￼Pose star Mj Rodriguez says Blanca will forever be on her shoulder – but right now, she’s ready to introduce the world to the woman behind it all.
After three acclaimed seasons, Pose came to an end last weekend with a defiant, heart-stopping finale.
For its leading lady, Mj Rodriguez, the ending was bittersweet. It meant saying goodbye to a cast she loves dearly, and to a character she poured her heart and soul into. But it also means a new door has opened – an opportunity for the world to meet the woman “who makes up Mj Rodriguez”. Her name is Michaela Jaé, she’s a bit of a goofball, a major music lover, and she’s hopeful that things are just getting started for her and her community.
PinkNews caught up with Mj Rodriguez to talk about music, Pose, her new comedy with Maya Rudolph, and where she sees trans rights in America going.
PinkNews: First of all, congratulations on your new single “Something to Say”.
Mj Rodriguez: Thank you, thank you. I’ve been stupid excited about this happening. I’m just like, what, is this really happening? I finally am making a little break into the music industry? Yes! Dreams do come true.
We’ve known you as Blanca in Pose, how does it feel to be putting yourself, Michaela Jaé, out there?
It feels so good. It feels like I’ve stepped into me, into this place where people finally get to see the woman who makes up Mj. It’s not Mary Jane – it’s Michaela Jaé, and she has a lot to offer, she has a lot to give, and she definitely has a lot to say. They’ve heard Blanca, this character of maturity and stature, whereas I’m a bit edgier, I’m a bit rough around the edges. I’m a bit more youthful than her. And I want people to see that.
What do you think people will be surprised to learn about you?
That I’m actually a foolish, silly, outrageous kind of girl when I press that button. I’m usually subdued and laid back in the beginning, but if you press that button – honey, the energy is lit.
It’s nice to see this side of you because with Pose, although there’s a lot of joy in it, by its nature it can be quite heavy. There’s a lot of trauma in it.
It’s so important for me to show the love and happiness that we as people of the trans community can experience outside of a very traumatising and dark and deep show. It’s beautifully dark and traumatising – we needed that, for people to see what we went through. But there’s also light at the end of the tunnel, there is gold at the end of the rainbow. We do live prosperous, long, lengthy lives.
I’ve always separated myself from Blanca when I left that stage, because I have a whole family that I had to go back to. And I just did not want to bring that to them. Especially my mama! She was like, ‘Girl, what’s wrong with you?’ ‘Oh nothing, just…’ ‘Girl, get out the house!’
Now it’s ended, there’s a sad release. I’m very emotional about it. I’m sad that we’ve come to a wonderful end, and there’s a chapter that’s closed, but there’s another chapter that’s opened for me, for the world to get to see my emotions and how I portray them through music.
What does that future look like? What kind of roles do you want to play?
There are so many things. I’m really trying to focus on my music, but I am also going to be taking part in this comedy series called Loot, it’s starring Maya Rudolph. It feels comfortable just to be with her and feel safe in her space, and also to know that I can be silly and be foolish, because you can obviously see I’m a fool.
I feel like the future just looks so bright – and not just for me. I’m just glad I can be at the front lines, to make sure that there’s more opportunity for the girls like me out there who are younger. I’m gonna keep fighting the good fight. And as far as the types of movies I want to be a part of, trans women need to have a movie about love and how we’re not taboo, we’re human, and we deserve love. And if it’s a storyline for us, then the world will see how beautiful it is, instead of deeming it something other than. So that – along with a superhero. A kick-ass one too!
Who would you want to be?
I want to play Elektra [from Marvel’s X-Men]. I feel like I look like her, I feel like I embody her. Her story is beautiful and I resonate with it. I’m from North Jersey – you know, it’s, it’s not as rough as it used to be, it’s beautiful and it’s changing now, but it used to have its rough patches. Her story reminds me of that time. So somebody cast me please!
Like you said, you’ve opened the door for members of the trans community. Pose ending leaves a huge hole in terms of not just representation but jobs and opportunities. What do you hope follows it?
I hope a percentage follows it – an equal percentage. I hope that there’s an even playing field for actors in general. This is a place for everyone to be whoever they want to be. It’s not just a place for a specific group of people to be whoever they want to be.
Once that percentage and that awareness is raised and the fight for more trans, gender non-conforming LGBTQIA individuals is won, then we can have that level playing field, of being whoever we want to be. But the reason why we’re so adamant and so vocal about trans representation and LGBTQIA representation is because there’s not that many of us here.
The fight is long, and what I’ve seen is that change does move slow, but it happens. And I’ve seen it move quicker than I’ve ever seen it before, especially within this time. Five years ago people didn’t know about transness, five years ago people weren’t even identifying as gender non-conforming, and now we’re moving in a total new direction in a beautiful way.
