This story about Mj Rodriguez and “Pose” first appeared in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
The FX drama “Pose,” about the gay ballroom scene in New York City during the height of the AIDS epidemic, was recognized by Emmy voters in its first two seasons, with actor Billy Porter winning once for his role as ballroom emcee Pray Tell. But the show made a big step forward after its final season this year — it not only landed its second Outstanding Drama Series nomination, but Mj Rodriguez became the first transgender actress ever nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
“It felt freaking amazing,” said Rodriguez, who grew up in New Jersey and found the ballroom scene herself in her teens. “When I got that nomination, honestly, I bawled, I screamed. Finally, I felt like I’m getting seen as the leading woman of a television series who can be the leading woman in anything that she does simply because she puts in the work. And I’m glad the Academy is understanding and beautifully opening up to many different types of women that are coming into the space.”
The story of Rodriguez’s character, Blanca, is central to the three seasons of “Pose.” In the first episode of Season 1, she is diagnosed as HIV-positive and leaves the House of Abundance to start her own house; at the end, as friends around her continue to die from the disease, she works as a nurse’s aide, finds comfort in the community she’s built and becomes a comfort to others as well.
“Delving back into my memories of the show, it was a dream,” she said. “I remember shooting my first scene in Washington Square Park and being in the trailer for hours before we could shoot — but I was so excited that it didn’t even matter to me. And to think of how we built a beautiful show and ended it pretty well…”
She sighed. “Oh, child. Michaela Jaé, the person I am outside of Blanca, does not cry a lot. But when we filmed that last episode, I was extremely emotional.”
In the end, “Pose” was about finding and building community in the face of overwhelming loss, and in the legacy its characters build. “It was extremely life-changing,” Rodriguez said of the show’s impact on her own career, which now includes her first single, “Something to Say,” as well as roles in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s upcoming musical “tick, tock … Boom!” and an untitled upcoming series with Maya Rudolph, Alan Yang and Matt Hubbard.
“I’ve always been someone who considered myself an artist, and I wanted people to see me that way first,” she said. “Before they saw me as a trans woman, I wanted them to see my craft. And moving forward, I feel like there are no barriers anymore — and if there are, we have to constantly keep breaking them.”
In the meantime, she walks away from “Pose” proud of the way in which it has helped affect the face of LGBTQ representation on television over the last four years. “I feel like the landscape of television has changed amazingly,” she said. “I remember when I was auditioning for roles, and there wasn’t even a slot that was open to me because of how I identified. Even if they didn’t know, there was not a lot of space for women like me, or even LGBTQ members.”
“Ten years ago, maybe even five years ago, the landscape was just so different. It’s insane to be able to finally believe now that there’s been so much change in the last four years, partly because our show was able to bring an understanding of a whole different group of women that people didn’t know about.”
Read more from the Down to the Wire issue here.