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When FX’s Pose first premiered in 2018, it changed Mj Rodriguez’s life. The television show, which follows the underground ballroom scene of ’80s and ’90s New York City, was immediately met with praise, not only for the subject matter and the performances, but for featuring the largest cast of trans actors ever on a scripted show, and in turn, shining a light on actresses like Rodriguez, Indya Moore, and Dominique Jackson.
After two seasons on Pose (and a third coming in 2020), Rodriguez is cementing her status as a leading actress. She flexed her musical theater muscles on The Late Late Show with James Corden, graced the cover of Out and, most recently, partnered up with Olay Body to prepare for her upcoming event as keynote speaker for George Washington University’s Annual Diversity Summit. She’s been doing a 14-day transformation with the beauty brand, using Olay Ultra Moisture Body Wash. “When you’re using a product that makes you feel happy and that makes you feel comfortable, then it’s easy to walk out, have confidence, and do what you need to do,” she said.
In celebration of the partnership, Rodriguez took a few minutes to talk to ELLE.com about her favorite beauty look, past beauty mistakes, and the lasting power of Pose.
She gives herself a mantra before big events.
“Whenever I do an event, especially when it’s speaking to a group of people, I always take at least 20 to 30 minutes for myself. I look in the mirror, and I talk to myself. I tell myself what I’m worthy of; I also take a moment to let myself know that I’m beautiful and that I’m worthy, no matter what anyone says.”
She sees her partnerships as activism.
“I just want people out there to love, inspire, live, be happy, be confident. To the young kids out there: Thrive, be hopeful, and fight for a positive cause. It’s important we shed light on the deaths of the young African American trans women out there, and we stop it and constantly keep fighting. That’s why it’s important to have partnerships like this with Olay because it gives young individuals out there hope to see that there are women like myself being able to do these things and being able to strive and being able to live. In order for the violence, in order for all those things to stop, there has to be a physical face out there to show that we can actually thrive and live and be happy—and not just survive.”
She credits Pose for changing her life as an actress.
“It’s changed my life as far as awareness and being seen and being heard and obviously, most importantly, being taken seriously as an actress. A lot of women like myself, who are in the trans community, especially African American trans women, don’t get the opportunity to be in the forefront or even in the mainstream. I think Pose has changed the dynamic, and it’s opened the eyes of people who didn’t really have the education or vocabulary. It’s giving them a glimpse into our lives, seeing that we’re human.”
She has a big beauty regret from performing in theater.
“When I was in Rent [in 2011], I would always just cake makeup on, and I would go on stage and notice that it was just running down my face. Never use too much makeup because it will wreck your skin. I feel like that’s the most important thing… When I was younger, I was always one to overuse. Not understanding the T-zone, not understanding dimension and proportions when it came to the face. Now I have a better idea of the landscape of my face.”
Her character, Blanca, has given her confidence IRL.
“The best part about paying Blanca is that she’s a strong fearless woman. She is confident in herself and, not to mention, she’s someone who’s holding the show together. She’s the matriarch of the show. I think she’s even given me confidence [to be] a matriarch in my life one day and take on the world completely. It all starts here. It all starts with making sure that people see you and understand you.”
Her beauty inspirations are also her colleagues…
“I will say there are a couple of people that I really love and appreciate, and it’s kind of a coincidence that we’re all taking part in the Olay Body challenge. [One person] is Laverne Cox. That’s my sister. I’ve known her for about nine years now. She’s been such an advocate for beauty and self care and loving yourself. And my girl, Danielle Brooks.”
…but she’s always finding her own looks.
“The best beauty tip that I’ve discovered this year is pairing an ombré glossy nude lip with a deep navy blue smokey eye. I’ve noticed that it brings my features out even more without overpowering my face.”
This interview has been condensed for clarity.