that the space that I was surrounded by, that it was uplifted and happy. It was a really good space. Those were my most memorable moments, behind the scenes where we got to cut up and play music.
MMP: Can you tell us anything about your upcoming Apple TV+ series with Maya Rudolph?
MR: Without giving too much away, I am going to be playing a character by the name of Sophia. She is the hardworking executive director of a non-profit fund run by a character named Molly [Rudolph], who is the billionaire boss. Sophia is a strong no nonsense character. I think her dry comedy is what really lifts the scenes between her and Molly. I’m excited to be playing alongside an iconic actor like Maya Rudolph. She is astounding. I think this will show a side of me outside of Blanca. It will show my versatility. It will shed a light on what I can do outside of drama. I can be funny and I’m glad the world will get to see that. It will be on Apple TV+ very soon.
MMP: How do you hope and believe the entertainment industry will utilize and support trans actors, and particularly trans actors of color in the future?
MR: What I hope and believe the entertainment industry will do to utilize and support trans actors, specifically trans actors of color in the future is constantly holding space for us. Making us feel welcome. There are not a lot of us in the spaces which creates this looming worry that we will be ostracized and not considered relatable. Instead, I hope and pray that keeps that door open. I hope that we are allowed to walk divinely in our artistry and do what we need to do, which is work. I pride myself on professionalism. I also pride myself on holding space and holding everyone accountable. I think that’s a healthy future for the community. As well as diversity. Diversity is key and it doesn’t pertain to just individuals of the trans culture but everyone. We’re all in this together. It’s important to understand that first, then we can move towards a brighter future.
MMP: What kind of roles are you interested in taking on in the future?
MR: The roles that I’m interested in playing in the future are more romantic roles. I want to see more trans women having love shed upon them. I would love to be the first to do that. There needs to be more love shown through the tv screen. So many individuals, who are the general public, relate to television and they take it into their real life. The most important thing when it comes to our stories and our lives is to give some kind of uplifting truth. I think that some kind of romantic movie between a trans individual and a cis individual, showing how they succeed in their relationship, is what the world needs to see. There is a possibility for love for us. Those are the kinds of roles that I’d like to play in the future.
Season three of Pose is currently available to stream on FX. Mj Rodriguez is Emmy eligible for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
Photo: Eric Liebowitz/FX