Rodriguez in 2019
|Born||January 7, 1991|
Newark, New Jersey, U.S.
Mj Rodriguez (born January 7, 1991; sometimes capitalized as MJ Rodriguez) is an American actress and singer.
Rodriguez is known for her role as Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista in the television drama Pose, where she is among the largest cast of transgender actors to be starring as series regulars in a scripted show. She is also known for her performance as Angel in the 2011 Off-Broadway revival of Rent, for which she won the 2011 Clive Barnes Award.
Early life and education
Mj Rodriguez was born on January 7, 1991, in Newark, New Jersey to an African-American mother and Puerto Rican father. Rodriguez attended the Queen of Angels Catholic School. Although she wanted to become an actress since the age of seven, she only began pursuing the profession at the age of 11 after her mother enrolled her in the New Jersey Performing Arts Center—where she became an eight-year veteran of the program and participated in its New Jersey Youth Theater program.
While she had "prayed to become female" beginning at age 7, Rodriguez states that she was in denial for many years and initially came out to her parents as "bisexual/gay" at the age of 14. At 14, Rodriguez became involved in the ballroom scene where she found support from her house father who taught her to vogue. She is a graduate of Newark Arts High School, and later attended Berklee College of Music, where she was a 2009 Star-Ledger scholarship recipient and a 2009 Young Arts first level scholarship recipient. She eventually took the stage name "MJ" Rodriguez after the Marvel Comics character Mary Jane "MJ" Watson, being a self-described comic book geek and from putting the letters together from parts of her birth name.
Stage acting origins
While attending college, Rodriguez was cast in a theater production of Rent as Angel Dumott Schunard. Rodriguez had wanted to play the role since first seeing the 2005 film adaptation. She connected with actress Fredi Walker-Browne (the actress who originated the Broadway role of Joanne Jefferson in Rent) who was in attendance at one of Rodriguez's performances. Walker-Browne asked Rodriguez to read for the part of Angel and helped her to land an audition in an upcoming off-Broadway production of Rent. Rodriguez was cast for the role in the off-Broadway production, and acted alongside then-up and coming stage actor Annaleigh Ashford (cast as Maureen). Rodriguez' performance garnered her the 2011 Clive Barnes Award that was established in honor of the late English writer and critic Clive Barnes.
Transition and reemergence
It was during this period, Rodriguez began to fully explore the transitioning process. Following the conclusion of the off-Broadway revival in 2012, Rodriguez made the decision to go on hiatus to begin transition. Beginning with hormone replacement therapy in early 2016,  and allowing sufficient time for privacy, MJ Rodriguez reemerged to start a new chapter as a female actress. Rodriguez then contacted her representation to inform them that she was no longer auditioning for male roles. Despite her concerns, Rodriguez found her representation to be fully supportive of her new gender identity.
From 2012–2016, Rodriguez appeared in small television roles, including Nurse Jackie, The Carrie Diaries, and Luke Cage. Her 2016 appearance in the non-speaking role of "Sister Boy" on Luke Cage also marked the first appearance of both a transgender actress and character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Following her reemergence, Rodriguez uploaded a video of herself on Facebook singing the number "Satisfied" from the Broadway musical Hamilton. The video received a positive response and landed her an invitation to audition for the role of Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds in Hamilton. The news of her audition as a trans-actress for a cisgender role made various Broadway and LGBT news outlets. She then appeared in several additional stage productions:
- Encores! Off-Center's 2016 production of Runaways
- The 2016 off-Broadway premiere of Street Children by Pia Skala-Zankel at the New Ohio Theatre
- The American Repertory Theater's 2017 production of Trans Scripts: Part 1, The Women at the Loeb Drama Center
- The 2017 world premier of the synth-pop musical Burn All Night in the Oberon at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge
Rodriguez also landed a supporting role in the independent film Saturday Church as Ebony. The 2017 film, which premiered in January 2018, depicted a runaway teenager exploring their gender identity and becoming involved in the contemporary underground ball culture scene. Her portrayal of Ebony earned her a nomination for Best Actress at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.
Breakthrough and after
In 2017, Rodriguez was cast in the leading role of Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista in the FX series Pose following a six-month casting search. The show was created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Steven Canals and made history by casting five transgender actresses in leading roles. As of 2018, the show features the largest cast of transgender actors as series regulars in a scripted series.  The pilot for Pose went into production in November 2017 and premiered in June 2018 to positive reviews.
