Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Interview with MJ Rodriguez


Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview MJ Rodriguez, an inspirational actress, known for her roles in Nurse Jackie (2011), Carrie Diaries (2013), Dear Pauline (2014), Blank_My Life (2016) and Netflix show Luke Cage (2016), Feature Film Saturday Church (2017) as well as the role of Angel Dumont Schunard in the Original Off-Broadway Revival of Rent (2011). Hello MJ!
MJ: Hello Monika
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
MJ: Well, I am a Jersey Girl Born and raised. I truly enjoy to acting as well as singing and I'm glad that it has brought me this far!
Monika: When did you decide that acting would be your vocation? MJ: As soon as I booked Rent I knew that’s where the Road/Journey needed to begin. Monika: It seems that the role of Angel Dumont Schunard in the Original Off-Broadway Revival of Rent was a stepping stone for your acting career …
MJ: It totally was, I was originally going to school, at Berklee College of Music and studying for a degree in Song Writing, but then Rent came around, and at first I was a little hesitant due to schooling as well as the chances of being turned down, but I had to take that chance and luckily, I was blessed enough to receive the role.
Monika: Apart from Angel, which of your roles did you find most interesting?
MJ: I played the Character of “Ebony”, as a Supporting lead in this new Feature Film called “Saturday Church”. What I found most interesting about her, was that she was so firm in who she was, due to experiencing hardships and overcoming them, but also because it was simply what she had to do in order to be an inspiration to the others around her who were searching and longing for it themselves.
Monika: Do you draw any inspiration from other actresses?
MJ: Yes, I do…from many actually, but my main three at the moment are Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, and of course my girl Laverne Cox. All of these women are the embodiment of grace and poise, and they fully dedicate themselves to the work that is given to them. 
Opening night of Transcripts at American
Repertory Theater Harvard University.
Monika: Some critics say that the contemporary film industry does not provide many opportunities for women to showcase their talents and stories to a female audience. Would you agree?
MJ: I would agree. There have been few instances where I have sat in a movie theater watching and thought “This is an AMAZING action packed movie” , but how can I relate to this as a female audience member… and this is due to the lack of balance between genders roles in in film industry.
Every once in a blue moon we will see an amazing strong female protagonist, like Milla Jovovich in “Resident Evil”, but that is, like I said, every once in a blue moon. I would really love to see more strong woman of color (Cis or Trans) to be grounded leads in an Action Film of some sort, maybe even a leading superhero that has a full plot and storyline that is completely and fully based around them. This is somewhere we can start. These types of movies/Films and roles are something women can relate to and also look to for inspiration.
Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
MJ: Mental I was already there since the age of 7 but, I medically started in my twenties. As a kid, I never thought about it, I was just MJ, but as I got older I saw how the world could be cruel towards individuals like myself. I was already as androgynous as it gets from the age of 7 until I was 19 so, it was always difficult for me as far as people being mean to me, but I can actually say the process and the steps in itself where pretty easy, due to having had experience in knowing who I was at a very early age.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
MJ: At the age of 7 no, I just knew I wanted to be like the other girls and would pray on it until it hopefully happened. When I reached my twenties in the middle of my run-in RENT I met as wonderful person who is my best friend till this day. She knew, she could literally see the longing written all over my face, and she right then and there became my role model.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
MJ: Yes, of course! My best friend Mila Jam, Laverne Cox who I met though my friend Mila, as well as Trace Lysette and the list goes on and on…
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
MJ: My Career, hands down. I thought I would lose everything. I thought that’s since people knew I was Trans, they would never hire me in the acting field, that they would totally disregard my talents because of who I was, but surprisingly that did not happen I received so much love.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
MJ: Of course, just like the many different organization and groups the LGB has… the T has as well, and we all work together to make things mesh and flow well.
MJ singing at 54 below New York City.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
MJ: I think it is epic! I’m glad that others are seeing us in a normal light because, we simply are normal (whatever the true definition of normal is) and we truly do stand a chance to be respected for our art like any other regular human being in the industry.
Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
MJ: To be quite honest, my existence on this earth and being blessed by God to wake up in the morning and do what I love to do with the platform that I have is the way I lobby, that’s my way of advocacy. But yes, I do believe a Trans Woman as far as making a difference in politics, can happen.! 
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
MJ: I Love Love LOVE Fashion! I love to wear a cute pair of designer high hells shoes or a nice flowy garment. A Helmut Lang piece topped off with a nice Christian Louboutin shoe… is what I love!
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants? Some activists criticize their value, pointing out that they lead to the obsession with youth and beauty.
MJ: I have never been immersed in that world so I wouldn’t know, but I have seen some on television and I think they are cool. I would say “Just don’t let it go to your head”, But that’s with anything, you know.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
MJ: Its extremely important, it actually one of the very reasons why I do what I do. 
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
MJ: Yes, I have many things coming up, but the one I’m totally anxious to start is the magazine shoot I’ll be doing. I’m so excited for it!
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
MJ: Find places of outreach that you can go to and feel comfortable, there’s nothing like having a chosen family that loves you. Also, know that you are ENOUGH and though there are many who try to make you think that you are not, there many MORE who know that you are.
Monika: My pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transsexuals and transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
MJ: I agree with that 100% and that is because I am literally living proof. I refuse to live up to the socially constructed, stigmatized statistics of what or how trans women should live their lives.
Monika: MJ, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of MJ Rodriguez.
Done on 7 March 2017
© 2017 - Monika 

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