Thursday, March 23, 2023

“There’s So Much History Baked Into the Show”: ‘THR Presents’ Q&A With ‘Pose’s’ Mj Rodriguez and Steven Canals

As it entered into its third and final season, the talents behind FX’s Pose, which earned a show-record eight Emmy nominations in July, were determined to go out with a bang. The time frame is 1994 in Rudy Giuliani’s New York City, the AIDS crisis is rampant and the voguing competition of the series’ underground drag culture scene is becoming more cutthroat.

“I knew it would be historic because we were hitting on so many things that happened in the ’90s at that very time, and I thought it was poignant and important that people got to see that,” Emmy nominee Mj Rodriguez, who plays Blanca, tells THR Presents, powered by Vision Media. “We haven’t had it displayed in a manner like this before because there haven’t been any outlets for that, not to mention LGBTQIA individuals across the world in 1999 weren’t even getting any notoriety at that time. In 2020-21, this was a great time to really showcase how we as humans fought for our rights.”

Adds multiple Emmy nominee Steven Canals, co-creator and executive producer-writer-director of Pose: “My vision for this final season was really just to land the plane, frankly, to finish telling this story that I’d set out to tell back in 2014 when I wrote the very first draft and was being told ‘no, this show has no value and it has no worth.’ So, more than anything, I just wanted to honor the characters and I wanted to honor our community.”

Specifically, Canals saw Rodriguez’s character front and center, with his first impression of her coming full circle in the series swan-song season.

“When we returned to New York (after the shutdown) in September of 2020, there was one goal at the forefront for me, it was Mj owning all of her gifts,” says Canals. “Because I think the woman who stepped into that audition room in the summer of 2016, she got the role because every single one of us collectively as executive producers gasped out loud. She’s like every girl I went to high school with. The woman who came in and gave us Blanca and breathed life into this character in ways I don’t even think I ever imagined her being, that’s the person I’ve always seen as the lead of this show.”

For her part, Rodriguez could not have seen what was coming, despite the show’s creators confidence in her.

“When I started Pose, I was just this insecure little flower that was trying to get through the dirt,” she explains, “and now I feel somewhat fully blossomed, because there’s still a lot of blossoming to do. But it changed my life.”

Canals takes pains to point out the precedents established by the show, including the Emmy win after season one for Billy Porter, the first openly gay black man to be nominated for, and to win an Emmy in a lead acting category.

“The beautiful thing about the nominations, especially this year, is there’s so much history baked into the show,” says Canals. “So it’s not just this is the first time we’ve seen a show like this on television; Mj made history as the first trans woman—not trans woman of color, trans woman, period–to be nominated in the lead drama actress race. Our Lady J and Janet Mock became the first trans women to ever get nominated in the drama writing category. I believe I’m the first Latinx identified person to ever get nominated in the writing category. So there are so many firsts in our show not just behind the camera but in front of the camera.”

For the multi-hyphenate, who described himself as “the little boy who grew up in the housing projects in the Bronx in the 1980s,” it’s not just about historic gains or personal rewards, it’s about laying the groundwork for future generations who might not feel as marginalized as a result of Pose’s success.

“I hope, particularly for me as a queer Afro-Puerto Rican — somebody who grew up in a household that was both Black and Puerto Rican — other young black and brown kids will see me, especially kids living in impoverished areas who don’t have access to tools and resources but who are desiring to tell stories, will look at me and Pose and these nominations and say. ‘Oh, I can do it too.’”

This edition of THR Presents was sponsored by FX.


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