MJ Rodriguez embodies the versatility that the entertainment industry needs as the nation navigates towards a post-pandemic future that’s more open in a number of ways. The Pose breakout star has been a part of the world of acting for more than a decade but only recently got the chance to show everyone that she’s not only a mainstay in Hollywood but a legacy trailblazer. With a historical role as part of the largest transgender cast on scripted television in tow, Rodriguez is taking her talents to AppleTV+ to star in a currently untitled comedy series alongside Maya Rudolph.
At 30, Rodriquez is looking forward to longevity as an actor in a field that initially wasn’t built for her. She also has the opportunity to play characters she only dreamed of when she was younger. Pose wasn’t just pivotal for the diversity of its cast, but also the depiction of trans individuals under the guise of Janet Mock and Ryan Murphy. Although the FX series highlighted the harsh reality many transgender and LGBTQIA+ individuals experience on a daily basis, it also steered clear of historic cinematic tropes that othered members of this community and instead displayed the normalcy of each characters’ lives.
Rodriquez’s role as Blanca, in particular, embodied the hopes and tenacity of many trans men and women. Enamored with New York’s ballroom scene, Blanca’s immersion into the subculture provided the path for her to realize her own dreams and in turn, help others access theirs. That experience was not unlike the one Rodriguez lived in real life, performing in balls during her early teenage years before becoming a professional actress.
As Pose comes to an end after three seasons, Rodriguez and Blanca are once again forging a similar path. “Now [Blanca] is moving on herself,” Rodriguez tells ESSENCE. “I always say the phrase, ‘Mama has a life to live, honey.’ And that’s exactly what Blanca did. She has her own life and she also received the fruits of her labor.”
Here Rodriquez shares what’s next for her on screen and behind the scenes as she continues to act, be an advocate for the protection of trans and gender non-conforming youth, and launch her music career.
What first inspired you to enter the world of acting?
MJ RODRIGUEZ: It is a vast and broad world of so many different types of projects, concepts, and people. As a child, I had been trained in acting and singing and dance for a long time, but I just never saw the possibility of me being thrust into a world like the entertainment industry. Especially in regards to acting and singing because of who I was and how I existed in the world. This is crazy and when I say crazy, I’m talking about how extremely eye-opening and fulfilling being an actor has been.
How does it feel to have come to the final season of such a beautifully represented and beloved series as Pose?
RODRIGUEZ: It was bittersweet, but it was also heartwarming and uplifting. It was empowering and it was emotional as all hell. The first season helped all of us get our official stamp in the industry. Speaking for myself specifically, I have been on other projects but I never was a lead. I never was a leading lady. I never had anyone ride by my name. I was happy that I got to take it all the way because all I did was just live with love. So it was beautiful to see how we wrapped the show and made it a great experience for everyone who was watching and also brought it to the right kind of end. It didn’t end on a sad note, but a high one.
Why do you believe Blanca is such a special character to the world?
RODRIGUEZ: One of the reasons the role was so important to play is because, number one, she’s an underdog. She was the woman that people expected not to succeed and she knew that. She also knew that she had to keep fighting to end up on top in her own way, not for anyone else, but for herself. You get to see the growth of Blanca. You get to see all of the accomplishments that she achieves in her third season due to the work that was laid down in the first and second seasons.
The first season, she was a budding young individual who wanted to be a house mother, who wanted to step out on her own and raise kids of her own. The second season, she became more solidified as a mother. She has her own nail salon and she has her own business. In the third season, she’s moving on herself. Her kids are succeeding, her love life is succeeding, and more importantly, she’s succeeding in getting everything she deserved due to the great amount of hope she had.
How does it feel taking on a new role in a scripted comedy series?
RODRIGUEZ: I’m a workaholic. I love being a part of the acting world. I love being an artist and a singer so getting another acting opportunity that is something extremely different from Pose is the best thing for me. This new role helps other people understand me as an artist, that I have all these multifaceted parts to my abilities, not just one. I’m a goofy person and I finally feel like I get a chance to put some of that into this character, Sophia. She won’t be the typical kind of funny where it’s physical, I think it’ll be more so dry and it’ll be more so like no B.S. funny which will match well with Maya Rudolph. I’m super excited that I get to work with her, too, because I’ve been wanting to work with her since SNL.
What is your dream role?
RODRIGUEZ: I see myself in some really big blockbuster films like Indiana Jones and James Bond. I am very athletic and would love to be that kind of action girl. I see myself as a character like “Trinity” in the Matrix. These are the kinds of characters that I want to delve into because they are very, very complex and you get to see the heart and soul of these characters by the fight that they give.
I want to see some kind of superhero when it comes to transwomen or transmen or just the trans scope in general. I’m definitely making sure that it happens. I’m going to put my foot in the door and say, this is something that I want to audition for or this is something that I would love to read the script for. There have been really great opportunities that have presented themselves to me that I’ve attached myself to and they have proven the sky is literally limitless. I’m finally seeing how many doors have opened up because people actually see who we are and understand us and also see that we’re just like everyone else and we can share the same space.
How have you been able to maintain visibility as an advocate while broadening your scope as an actress?
RODRIGUEZ: I keep speaking up when I can. I love doing interviews and I try to speak up as much as I can when I’m talking to individuals like you and make sure that I get the word out about spreading awareness constantly. Now that awareness is as prevalent as it is and we are so open and out there, we’re under attack. We have to constantly keep fighting so I try to find space for myself to mentally heal when I do see something that hurts my heart because I’m a very emotional person. Sometimes I like to take on the weight of the world and it just doesn’t help.
What are important allied organizations and resources for trans people during these times?
GLSN is a great organization. They have an amazing hotline for young individuals who are thinking about releasing themselves and their existence from this Earth. The hotline advisors lets them know that their existence is needed and that it’s important to be here because they have something to offer. They just haven’t started yet and they don’t even know what they have to offer yet so other trans individuals can go through life. For me, that’s the most important thing when you can find a suicide hotline that helps individuals who are LGBTQIA+, but there is still more work to be done.
What will you cherish most about being a part of Pose as you look to future projects?
RODRIGUEZ: There were a lot of people that we’ve known for years and a lot of people that we had met, but we all collectively just had wonderful conversations in that space when we were on set. Either I was tired or Indya was tired or Dominique was tired. You know, we always lifted each other up, especially myself. I was always an energy ball. I remember one day one of the hairstylists who I’m good friends with, his name is Timothy. Everybody was sitting down in their chairs, it was before a scene that you guys will probably see coming pretty soon. I would twirl and sing in the beautiful dresses. And he would be like, “Girl, sit down” and everybody would start laughing. That’s the kind of relationship we had. Every last one of us felt safe and the moments behind the scenes were the most charitable moments for me. My cast members are my family now.
Check out MJ’s new single Something to Say below.