CHI­CA

THE AFRO–PUER­TO RI­CAN HAS STO­LEN HEARTS AND KNOC­KED DOWN BA­RRIERS AS BLAN­CA ON PO­SE, AND SHE’S ONLY JUST GET­TING STAR­TED

People en Espanol - - CONTENIDO - By ELI­ZA THOM­PSON

The Afro-puer­to Ri­can ac­tress Mj Ro­dri­guez has sto­len hearts and knoc­ked down ba­rriers as Blan­ca on Po­se, and she’s only get­ting star­ted.

The­re’s a lot to ab­sorb in

every epi­so­de of FX’S hit series Po­se — the fas­hion is loud, the dan­cing is awe-ins­pi­ring, and the cha­rac­ters, par­ti­ci­pants in the New York City ball­room sce­ne of the ’80s and ’90s, are over the top. But amidst the sen­sual over­load, Mj Ro­dri­guez stands out as Blan­ca, a ma­ter­nal fi­gu­re to the ot­her mo­re im­pul­si­ve cha­rac­ters and the show’s emo­tio­nal cen­ter. When it see­med li­ke Blan­ca might die near the end of sea­son two this past sum­mer (she didn’t), fans lost their minds on so­cial me­dia. “I couldn’t really say anyt­hing to the mas­ses be­cau­se they had to watch it,” says Ro­dri­guez. “But it was great on my end to be li­ke, ‘Don’t worry, y’all. She’s gon­na make it! She’s gon­na push th­rough.”

Born in Ne­wark, New Jer­sey, the Afro–puer­to Ri­can, 28, star­ted ac­ting as a kid in youth thea­ter pro­grams. At 14, she star­ted going to New York to check out the ball­room sce­ne. She says she was “very much an ob­ser­ver” — and only par­ti­ci­pa­ted till she was about 17, be­cau­se her pa­rents we­re wo­rried about a “ram­bun­ctious” teen alo­ne in the city — but she’s in­cor­po­ra­ted so­me of her real-li­fe ex­pe­rien­ces in­to her por­tra­yal of Blan­ca.

As a se­ven-year-old, Ro­dri­guez “pra­yed” to be­co­me fe­ma­le. But it wasn’t un­til co­lle­ge, when she pla­yed Angel in an off-broad­way pro­duc­tion of Rent, that she reali­zed so­met­hing was mis­sing from her iden­tity. Angel is tra­di­tio­nally pla­yed as a cis­gen­der ma­le drag queen, but Ro­dri­guez de­ci­ded to play her as a trans­gen­der wo­man; as the show pro­gres­sed, she wis­hed she could be as

fear­less as Angel in real li­fe, too. Shortly af­ter the show wrap­ped, Ro­dri­guez, who’d co­me out to her pa­rents as bi­se­xual in her teens, de­ci­ded to be­gin the tran­si­tion pro­cess. In 2016, she told her reps that she would no lon­ger au­di­tion for ma­le ro­les; to her sur­pri­se, they we­re to­tally sup­por­ti­ve.

Po­se, an­noun­ced in 2017, pre­mie­red last year and ma­de head­li­nes for its lar­ge trans­gen­der cast as well as a com­mit­ment to hi­ring trans wri­ters, di­rec­tors and pro­du­cers. It’s sin­ce be­co­me one of the most cri­ti­cally ac­clai­med dra­mas on the air, ha­ving won a Pea­body and a GLAAD Me­dia Award.

At this year’s Emmys, the show was no­mi­na­ted for Outs­tan­ding Dra­ma Series, and Billy Por­ter be­ca­me the first openly gay black man to win a trophy in the lead ac­tor ca­te­gory. “It was kind of a de­fi­ning mo­ment for me,” Ro­dri­guez says of at­ten­ding the ce­re­mony. “Being re­gar­ded in that spa­ce and peo­ple seeing me and gi­ving us ac­co­la­des, it felt really, really good. It felt va­li­da­ting in a way that I don’t think a lot of black trans wo­men li­ke my­self would ever get the chan­ce to feel.”

Along with Por­ter, Ind­ya Moo­re, Do­mi­ni­que Jack­son and An­ge­li­ca Ross, Ro­dri­guez has be­co­me one of Po­se’s brea­kout stars. She’s mo­de­led for Rihan­na’s Sa­va­ge X Fenty lin­ge­rie li­ne, wal­ked the run­way for the Blonds at New York Fas­hion Week, fron­ted a Mos­chino x H&M cam­paign, and ser­ved as a grand mars­hal at NYC’S Pri­de March with Moo­re and Jack­son. Last year, the His­pa­nic He­ri­ta­ge Foun­da­tion ho­no­red her with a Trail­bla­zer award for her “ta­lent, coura­ge and so­cial im­pact.”

Mo­re re­cently, Ro­dri­guez hit the sta­ge again, this ti­me as Au­drey in the Pa­sa­de­na Play­hou­se’s pro­duc­tion of Little Shop of Ho­rrors. On­ce again, she put her own Mj spin on a clas­sic cha­rac­ter. “I wan­ted to make Au­drey as real as pos­si­ble,” she ex­plains. “Ever­yo­ne has seen this cha­rac­ter as the lo­vely blon­de who is quo­teun­quo­te aloof, and they wro­te her very airy. I didn’t want to do that, simply be­cau­se I know that wo­men in ge­ne­ral, we’re not airy. We’re to be ta­ken very se­riously.”

Des­pi­te her re­cent ri­se to fa­me, Ro­dri­guez still li­ves at ho­me with her fa­mily in Ne­wark and has no im­me­dia­te plans to lea­ve. “It’s really won­der­ful to ha­ve a foun­da­tion that’s un­der me,” she says. “We cut up, we ha­ve co­okouts, we do everyt­hing. It’s the best.” They al­so don’t treat her any dif­fe­rently now that she’s wal­king red car­pets. “My mot­her al­ways gets on my ca­se! She’s li­ke, ‘Girl, pull your dress up.’”

Ro­dri­guez lo­ves wor­king on Po­se, but she ho­pes that cas­ting di­rec­tors will of­fer her the chan­ce to branch out and play cis­gen­der cha­rac­ters in the fu­tu­re. “Let’s just be com­ple­tely 100 and ho­nest: Many cis­gen­der in­di­vi­duals ha­ve pla­yed our ro­les,” she says. “If they can play us and say they un­ders­tand our experience, then I ha­ve the right to play them as well. … This is what I lo­ve to do. I’m doing this for peo­ple to ha­ve cha­rac­ters that they can re­la­te to, but I’m al­so doing it to chan­ge the world.”

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