The Pose star discusses her history-making Emmy nomination and what's next.
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EW's 'Awardist' interview with 'Pose' star Michaela Jaé.
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Michaela Jaé couldn't sleep the night before the Television Academy was set to announce this year's Emmy nominees in July. The 30-year-old Pose star was vacationing in France with her family and boyfriend with plans to attend the Cannes Film Festival, but the nerves in these particular hours broke this spell of relaxation, keeping her up right through to the early morning presentation.

It's been her goal to receive a nomination for her work on Pose, the history-making FX drama series with the most series regular roles for transgender actors to date. More so this year, which marks the show's final season. Pose received multiple Emmy noms in the past, including for Outstanding Drama Series, but Billy Porter had been the only member of the cast to be recognized with an acting nomination.

Back in April, as she strolled through Domino Park in Brooklyn, when the awards season circuit was only just beginning, Michaela Jaé — who previously went by Mj Rodriguez — shared her theory on awards voters. "I know exactly what they're thinking right now. I know they don't see me as a woman. I know that," she said. "They don't have to tell me. They've made it very apparent, but my job is to show them how much of a woman I am through the work that I'm doing." All she wanted was a nomination. She didn't expect to win and still doesn't.

Would things change this year? Had she made a big enough impression? Those questions lingered on her mind come that morning in July. Then, she made history... again.

Rodriguez heard her name announced in the category for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, making her the very first trans performer to receive such a distinction in a lead acting Emmys category. "I just ran to my mother. She grabbed me and swing me around," Rodriguez now recalls. "My godmother gave me the biggest hug and kept screaming, 'You deserve it!' For a long time, I didn't feel like I was deserving of these things. There's so much stacked against us when we identify as trans. I had all these insecurities. I fell into my boyfriend's arms and I just started crying. It feels like I have finally stepped into a place where people can understand me as a human being."

Rodriguez spoke with EW about this moment, how Hollywood's perspective on trans performers are changing, and what's next for her.

Mj Rodriguez
Michaela Jaé
| Credit: Lia Clay Miller for EW

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The last time we spoke, you had some pretty frank words for awards voters. You felt they didn't see you as a woman. Has that feeling changed?

MICHAELA JAÉ: I do feel like that has changed, because there are people probably in [the Television Academy] who are letting others know how women like us move in the world. There's not the stereotypical stigma of how trans women are supposed to be perceived and how we move through this world and how we exist. So, yes, I do. It's still good that people are understanding and learning and educating themselves. That's the best thing. When you see something like this [nomination], it shows you that people are open to seeing how we can actually move into a space of art. That was my main goal. I didn't want my trans-ness to dampen the work I do as an artist. I just want my art to be seen and to be fulfilled through love.

In one of Pose's final scenes, all these characters are recognizing Blanca as the woman she's become. What did that moment mean to you compared to this Emmy nomination?

Looking back, I see that it's so parallel, as far as the triumphs and the fight and the work that someone puts in to really be seen — and to want love to be emitted through what they do, whether it be a character on a show or the ballroom scene. Now I can say, with this nomination, I feel like me and Blanca are receiving the fruits of our labor.

Pose was such a big part of your life. Does it feel like your life has kind of halted almost? You've been working on that for so long and now it's finished.

Believe it or not, no. You know how when you go on a roller coaster and it goes up? It takes a while to get up there. It's been so positively nerve wracking, but it's because you're like, "Oh God! It's going up. I can't wait until we get to the drop." I feel like we've been on such a roll it hasn't really stopped. I feel like the momentum of Pose has just been taking each and every last one of us, including me, just a bit further as far as notoriety and exposure. [It's] a great place for us to be focused on our community, the many intersectionalities that a lot of us are part of. So, it's been good. I don't think it's going to stop.

You have an Apple TV+ comedy series with Maya Rudolph coming up. When do you start filming?

We start preproduction in August and start shooting in September. [The currently untitled show is] going to be like another rocket shooting off, and I am so excited. I get to be a totally different character from Blanca. I get to exhibit some versatility and show people that I'm funny and foolish as all hell. I never thought that would happen. I thought these opportunities were not accessible. It's the best thing to be proven wrong, because it makes you smile and it makes you want to fight even harder. I can't wait until the other opportunities come.

You also have a single for "Something to Say" out in the world. Can we expect a full album?

Yes. I'm actually working on that right now. As soon as I get back, it's going to be, excuse my language, balls to the wall. I'm going to just keep doing as much as I can. Music was my first passion. It's my love, it's my joy, and I'm glad that people got to hear "Something to Say." That's how I felt in the music, in the lyrics. It expresses how people have so much more in common than we realize. The album is being worked on and hopefully that'll come out sooner than later. So, yeah, a girl is trying to work her butt off.

Check out more from EW's The Awardist, featuring Emmys analysis, exclusive interviews, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's TV shows and performances.

A version of this story appears in the September issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands now and available to order here. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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