Centre stage with Mj Rodriguez

A woman dancing in an empty sports hall

The performer and award-winning star of Pose has it all. She talks to Hanna Phifer about being a role model, finding love, and the end of Ryan Murphy’s hit FX series

By Hanna Phifer   Video by Matthew Dillon Cohen   Photography by Hannah Sider   Styling by Katie Bofshever   Music by Loz   Tuesday 11 May 2020

Pose, FX’s drama series about the New York ballroom scene in the 1980s and 1990s, and the queer and trans performers of colour who find a home in it, comes to a close.

The pioneering show features more transgender actors than any scripted TV series in history, and is a chance for performers such as Mj Rodriguez to claim their rightful place in the spotlight. When speaking to her on the phone, it’s easy to see where her character, Blanca Evangelista – a young Afro-Latina transgender woman – gets her toughness and tenderness from.

How are you feeling now that the show has ended?

‘It’s bittersweet and very emotional. We’re in the hustle and bustle of watching the series as it airs, and we’re all excited. But it’s also painful, because production for the show has stopped forever. When we watch each episode, it’s like a wound is being opened again.’ 

Are you satisfied with your character’s development in the final season?  

‘Her story is wrapped up beautifully and I’m so glad the world gets to see her shine. As an audience, we see a lot of things that most people wouldn’t expect – particularly the storylines involving the trans and LGBTQ+ communities. From what’s currently going on in the real world, hope isn’t given to our communities; there is only the expectation of us, or the stigma of us. But Pose has pushed the narrative of what’s possible and broken down a lot of barriers. The show proves that we can achieve anything we want to, and that we’ve always been here.’

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A black and white image of a woman putting her hands up to the camera
A woman in a white dance costume looking at the camera

In the show, Blanca is a maternal figure to the young queer folks in her community. Do you connect with the character in that way?

‘I’m currently in the early stages of a beautiful relationship with an amazing partner and I’m still growing as a young woman. I don’t see myself as a mother as I don’t have children. But if other people see me as a maternal figure because of the show, then I accept that. For my character, I was inspired by my mother and the amazing trans women who were a part of the ballroom scene – they were so nurturing. If people see me as a beacon of hope and support, that’s great.’

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Pose resonates with queer people who have had to build their own families after being rejected by their biological ones. You are close to both your birth family and your ballroom family – how have those two dynamics helped shape you?

‘The love I receive from my (biological) family and ballroom family has shaped me. I’m a family-oriented person, and when I entered the ballroom scene I took that love from my family with me. It made me grow into more of a self-assured person. I’m much stronger because I have those foundations behind me.’

A woman sitting on some sports hall chairs

What are your favourite memories from the set?

‘My best ones are from behind the scenes. Me and the cast members would just cut up; we would laugh and joke. I’d just jump around and dance half of the time, being silly. A lot of people didn’t get to see that side of Michaela Jaé; they only saw Blanca on screen – a deeply rooted, heartfelt mother. A very dramatic individual.’

Outside of television, you’ve also performed in musicals such as Rent and Little Shop Of Horrors. Did you always want to work in TV?

‘Yes, it was part of the plan, along with singing and theatre. Anything that would allow me to express myself.’ 

What kind of roles are you interested in getting to play in the future? 

‘I’d like to do a thriller at some point in my career.’

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