The series is set in New York City during the 1980s and explores the lives of queer people of color (specifically black trans women) who are involved with the underground ballroom scene. Rodriguez's Blanca is a young woman who forms her own "house"—the House of Evangelista—after receiving a positive diagnosis for HIV. As the head of the House of Evangelista, she becomes a surrogate mother to several abandoned queer youth of color. Described as a "breakout, starring role," her performance has been praised by critics. Among the show's regular cast are Rodriguez's Saturday Church co-star Indya Moore, Tony Award-winner Billy Porter, model Dominique Jackson, trans rights advocate Angelica Ross, Evan Peters, Kate Mara, and James Van Der Beek.
Rodriguez performed with Pose co-stars Dyllón Burnside, Billy Porter and Ryan Jamaal Swain in a benefit concert on July 23, 2018, to celebrate the season 1 finale and raise money for GLSEN and sing "Waving Through a Window" from Dear Evan Hansen.
In the fall of 2019, Rodriguez played Audrey, the leading lady in Pasadena Playhouse's production of Little Shop of Horrors, becoming the first transgender woman of color to play the role in a major production. Her cast mates included George Salazar (from Broadway's Be More Chill) as Seymour and Amber Riley (Glee) as Audrey II. About the role she told Broadway.com, "I’m simply an actress. I think any woman should be considered for this role. [My casting] shouldn’t be something that’s trending—it should be normal."
|2017||Bun in the Oven||Bertha||Short film|
|2018||The Big Take||Robyn|
|2012||Nurse Jackie||Lonna||Episode: "No-Kimono-Zone"|
|2013||The Carrie Diaries||Fabulous Clubgoer #2||Episode: "Read Before Use"|
|2016||[Blank] My Life||Kerry||Episode: "Mr. Owl"|
|2016||Luke Cage||Sister Boy||Episode: "Manifest"|
|2018–present||Pose||Blanca Rodriguez||18 episodes|
|2011||Rent||Angel||New World Stages||Off-Broadway|
|2016||Street Children||Gina||New Ohio Theatre||Off-Broadway|
|2017||Trans Scripts: Part 1, The Women||Luna||Loeb Drama Center|
|2017||Burn All Night||Ensemble||Oberon at the American Repertory Theater Cambridge|
|2019||Little Shop of Horrors||Audrey||Pasadena Playhouse||Regional|
Awards and nominations
|2011||Clive Barnes Award||N/A||Rent||Won|
|2017||Tribeca Film Festival||Best Actress||Saturday Church||Nominated|
|2019||MTV Movie & TV Awards||Best Breakthrough Performance||Pose||Nominated|
|Imagen Awards||Best Actress||Won|
|2020||Critics' Choice Television Award||Best Actress in a Drama Series||Pending|
- Henderson, Kathy (September 1, 2011). "MJ Rodriguez on a Heavenly Off-Broadway Debut as Angel in Rent". John Gore Organization. Broadway.com. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
- @MjRodriguez7 (6 January 2016). "It's Officially my B-day Jan 7th! I'm 25!!!!!!!" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
- "NUNN ON ONE TV Mj Rodriguez strikes a 'Pose' - Gay Lesbian Bi Trans News Archive - Windy City Times". Windy City Times. Retrieved 2018-08-10.
- "MJ Rodriguez – The Importance of Being Seen". October 7, 2017. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
- Jones, Kenneth (December 5, 2011). "MJ Rodriguez of Rent Is Clive Barnes Award Winner". Playbill.com. Playbill. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
- Gioia, Michael (June 7, 2016). "MJ Rodriguez Talks Her Transition and Hamilton Audition". Playbill.com. Playbill. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
- Kumar, Naveen (January 12, 2018). "Mj Rodriguez and Indya Moore Break Barriers With FX's 'Pose' and 'Saturday Church' (Exclusive)". ETOnline.com. ET. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
- Garcia-Navarro, Lulu (June 17, 2018). "'You Just Serve As Much As You Can': Mj Rodriguez On Ball Culture And 'Pose'". NPR.org. NPR. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
- Silver, Jocelyn. "Talking Pose with Mother Mj Rodriguez", Paper (magazine), July 19, 2018. Accessed August 14, 2018. "When I was 14 years old, I was in high school [at New Jersey's Newark Arts High School] at the time, and we would hold mini fashion shows."
