Port Authority star Leyna Bloom on making Cannes history and her full-circle Pose moment
"I don't think they were in a rush trying to fill this position," says model and activist Leyna Bloom of the Port Authority filmmakers who eventually cast her in her first movie role. "From what I heard through the grapevine, they literally auditioned hundreds of trans women around the world for this character. They weren't just going to give it to anyone."
As Wye, a voguer in New York's kiki ballroom scene who crosses paths with young drifter Paul (Fionn Whitehead) in the tender romantic drama (out now in select theaters and on VOD), Bloom made history as the first trans woman of color to lead a movie playing at the Cannes Film Festival.
While she was already making huge strides in the fashion industry, such as being the first trans woman of color to appear in Vogue India, Bloom tells EW the groundbreaking role "wasn't just handed to me." Her first audition was turned down, she had moved to Italy, and then a year later she had a second-chance phone call with writer-director Danielle Lessovitz where everything clicked into place. "I'm glad it happened that way because it really humbled the whole experience and made [me] very patient," Bloom says.
Below, Bloom talks about the importance of getting this story right, being a vessel of change, and how her guest role on Pose opposite Indya Moore was a full-circle moment for her.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Was there a specific moment where you knew you got the part of Wye, or was it like you were working on it with the director and then eventually you realized, "Okay, we're doing this together, it's official"?
LEYNA BLOOM: I think after we spoke [on the phone while I was] in Italy, because we talked for an hour and a half and we got into the politics of everything. Because this story — here's an interracial couple, one is cis, one is trans — it has never been done. [And] it has been backed by Martin Scorsese, this Megatron of film iconicness? So we could not just say, "Oh, let's just make a film." We really had to make sure that we'd attach certain things to it that were going to be about the message and the purpose over everything. It wouldn't just be another film, we wanted it to be that film, and I hope that it is that. I hope people see that, I hope people can feel that, and 50 years from now they can say, "You know, this movie was part of a moment of time when things [were] changing in the world," and this movie represented that. So that's why I signed up. That's why I did this. And that's why I believe in the film.
What point in the process did you find out you'd be going to Cannes, and then did you also immediately know you'd be making history?
Right now, anything that any trans woman of color does is the first of its kind, because we have been erased ever since before five years ago, it seems. We were not in anywhere of importance within society, on respectable levels. So I just think that it was a moment to be seen. The idea that it was making history, that's profound for me. When I found out I was like, "Wow, why is it taking so long?" And I think we found out around March of 2019, and we went to Cannes that May. So it just happened so fast, you know. My first film went to the most prestigious film festival in the world, what do you say to that? There's just so much power in that.
You've said before that Paul's story is similar to yours. Did you talk to Fionn about that as you two were developing your characters, and maybe share any advice he could use to embody Paul?
I don't know if he'd remember, but yeah, I did let him know that like, "You're playing a lot of people's lives. This is a very real story that people live every single day. We can go right to Port Authority right now and people are arriving, trying to figure it out. Some have family here, some people don't, some people find family here, some people bring family here." So I wanted him to know that anything can happen in this city. The story is very similar to my own story, and is important to tell authentically. [Fionn] wanted to do it, he knew it was his responsibility to do it, and I think he did a great job.
One thing that really struck me with Wye is that she's pretty effortless at setting healthy boundaries with Paul. Coming from a modeling background and now entering into acting, is that something you brought to the character as well? That sense of self-advocacy, or self-protection?
Everyone does things differently. For me, I think I was born in a way, in a country, in a time where there's certain things in society I attach myself to, and I experience on so many different levels that I could really speak to, and I can really be a vessel of change in some ways. I've noticed since I was a child that the more people that I've met, the more emotional health they receive from me just literally talking to them, and being this empath saying, "Hey, relax, let's talk about this. Let's really let me hear you. I want to listen to you, but when you're done talking, listen to me also, and let's find a balance with this all." I think it's a level of communication that is a raw, humane, very gentle way to do things.
