Categories interview Press

Mj Rodriguez and Indya Moore Break Barriers With FX’s ‘Pose’ and ‘Saturday Church’

Before Ryan Murphy’s Pose makes TV history this summer on FX — with the most transgender actors ever to appear in series regular roles — two of its stars are making their feature film debuts. Indya Moore and Mj Rodriguez both deliver breakthrough performances in Saturday Church, a queer coming-of-age film opening in limited theaters and on Video On Demand January 12.

While Pose will take viewers back to 1980s New York, tracing the origins of the underground ball scene memorably depicted in the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, Saturday Church offers a more contemporary look at the experiences of the city’s transgender youth. Inspired by an outreach program for homeless LGBTQ kids in Manhattan’s West Village, the movie follows 14-year-old Ulysses (Luka Kain) as he explores his gender identity and finds acceptance among a new group of queer friends on the street after being rejected at home.

Moore and Rodriguez play two of the young women in Ulysses’ new support system, and introduce him to the ‘Saturday church’ program, where they’re provided food and social services, and, just as importantly, a space to be together and express themselves, including practicing their moves for the next ball.

Saturday Church was Moore’s very first audition, which she heard about from her house father in the ball scene, Jose Xtravaganza. Moore prepped with a friend and, remembering that Henry Cavill auditioned for Superman in character, decided on a similar approach — one that included a purple wig. “I faked putting lipstick on the casting director. I felt super confident; I thought, Nicki Minaj is going to knock on my door any moment now,” Moore recalls to ET, calling from Los Angeles, where she and Rodriguez recently joined the Pose cast onstage for the first time at the Television Critics Association winter press tour.

While Moore started in modeling, booking small jobs through Instagram and Facebook, Rodriguez got into the performing arts growing up in New Jersey, before being introduced to the ball scene at 14 and eventually landing the role of Angel in an off-Broadway revival of Rent. “That was the moment when everything came into full fruition, and I felt like, Finally I get to show people who I am,” Rodriguez says over the phone in New York.

“It was the sort of thing where they walked in the room and you were like, ‘OK.’ You can just see it,” says Saturday Church director Damon Cardasis of the casting process. The film also presented a unique opportunity to feature actors who come from the world it depicts. “My house father saw something in me, she saw potential and taught me how to vogue. The experience on set was so reminiscent of that,” says Rodriguez, whose character, Ebony, takes Ulysses under her wing.

“There are a lot of elements in the film that I experienced myself,” Moore adds. “It’s a journey that I was still on, even while filming Saturday Church; I was actually in foster care at the time,” she continues, saying the movie inspired her to truly believe she can achieve her dreams.

“It’s really exciting to be one of the people this story is actually about,” Moore says of Pose, which is currently filming in New York and recently received a full series order from FX. Co-created by Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Steven Canals, the show is also produced by Janet Mock and Transparent writer Our Lady J and is set to feature more than 50 LGBTQ characters. “It’s like a history lesson,” Rodriguez adds. “To see what we had to go through in 1987 and how we persevered, which is one of the reasons why a lot of us are here today and able to do shows like this.”

Of working with Moore, first on Saturday Church and now Pose, Rodriguez says she “couldn’t be happier that one of my sisters has come along and we’re embarking on a journey together; we’re family.”

Even as they break ground themselves, Moore and Rodriguez both feel incredibly grateful to their predecessors, including trans women like the characters they play in Pose. “We’re standing on the shoulders of so many people who have already broken down so many barriers,” Moore says. “It’s amazing that we have five leading trans women of color to portray these stories that should have been portrayed a long time ago,” Rodriguez adds.

While few details have been revealed about the show’s cast, including co-stars Evan Peters, James Van Der Beek and Kate Mara, Moore and Rodriguez happily tease their upcoming roles on Pose. “Blanca is a rambunctious, strong, wonderfully powerful character who is trying to find her way and help others find theirs,” Rodriguez says. Moore, who plays Angel, says her character is“definitely unapologetic; she’s brave, she knows where she’s going, has a strong sense of self, and is staying true to the future she sees herself in.”

The same can be said of Moore and Rodriguez, who see a bold path ahead for transgender performers in Hollywood. “Us being trans women should be as a matter of fact versus a headline,” says Rodriguez, who has graduated from bit parts on The Carrie Diaries, Luke Cage and Nurse Jackie. “When it comes to my career, I’m an actress before I’m trans. I think people should see the talent first.”

Moore, who says “cis[gender] actors playing trans roles feels like black face,” adds that, while she’s happy to see trans characters played by trans actors, we’re not yet seeing trans characters “in ways that aren’t focused on their transness, or putting them under a microscope.”

Both stars say they’d love to play superheroes some day — and from their portraits of perseverance in Saturday Church and soon Pose, that’s not a huge leap. “I would love to see or be an action hero, and have kids look up to us and feel empowered,” Rodriguez says. “I just want to be a light of hope for anyone who might be in the dark.” Moore agrees, pointing to the change she hopes projects like Saturday Church and Pose can help usher in.

“It’s really going to open up the eyes of so many people,” Moore says. “They are really going to see us for who we are, as gender variant people who are just people.”

Source: Entertainment Tonight

Categories interview Press

What Hollywood can learn from a trip to ‘Saturday Church’

If Hollywood’s 2017 revealed anything, it’s that queer cinema is on the rise. From the historic Academy Award win for “Moonlight” early in the year to the releases of “Battle of the Sexes” and “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” from major studios — not to mention this year’s Oscar contenders “Call Me by Your Name, “A Fantastic Woman” and “The Wound’ — films by and about LGBTQ people are receiving more attention and delivering more complex storylines.

