You may know MJ Rodriguez as Mother Blanca on Pose now, but before the critically acclaimed show started breaking down barriers, the 28-year-old actress’s day-to-day was very different.
Rodriguez caught up with PureWow ahead of her keynote speech at George Washington University’s 5th Annual Diversity Summit and filled us in on her career and her new #FearlessMoment Olay Body Campaign. When we discussed Pose’s cultural significance, she admitted that she had no idea she was the lead of the show until after she got the part. Yep, seriously.
“I was just coming on the scene and I didn’t even know that I was the leading actress of the show until Ryan Murphy [series creator] said, ‘She’s the lead of the show.’ We were in a meeting and he said, ‘She’s the lead of the show, and she’s number one on the call sheet.’ And that turned my whole life around because I’ve never heard number one on the call sheet and I was never considered the lead actress of a show,” Rodriguez recalled.
Prior to her breakout role in Pose, Rodriguez had small parts and guest appearances on Nurse Jackie and Carrie Diaries. She told PureWow, “I never thought that I would be seen as someone who’s relatable and who can be a matriarch of a show. Ryan Murphy made that happen and it made me feel so great because not only could I be the leading force, but I could be with my other sisters on the show and we could all be leading forces together to tell a story, to entertain and to educate.”
She explained the significance of being a trans woman of color in a central role, saying, “It’s opening up the doors for women like myself to be seen and for people to be aware of our stories and to humanize us, instead of holding us to a specific standard when it comes to stigmas…I hope when season three comes along, we just keep knocking down those doors with many different stories that people want to hear when it comes to the trans community—not just our trending trans stories, but humanized stories that anyone goes through when they’re walking this earth.”
As for what we can expect in season three, Rodriguez says she can’t reveal any spoilers yet because the writers just started crafting the episodes. She does promise, however, “I’ll try my best to bring my A-game.”
Another star of the series bringing their A-game? Billy Porter, who plays Pray Tell and was awarded an Emmy this year for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Rodriguez spoke about what it’s like working with Porter and revealed that they actually go way back: “Working with Billy is a dream. I’ve known Billy since I was 19 years old. He was actually an associate director when I was doing Rent. I’ve just followed him ever since then.”
Rodriguez says that bond has helped them step their game up on set. “Just being able to work with Billy and know that we already have that relationship [makes it feel like] we can do anything together. It’s great. I love working with him and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Today, Rodriguez brings her story of learning to be comfortable in her own skin (not just through her Olay Body 14-day transformation, but through years of leading by example) to the Diversity Summit.
If you need us, we’ll be over here cheering her on and patiently awaiting Pose season three.