- Wontorek, Paul (July 6, 2016). "One On One: Runaways Star MJ Rodriguez on Keeping the Drama Onstage and Getting Real as a Trans Actress". John Gore Organization. Broadway.com. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
- Fasanella, Allie (June 10, 2018). "Pose Is Making Television History With These 5 Transgender Actors". Condé Nast. Teen Vogue. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
- White, Brett (March 8, 2018). "Marvel's Jessica Jones: Every Easter Egg and Marvel Reference in Season 2". New York Post. Decider. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
- Salandra, Adam (May 21, 2016). "Trans Actress Thanks Producers For Letting Her Audition For Hamilton". Logo TV. NewNowNext. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
- McPhee, Ryan (May 25, 2016). "MJ Rodriguez & More Set for Encores! Off-Center's Runaways at City Center". John Gore Organization. Broadway.com. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
- Clement, Olivia (December 6, 2016). "Street Children Proclaim the Right to Be Fabulous in the Face of Adversity". Playbill.com. Playbill. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
- Clement, Olivia (January 23, 2017). "Watch the Cast of Trans Scripts Discuss the Groundbreaking A.R.T. Production". Playbill.com. Playbill. Retrieved July 6, 2017.
- Hetrick, Adam (July 28, 2017). "Pop-Synth Musical Burn All Night, by Andy Mientus and Teen Commandments, Arrives at A.R.T." Playbill.com. Playbill. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
- Champagne, Christine (June 28, 2017). "Mj Rodriguez on Breaking Out as Blanca on Ryan Murphy's Pose". MPAA. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
- Goldberg, Lesley (October 25, 2017). "Ryan Murphy Makes History With Largest Cast of Transgender Actors for FX's Pose". HollywoodReporter.com. The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
- Andreeva, Nellie (October 25, 2017). "FX's Pose: Ryan Murphy Sets Largest Transgender Cast Ever For Scripted Series". Deadline Hollywood. Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
- "Pose: Season 1 - Metacritic". Metacritic. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
- "Pose: Season 1 - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
- Andreeva, Nellie (June 3, 2018). "Is Blanca On Pose A Real Person? Mj Rodriguez Shares Some Life Experiences With Her Nurturing House Mother Character". Deadline Hollywood. Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
- Fienberg, Daniel (May 22, 2018). "Pose: TV Review". HollywoodReporter.com. The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
- Ramos, Dino-Ray (May 31, 2018). "Pose Review: Ryan Murphy's '80s NYC Ball Scene Drama Scores 10s Across The Board". Deadline Hollywood. Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
- Lawson, Richard (May 30, 2018). "Pose Is Bold, Necessary Melodrama". Condé Nast. Vanity Fair. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
- Poniewozik, James (June 1, 2018). "Review: Pose Demands to Be Seen". NYTimes.com. The New York Times. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
- Feldman, Adam (July 17, 2018). "Dyllón Burnside: Up Close and Personal". Time Out New York. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
- Hetrick, Adam (July 14, 2018). "FX's Pose Stars, Dyllón Burnside, Mj Rodriguez, and Ryan Jamaal Swain, Will Perform NYC Concert". Playbill. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
- "To Be Real: The Cast Of Pose Gives Back — Already! — At NYC GLSEN Benefit". Boy Culture. July 24, 2018. Retrieved November 19, 2018.
- Reynolds, Daniel (August 13, 2019). "Mj Rodriguez Wins Best Actress at Imagen Awards, Makes Trans Herstory". The Advocate. Retrieved August 14, 2019.
- "Suddenly Mj! Pose's Mj Rodriguez on Her Star Turn in Little Shop of Horrors and the Broadway Dream Role She'd 'Act a Fool In'". Broadway.com. Retrieved 2019-10-08.
- Mj Rodriguez & George Salazar: Suddenly Seymour, retrieved 2019-10-08
- Singh-Kurtz, Sangeeta (November 8, 2019). "Pose's MJ Rodriguez Lands Her First Big Beauty Contract". The Cut. New York. Retrieved November 9, 2019.