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MJ Rodriguez may be best known for portraying house mother Blanca Evangelista on FX’s hit show Pose—a role for which she made history as the first trans woman nominated for an Emmy for lead actress in a drama series—but her love for the arts extends beyond the screen. Calling music “her passion” and “first love,” Rodriguez released her debut single “Something to Say” in June 2021, a poignant celebration of equality and love where she calls for people to step into their truth and let their voices be heard.
Hailing from Newark, NJ, Rodriguez attended the Berklee College of Music and made waves for her portrayal of Angel in the 2011 off-Broadway revival of Rent, a dream of hers since she viewed the 2005 film. She made her screen debut in an episode of Showtime’s Nurse Jackie in 2012 and scored minor roles in The Carrie Diaries and Marvel’s Luke Cage. Since being cast in Pose in 2017, she has historically won the 2019 Imagen Award for Best Actress in TV and many other honors. Could an Emmy Award be next?
After Sunday’s ceremony, Rodriguez can next be seen in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s feature film Tick, Tick…Boom!, on Netflix in November. But before then, the actress sat down with ELLE.com to discuss her historic nomination, her new single, and what’s next for her.
You are nominated for an Emmy Award for outstanding lead actress in a drama series, and you’re the first trans actress to get the honor. How does it feel to make history?
The feeling is euphoric, elating, and mind-boggling too. Because 10 years before Pose was even a thought, I was working really hard to really make my stance in the industry and fight for a safe place, not only for myself, but for those coming behind me, and to think that a moment like this can happen, it doesn’t go unnoticed. It’s surreal, girl. I dreamed it, I thought it, but I never thought it would happen. There was a fight within 10 years of going to auditions and facing rejection after rejection, some because of not being ready yet, most being because of my identity as a trans woman, and to see the Academy, let alone the world, really receive me as not only an Emmy-nominated actress but as a leading woman of a television show is humbling and I’m really blessed.
How have the opportunities changed for trans actors since your start in the industry?
I’ve seen a gamut of opportunities inside and outside of acting for trans women. With actresses like Alexandra Grey and Laverne Cox and models like Leyna Bloom, the work that Pose laid down, and getting a nomination like this, I feel like it’s finally opening up the door. So many trans women in the community are finally being seen, not just for our transness, but for the work that we put into our craft, no matter what the craft is.
When I was younger, the fight that I wanted to fight for was simply about inspiration, love, hope, joy, and understanding through persistence so people can not only see my craft, but see the person behind the craft and see my heart and know I’m driven just as much as anybody else. I have a heart. I have feelings. I’m a human first and with something like this, people are finally seeing us as humans.
What should Hollywood do to make room for trans actors and stories like Pose?
What Hollywood could do is just keep opening up the doors for aspiring artists, aspiring human beings, no matter their [path] in life, whether they be trans or gender non-conforming or identify as hetero. They should see the talent first, see what they bring to the table, and take a chance. Make the rooms diverse by including trans people, African-American people, Latinx people, Asian people, and different kinds of Caucasian people from all over the world. That’s how you open the door. You take risks. I’m seeing now how things are changing. Yes, there’s work to do, but the change is still happening. If Hollywood took that risk on me, I’m sure there are others out there who they should take that risk on.
What inspired your debut single, “Something To Say”?
It was not only written and created out of love, but also for change and [to be] uplifting and something to move to. It speaks about how humans on this Earth have still yet to realize how much we have in common with each other and how we need to fight together as a unit to really understand that we can push the needle forward if we do it together. When the song [was] released, my first thought was, “Finally people are going to feel happy and listen to something that uplifts them and move in a time where we weren’t able to move at all due to COVID.” They get to listen and jam in their house with their family members. That was my main goal.
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What projects do you have coming up?
I’m in an Apple TV+ series called Loot with Maya Rudolph and I’m super excited because people will finally get to see the funny side of me and the versatility of Michaela Jaé. They’ll actually be able to differentiate [between] myself and the characters I play. [I’ll also be in] Tick, Tick…Boom!, a movie based on a musical written by Jonathan Larson in 1991, and Lin-Manuel Miranda incorporated so many different aspects of the characters that Johnathan Larsen had written that weren’t in the musical theater production. It’s going to be a revised idea of Tick, Tick…Boom! but have the great remnants of what the show was. I can’t wait for people to see that. It’s gonna be great.
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