“The reception has been beautiful,” gushes MJ Rodriguez when discussing her hit series “Pose.” Set in the 1980’s ball scene of New York, Rodriguez plays Blanca, mother of the House of Evangelista. Ryan Murphy’s latest outing with FX has put Rodriguez on the map. Watch the exclusive video interview above or listen to the audio version below.
Rodriguez is no stranger to ballroom culture herself, having been inducted into a house by a mentor at age 14. In addition to her voguing skills, she loves that the show highlights this culture in a truthful way. For Rodriguez, balls were most about community joining together in the face of difficult times. “It’s the life that we bring when there was nothing else to look forward to” she says.
It’s fitting then, that a series exploring a place dominated by queer people of color is breaking ground in terms of casting and storytelling. “Pose” features five transgender women in the main cast, the most of any television series. While that is powerful enough, Rodriguez thinks the show is truly successful because it shows all sides to those women instead of focusing on just one characteristic. “There are many multifaceted stories” within each character, she notes. The show dives beyond surface level descriptions and doesn’t hesitate to explore each character fully, no matter how light or heavy the story.
Blanca certainly receives her fair share of heavy material. One of her hardest episodes to shoot involved verbally and physically abusive confrontations with Blanca’s family after her mother passes away. The actress admits she often recalled past instances of being bullied when she was younger while playing the scenes. It resulted in several emotional breakdowns. “Emotions can run very deep, and when you open yourself to that, it’s hard to seal the lid on it” she says. “It was hard, but it felt good to let those emotions go for a broader audience to see.”
Regarding that wider audience, Rodriguez is thrilled that the show is reaching those outside of the LGBTQ community. While queer viewers will obviously resonate with the stories, it’s important that viewers outside of the community come away with a deeper understanding of those with different life experiences. “We’re on the same plane as anybody else” Rodriguez says. She gives the example that Blanca’s identity and life “is not just about being trans, it’s about the work we had to do because we were trans.” In that vein, her ultimate hope is that viewers “can always see humans first, before any title.”
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