Nine months after making Hollywood history, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez is ready to smash additional barriers in film, television and music.
This summer, Rodriguez followed up her breakout role on “Pose” by joining Maya Rudolph’s Apple TV+ comedy “Loot.” She also returned to the recording studio to put the finishing touches on her debut EP, a hybrid pop and R&B confection that’s aimed squarely at the dance floor and is slated for release next year.
Rodriguez’s portrayal of house mother Blanca Evangelista on “Pose” won her critical acclaim, and in January she became the first transgender person to win a Golden Globe for that performance.
The New Jersey native, who is Afro Latina, has been an outspoken LGBTQ rights advocate for the duration of her career. The global fame that “Pose” brought, however, has encouraged her to amplify her philanthropic efforts. This fall, she has partnered with Citi and Mastercard to promote the “Chosen Name” campaign, granting account holders the ability to use their chosen name on credit and debit cards.
First introduced in 2020, the program has been hailed as a major step forward for transgender, gender-nonconforming and nonbinary people, whose legal name may not align with their true name on other documents. Prior to 2021, the feature was only accessible to those who underwent a legal name change.
In honor of the campaign, HuffPost spoke with Rodriguez about her latest projects, the iconic Broadway role she’d like to play and her hopes for the future of transgender representation in Hollywood.
Congratulations again on your history-making Golden Globe win for “Pose.” Now that it’s been nine months, how do you feel about that achievement in hindsight?
I didn’t really celebrate that much at first because I didn’t know how to. But now I’m celebrating and I’m enjoying [that success]. I like seeing the timeline, the steps I took to get there. My peers have experienced it, and they’re telling me: “Enjoy it, girl, because it’s fleeting. It passes. Enjoy it right now.” And that’s what I’m doing.
You’re currently starring as Sofia Salinas on “Loot” with Maya Rudolph. What drew you to that project?
One of the reasons I chose Sofia Salinas ― well, she chose me actually ― is that she was totally different than Blanca Evangelista. She is this starchy, very stiff, very straight-to-the-point woman. I’m nothing like her, and that’s what made me drawn to her more.
There’s a side to her that a lot of people don’t see. They see the business side of her, but they don’t get to see the personal side of her and why she chooses to be that way. And I hope that the world gets to see that side of her [in Season 2, confirmed in July], because she’s got some crazy relationships.
As a public figure, you can choose to support any number of campaigns and initiatives. Why is Citi and Mastercard’s “Chosen Name” effort significant to you?
They’re the first, literally. They made it available because they know how important this is to the LGBTQIA community when it comes to identity. Your name is so important to you. Everybody knows that. People want to be addressed correctly. It’s a universal thing. I try to align myself with people, with organizations that want to make change happen. And this is one of them.
I think it will instill confidence in young transgender and gender-nonconforming people. That’s the main thing. It gives them space to feel like they can walk in the world and not have to worry about any kind of feedback when they go and change their name.
Your involvement in the campaign comes amid troubling surge in anti-LGBTQ, and specifically anti-trans, legislation across the U.S. How do you process what’s happening at the moment?
I do have moments when I’m down, and I feel everything that’s happening is unfortunate. And I’m like: “OK, what do I do?” But more than that, I’m like: “How do I fix it? Who do I align myself with so we can collectively move the needle forward as a group?”
Your “Pose” co-star Angelica Ross is currently starring in “Chicago” on Broadway. You recently appeared in a Los Angeles production of “Little Shop of Horrors” and the Netflix movie musical “Tick, Tick… Boom!” Any chance we’ll see you returning to the stage soon?
Oh, yeah. I actually have my hands in a couple of things right now. I see myself being back there maybe two or three years down the line. … I want to play Glinda in “Wicked.” I want to be a silly, witty character who’s a little ditzy. Also, she’s the comic relief of the show, so I feel like it would fit perfectly.
As a performer, what are some other realms you’d like to explore moving forward?
I’d love to play a villain — I’m talking a sickening villain, like Maleficent. That’s the next thing I’d like to do. It sounds really challenging, and I want to take it on. Give it to me!
What do you say to young LGBTQ people who look to you as a role model?
Well, I love on them, for one. I always tell them to stay rooted in their youth, make sure they stay happy and instill themselves with happiness. And more importantly, don’t let anyone deter them from who they are. Don’t let anyone stop them from their growth. There’s no one who determines how you’re supposed to walk or navigate through this world. No one.
What do you see as the next important step in terms of representation of transgender women of color at the mainstream level?
We need to see more leading trans women, and we need more trans women centered in stories. It doesn’t have to be a trans-specific story, but just a story everybody can relate to.
I think there just needs to be more of us in these spaces ― more producers, more directors, more actors just to be seen. If we shared space with these peers, then we should at least have a seat at the table.
I do believe change is happening, watching the Emmys this year and seeing wonderful women of color like Zendaya, Quinta Brunson and Sheryl Lee Ralph win. It goes to show that there is some change happening, and hopefully that will [extend] to transgender women of color too.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity and length.