Somewhere in the south of France, the wine was waiting. Four hours after the 73rd Primetime Emmy nominations were announced — and Mj Rodriguez became the first trans performer to earn a nod in a lead acting category — she still hadn’t even sipped it.
Her cheeks had been hurting too much from smiling, she said in a phone interview. She’d been running around taking calls and hadn’t had a chance to sit down. But she might go out on the town later, she added, and look out at the water.
Rodriguez scored her nomination for her role as Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista, also a trans woman, in the FX period drama “Pose.” From France, she talked about how it felt to make history, why others should remember they can do the same and flexing her comedic muscles. These are edited excerpts from our conversation.
I’m not sure about time zones — is this an OK time?
A totally OK time. I mean, it’s 9:30 over here, but girl, I’m gonna be up all night. I’m gonna be just on cloud nine all night. I can’t even.
How did you react when you found out the news?
I went upstairs, I grabbed my iPad, and I grabbed my phone, and I was like, OK, I’m going to record this moment, whatever it could be. If it’s a go, if it’s a no — no matter what, it’s going to be marked down as, “We went out with a bang.”
We were watching and the moment my name was announced, we all just started screaming. And my mom grabbed me, flung me completely around in joy. My godmother gave me the biggest hug. She was like, “You deserved it!” And I just remember falling in my boyfriend’s arms and crying profusely in his arms and just being so thankful. I broke down in tears. Literally right after that I got a call from Steven Canals, and he found out his news on the phone.
What do you want trans women to take away from this historic moment?
I would like trans women, and specifically trans women of color — especially younger girls who are trans and of color — to take away that this is more than possible. If you’re persistent, if you keep your eyes on the prize, if you never let anyone tell you otherwise, you’ll keep living and knowing that your existence is worth it, and that you have a purpose on this earth.
I’m a girl from north New Jersey. I didn’t get everything that was given to me, and I still managed to have the foundation of my mother and my family who stepped behind me to keep me pushing forward, and the love that lifted me up. So if they could do it, then I know that there are other people out there who can do it.
Representing so many different communities — Afro-Latinas, trans women, talented voguers — can be a lot of pressure. What inspires you to keep going?
The happiness of my community, the way they shed love on me. All of the intersectionalities of my community, — whether it be my Black community, the Latino community or the L.G.B.T.Q.A.I. community, the community of women — I feel like that’s what brings me joy. And more important, I love waking up in the morning and just seeing life and seeing how beautiful the world is and seeing that I get to be a piece that changes it. That’s why my existence is on this earth, I’m so thankful for it.
What other Latinx L.G.B.T.Q. figures do you want to see onscreen next?
I want to see so many more. I want to see some Latina, disabled, L.G.B.T.Q.A.I. members on the television screen. Show shows that talk about stories like that. I want to see more lesbian Latina commitments on television. I want to see more L.G.B.T.Q. Latina movies and films being distributed. There’s so much more work that can be done, even through the beauty of all of this. I feel like there’s so much more. And it’s coming.
This nomination was for a drama series, but soon you’ll be working on a comedy with Maya Rudolph. How are you preparing to stretch your comedic muscles?
I am a foolish, silly, crazy girl, and I’ve been wanting people to get a hold of what Michaela Jaé has to offer when it comes to her funny side. So I’m definitely flexing them. A lot of people just haven’t got a chance to see it, but they’ll be seeing it pretty soon on this show. I really cannot wait. They’re going to see a whole different versatile character.