The trend looks to continue in 2018, and the upcoming Ryan Murphy-created series “Pose” on FX could take things even farther on television with a historic LGBTQ laden ensemble in a portrait of “ball culture” in ‘80s New York.

But despite these obvious steps forward for increased representation across all screens, narratives around transgender people are often still limited in their scope.

We are the only people who know our lived experiences, what it’s like to be trans and the things we go through.
— Mj Rodriguez

“We continue to see productions that are focusing on the death of the experience of what it is to be a trans woman,” said trans actress Indya Moore. “But we have lives and experiences that aren’t just about the struggles of being trans and on the margins. Where are [the stories] where our transness is not [the major plot point]?”

Moore is part of the “Pose” cast and also stars in “Saturday Church,” a film opening Jan. 12 in Los Angeles and on digital platforms, which attempts to help lead such a charge.

From first-time writer-director Damon Cardasis, “Saturday Church” is the story of 14-year-old Ulysses (fresh face Luka Kain), a shy and effeminate kid grappling with questions about gender identity. Their journey to self-discovery takes a turn after meeting a group of trans and gay folk who take Ulysses to “Saturday church,” a program for LGBTQ youth held in the basement of a local place of worship. There, the teen discovers a passion for, and family in, New York’s ballroom scene.

Margot Bingham plays Ulysses’ single mother and Regina Taylor is the devoutly conservative aunt opposite Marquis Rodriguez and trans actresses Moore, Mj Rodriguez (also in “Pose”), Alexia Garcia and Kate Bornstein.

Ballroom, as seen in docs “Paris Is Burning” and “Kiki,” is portrayed as a place of acceptance for participants who find themselves otherwise marginalized. Most are black or Latinx and they belong to cliques known as “houses.”

Led by a mother or father figure, houses serve as families for their members, some of whom have cut ties with their biological kin. Those houses are named after fashion designers such as Chanel or Balenciaga or carry the name of a legend in the community, like Willi Ninja or Pepper LaBeija. Voguing, the now almost mainstream dance form, hails from this community.

Cardasis was influenced to pen “Saturday Church” by an actual LGBTQ outreach program in New York held at the West Village’s episcopal church St. Luke in the Fields. He learned of the program, called Art & Acceptance, through his mother, an Episcopal priest in the Bronx, and volunteered with the group for a number of months.

“After meeting the kids in the program, I was inspired by their narratives and their strength and creativity and their sense of empowerment when they performed,” he said. “[The film] took shape from there.”

While his intention was to just “tell a very human story, to show the challenges this character was going through,” Cardasis knew that for the film, which includes song and dance numbers, to feel authentic to the world he had volunteered in, people from that very program and the ballroom scene needed to be involved.

“There was no question in my mind that the characters needed to be played by people within the community,” he said. “It was harder to put together a movie casting ‘unknown’ or first-time actors, [but] there was no other way of doing it.”

The result is a supporting cast of primarily trans women with varying degrees of acting experience but who all intimately know the experiences of the characters they play. Many of the extras are either from the church’s program or members of the ballroom scene.

Garcia — who is a member of the House of Xtravaganza — was always interested in acting, but she had never auditioned for anything.

“I didn’t see a lot of trans actresses on television so I didn’t think it would even be a possibility,” she said. “It never really crossed my mind.”

The same goes for Moore who has minor acting experience from attending a theater arts high school but had never made moves to break into the film industry. Because Cardasis reached out to house father Jose Xtravaganza (through Facebook) and forwarded casting info, she credits being involved in the scene for the opportunity.

“It’s awesome to see how the industry reaches out to the ballroom scene and culture to portray the ballroom scene and culture,” she said. “It’s been a blessing to help express some of what I’ve come from through our gaze.”

And therein lies what separates “Saturday Church” from other narrative depictions of the ballroom scene and trans and gender nonconforming lives. There’s a raw authenticity present in the film that’s tough to achieve from simply helicoptering in, said Bornstein. (Many will recognize her not as an actress, but as trans trailblazer, performance artist and author of the seminal “Gender Outlaw.”)

When we create productions that focus on the gaze of other people, we’re getting these stories that are putting our transness under a microscope.
— Indya Moore

“Damon, by diving into the world prior to making the film and listening to all of us actors, used whatever privilege he has — yes, gay men have some privilege — to ease somebody else’s suffering,” she said. “And he didn’t impose his voice on any character in the film. On that level, this film is groundbreaking.”

She also notes that his use of the Xtravaganzas and members of the House of LaBeija as consultants and the casting of trans women as trans characters helps this effort, a lesson Hollywood at large can learn.

Mj Rodriguez, whose acting credits include “Nurse Jackie,” “Luke Cage” and an off-Broadway revival of “Rent,” agreed.

“We are the only people who know our lived experiences, what it’s like to be trans and the things we go through,” she said. “We can bring that to the role.”

It’s a striking contrast to the long list of cisgender heterosexual actors who have played trans women in high profile roles, including Jeffrey Tambor in “Transparent,” Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl” and Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club.”

“They don’t have the emotional pull of what it’s like to exist in that margin, what it’s like to be unloved and rejected and the layers of trauma that come with being rejected so often by friends, family, loved interests and for men to feel like it’s okay to abuse you and have their way,” added Moore.

“When we create productions that focus on the gaze of other people who are not trans, we’re getting these stories that are putting our transness under a microscope to be dissected. Our experiences and the trauma we go through are being tokenized for people to gawk at and to fetishize. These people don’t know what it’s like to be rejected because you exist.

“[With us], it’s not acting. We’re actually pulling from an authentic place.”

Source: LA Times