Because the conversation that we're having is a very sensitive conversation, so you have to handle it very differently. And me as an artist, me as a storyteller, me as an actress, and as a dancer, as a model, it's my responsibility to express what is here to be expressed. This is a love story that is like no other, and it's very new for a lot of people that are not familiar with this territory. So how can I express this in a way that they can also see the humanity in it? So they can also see the mirror of themselves in it? So for me, it's just trying to just be patient with myself in this process as I tried to not just act, but also be real in the moment and really revisit these stories that had been told to me, and the stories that I also tell about myself. It was very unique in a lot of ways, but also very real.
Was there anything special the filmmakers did, like working with an intimacy coordinator for some of the more romantic scenes, like the sex scene, to make you feel more comfortable?
Were you not expecting that scene?
No, I was, but again, it's —
Why were you expecting that scene?
Why was I expecting a sex scene?
Yeah. Were you expecting that to happen?
Well, I have another question about that, but the reason why I was asking was because we don't see a lot of trans women have sex scenes in film and TV because we don't see a lot of trans women in film and TV. And so I wanted to know how you all approached that scene. Because the film shows that there was communication to be had before they actually made love.
Yes. I mean, I think there's this idea that because you are born in a certain way, regardless how unique and special you are, if you were born with one arm, or you can't hear, or you can't see, or whatever other [type of] special you are, you're a human. Emotions and feelings are a universal language. The idea that a trans woman can be kissed, or be touched, or feel love for someone is something that is not familiar with humanity, especially not in my humanity, when I was being raised. It was just nonexistent. Like, because you are born this way, you cannot love, you cannot seek pleasure, you cannot give pleasure. You are just nonexistent to anything of human connection. I think that moment really exemplifies their humanity. Just skin-to-skin contact, and the communication of bodies coming together to create poetry. I think it's just something that people needed to see.
They didn't need to see a love scene or a sex scene. They needed to see two people that just made this experience so real that it was mind-blowing. So honestly, every person that I've spoken to, they were not expecting there to be a love scene, and not just a love scene, but to be so beautifully, artistically done? I think that type of language and artistry through human connection hasn't been explored, and it scares people in beautiful ways, and in bad ways. So for me, it was just about how I can make my experience to be loved normalized. And it was through just exactly what we did. To be beautiful, and to make love, that's just so powerful.
The movie has a bit of an open ending. Do you want Wye and Paul to continue their romance?
I don't know. Right now in the world, people just need to love themselves and go through things on their own so they can go out in the world and love each other. And I think where they left off was Paul was just finally seeing things clearly. And he needed to take some time to love himself, to get his life together, before he can bring anyone into his life. And I think Wye's character, she's supposed to just be there to support him and be a good friend to him. If they're meant to be, they will be, but they both have got a lot of responsibilities to do to get their lives off the ground before they get together. Who knows what may happen for them? Hopefully they might inspire a lot of people in the world to see things differently, to love differently, and to go out into the world and see things not just on the outside, but see things from what's in front of you, which is beautiful also.
You've also appeared in the final season of Pose opposite Indya Moore, who has cited you in the past as someone who inspired their trans journey. Did working with them feel full-circle?
Yes! Me and Indya knew each other like three years before Pose. I saw Indya on a train, and she was actually dealing with homelessness at the time when I saw her. And we were both put in a post together, and I messaged her, and I immediately felt like I'm not alone when I met her. Me and her have so much in common. She's one of my soul sisters, one of my soulmates on this earth. I'm so inspired by her and everything she does, and she's been inspired by me. We are just a combination of inspirations, and I'm so happy that we both continue to look out for each other.
We're all constantly up for the same jobs, but what's for us, it's for us. We celebrate each other. I'm actually supposed to be going to see her very soon in the Dominican Republic. She's been inviting me since everything, but I'm doing this press stuff. But we got to do Pose together. We got to really show the world sisterhood, and ballroom sisterhood, and competition towards sisters, and [what] healthy competition towards each other looks like. We will be intertwining together, because we're making history in a lot of the same ways together. And I can't wait to see what she does. I want to continue to work with her. And I know my manager is trying to get us to do a film together. I think people would really love to see us both in a film together. Maybe we might do a remake of Thelma and Louise or something. I don't know.
Oh, that'd be amazing. I would love that.
Yeah. We'll see what happens.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.