And now you’ve got Joe Biden saying let’s protect trans kids, you’ve got Kamala Harris out at Pride. There’s so much work to be done, including by the White House, but it must be such a ride, being an American at this time.
It is. When I saw that he appointed a trans woman [Dr Rachel Levine] to the White House, I was like, this is a huge step forward. There’s obviously things that need working on, but that comes with time, and that obviously comes with another fight. But specifically when it comes to trans rights and what they’ve worked towards, what the reputation that they’ve had before it, to see them fighting for it and actually taking the initiative to help us with our awareness. Yeah, it’s a great America to be in right about now.
But I still think America, she needs to get it together. Collectively, we got to get it together as a cohesive human race. When it comes to togetherness, love, we need to focus on that a little bit more. As cheesy as that sounds.
Lets dig into Pose a little bit. That ending was incredible – how do you feel about it?
I am very happy with how they wrapped the story with Blanca. She ended her life – not ended her life, that sounds so shady! The way Blanca’s life was written out was with all the T’s crossed, all the I’s dotted. She achieved so much, she received everything that she hoped for.
She received the fruits of her labour, which were her children succeeding and moving on and living a happy life. And she got what she deserved. She got the man that she wanted. She got to see her kids move on. And she got her accolade, her acknowledgement of the work she did in the ballroom community and what she fought for. And I feel like that’s a beautiful way to end a season. And not just Blanca, all of the characters. The only reason why I pinpoint Blanca is because she was a woman who didn’t have anything. She had no mother, she had no father, yet she was able to manage and raise four kids and help them become resilient and have a family. That is a testament.
It was such an uplifting ending, these women achieved so much and got what they deserved. And it all looked so expensive!
[Laughs] As it should! It’s a big come up, honey. They want the younger generation and the girls of our generation to see that it’s achievable. You just gotta fight for it.
The ACT UP scenes were such a history lesson. Did you learn from working on this show?
There were a lot of things that I learned. As far as the ACT UP protest, I had known about that because I play Angel in Rent when I was younger and ACT UP was one of the things I had to look up in order for me to really deliver it on stage.
But one thing I didn’t know, that I continue to learn about, is how trans women weren’t highlighted in the pandemic of HIV and AIDS. It was just gay men. I’m not saying that it was a bad thing because gay men did need all of the need and care. But what the media and what the government did was highlighted this group to deem them as something other than and horrible. And they didn’t let everyone know that no, this is not a gay disease. This is a disease that’s affecting everyone. And the way they put and shine a light on the gay community, it ostracised the other part of the LGBTQIA community who also need the help and who are not getting it.
That’s what I didn’t know and I’m glad that we shined a light on it. I’m glad that Blanca was one of the women to say: ‘I’m HIV positive and I’m still human.’ That broke down barriers, there’s so many trans women now that can come out and say, ‘I’m HIV positive and I’ve been living with it for 30 years’, simply because of that show. Back then trans women weren’t able to say that. Gay men weren’t even able to say it, there were people throwing them under the bus. But a show like this collectively made people understand that this was a disease that affected everyone. It just so happens that there was a story built around a community to make it look like they were the ones that inherited it, and this is why it happened.
You said there’s been a sad release. It’s only been a few days since that last episode aired, you must still be going through some form of grief.
I broke down in the bathroom of my home close to a month ago, when I just finished the third season for like the third time – because I’ve watched it a lot. I shed so many tears for the work that we all as a cast put into that show. We put our foot into that show, you know how your auntie says, ‘I cut that thing up, I put my foot up in there!’ That’s what we did, collectively, as a production. We really worked hard because we knew if we didn’t do it the right way, then no one would take us seriously. So I cried for all of that, I cried for the pain that others were feeling. And now they get to feel released and liberated.
I cried for the work that I did and also knowing that Blanca is going to only be on my shoulder now, she’s not going to be physically, completely enveloped inside of me. Now she’s living on on the television screen and now Michaela Jaé is doing her thing.
But the best part about it is that we changed lives. We made people happy – that’s my main goal. We put smiles on their faces. We made them cry a little bit, but those endorphins are released to make you feel better afterwards. We made people feel good after they released and moved on. We help people move through. And that was the goal.
Well you definitely achieved that. And I hope that you get the recognition this season, I know you’ve been vocal about the Emmys…
I’m someone who is helpful. I don’t know how it works, but I’m speaking it into the universe that one day it’ll happen. And if it happens this time around it’s a blessing, that means we’ve made history. But if not, that means there’s much more of a fight and we got still got more work to do.
And maybe the Grammys next.
Now that I’m definitely gonna fight for, child! I love music, music is my heart and my soul. So we’re gonna fight for that. I pray to baby Jesus for a Grammy.
Something to Say by Michaela Jaé is out now.