For any aspiring singer, actor, or performer, New York City is arguably the ultimate entertainment Mecca, which makes it no surprise that an ambitious entertainer who started her career performing in the illustrious city now has the entire world watching her every move and decision. Currently playing the role of Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista, the zealous housemother on Golden Globe-nominated show Pose, actress Mj Rodriguez breaks barriers. In the midst of her rise to stardom, however, she has never forgotten her roots. As she walks into our photo shoot, she looks at the wardrobe rack, and then bursts into tears, uttering, “Oh, my God. Is this for me?” “Yes, please come on in. This is your shoot,” we respond but once she takes a bottle of water to calm herself down a bit, she rushes outside to call her mother who later thanks us via FaceTime for supporting Rodriguez, so we thank her back for introducing her daughter to the world.
Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, Rodriguez credits much of her success to not just her hard work and talent, but the legacy and foundation laid by her parents and family during her upbringing. “The energy [in Newark] is very family-oriented,” says Rodriguez, who still currently resides in Newark. “It’s rooted in a lot of history that people don’t know about, and that a lot of people do know about – like Whitney Houston and Tisha Campbell-Martin, and that’s what keeps me grounded. It’s something that I just can’t get out of.” (While only a few minutes apart, Rodriguez describes her commute between Newark and the Big Apple as “teleportation into a world that I’ve always wanted and now is a reality.”)
Rodriguez, who began her entertainment career on stage starring in Off-Broadway productions like Rent, actually considered pursuing a different path prior to the acclaim. “I went to school at Berklee College of Music and tried to major in songwriting,” she passionately shares. “But then, musical theater came knocking on my door, and I just looked at it as an opportunity for me to expand in entertainment. Musical theater is everything! You can be the person you really are on stage.”
Though Rodriguez notes it was an easy transition from stage to screen, getting into character for the role of Blanca wasn’t as simple. Despite the differences in qualities between the two, Rodriguez describes her and Blanca’s personalities as “literally a 50/50.” She goes on and credits the motherly and nurturing side of Blanca to her mother’s early influences: “My mother was the person that instilled all the love I needed in me so when I see that in Blanca, I relate to it so easily.”
While Rodriguez can be seen portraying the deeply-emotional and loving attributes that make for good television, her performance as Blanca also addresses the uncomfortable truth regarding the safety and mistreatment of trans lives. This previously unforeseen showcase, as seen on Pose, is much more than a mere act for Rodriguez who found herself competing with overwhelming traumas while shooting. “There was so much I had to suppress,” she elaborates. “There are many aspects of our lives that are portrayed through these characters, and there are some moments that are so real and hard to bear because you know that it’s also a reality. It’s always a constant traumatic reality that we’re never really safe out here. We’re trying to make strides but we’re never really safe.”
Fighting for diversity and equality both on and off the screen, she makes it her own mission to continue opening the doors for trans entertainers.
“I think it’s important as actors and actresses that we take notice of realistic stories and the research that has to go behind these stories and also the differences in someone who has lived and understood the role,” describes Rodriguez.
When she isn’t collecting trophies as Blanca, she’s collecting them in real life. Most notably, Rodriguez was honored by the Hispanic Heritage Foundation with the Trailblazer Hispanic Heritage Award to much surprise. “I never thought in a million years that I would achieve something like that,” explains Rodriguez who initially thought she was merely presenting an award and had to Google-search to confirm the news. Rodriguez notes the award as one of her biggest accomplishments and goes on to voice her appreciation for the support she receives from the Hispanic community. “I never thought that I would ever receive something like that from so many people on all aspects of my culture,” she humbly expresses.
While she is remarkably thankful for all the acclaim, she remains grounded in Newark where fans who recognize her casually yell out, “Blanca!” “We need to be protected and we need to be cared for as human beings,” the actress fiercely commands as Rodriguez continues the fight for trans-equality and representation.
Writer: Mike Varius
Photographer: Ron Contarsy (for Highmark Studios)
Contributing Fashion Editor: Ty-Ron Mayes
Hair: Bennett Grey
Makeup: Marc Cornwall (using Dior)
Makeup Assistant: Nina Bellord
Videographer: Jon Prosper
Editor: Eiko Watanabe
Editorial Assistants: Corey Tam & Takashi Kameyama
Special thanks to Comprehensive Hospitality Solutions