MJ Rodriguez Strikes a ‘Pose’ & Blazes a Trail

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Photo Source: Mark Stinson

“In the Envelope: An Awards Podcast” features intimate interviews with award-winning actors and other creatives. Join host and Awards Editor Jack Smart for a front row seat to the industry’s most exciting awards races, and valuable acting and career advice from contenders!

MJ Rodriguez, born and raised in New Jersey where she dreamed of becoming a performer by any means necessary, is in the middle of what most would consider her “big break.” The transgender star has, instead of conforming to what the entertainment industry might demand of her, waited patiently for this moment. And now she’s ready.

In 2011, only one semester into Berklee College of Music, she booked an Off-Broadway production of “Rent,” with the help of casting director Bernard Telsey, director Michael Greif, and the musical’s original cast member Fredi Walker-Browne. Rodriguez’s performance as Angel earned her a Clive Barnes Award, but was then followed by a three-year dry spell in which, she tells Backstage, she put faith in herself, her circle of loved ones, and her destined path. That approach paid off with a personal call from television groundbreaker Ryan Murphy; now, thanks to FX’s drama “Pose,” Rodriguez is one of today’s leading trailblazers for trans women of color and their visibility in media, an opportunity and responsibility she takes on with enthusiasm.

“Pose,” created by Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Steven Canals, and produced by Janet Mock, Our Lady J, Lou Eyrich, and Erica Kay, features the largest cast of transgender actors in the history of scripted TV, recreating the world of queer ballroom culture in 1980s New York City. Alongside Billy Porter, Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, Ryan Jamaal Swain, Evan Peters, Kate Mara, and more, Rodriguez plays Blanca, mother of the House of Evangelista, who learns she’s HIV-positive and sets out to form her own family.

As Rodriguez reveals on “In the Envelope,” both the similarities and differences with her character fueled her ability to bring authenticity to stories that remain all too rare in entertainment. For advice on practicing patience and staying grounded as an artist, tune into her inspiring interview below.

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Jack Smart
Jack Smart is the awards editor at Backstage, where he covers all things Emmy, SAG, Oscar, and Tony Awards. He also produces and hosts Backstage’s awards podcast “In the Envelope” and has interviewed some of the biggest stars of stage and screen.
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