Back in June of 2018, Pose blew the roof off the kinds of stories that were being told on television. A landmark series that made headlines for its representation of the trans community, particularly trans women of color, there had never been a show like Pose and television will forever be altered due to it.
Having now wrapped its third and final season, the cast and creators of the series are moving on to the next phases of their careers, but it’s impossible to deny that being a part of this series is something that will stick with them forever. That is something that I felt deeply in my conversation with the series’ lead actress Mj Rodriguez as we spoke about her journey playing Blanca for three seasons and how she’s feeling now that it’s come to an end.
In our interview, Rodriguez discusses what it meant for her to be able to represent this community on the screen and also about the specifics of playing Blanca herself and how that representation mattered so much because this series treated these characters as if they were human beings like everyone else, not just stereotypes. It’s a wonderful conversation that highlights the many ways in which this series will endure not just because of its historical significance, but because it created characters we loved to watch grow and flourish over these last three seasons.
Read on for my interview with the amazing Mj Rodriguez:
Mitchell Beaupre: How are you feeling these days as audiences are taking in the final season while you’re moving on to the next phase of your life and your career?
Mj Rodriguez: It’s been bittersweet. I’ve been feeling really emotional and it just kind of came on. I was very content in the beginning, but as the season started playing out and I started seeing the reception I’ve kind of been hitting this breaking point. I had a really, really monumental moment in my life recently with this amazing interview and it changed my life because I never saw myself in an interview that was so prestigious. Then to go back to the third season and watch it and be like, “Oh my god, Blanca, I finally see you girl. Like Angel, Candy, Lulu, all of the above.” Not to say that I didn’t see them before, but it was just even more profound. I’ve just been feeling very emotional. I had a breakdown in my bathroom and everything.
MB: Blanca goes on such a journey over the course of these three seasons, and in this final run we see her finding love with a new man, finding her calling as she becomes a nurse, and seeing her children continue to flourish and leave the nest and move on. How do you feel about where our journey with Blanca is ending?
MR: I think it’s ending beautifully. I feel like she is receiving all the fruits of her labor. Blanca has always been working so hard to receive hers, and now she’s getting it. The hope that she was hoping for, she received. All of the labor that she put into her children, that is paying off. She got to see her daughter become a model. She got to see her mother become an extreme businesswoman. She got to see her sons move into new parts of the world as choreographers for top artists and going over to Paris. I think one of the best rewards for her to receive now is a relationship. She got everything she wanted, and I feel like the cherry on top of the cake – or the strawberry, because I like strawberries.- is her receiving her plaque due to all the work that she’s done. She got that plaque within her community. Her community showed her the love that she deserves because she was so present for the people in her community throughout the first season all the way to the third. I’ve been saying this, and I’m going to keep saying it: We dot our I’s and cross our T’s fantastically. I think the world is receiving this season just like how they need to.
MB: From the very beginning of Pose one of the talking points around the series was about representation, purely for the groundbreaking nature of having this many trans folx on screen, especially trans women of color. What really makes the series special, though, is how those folx are being represented and how their stories are being told. Could you talk about that idea of representation, and how it is about so much more than just seeing this community on screen, but how they’re being seen?
MR: I think the most important part of that representation, especially with telling the stories of Black and Latina trans lives, is that we are humanized as much as we are in this show. It was so important for me in taking on the role of Blanca that we showed an understanding of how the ballroom scene was a place of comfort, of striving, and of hope and joy, but that we also showed the juxtaposition of the world outside of that with the real life circumstances that we live on a day-to-day basis and that we are just like any other regular human being walking on this earth, trying to just fit into society, like how all of us are. The most important part of representation is seeing us as humans. We are not seeing this as something that’s specific or something that belongs to this specific group or this stereotypical kind of ideal, but that we are multidimensional and intersectional and we have so many different facets beyond being just one thing. I think that the key part of Pose is showing that we’re not just one thing, but we have so much to offer. The fact that it showed through the screens and that we worked hard each and every last day to open up a space behind us, but also possibly to have space open up for us too.
MB: One of the running storylines throughout the season that speaks to representing this community in a way that hasn’t been done on screen before is getting to see Angel and Papi’s relationship flourish so beautifully. As someone who is playing their mother on screen, what was that experience like for you and for everyone on set shooting that wedding episode?
MR: I will say first off, as Mj I was looking at Indya and Angel and I was looking at the growth of both of them and how far they’ve come and how they really, really, really look so great up there. It’s just doubling into these characters how they were supposed to, and how they want to be seen. They had a lot to say in how they wanted to do the scene itself and, specifically for myself as being the vessel for Blanca, watching Angel and Papi my emotions were overwhelmed with feeling. I was so happy as Blanca to feel and see them have that light shined upon them and upon what that love looks like in the grand scheme of things. It was so beautiful. I’m honestly at a loss for words because there’s nothing that you can put to it when you get a chance to have the world, the national and international kind of acceptance and awareness of seeing a trans woman and this man marrying on a television screen. That’s never happened before. That’s a first. It was beautiful and it’s going to be historic.
MB: I was speaking to [co-creator] Steven Canals recently and he mentioned that something that surprised him in making the final season was realizing that the love story between Blanca and Pray Tell was so much at the heart of the series, as essentially the core of what Pose always was. Could you talk about the development of that relationship between Blanca and Pray over these three seasons?
MR: Working alongside Billy, there was nothing else like it. It was a blessed thing, and us working together is what made it so beautiful. As far as the growth of that relationship, I saw constant nuance, constant evolution between them, especially with both of them dealing with HIV and AIDS and how they fought together and how they stood the test of time. Even though Pray Tell passes on he’s still a part of Blanca’s life no matter what. He transitioned from the physical world but he was so prominent in the ballroom scene and he’s still very connected to Blanca and she is never going to lose the words and the teachings that were given to her from Pray. That’s what the relationship means. That’s what it means to have a lasting and strong bond when you’re in the LGBTQ community, but also to have a kinship, to have a brother, to have a father figure, someone who is all of that wrapped up in one.
MB: The ball community and what that space holds for the community has been such an important part of this whole journey with these characters, and you and Billy get to do this incredible Diana Ross number in the finale for Candy’s Sweet Refrain. That scene genuinely brought me to tears from the pure joy that I felt watching it. What was it like filming that together with Billy?
MR: The day that scene happened was extremely full. And when I say full I’m talking about full of tears, I’m talking about full of emotion. It all come down upon me sharing that moment with Billy, knowing that this was the last episode, knowing that this was probably going to be the end of something so spectacular, and so life-changing, and the only thing I could do in that moment was give it my all, and also give my all for my counterpart because he gave his all for me. We did that together. Oh my god, I’m at a loss for words. It was the most touching moment for us to not only know what was going to be happening at the end of the series, but to also know where we’ve come as the two leads of this show and how we showed for people what it’s like to be in the shoes of a person who is Black and gay, and a woman who is trans and Latina and Black, and we got to do that together and center it around community and family. It felt so beautiful. I don’t think we’ll ever get a chance to have a moment like that. I’m just so blessed and thankful for it, honestly.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]